Editorial: Lincoln’s words inspire U.S. today as in every crisis (2-12-43)

Brooklyn Eagle (February 12, 1943)

Editorial: Lincoln’s words inspire U.S. today as in every crisis

There in spirit to consecrate

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Americans today, with their constantly deepening affection for the personality of Abraham Lincoln, would be heartened by the certain knowledge that their course and their conduct in a time of national crisis met with the approval of this most appealing character in the history of their country.

It does not seem presumptuous, in view of all that is known of Lincoln, as revealed principally by his own words, to conclude that this generation of Americans shares with him his faith “that right makes might,” that it is animated by “fairness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,” and that it still retains that “patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people” that he considered as essential to the preservation of democracy.

It is more than three-quarters of a century now since Lincoln died. Yet today he still speaks eloquently to those who would maintain the democratic way of life, who would place their trust in the collective wisdom and decency of the people and who hold fast to the faith that he had in the indomitable power of a nation under God dedicated to a birth of freedom. As a people, we have had that faith in the past. Happily, there is abundant evidence in the tragic and the glorious record of this last year to prove that we have it now.

No anniversary is more welcome – none comes to the American people with a more inspiring and reviving touch – than the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. This is particularly true when the nation is deep in crisis, as it is today. The reasons for Lincoln’s hold on the friendly interest and the admiration of Americans are readily apparent. He was essentially a kindly man and bitter experiences had made him understanding and tolerant of human frailty.

He knew poverty and hardship. He knew personal disappointment and unhappiness. He knew defeat. The record of lost battles from Bull Run, which was attended by the element of disgrace, to Cold Harbor would in itself have been sufficient to bring despair. He knew incompetence and treachery and venality. But he had unfaltering faith in America and in the justice of its cause and, in the end, this faith was sustained.

In the present crisis, America has not been spared the consequences of mistakes, of lack of vision, of complacency. But there has been no failure of courage, no yielding to the temptation to compromise with principles, to put aside ideals and to follow an easier road than that which has been chosen. This nation, facing the necessity of expending blood and wealth, has been true to its traditions.

Lincoln, if he were on the scene today, would be satisfied that Americans are still willing to fight and to suffer for the translation into reality of the old dream of peace and brotherhood and freedom. He would not ask for perfection, realizing that he had made his own share of mistakes and that there had been blunderers all around him. He would ask that in this dark hour there be faith and courage and determination. And with these he would be satisfied.

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President Lincoln continues to inspire Americans and many others around the world in the year 2022.


I thought in recent years there had started to be a historical reconsideration of Lincoln, given his treatment of Native Americans. There have been protests against his statues etc.

There’s a definite line between an honest review of a particular period and championing with bias. Taking a position that is antithetical to the perceived popular narrative isn’t critical thinking – it’s just criticism – and speaks to a shallow motivation to claim some ethical superiority over the topic.

The natives were and are not a monolith. Each tribal relationship was unique to the politics of the era, even way back in the 1500s. By the time the Western tribes were being colonized, as you would put it, others had already been displaced or even integrated to the point where there was no longer conflict (see also: New England). Better to view it through a larger lens of trends.

On to Lincoln, there were treaties signed with the Western tribes that have lasted under Lincoln and here’s the important stuff – when you actually took into the treaty processes, you would see that the natives would play games to see what they could get away with. As in, they’d make an agreement beneficial to the tribe for land arrangements, then they’d allow squatting or violate the agreement, and there’d be conflict, and a modification or new treaty would be established. And that’s putting it broadly.

The Indian Office under Lincoln was resettling the Navajo to within their negotiated territory.

Follow the water:

And at the same time they were being pushed to their treaty areas, Lincoln was also protecting the rights and respecting the sovereignty of the Pueblos, who still hold Lincoln in high regard:

Now this is just a small snippet of what Lincoln’s policies with the Indians actually were. From all that I have read up on Lincoln’s dealing with the Indians, the worst thing you can say about him would be that he wasn’t quite experienced and was somewhat naïve with the Indians. “Lakota man said Lincoln bad before he sold me real prayer drum and dreamcatcher” doesn’t cut it with reality.

Indian politics was and is a lot more complicated than whatever blanket statements imply. The “popular” assumption is that the natives were victims – they were willing players in battle over land, just as you see in many civilizations for most of human history. There was a lot of aggression, and tribes which were either nomadic or predatory had a lot of trouble dealing with the white man. And, they were capable foes when they chose to be, and solid allies when they chose to be.

To presume that the Indians as a whole were just losers who were taken advantage of by Caucasian liars is, quite frankly, at best exaggerated, and at worst baloney and insulting.

If the narrative of the Indians you prefer is crafted by activists specifically to appeal to collective guilt and is emerged from a fundamental misunderstanding of the Indian Wars as a whole, you must reconsider your sources.

And? Does that make it good? This is why I’m calling for a huge reform in history education, so that this statue-toppling and subversive nonsense can cease.

Nearly all historical figures have done at least one heinous thing in their past – you can talk about them without trying to take down monuments built in their name out of pure emotional outrage and misguided narratives – the bad ways people were taught history (using bad sources, bad teachers, ideologues, hacks) in order to deliberately provoke and shock you are the reason you see this “tug-at-the-heartstrings” sappiness which I as a historian despise. Even TimeGhost is guilty of this:

This is not how you promote history.

You seem to be very defensive about all this and ascribing motive to me that weren’t there, rather than approaching the subject with an open mind.

You also seemed to have missed the main issue of contention. In case you are unaware Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in US history all of whom were native american.

I also think the picture you paint of the treatment of native americans generally in the 19th century could be charitable described as rose tinted at best.

I’m not the kind to defend Lincoln. In fact, I’m rather less forgiving of Lincoln than most historians, especially regarding the Civil War. And you could argue some of his dealings with the Indians could be seen as iffy and there was definitely some chicanery involved. But once again, as with most things about the Indian Wars, it’s more complicated than it appears on the surface, the chicanery was not universal and you also have to keep in mind how rather inexperienced he was regarding Indian affairs. His paternalistic attitudes toward the Indians didn’t help.

If anything, it’s you who’s having trouble approaching any subject with an open mind. I have never forgotten that time you accused me of downplaying racism in WWII (despite clear evidence):

You mean the 38 (initially to be 39, one received a reprieve) who were executed out of the 303 Sioux sentenced to death after an uprising and massacre by a rather hasty military tribunal (headed by Gen. Sibley) whose findings were thoroughly reviewed by Lincoln which resulted in most of those charged being pardoned due to the haphazard nature of the tribunal and the “massacres” vs. “battles” standard?

Here’s some context for anyone curious (check out these links):

The Interior Department, War Department and Indian Policy, 1865-1887 (Waltmann, July 1962):

This used the Bureau of Indian Affairs, military sources and Congressional reports from that time as sources.

One of the most shocking wartime uprisings occurred in southern Minnesota. What began as an isolated incident became a bloody massacre in which 644 citizens were killed. On August 17, four intoxicated Sioux killed five whites some distance from their agency. Fearing reprisal, some of the Sioux fled westward, while others under Little Crow indiscriminately murdered white neighbors and destroyed homesteads. The town of New Ulm was devastated and Fort Ridgley besieged before Gen. H. H. Sibley’s troops subdued the rampaging warriors.

The outbreak had drastic consequences for the Sioux and other tribes of Minnesota. The public was indignant and many openly advocated extermination of the natives. Even the Sioux agent declared it was time for “force and hard blows,” not “moral suasion, sugar plums and the like.” But when 300 Sioux were court-martialed and sentenced to die, Commissioner Dole and others protested vigorously. President Lincoln responded by pardoning all but 39 who, with one exception, were sent to the gallows at Mankato on December 26, 1862 [One of the Indians died before execution]. Later, not only the Sioux, but the Chippewas and peaceable Winnebagoes were expelled from the state. In addition, the military launched a series of expeditions into Dakota Territory to teach the red men that they could not defy the government.

The Sioux Massacre of 1862 was the extreme instance of Indian hostility during the period 1861-1865. Those who later argued for military control and a coercive Indian policy often cited this affair as “proof” that the Indians were irredeemable savages who could not be trusted to comply with peace treaties.

A few disagreements with this link, but overall pretty decent:

A more or less detailed look into the situation:

Homstad (December 2001):

Lincoln’s explanation for his decision to the Senate, Dec. 6, 1862:

Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I caused a careful examination of the records of trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females. Contrary to my expectations, only two of this class were found. I then directed a further examination, and a classification of all who were proven to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles.

Of the 38 executed, 29 had been convicted of murder, three for having “shot” someone, two for "participating in massacres,” one for mutilation and two for rape.

According to whom? The activists? Your professors? Have you yourself actually read up on the Indian Wars properly without just simply looking up popular narratives to suit your viewpoint?

The Indian Wars are a very complicated subject and making broad statements like that does the subject a great disservice. If you’re still going to criticize me, at least call me out for being too simplistic, just as I am calling you out for being too simplistic and close-minded. Or is it that you’re only satisfied when the narrative I present is always “Indians are victims”? Because it’s far more complicated than that. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that in wartime, things get messier and even more complicated.