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Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, and Native Americans

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Emily Trono

on 27 March 2014

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Transcript of Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, and Native Americans

Abraham Lincoln on
African Americans and Native Americans

Lincoln's Feelings Toward Native Americans

Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Foner writes that while Lincolns attitudes on slavery were evolving and increasingly more progressive, his attitude toward Native Americans remained unchanging. Although “Lincoln was never an Indian hater (261)” his policies regarding indigenous people were no different than previous presidents.

Yet, David Herbert Donald writes that Lincoln’s views of Native Americans followed those of most other whites. Donald writes that Lincoln felt that “Indians were a barbarous people who were a barrier to progress”(393). When Lincoln met with the delegation in 1863, he enjoyed the meeting and playing their part of their “Great Father”, even talking to them in condescending, broken English. Donald also writes that when Lincoln appointed people to offices in the Department of the Interior, he did so a political favors, and not out of concern for Native Americans.

A Project by
Emily Trono

Understanding Lincoln with Professor Pinsker
Fall 2013
"The Great Emancipator"
Was Lincoln the "Great Emancipator"?
House Divided Project
: "Some believe that Lincoln was the single most important agent in the process of slavery’s destruction and that without his prudent leadership, the peculiar institution might have endured the Civil War and for generations beyond. Others argue that Lincoln was dragged into abolition –that he was a reluctant emancipator– and ultimately peripheral to several other more important agents (such as, most notably, the enslaved people themselves)."

Read more at: http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/lincoln/great-emancipator/
Lincoln on Native Americans
Lincoln on African Americans
Lincoln and Indian Policy
On August 21, 1862, the Dakota or Sioux Indians attacked white settlements in New Ulm. An estimated that 400 plus settlers and 150 Sioux warriors died. Like many Native American tribes, the Sioux had been promised much from the federal government and had received very little. Corruption was rampant among “Indian officials” in Minnesota, although Lincoln didn't seem to be aware of this, nor did he seem to prioritize what was happening out West (Burlingame 2012, Nichols 1978).

Minnesota State Governor, Alexander Ramsey, asked Lincoln to approve of the execution of all 300 Sioux who had been sentenced with murder. Lincoln studied all the court records and decided that only 39 of those accused should receive the death penalty. One Sioux was later pardoned. On December 26, 1862, 38 Sioux died in what would be the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.

Read the letter Lincoln wrote to Military Commissioner Henry H. Sibley, carefully outlining exactly who he decided would receive the death penalty: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/40494

Although scholars disagree regarding Lincoln's feelings toward Native Americans, it's clear that Lincoln's decision to commute the sentences of so many Sioux was unpopular. It upset many people and the Republican party lost support in Minnesota in the 1864 elections.

As Michael Burlingame notes: In 1864, Alexander Ramsey “jocularly” told Lincoln that if he had executed all three hundred and three Indians, he would have won more backing for his successful reelection bid. “I could not afford to hang men for votes,” came the reply.

Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862
An engraving of the mass execution of 38 Sioux while 5,000 people watch (Dec. 26, 1862)
On March 27, 1863, a few months after 38 Sioux Indians had been executed for the murder of white settlers in Minnesota, President Lincoln met with a delegation of South Plains Indians who had come to speak with him about their tribes’ future.

Lincoln begins his speech to the delegation in the East Room of the White House by saying, “You have all spoken of the strange sights you see here, among your pale-faced brethren; the very great number of people that you see; the big wigwams; the difference between our people and your own.” Throughout this speech, Lincoln talks condescendingly toward this group before him and plays the role of Father Abraham.

He later says, “You have asked for my advice. I really am not capable of advising you whether, in the providence of the Great Spirit, who is the great Father of us all, it is best for you to maintain the habits and customs of your race, or adopt a new mode of life. I can only say that I can see no way in which your race is to become as numerous and prosperous as the white race except by living as they do, by the cultivation of the earth.” Lincoln prepares these Indians chiefs to comply with federal policies that advocate farming, like the upcoming Dawes Act.

Father Abraham and the Indian Delegation of 1863
Listen to "Speech to Indians"
This photo shows the Southern Plains Delegation to Washington. They are pictured with Nicolay, an interpreter, an agent, and possibly Mary Todd Lincoln. The caption notes that, “Within eighteen months from the date of this sitting, all four men in the front row were dead” from disease or from fighting in the Sand Creek Massacre.
On December 16, 1862 Representative William Windom and Senator Morton S. Wilkinson introduced bills to remove both the Sioux and the Winnebago (a tribe that had not been involved in the "massacre" a few months earlier. These Republicans were friends of the Lincoln administration but were facing pressure from their constituents to pass legislation against the Native Americans. These bills passed easily through Congress, were approved by Lincoln, and made into law by the beginning of March 1863. For more see: http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/38/v38i08p353-364.pdf

Although Lincoln approved this law, he wasn't satisfied with the federal government's policy toward Native Americans. In his statement to Congress on December 8, 1863, Lincoln says that, “Sound policy and our imperative duty to these wards of the government demand our anxious and constant attention to their material well-being, to their progress in the arts of civilization, and, above all, to that moral training which, under the blessing of Divine Providence, will confer upon them the elevated and sanctifying influences, the hopes and consolation of the Christian faith.I suggested in my last annual message the propriety of remodelling our Indian system. Subsequent events have satisfied me of its necessity. The details set forth in the report of the Secretary evince the urgent need for immediate legislative action.”

Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 8, 1863
Professor Pinsker: Was Lincoln a racist?
Professor Pinsker: How Did Lincoln's View of Slavery Change Through his Lifetime?
Lincoln Scholars Discuss Lincoln and Race
Frederick Douglass on President Lincoln after his meeting on August 1863: "the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely, who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, of the difference of color."

Douglass at ORATION IN MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, at Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1876, years after Lincoln's death and in the midst of a failed Reconstruction of the South and rampant racism and discrimination. http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?PAGE=4402
He was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a preeminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Instead of supplanting you at his altar, we would exhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most cunning workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful, and perfect; let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging blue, overhanging sky, and let them endure forever! But while in the abundance of your wealth, and in the fullness of your just and patriotic devotion, you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.
Frederick Douglass on Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln and the Plight of Blacks
Abraham Lincoln on Slavery
Abraham Lincoln on Colonization
Abraham Lincoln to Williamson Durley, Springfield, Illinois, October 3, 1845

I hold it to be a paramount duty of us in the free states, due to the Union of the states, and perhaps to liberty itself (paradox though it may seem) to let the slavery of the other states alone; while, on the other hand, I hold it to be equally clear, that we should never knowingly lend ourselves directly or indirectly, to prevent that slavery from dying a natural death---to find new places for it to live in, when it can no longer exist in the old. Of course I am not now considering what would be our duty, in cases of insurrection among the slaves.

For more information and a close reading of this document see: http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/lincoln/letter-to-williamson-durley-october-3-1845/
Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation, Washington, DC, January 1, 1863

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free...

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

For more information, see: http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/lincoln/emancipation-proclamation-january-1-1863/

Abraham Lincoln, First Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Ottawa, Illinois, August 21, 1858

I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self interest.

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, Washington, DC, March 4, 1865

...If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?
Fondly do we hope---fervently do we pray---that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

For more information, see: http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/lincoln/second-inaugural-address-march-4-1865/
Writing to Henry Wilson, William Herndon attributed Lincoln's feelings toward slavery to the fact that "Lincoln is a man of heart—aye as gentle as a woman's and as tender—but he has a will as strong as iron. He therefore loves all mankind—hates Slavery—every form of Despotism." Wilson agreed: "Your description of the Loving, tender, true, Just man was a correct one."
From: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala/2629860.0027.203?view=text;rgn=main#note_1
Phillip Shaw Paludan,“Lincoln and Negro Slavery: I Haven’t Got Time for the Pain,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 27 (Summer 2006), http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.2629860.0027.203

Lincoln "generally" displayed his empathetic qualities in all these circumstances. But were those qualities reflected when it came to the condition of slaves? There is very little evidence of Lincoln's sensitivity to the suffering of slaves in bondage. My count rests at five instances in a lifetime of fifty-six years. And slavery was a subject that Lincoln spoke on hundreds of times. But only two statements about slave suffering come directly from Lincoln. The others rest on memories, recollections gathered from friends and neighbors by men like William Herndon....

He said that black people "might not be" his equal or equal to whites in "certain respects." He conceded that if whites or blacks had to be ranked, he preferred that his own race be superior. But he never showed any enthusiasm for racist arguments. And when president he "opened the White House to black visitors in a way that set aside all precedent."

But there is firsthand evidence about Lincoln's reactions to slave suffering; firsthand, but ambiguous. It was September 27, 1841, and Lincoln wrote to his friend, Mary Speed, the half-sister of his best friend Joshua Speed. Lincoln had visited with her during a six-week stay at Speed's plantation near Lexington. Lincoln recalled a steamboat boat trip recently taken into the world of slavery. "By the way" the passage began, "A fine example was presented on board the boat for contemplating the effect of condition upon human happiness." A slave trader [Lincoln called him "a gentleman"] had "purchased" twelve "Negroes" [Lincoln did not use the word "slaves" in this letter, although he did speak once of "perpetual slavery."] in various parts of Kentucky and was taking them to "a farm" in the South. Here began the description of the twelve slaves "chained six by six together." Each slave [Lincoln wrote "each of them"] had an iron clevis on the left wrist and fastened to the main chain "like so many fish upon a trot line." But the physical pain did not impress so much as the fact that "they were being separated forever from the scenes of their childhood, their friends, their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, and many of them from their wives and children, and going into perpetual slavery where the lash of the master is proverbially more ruthless and unrelenting than any other where...."[26]
It was a scene that would have provoked fury and outrage in the writings of any abolitionist we know of. Yet Lincoln first said that "Nothing of interest happened during the passage" and commented on how well the Negroes seemed to take the horror they were facing. "Amid all these distressing circumstances ... they were the most cheerful and apparently happy creatures on board." A slave who had been sold away from his wife played the fiddle, and others "danced, sung, cracked jokes, and played cards" every day. "How true it is that 'God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,' or in other words, that He renders the worst of human conditions tolerable, while He permits the best, to be nothing better than tolerable.

However much or however little pain Lincoln felt for the suffering slaves didn't matter. He spent very little time weeping over their plight—all he did was to free them. The fact remains that Lincoln helped create a party that challenged the South and its institution; he preserved a Union that depended on freedom; and step-by-step throughout his presidency he expanded the domain of freedom for slaves. No one in his generation was more effective in doing that—whether warmhearted sympathetic abolitionist or devotee of the rule of law, the constitution, and the nation's best ideals. Black people, slaves especially, would have been glad if Lincoln felt their pain. But my guess is that, given a choice, they were happier that he freed them.
Abraham Lincoln, Address on Colonization to a Deputation of African-Americans, August 14, 1862

Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration. You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.

For more, go to: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/40363
Reverend J. Mitchell
Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862

Liberia and Hayti are, as yet, the only countries to which colonists of African descent from here, could go with certainty of being received and adopted as citizens; and I regret to say such persons, contemplating colonization, do not seem so willing to migrate to those countries, as to some others, nor so willing as I think their interest demands. I believe, however, opinion among them, in this respect, is improving; and that, ere long, there will be an augmented, and considerable migration to both these countries, from the United States….
“Congress may appropriate money, and otherwise provide, for colonizing free colored persons, with their own consent, at any place or places without the United States...
As to the first article, the main points are: first, the emancipation; secondly, the length of time for consummating it---thirty-seven years; and thirdly, the compensation....
For more information, see: http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/40533
Vorenberg, Michael. “Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Black Colonization.” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 14.2 (Summer 1993)
From: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.2629860.0014.204
Although most historians have conceded that Lincoln was motivated by politics as well as principle in his approach to emancipation and equal rights for blacks, there has been unending debate on his commitment to racial equality.[3] On the specific issue of colonization, scholars have focused far less on Lincoln's political calculations and far more on possible racial motivations. [4] Those who tend to see Lincoln as a racist usually assume that he never gave up the idea of deporting all free blacks, while those who believe in Lincoln as a racial egalitarian typically assert that his racial views matured as he realized that colonization could not work and that he came to believe that blacks had a legitimate claim to remaining in the United States.
An examination of Lincoln's efforts, and not just his rhetoric, in favor of colonizing blacks outside the United States suggests that Lincoln was as much motivated by political concerns as by his personal views toward blacks. His strategy was to propose colonization to sweeten the pill of emancipation for conservatives from the North and the border states, the slave states that did not secede during the Civil War; at the same time, he used political manipulation to prevent radicals from thwarting the colonization program and thus jeopardizing his ultimate goal of making emancipation an acceptable war aim to the Union cause. Lincoln, always a careful politician, admitted nothing of political motives behind his advocacy of colonization, so we are left only with his actions and the opinions of his contemporaries to lend insight into his true intentions. Yet even with such limited evidence, a clear picture emerges of Lincoln using the prospect of black colonization to make emancipation more acceptable to conservatives and then abandoning all efforts at colonization once he made the determined step toward emancipation in the Final Emancipation Proclamation.

Phillip Shaw Paludan. “Lincoln and Colonization: Policy or Propaganda?” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 25.1 (Winter 2004) n. pag. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.2629860.0025.104 “Lincoln and Colonization: Policy or Propaganda?” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 25.1 (Winter 2004) n. pag.

Lincoln saw colonization as one way to help blacks—those who wanted to leave this nation and set up in a place where white oppression would be less and where their own talents might flower. Other elements would also bring freedom to blacks who stayed here. Colonization does not have to be seen as the solution to what to do with the freed slaves. Lincoln knew it couldn't do the full job.
William Henry Herndon
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