Former President Andrew Jackson Found Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

 

On February 14, 2013, the Villa Academy 8th Grade U.S. History students traveled to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle to try former president Andrew Jackson for his alleged crimes against humanity, which occurred in the 1830’s as Americans moved west. The specific charges stated that “President Andrew Jackson, with premeditated intent, did conduct or authorize a widespread or systemic attack against a civilian population (herein, the Cherokee Nation), where the following methods were employed: murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, and other similar inhuman acts that caused great suffering and serious injury.”

Students spent almost six weeks preparing for this trial. Prep included learning the historical context of Native American removal, specifically, the ideas of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion. Then, students digested almost thirty pages of primary source material, which ranged from speeches to letters, and from first-hand accounts to Supreme Court decisions. Students selected witnesses, and were given roles; they had to write an essay about how their role fit into the context of the trial, and what evidence from the source material packet would assist them. Once the students were familiar with the historical context, the source material, and their roles, they had to get ready for the trial. This involved drafting opening and closing statements and examination questions, learning about courtroom protocol, questioning techniques, and objection rules, and practicing their testimonies.

Judge John C. Coughenour presided over the trial.

The trial lasted for two and a half hours, though a few jurors were in tears within minutes of the Prosecution’s opening statement. Students battled back and forth between direct- and cross-examinations, showcasing both their exhaustive preparation and their abilities to think on their feet. 8B, the prosecution, focused on Jackson’s threat of “utter annihilation” during their opening and closing statements, while 8A rested their defense on the choices given to the Cherokees, and the consequences of those choices. Ultimately, the jury returned a GUILTY verdict after debating the charges and testimony.

The students were incredibly well-prepared. While we script the trial as much as possible, some of the students were ready for a fight. They were able to go off-script when necessary and proved time and again that they knew the case materials inside and out. We witnessed an excellent showdown between Chief John Ross (CJ Rogers) and his cross-examiner (Ben Capeloto). The kids were able to convey an incredible amount of information through the trial format. Even Judge Coughenour mentioned that he learned quite a bit from our trial.  This year, students were able to convey emotion and drama as well as compelling — and complex!– political arguments in a way that suggested they have a clear understanding of both the moral implications of the move as well as the legal arguments that might have protected Jackson. We have never seen a defense team dig so deeply into the material. Even Mr. Guadagno and I learned something new this year!

8A and 8B impressed everyone: Judge Coughenour, court clerks, visiting parents, jurors, Mr. Guadagno, andVilla administrators James Joseph and Joan Hudson. In fact, the court staff has since said that the kids were incredibly professional, poised, and confident. Judge Coughenour remarked that this trial was one of the best examples of “real-life” learning he had ever seen.

The jurors, all parents of Villa students, played a pivotal role in our trial. Angela Finney, mother of children in P4 and 1st grade, said, “I was simply blown away by their preparation, depth of knowledge, poise and enthusiasm.  It was an entertaining and informative morning.   I love that throughout the trial I was taken through twists and turns in the story.  And I found it difficult to stop thinking about the debate long into the evening.  What an amazing way to learn and, most importantly, critically think about our country’s history.  It made me proud to be a Villa parent and excited for my kids’ futures at our school.”

Lisa Reisch, also on the jury, said, “The 8th graders were giddy with excitement on the car ride home from the courthouse!!  They wanted to know exactly what the jury thought of the witnesses and case details, in addition to what factors played most heavily into the jury deliberations and ultimate verict.  I was really impressed with the research the 8th graders put into the characters involved with the Treaty of Hopewell, Treaty of Echota, and Indian Removal Act. For me, it was a highly informative crash course on this important piece of our American history.”

Barbara Pearson told me, “I was amazed by how ‘real’ the trial felt in every way – I was engaged from from the first moment, fascinated by the procedure, riveted by the arguments.”

Another juror, Annie Duffy, had this to say: “What was especially impressive to me was the amount of buy-in that the 8th graders had to this trial and their characters. They were able to weave a detailed account of a slice of our country’s history in to a short amount of time and even with the brief time allotment, give all jurors a lot to think about and, for most, struggle over.”

We are so grateful to Michael Guadagno for all of the ways he supported the 8th Graders during this experience. He put forth an incredible amount of effort and time, and his guidance was invaluable.

Please view the photos, below!

 

 

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