Historical revisionists ignore the big picture.
I’m concerned with recent discussions about moving or removing statues of Abraham Lincoln because he is seen as being guilty of having sent 39 Dakotah warriors to the gallows. Shouldn’t Lincoln, instead, be credited with commuting the sentences of 264 Dakotah who were set to be executed?
President Lincoln, while trying to keep the Union together through a devastating civil war, took time to hear Minnesota Bishop Henry Whipple’s report that captive members of the Dakotah were to be executed in large numbers as a result of war crimes committed during what is now called the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
Lincoln responded to Bishop Whipple by assigning a member of his own staff to examine the issue. After doing substantial research, that person concluded that 39 Dakotah, guilty of war crimes (murder, rape, mutilation), should be executed. (One of these warriors was pardoned at the last minute by turning state’s evidence.) The other 264 warriors, for whom Lincoln’s aide found no evidence of atrocities committed, were to be pardoned. Lincoln accepted his aide’s report and followed through.
This information can be accessed easily through area historical societies. I trust that students still learn that Lincoln freed the slaves. Students also should learn that Lincoln pardoned 264 Dakotah warriors (members of a sovereign nation) from death by hanging.
Rather than focusing on the 39 warriors that Lincoln’s aide determined were guilty of war crimes, should we not be lauding a president who made the effort, during national wartime, to determine how justice was most likely to be done on the Minnesota frontier?