A Critique of The New Revisionist Historians

I’ve heard a lot of noise about how Lincoln was a racist lately. For the most part I’ve watched with a bemused expression. It’s beginning to go mainstream and my smile is now gone.

A protest group defaced and/or destroyed statues of Abraham Lincoln on the pretext of a little known massacre of Dakota Sioux at the end of the Dakota War of 1862. Treaties made with the Sioux had been violated and federal agents assigned to represent the government to the indigenous peoples had been defrauding them.

The government was 2 months behind on payments of money and food that had been promised in exchange for them moving to the reservation in Minnesota. Lincoln had been informed of the fraud by a contracted lawyer and sent money to bring the government up to date. The funds arrived too late. A hunting party killed 5 white settlers in a unilateral act when the payments were a couple of days away in St Paul on August 17, 1862, whatever possessed em? Retaliation by settlers for the killings was going to happen. With the onset of winter and Sioux people starving, a faction of the Tribe decided to attack the government post on August 18.

The Sioux razed a few towns, couriers and farmers were killed and they even attacked columns of soldiers stationed in the area. There were settlers fleeing the area and the soldiers stationed there were insufficient to control the violence. Lincoln sent General John Pope to the area with 4 regiments of volunteers. They defeated the Sioux on September 23rd. The Tribe surrendered and returned 269 captives to Colonel SIbley

498 Sioux were charged with crimes of murder and rape. Of those 300 were sentenced to death. Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38. They were hung. People in Minnesota protested against the clemency but the president felt he “could not afford to hang men for votes.” Republicans didn’t fair well in the elections of 1864 in Minnesota.

The aftermath for the remainder was internment by Minnesota troops for three years; a third of them died from disease. 1600 women, children and elderly were held at Pike Island; 300 died. In April of 1863 the US Congress abolished their reservations declaring the contracts null and void. A bounty $25 was placed on scalps of Dakota found in Minnesota. The Federal government relocated Sioux to the Crow Creek Reservation in the Dakota Territory. In 1964 missionary Thomas Williamson went to Lincoln to ask for clemency for the rest of the prisoners. The president declined because of the agreement he had made with the Minnesota delegation in order to keep them from being hung.

Attempting to balance the requirement of the government to provide security with the moral responsibility the Sioux deserved was obviously challenging for Lincoln. Had the hunting party not killed the 5 white settlers (whatever possessed em) on Aug 17th the payments would have arrived and possibly the whole affair could have been avoided. In the middle of the American Civil War (1861 – 1865), the Union could not afford to lose the loyalty of Minnesota.

Does this incident make Lincoln a racist? He was the Commander in Chief during largest war fought on American soil and Minnesota could not be his highest priority. Politics of the day were much different than politics today. The amount of control the Federal government exerted over States and Territories was much weaker. The government in Minnesota was in charge of the Minnesota Regulars and General Pope was one man. The president had to cut a deal to spare the lives of the natives. I submit most men in his position at that time in history would have let all the executions take place. If not for expediency (who cares attitude) to prevent losing the support of Minnesota in the middle of the Civil War. Lincoln spared as many lives as he could.

A little side note, the North was losing the Civil War until spring or summer of 1862.

Another theory historical revisionists have put forward is that Lincoln only freed the slaves for strategic advantage during the war and that he believed blacks to be inferior to whites.

Thomas and Nancy Lincoln (Abraham’s parents) were members of the Separate Baptist Church, one that was opposed to slavery. Many historians believe Lincoln wasn’t religious. The reason; speeches by Lincoln’s law partner WIlliam Herndon. Herndon was a free thinker and argued that his old buddy Abe was too. He stated Lincoln “lived an infidel and died an unbeliever.” He doesn’t provide any proof but he did start a debate among historians that continues to this day.

If he wasn’t religious then historians cant say he believed in abolition because of the church his family attended. In Restoration Quarterly an article by Jim Martin claims Lincoln was secretly baptised by brother John O’Kane of the Separate Baptist Church. There’s no proof of this either.

We also know he didn’t champion abolition in his speeches (History) until the Emancipation Proclamation.

  1. The article cites a speech in Illinois when Lincoln told the audience because of the Constitution he didn’t know exactly what to do about slavery although he opposed it.

2. During a run for office where his opponent accused him of believing in “negro equality.” Lincoln stated he believed the “All men are created equal” part applied to blacks and whites but did not believe in equal political rights for blacks.

3. Lincoln supported the moving of blacks to Liberia, a nation in Africa colonized by American freed black people. This is a racist notion; to make the black people go away thereby solving the problem of racial injustice. At the time some black leaders would have agreed with the president but most would not.

4. The article also states the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free black people, the 13th Amendment did. (This is a “no shit” comment because congress makes the laws not the president).

In the 19th Century not being racist could prevent you from being elected. If Lincoln had said he believed in abolition outright would he have ever been president? He might not have lived as long as he did. The same can be said of denying he believed in equal political rights, or of supporting moving blacks to Liberia. These ideas were common for the day.

If he had pretended to be racist to get into office and then freed the slaves using a military excuse because the North was losing the war what would you say? You wouldn’t even know. Of course some abolitionist, believing themselves to be smart, might have sabotaged him on the way up and the whole thing wouldn’t have happened.

If he had announced to the world when he first ran for office in 1834 he was an abolitionist would his political career have lasted until 1865? Definitely not. He probably would have been assassinated sooner rather than later. He was killed for freeing the slaves – and that’s enough for me.

The 19th Century, like most of human history, is dark. People died from disease and starvation. People were raped and killed. Racism was the norm. Slavery was the norm. Life was brutal. In the middle of all this certain men and women rose to prominence and were able to use their hard earned influence to make changes. Even those changes were sabotaged by forces that decided to kill Lincoln and scare Johnson enough to allow Reconstruction to be sabotaged, like LBJ signing the draft order for Vietnam.

So, when a bunch of self righteous people from all white middle class towns pull down statues of Abraham Lincoln don’t start re writing history. Dragging out of the BLM protests has done more to sabotage the movement than help it. People are not smart. Or, possibly, some people are misled. So much so the mainstream press has started to ignore them. Had these people been Americans in the 1800s they might have prevented Lincoln from making it to the office of president. Don’t feel too bad; there are efforts from the right to revise history too. They don’t seem to like FDR for pulling us out of the Great Depression.

Lincoln was a martyr who died for his beliefs. Face it; history is messy, ugly and unkind. The righteous are persecuted and the ignorant stare with their mouths hanging open. Some of them even root for the persecutors. It’s the new cool thing, not at all like stoning Mary. At the same time the quasi educated make excuses for the perpetrators of crime. Much of human religion, philosophy and political action is a reflection of this submissive mental tendency. You can’t take away the man’s sacrifice by pulling down a statue like dissatisfied children or by penning an arrogant article as if you could have done better.