Adapted from an excerpt from Presidents' Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best American Presidents Based on How Many Lived or Died Because of Their Actions, available at https://www.smashwords.com/....
On this Fourth of July, many editorials will be discussing American freedom. This is the perfect occasion to reflect on both of the biggest contradictions of a nation claiming to be founded on liberty: The enslavement of Blacks, the extermination of Indians, and the president, Lincoln, who led some of the strongest efforts to end both these wrongs.
This may be the most widely known and least disputed argument in American history. Lincoln won the Civil War, keeping the United States united and abolishing slavery. Most who dispute Lincoln's success fall into two camps, white racists or Black racists. The former hate Lincoln because they hate Blacks and/or defend slavery and the white supremacist Confederacy created solely to defend enslavement based on race. The latter hate Lincoln because they hate whites and believe no white man can be trusted. What is far less known is that Emancipation enabled a Republican effort that freed California Indians as well.
The number of lives saved by Lincoln is impressive. American slaves had an infant mortality rate double that of free people. This includes a higher death rate than either poor whites or free Blacks. Every additional year of slavery in the US killed thousands of Black and Indian infants.
The Confederacy also planned to bring back the slave trade. This would have brought a death rate from 10-50% for slaves smuggled in despite the British Navy's efforts to stop the slave trade. In Cuba and Brazil, the slave trade continued illegally right up to the time of abolition. In the US the last illegal slave ship docked in the US in 1859. The Confederacy could not smuggle in slaves anymore because of the American blockade, but no doubt would have wanted to. Their internal slave trade continued right up until surrender. When Richmond fell, American troops found slaves still in the slave pens and auction houses.
The Confederacy also planned wars of aggression against Mexico and the Dominican Republic. There were also plans for war against Spain to take Cuba and Puerto Rico, or buy the colonies. Since the Confederate government was broke and its economy crippled by blockade and a slave general strike and huge numbers of escaped slaves, they did not have money to buy these colonies.
It is unlikely the CSA could have invaded Guam and the Philippines as the US did in the Spanish-American War. The CSA lacked the ability to send an invasion halfway around the world. The rather pathetic Confederate Navy was always small, most of them destroyed by the US Navy, scuttled, or unseaworthy. There were also Confederate pirates that had little effect on the war. But an invasion only 90 miles from Florida was possible.
The death toll from similar wars ranged from perhaps 90,000 deaths in the Spanish-American War, at least 10,000 deaths in the Dominican War of Restoration, and at least 24,000 deaths from the French invasion of Mexico. It is uncertain if the death toll would be as high for the last, since their intent was to take several states, not all of Mexico. But the toll would have been even higher for any conquest of Cuba or the Dominican Republic. The Dominicans defeated Spanish invaders. Mexicans defeated French invaders. Cuban rebels took control of two thirds of Cuba before US troops joined the war. Any Confederate wars thus would be longer and costlier. So Lincoln's defeat of the Confederacy may have saved more than 124,000 lives in four nations from three potential Confederate wars of aggression.
There is no denying war is evil, but there are also righteous wars that must be fought for the greater good of humanity. The Civil War was one of two such wars in US history, against an irredeemably evil foe defending an irredeemably evil institution. Lincoln deserves credit for ending the monstrosity that was slavery and the equally monstrous Confederacy.
Emancipation greatly slowed but did not end the sharp decline of the California Indian population. Genocide and enslavement ended, but reservation conditions still led to Native population declines from starvation, disease, and violence from Anglo-American colonists. The California Indian population, just like Natives population on reservations nationwide, did not finally start to grow again until the 1900s.
The United States (Union) Army and Navy, especially Generals Grant and Sherman deserve as much credit as Lincoln. They successfully defeated the Confederacy despite huge tactical disadvantages. Confederate territory was enormous, half the size of Europe. This land was mostly shielded by the Appalachian Mountains. To defeat the Confederate insurgents, the US Army had to basically march down the barrel of a shotgun, fighting their way either through northern Virginia or the Mississippi Valley. The US Navy also faced the daunting task trying to blockade over 3000 miles of coast, plus seizing the Mississippi River. In the end the US military found it easier to simply take port cities.
Ironically, the Confederate government and military played a big part in their own defeat through their incompetence. The CSA government often was divided and bickering with state governments. Such bumbling led to famine in the south, with both Georgia and Texas governors refusing to allow their food to aid the hungry. Confederate generals such as Robert Lee were also often less competent than their reputation. Though Lee did halt US armies, he did so by losing proportionately greater numbers of his own men in a number of pyrrhic victories. Lee also was badly beaten in four battles, the first loss earning him the nickname “Granny.” Lee only seems a great general for two reasons: by comparison to even worse commanders such as McClellan, and because former Confederates endlessly promoted him despite the facts.
Lee's promoters and other Confederacy defenders are known as the Lost Cause or Redeemers, and their devotion to him was as fanatic as any fundamentalist's and as immune to facts or reason. Originally led by former CSA General Jubal Early, they established the Southern Historical Society. Most images of Lee, Jackson, and Stuart as noble Confederate heroes can be traced back to the Lost Cause. Lost Cause partisans also led long campaigns to denigrate Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman, creating myths such as the supposed horrors of the march through Georgia.
The Lost Cause continues today, promoted by white supremacists in the Neo Confederate movement, especially the Sons of Confederate Veterans and its Confederate Veterans magazine, the League of the South secessionists, the segregationist Conservative Citizens Council (formerly the White Citizens Council), and the Southern Legal Resource Center. Perhaps the Neo Confederates' greatest success has been popularizing their slogan “Heritage not Hate” while successfully hiding their white supremacist beliefs from much of the public. The SCV even hoodwinked the State of Georgia into offering the slogan on their license plates, and part of the fee goes to the SCV. This means Georgia state taxpayer money goes directly to this white supremacist organization.
The Republican Party of California, Lincoln's appointees and allies, brought an end to legal enslavement of Blacks and California Indians. Much of what Lincoln accomplished is well known to the public, but is still no less important or impressive. A slight majority of northerners actually initially favored letting the Confederacy secede. Even many of his own cabinet were defeatist. Incompetence mixed with outright sabotage and collaboration with Confederates by Buchanan's administration made Lincoln's task almost impossible. Many did not believe the United States would stay one nation. Lincoln himself had many doubts.
Yet by a mixture of eloquence, political skill, and canny coalition building, Lincoln united Congress and elements of the US public, from Abolitionist churches to German free thinking radicals to free Blacks to working class southern whites. There were large sections of the northern areas disloyal or apathetic, rural whites in the Ohio Valley and urban Irish populations in large cities. Contrary to some claims, border slave states were mostly loyal, with three quarters of the population staying pro US. Confederate armies invading north found few sympathizers.
Racists, both white and Black, often spread lies about Lincoln's abolitionism, as do others. One of the most obvious lies is that Lincoln supposedly owned slaves. Claiming that a man living almost all his life in a free state (Illinois) who was a poor country lawyer barely able to afford a small home could be a slave owner is ludicrous. The more complicated lie is to accuse Lincoln of racism.
Was Lincoln a racist? This claim usually comes from Confederate apologists who care nothing about racism, and it is virtually impossible to be more racist than Confederate leaders. Lincoln, like every other great civil rights president, started off as a conflicted racist, but then became a reformed racist fighting against his former nature.
Prior to the Civil War, Lincoln at times argued Blacks were inferior. In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Douglas as the far more racist of the two angrily accused Lincoln of being “the Black man's friend.” Lincoln responded with a qualified defense of Black civil rights. He said he did not favor intermarriage nor Blacks on juries, but he did believe Blacks had the right to earn a living and live free from slavery and violent racism.
Early on, Lincoln favored colonization of former slaves, voluntarily trying to send them to Africa, the Caribbean, or Central America. But from 1862 until the end of his life, Lincoln was a dedicated anti racist and the strongest advocate for Black equality possible. In newly free Louisiana, Lincoln ended slavery, ordered the vote for Blacks, free schools, and publicly spoke for the equality of Blacks. His opinion changed both from searching his own conscience and from frequent meetings with Frederick Douglass. Douglass described Lincoln as one of the few white men he ever met to truly treat him as an equal.
At the start of the war Lincoln feared trying to emancipate all slaves would alienate border states and large parts of the north hostile or indifferent to abolitionism. Emancipation was both a wily military and political strategy and a sincere effort that transformed the war into a moral cause. The Emancipation Proclamation crippled the Confederate economy, leading to even greater numbers of runaway slaves and a wider general strike among slaves still on plantations.
Emancipation also ended any chance for the Confederacy to ever get recognition from other nations, for abolition was already a fact in most of Europe and Latin America and as appealing to the masses of ordinary people as it was hated by elites. Emancipation transformed the war from one of self-preservation to a great crusade for justice. US soldiers were far more abolitionist than the general public. We know this from reading their letters and diaries. The general pattern became; abolitionist young men joined the military; or they became abolitionists after seeing slavery firsthand in the south; soldiers then tried to win their family and friends to the abolitionist cause in their letters; upon returning home, veterans pushed anti slavery beliefs even more to those they knew.
Abolishing slavery also meant there was a huge pool of Blacks for both the US military and its labor needs. By war's end, Blacks made up as much as a quarter of the US Army and many others worked as army laborers. Former slaves also became most of the guides and spies for the US Army. Bands of runaway slaves fought the Confederate military.
Lincoln's record on American Indians, though limited by his focus on the Civil War, is a mixture of neglect, brute force, and attempts to bring better treatment for Natives. In two instances, Lincoln was party to great atrocities. In the southwest, Colonel Kit Carson, on the orders of General Carleton, attacked Navajo villages and tried to round up the entire tribe. Thousands of Navajo were force marched to Bosque Redondo in the Long Walk, much like the Trail of Tears. Bosque Redondo has some of the most barren land in the US, its water mostly undrinkable but an easy source of malaria. After years of protest, the Navajo were returned to their homelands in a very reduced reservation.
The Long Walk began in the last year of Lincoln's life but was mostly carried out under Johnson, and the Navajos returned to their homeland shortly before Grant became president. There is little sign Lincoln paid much attention to the Long Walk. Lincoln did approve using Bosque Redondo to hold the Navajo, on Carleton's recommendation. There is little evidence Lincoln knew of the grim conditions or what Carson's tactics would be.
Late in Johnson’s term, news of the high number of Navajo deaths in Bosque Redondo hit the national papers, and tribal leaders Barboncito and Manuelito came to Washington to plead their people’s case. Johnson, as much of a delayer and believer in half measures as usual, only agreed to send General Sherman to investigate. Sherman did so, and despite his portrayal by some as being anti Native, he agreed removal to Bosque Redondo was unjust and conditions inhumane. Sherman signed the treaty returning the Navajo to their homeland.
In Minnesota, the Dakota tribe suffered as well, and here Lincoln has less of an excuse but far more of a mixed record. The Dakota reservation could not feed the Dakota people. White colonists worsened conditions by squatting on reservation land, farming, logging, or hunting illegally. Crooked agents often stole funds intended for the Dakota, or supplied spoiled food and shoddy equipment. When federal agents refused to give Dakota food on credit, some warriors attacked the agency. Soon warriors began raiding colonist farms, and then killing in revenge for colonist thefts from the reservation. An escalating cycle of retribution brought in local militias and the regular army.
Most Dakota warriors surrendered within a few months. Several hundred colonists and over 100 Dakota were dead. Slightly over 300 Dakota were tried in military courts and sentenced to death. Most “trials” lasted under five minutes, were held in English and not explained to the accused. The Dakota had no lawyers, were not allowed to testify, and likely none of them even knew what was happening.
Lincoln reviewed the cases and spared over five sixths of the accused Dakota. He overturned the verdicts on all but 38 of the 301 Dakota prisoners, setting 263 prisoners free. Lincoln took special care that no Dakota accused only of taking part in battle was executed, allowing only those found guilty of both murder and rape of civilians to be executed.
But it is certain the remaining 38 did not have fair trials and many were likely innocent. Some Christian religious leaders urged all Dakota be set free. General Pope and Minnesota Governor Ramsey told Lincoln there were white vigilantes waiting to carry out reprisals on the reservation if some Dakota were not executed. Lincoln feared a continuing cycle of retribution, but the right thing for him to have done was use US troops to protect Dakota from the colonists.
Next election the Republican Party did poorly in Minnesota. Ramsey told Lincoln the vote would be different with more executed Dakotas. Lincoln replied acidly, “I could not afford to hang more men for votes.” As for the remaining Dakota, they were forced off their Minnesota homeland into what became South Dakota. Two more Dakota warriors who fled to Canada were kidnapped and then executed after similar farcical trials.
In California, most Natives had been either mass murdered or enslaved even before the state of California legalized Indian slavery during the Gold Rush. A Democratic state legislature majority even succeeded in 1860 in expanding Indian slavery from “orphans” and “vagrants” to virtually any Indian by forcing ten year apprenticeships on them, de facto slavery. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation pressured California's state government to change its laws.
Lincoln's newly appointed Superintendent of California Indian Affairs, George Hanson, was the first government agent to harshly prosecute the kidnapping of Indians. Republican congressmen overturned the apprenticeship laws in 1863. Lincoln passing the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 abolished slavery, period, whether Black or Indian. When Anglo-American slave owners tried using debt slavery, California Indian agents stopped them in 1867 with the Anti Peonage Act.
Almost all the anti slavery laws were intended to end Black slavery or aid former Black slaves. But Lincoln or his appointees and Republican allies used them to end Indian slavery in California. Shortly before his death, Lincoln said to aides that California Indians had been very poorly treated and one of his next priorities would be doing more for them.
Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College, a former Fulbright Scholar, and the author of Presidents' Body Counts. He is a longtime activist for www.newagefraud.org. More information on him is at http://alcarroll.com.