Dakota Datebook

Lincoln’s Pardons

Saturday, December 6, 2008

  Two months of fighting in the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862 ended with
hundreds dead and over one thousand Native American prisoners. After a
series of hastily conducted military trials, General John Pope notified
President Lincoln that over three hundred Dakota prisoners had been sentenced
to death. Assuming the President would have no objections, Pope was surprised
when Lincoln insisted on reviewing each of the convictions before the
executions took place. Lincoln wanted to ensure that only those who participated
in massacres, and not battles, were slated for execution. Ignoring pressure
from the Minnesota press and congressional corps, on this date in 1862,
Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of the 303 condemned prisoners.

Lincoln’s decision was roundly criticized and it certainly cost him
votes in the 1864 presidential election. But as Lincoln later explained,
“I could not afford to hang men for votes.”

Written by Christina Sunwall

P.S. Ruckman, Jr., and David Kincaid, “Inside Lincoln’s Clemency
Decision Making ” http://ednet.rvc.cc.il.us/~PeterR/Papers/paper4.htm.
“The U.S.-Dakota Conflict”, EMuseum@ Minnesota State University
Mankato http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/history/mnstatehistory/thedakotaconflict.html.
Viola, Herman. “Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin Annual Address: Lincoln
and the Indians.” Historical Bulletin 31 (1976): 1-15. 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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