By David J. Kent
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
The Lincoln Group of DC Study Forum recently finished reading Michael S. Green’s book, Lincoln and Native Americans, the most recent volume in the Concise Lincoln Library series from Southern Illinois University Press. We covered the book in two lively sessions and learned much about Lincoln’s rather limited, but recently controversial, interactions with Native peoples.
A version of the following review and summary was published in the Spring 2021 edition of the Lincolnian newsletter, mailed quarterly to all Lincoln Group members.
In keeping with the Concise Lincoln Library tradition, Green writes a short, but information packed, overview of Lincoln's relationships with Native Americans. The author touches on Lincoln's grandfather's death "by stealth," Lincoln's own limited service (sans action) in the Black Hawk War, and the history of the Indian System in the United States (including the Trail of Tears instigated by Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal policy). Green then spends time evaluating Lincoln's own actions relative to the Dakota War in Minnesota and lack of substantive action on most other Indian affairs issues. As was the norm at the time and accentuated by Lincoln's constant distraction called the Civil War, most of the policies had been in place for decades and were handled by local agents officially put in place by Lincoln but really just rubber stamped by him based on congressmen's recommendations for their districts. Lincoln's, or more accurately perhaps, the long-standing American policies of continued western expansion, do influence relations with Native populations, but that would likely have been the case for any president, especially a Republican one promoting land grant colleges, homesteading, and the transcontinental railroad. The book does a good job of evenhandedly bringing out Lincoln's negatives on Indian policy while keeping in mind his focus on the Civil War and African American emancipation. The author correctly notes that while there was considerable public push for emancipation, there was no similar push for Native American rights. I would recommend this book as a good starter for those who want to learn more about Lincoln and Native Americans, then suggest readers do a deeper dive into the more academic Nichols's "Lincoln and the Indians" and also Berg's "38 Nooses," the latter of which focuses on the Dakota War and the role of Little Crow.
A media resource on Lincoln and Native American Policy can be read on our website.