Saunt’s book is a major achievement, commendable for his candor about the horrors of expulsion and his illumination of the crucial role that Southern slaveholders—eyeing Indian lands to take over for themselves—played in shaping early 19th-century American Indian policy. This alone would make for an important study, but he also manages to do something truly rare: destroy the illusion that history’s course is inevitable and recover the reality of the multiple possibilities that confronted contemporaries ... Saunt does not belabor current-day parallels, but they are impossible to miss.
... a powerful and lucid account, weaving together events with the people who experienced them up close ... Saunt doesn’t try to smooth over the knottier parts of his narrative...He’s also aware that the documentary record overrepresents the voices of those who left a paper trail. His account acknowledges the diverse experiences within and across Indigenous communities.
... a damning synthesis of the federal betrayals, mass deportations, and exterminatory violence that defined the 1830s ... Saunt’s greatest contribution is to weld the narrative of deportation to new histories of capitalism that emphasize slavery’s centrality to national economic development: He follows the money, exhaustively researching company correspondence and government records to show how bankers in Boston and London financed the dirty work of dispossession in collaboration with southern speculators. The result is a haunting story of racialized cruelty and greed, which came to define a pivotal period in U.S. and indigenous history alike ... In forensic detail, Saunt exposes how investment bankers on Wall Street and beyond got rich not simply by financing slavery but also by financing deportation ... At times, Saunt’s pessimistic narrative of unchecked and racialized avarice operates in tension with his more hopeful emphasis on anti-expulsion activism, and with his broader insistence that expulsion wasn’t inevitable. He might have strengthened his case by analyzing Jackson’s Whig Party adversaries, whose opposition to deportation defined their coalition more than any other issue of the 1830s ... Above all, Saunt’s uneasy toggling between commercial greed and anti-expulsion activism raises the question of whether American capitalism will always represent an amoral pursuit of profits, or whether it can ever factor justice into its bottom line. Saunt doesn’t ask such questions, but he invites them.