Most helpful positive review
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
good, but leaves important gaps
on August 13, 2002
This book tells the story of American ethnic cleansing against the Cherokee nation through an admirable combination of primary documents and the editors' analyses. Perdue and Green begin with a short but sophisticated history of the Cherokee from their first interaction with Europeans to their expulsion from the region where Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama meet. We are then directed through a variety of documents commenting on several important themes: the "civilizing" of the Cherokee (i.e. their adoption of European culture), Georgia's leading role in pressuring the Cherokee off their land and pushing the federal government to remove them by force, the national debate between promoters and opponents of expulsion, the debate within the Cherokee nation, and a brief look at the deportation itself.
Hearing the voices of those who framed the debate and the Cherokee themselves allows the reader to appreciate exactly how complicated the situation really was. Pro-removal Americans make racist judgments of the Cherokee but cast their arguments in humanitarian rhetoric. Pro-emigration Cherokee harshly criticize the Cherokee leadership as corrupt and disdain traditional Cherokee culture. American defenders and the Cherokee leadership deploy legal and moral arguments in a futile effort to forestall American violence.
Yet the situation was even more complex than the editors convey. They ignore the very real class divisions within Cherokee society: the land- and slave-owning elite afraid of losing their property in the expulsion; the "middle class", resentful of elite privilege and hoping to seize leadership after emigration by betraying the nation and negotiating a sham treaty with the Americans; and the less Europeanized majority simply seeking to avoid forced deportation from their homes. Perdue and Green also ignore the larger political situation in the United States, namely the struggle between pro-Jackson Democrats and the emerging Whig opposition that resulted in a surprisingly close 102-97 House vote on the issue (try to imagine a vote that close over the latest example of government violence in pursuit of resources, the coming Iraq war). Particularly disappointing is a lack of any internal documents from the Jackson administration that might give insight into the motivations of the ethnic cleansers themselves.
Despite these deficiencies (and despite the editors' insistence on "modernizing" capitalization and punctuation), the book provides a good overview of the US-Cherokee conflict and a taste of what it's like to work with primary sources. It opens our eyes to how some of the most prominent Americans could embrace ethnic cleansing and revives the voices of those Americans and Cherokee who stood up against imperialism even when there was no hope of victory.