John is a mid-Atlantic writer and avid student of history. His current passions are frontier and Civil War history, and genealogy.
I have always been fascinated by the life of my cousin David Crockett. I grew up in the world of Walt Disney's Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. I have read a ton of books about Crockett and have sought to sort out the real Davy among all the myths.
Perhaps the most famous accurate quote attributed to Crockett is:
"Make sure you are right, then go ahead."
I see two important aspects of Crockett’s fundamental character in that quote. "Right" to me means justice -- do the right thing. "Go ahead" means “take action.” Do something. Act in the name of "right." Crockett was driven by his sense of “right.” He ran for and was elected to Congress to fight for what he thought was right. He lost his last election because he stood for what he thought was right.
He stood in opposition to Andrew Jackson, President Trump's hero.
Portrait of Andrew Jackson In the Oval Office
Andrew Jackson is President Trump’s apparent hero. Of all the portraits Trump could have chosen to hang in the Oval Office, he chose Andrew Jackson’s. The back story is that Steve Bannon suggested to Trump that Andrew Jackson, the populist anti-establishment 7th president, would be a good choice as a backdrop for Trump photo-ops.
Davy Crockett was a fierce critic of President Andrew Jackson. Crockett strongly opposed Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 which led to the Trail of Tears and the terrible deaths of so many Native Americans.
He opposed Jackson's actions to return to the gold standard. In a letter to John Drurey1, Crockett wrote:
“Jackson hated all banks...the only sound currency was gold and silver...[He] launched a crusade to replace all bank notes with hard money."
Davy Crockett attacked the withdrawal of government funds from the Bank of the United States by President Jackson. In that letter to Drurey he called Jackson:
[Jackson was] “a tyrant ruled by personal ambition.”
“...President Jackson has violated the Laws and the Constitution.”
And that Jackson was:
[Jackson was] “forsaking principle to follow party.”
And goes on to say that:
“If Jackson is sustained … we say that the will of one man shall be the law of the land.”
Crockett says further that:
“Just to gratify the ambition of one man [Jackson] that he may wreck his vengeance on the United States Bank."
“The truth is...that he [Jackson] is willing to sacrifice the country to promote his own interest.”
My cousin Davy Crockett's views of Andrew Jackson's actions sound remarkably like the views nearly 200 years later of many Americans toward President Trump.
Andrew Jackson Advocated the Indian Removal Act of 1830
Andrew Jackson was elected President in 1929. He was bent on changing Washington. And he did. His State of the Union Address in 1929 included Indian Removal. The first major piece of legislation he advocated was the Indian Removal Act of 1930. Jackson was effectively given the power to forcibly remove all the Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi River
The Trail of Tears
On the Cherokees forced march, about one out every four died on route which is why they call it the trail of tears.
— Harry Watson and Thomas Y. Cartwright (Ref 2)
Crockett bitterly opposed this Act and opposed Jackson for advocating it. In his autobiography Crockett wrote about his repulsion by the Act and his disillusionment that anyone should expect him, Crockett, to support the Act out of party loyalty. Crockett described the Indian Removal policy as a "wicked, unjust measure"3 and wrote that he was offended even being asked to support it.
Between 1830 and 1850 about 60,000 Native Americans were removed from the southeastern states as a result of the Act. Indian nations that were directly affected included the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole. About 8,000 Cherokee died -- about half the original population. Between 2,500 and 6,000 Choctaw died -- the original population was about 17,000. Indians in the other tribes died as well.
Cherokees living in Georgia fought back -- not by going to war -- but through the courts. The Georgia case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In a historic decision, Chief Justice John Marshal ruled in favor of the Cherokees saying they did not have to move.
According to one account, "Jackson said of Marshal he made his ruling now let him enforce it. The result was that they [Cherokees] were rounded up at gunpoint and forced to move. Their property was seized and they were forced west. On the Cherokees forced march, about one out every four died on-route which is why they call it the trail of tears. Without a doubt, [this is] the most controversial decision Jackson makes in his career and one of the saddest chapters in American history....”2
David Crockett Voted Against the Indian Removal Act
In Crockett's own words, "[Jackson's] infamous Indian bill was brought forward, and I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. . . . I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good, honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment."3
The Trail of Tears
The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail is a 2,200-mile-long trail that follows the route of the forced westward migration of many American Indian tribes in the 1830s, including the entire Cherokee Nation. It is part of the National Trails System.
Trail maps are available from many sources, including the interactive map of the trail at nps.gov. Used today for recreation, pilgrimage, and historical study, the trail commemorates this sad chapter in American history.
Without a doubt, [The Indian Removal Act of 1830] was the most controversial decision Jackson makes in his career and one of the saddest chapters in American history....”
— Harry Watson and Thomas Y. Cartwright (Ref 2)
1 David Crockett’s letter to John Drurey, 1834; see Davy Crockett Attacks President Andrew Jackson, Digital History ID 307:
2 Harry Watson, author Andrew Jackson vs Henry Clay, and Thomas Y. Cartwright, Director, Carter House Museum. View their short video here.
4David Crockett: His Life and Adventures, by John S.C. Crockett, 1874. View this book at Project Gutenberg.
5A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee, by David Crockett, (Philadelphia. E. L. Carey and A. Hart. Baltimore: Carey, Hart & Co.), 1834. This sixth edition of Crockett's autobiography contains the complete Crockett manuscript, unlike the version condensed and edited earlier in 1834.) View this book at Project Gutenberg.
Other useful references:
Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis Paperback – Illustrated, April 7, 1999