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Largest Mass Execution in American History

Tags U.S. HistoryWar and Foreign Policy

I was particularly moved by this passage from Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln (also available from Amazon.com), reviewed here by David Gordon. DiLorenzo is one of the few people to take an honest look at Lincoln, instead of treating him like a saint and making excuses for his atrocities. This passage is from the chapter, Was Lincoln a Dictator?

In 1861 the Santee Sioux Indians in Minnesota sold 24 million acres of land to the federal government for $1,410,000. By August 1862 thousands of white settlers were pouring onto the Indian lands, but there was such corruption in the government that almost none of the money was paid to the Sioux. A crop failure that year meant the Sioux were starving. The federal government refused to pay what it owed, breaking yet another Indian treaty, and the Sioux revolted. A short "war" ensued, with Lincoln putting General John Pope in charge.

Pope told a subordinate, "It is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux...They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made."

The Indians were overwhelmed by the Federal army by October, at which time the "war" was over and General Pope held hundreds of "prisoners of war," many of whom were women and children who had been herded into military forts. Military "trials" were held, each lasting ten to fifteen minutes, in which most of the male prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to death. The lack of hard evidence against the accused was manifest; many men were condemned to death just because they were present during a battle.

Three hundred and three Indians were sentenced to death, and Minnesota political authorities wanted to execute every one of them, something that Lincoln feared might incite one or more of the European powers to offer assistance to the Confederacy, as they were hinting they would do. So his administration pared the list of condemned men down to thirty-nine, with the promise to Minnesota's politicians that in due course the Federal army would remove every last Indian from Minnesota. This was the bargain: Lincoln would look bad if he allowed the execution of three hundred Indians, so he would execute only thirty-nine of them. But in return he would promise to have the Federal army murder or chase out of the state all the other Indians, in addition to sending the Minnesota treasures $2 million.

On December 26, 1862, Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in American history — and yet the guilt of the executed could not be positively determined beyond reasonable doubt.

For those interested, there are MP3-formatted lectures on Lincoln given by Prof. DiLorenzo and Prof. Denson on Mises Media, under the section Reassessing the Presidency series:

Also of interest may be an James Ostrowski's DiLorenzo and His Critics on the Lincoln Myth, which summarizes DiLorenzo's charges against Lincoln, and responds to some erroneous criticisms.

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