By John A. O'Brien
Saturday, October 15, 2022
In Chicago's Lincoln Park - A Defaced "Standing Lincoln"
A person or persons who remain anonymous chose to honor "Indigenous Peoples Day" in Chicago by defacing a celebrated monument to the first America president to implement the governing principle that all people are created equal and entitled to inalienable rights. The target was a statue of a "Standing Lincoln" created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1887.
It is intended to represent the 16th president as a thoughtful and principled leader.
The vandals acted to remind the public of the execution of 38 Dakota Sioux men in 1862. They left a statement of purpose “to tear down the myth of Lincoln as great liberator and expose his complicity in the genocide of Indigenous peoples and theft of their lands.” The statement also said that "Lincoln chose to execute the Dakota 38 to cater to white settler communities’ demands for racist violence.”
The protesters in Chicago ignored the critical role Lincoln played in advancing the rights of all minorities. As Lincoln was mobilizing support for a legal framework to end slavery, he received notice from the army in Minnesota of an intent to execute 300 Dakota for murdering hundreds of white settlers. Passions were high on the frontier. Lincoln meanwhile was managing several other crises at that time, December 1862. Any other leader would likely have accepted the verdict of that distant military court and allowed the 300 to die. Instead, Lincoln demanded a halt to the proceedings until he had personally reviewed the trial records for every convicted man. Lincoln found errors in the records that allowed him to push against those howling for revenge. Lincoln returned the largest mass pardon in U.S. history by preventing the execution of more than 260 wrongly convicted men.
There is good reason to celebrate the lives of historical figures with monuments in the public square. It is important to recognize the values and contributions of those who have helped move society in the right direction, in spite of their imperfections. W.E.B. Dubois wrote of our 16th president:"The foibles and contradictions of the Great do not diminish but enhance the worth and meaning of their upward struggle. Of all the great figures of the 19th century, I love Lincoln not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed."
The Lincoln Group of DC has worked on behalf of the recently established Chicago Monuments Committee to help contextualize the Lincoln Park statue. This committee was charged to identify and recommend disposition for hundreds of city monuments that were potentially offensive, problematic or did not present an equitable view of history. The committee gave its final report earlier this year. It did not recommend the removal of the Lincoln statue but instead suggested a plaque to add broader historical context. The current plaque only describes the architectural importance of the monument.
(Photo credit: Emmanuel Camarillo/Chicago Sun-Times)