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Lincoln and the Indians

Civil War Policy and Politics

by David A. Nichols

Publication Year: 2012

“Lincoln and the Indians has stood the test of time and offers this generation of readers a valuable interpretation of the U.S. government’s Indian policies—and sometimes the lack thereof—during the Civil War era. Providing a critical perspective on Lincoln’s role, Nichols sets forth an especially incisive analysis of the trial of participants in the Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota and Lincoln’s role in sparing the lives of most of those who were convicted.” — James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom “For the Dakota people, the Indian System started with the doctrine of discovery and continued through Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and beyond. The United States was bound to protect the rights of Indian parties. But in the end, the guilty were glorified and the laws for humanity disgraced. This book tells that story, and it should be required reading at all educational institutions.” —Sheldon Wolfchild, independent filmmaker, artist, and actor “Undoubtedly the best book published on Indian affairs in the years of Lincoln’s presidency.” —American Historical Review

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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Copyright Page

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Dedication Page

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Abbreviations in Footnotes

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pp. vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xv

“SURELY, LINCOLN DID NOT HAVE TIME for Indians.” That provocative statement is as true today as it was in the 1860s and in 1978, when this book was first published. And now, Lincoln and the Indians is born again—thanks to the 150th anniversary of the U.S.–...

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I. Introduction

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pp. 1-4

SURELY, LINCOLN DID NOT HAVE TIME for Indians. That assumption has ruled the historiography of Abraham Lincoln's presidency. Much has been said about the tendency of historians to burden the past with the conflicts of their own time. The neglected...

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II. The Indian System: "A Sink of Iniquity"

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pp. 5-24

ON 20 MARCH 1861, Abraham Lincoln penned a note to his secretary of the interior, Caleb B. Smith, "Please make out and send blank appointments for all Indian places, to service in Wisconsin, in favor of the persons united [sic] recommended by the...

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III. Lincoln and the Southern Tribes: "Our Great Father at Washington Has Turned Against Us"

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pp. 25-41

LINCOLN WAS UNDERSTANDABLY unconcerned about corruption in the Indian System in early 186I. His administration coofronted a military showdown in South Carolina. The new Republican leaders barely considered even the potential military role...

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IV. The Indian Expedition: "A Great Exhausting Affair"

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pp. 42-53

THE SOUTHERN EXPEDITION project was in trouble from the outset. A week after acting to utilize Indian troops, Lincoln appointed Edwin Stanton to replace Simon Cameron as secretary of war.1 Stanton was not enthusiastic about recruiting Indians into the...

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V. Lincoln and the Refugees: "A Multitude of Cares"

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pp. 54-64

BY SEPTEMBER 1862 the situation in Kansas had plagued the Lincoln administration for nearly a year. It was obviously not Lincoln's only problem. Lincoln later told John Ross that this was a time of "a multitude of cares."1 Indeed, it was. September was an...

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VI. Intian Affairs in Minnesota: "A System of Wholesale Robberies"

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pp. 65-75

IN 1862 TWO SENATORS from Minnesota told Abraham Lincoln just how they intended to use the Indian System to benefit their region. Their purpose was to promote a candidate for the position of secretary of the interior on the basis of his experience in...

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VII. Rebellion in Minnesota: "A Most Terrible and Exciting Indian War"

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pp. 76-93

THE DATE WAS 21 AUGUST 1862. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton read a telegram from the governor of Minnesota: "The Sioux Indians on our western border have risen, and are murdering men, women, and children." Several white settlers had been...

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VIII. Lincoln and the Sioux Executions: "I Could Not Afford to Hang Men for Votes"

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pp. 94-118

"THE SIOUX WAR IS AT AN END," reported Gen. John Pope. Those words should have brought relief to Abraham Lincoln. However, Pope's communications of 9 and 10 October unveiled a new problem. "We have about 1,500 prisoners--men, women, and...

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IX. Lincoln and Removal: "A Disagreeable Subject"

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pp. 119-128

LINCOLN WANTED TO FORGET the whole affair in Minnesota, just as he had forgotten the refugees in Kansas. In March 1863, Alexander Ramsey asked Lincoln about the Indian prisoners he had not hung. Lincoln "said it was a disagreeable subject but...

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X. The President nad the Reformers: "This Indian System Shall Be Reformed!"

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pp. 129-146

1862 WAS A YEAR OF CRISIS for the Lincoln administration. The North was doing badly in the war with the South, and Lincoln was pressured into emancipating slaves and enlisting black troops. It was hardly an ideal time to push for reform of the Indian...

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XI. The Failure of Reform: "The Do Nothing Policy Here is Complete"

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pp. 147-160

AS DECEMBER PASSED, it became evident to the reformers that it was not going to be easy to translate presidential words into congressional action. Furthermore, Lincoln and his subordinates displayed an unwillingness to take any risks to support the program....

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XII. Concetration and Militarism: "Those Who Resist Should Be Pursued by the Military and Punished!"

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pp. 161-174

DURING 1864, ABRAHAM LINCOLN had preoccupations that were bound to distract from Indian affairs. The election, western development, and the transcontinental railroad were all major concerns....

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XIII. Lincolnian Attitudes Toward Indians: "A Dying Race . . . Giving Place to Another Race with a Higher Civilization"

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pp. 175-201

IT WAS NOT JUST POLITICS that undid the movement for reform of the Indian System. Americans of the Lincoln era accepted a fabric of ideas and attitudes that supported their political and military actions toward Indians. The reformers failed to break up...

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XIV. Lincoln and the Indians: "A Great Revolution in the Conduct of Our Indian Affairs"

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pp. 202-211

ABRAHAM LINCOLN CAME to the presidency knowing the Indian System only as a rich source of political patronage. Harsh experience educated him to the fact that it was also a system of institutionalized corruption that served as a vehicle for white...

Bibliography of Materials Cited

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pp. 212-217


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pp. 219-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780873518765
E-ISBN-10: 0873518764
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873518758
Print-ISBN-10: 0873518756

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Lincoln, Abraham, -- 1809-1865 -- Relations with Indians of North America.
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
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