Seeing the Round Corners

September 25, 2017


   Perhaps the on-going VIETNAM series by Ken Burns on the Public Broadcasting Station is the most powerful support to question the World’s historical attempts at solving differences by going to war. Modern-day opportunists from all sides are most adept at making history into whatever idea they are seeking to use it for.

Personally, this writer is not watching VIETNAM for one reason:  It was the most heinous destruction of American lives by a president and military big shots ever inflicted on America. There was no sane reason for the Vietnam War, and it solved nothing. The soldiers returning to America still suffer to this day, all these decades later – lack of adequate/proper medical and health benefits, long-term care, empathy and compassion for what they went through. Returning soldiers were booed upon rival, berated, insulted and assaulted. The number committing suicide will never be known, much less acknowledged by authorities.

Today’s military is quite a different matter, and perhaps the way military personnel are idolized and treated can be attributed to “you can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” Today’s soldiers deserve far more than they are getting.

Abraham Lincoln has long been idolized as the “Great Emancipator” from both sides in the broad spectrum of history. But there are two sides to that:

  1. Those who believe the Civil War was to free slaves in the United States (as designated in the Emancipation Proclamation); and
  2. Those who knew Lincoln’s most important policy was to settle the West which mean dealing with and “eradicating” the American Indians.

   Prior to being elected president, Lincoln had very little contact or experience with America’s Indians, except that historical accounts allege Lincoln’s grandfather was killed by an Indian in Kentucky, “probably a Shawnee Indian,” in 1786.

While President Lincoln attempted to portray in his annual messages to Congress that Indians were willingly ceding their land for homesteading in return for annuities and rations, all the while nothing was farther from the truth. Reality as learned from historical accounts and the President’s own correspondence prove a different story.

Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 (a year after the start of the Civil War), but also behind the scenes during this period was Lincoln’s work on the transcontinental railroad. Seldom mentioned in historical accounts of that time was that treaties with America’s Indian tribes also ceded millions of acres of tribal land for construction of railroads, unbeknownst to the Indians.

One historian, David Howard Bain, made this observation about Lincoln and the railroad:  “He was really the godfather of the Pacific railroad. If he had not thought of [the transcontinental railroad] as being a national priority, it wouldn’t have been done during the Civil War. (Bain 2008)”

As is often the case, there are a plethora of modern day books on Lincoln’s views on African Americans, the most dramatic result being the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing of the slaves, which when considering his background, brings those into question.

By most historical accounts, few slaves or free black persons lived in communities where Lincoln grew up (Indiana and Illinois). Lincoln had only minimum contact with salves and free black persons when he transported goods to New Orleans. (Note, Indiana and Illinois were not slave-holding states which gave Lincoln very little opportunity for first-hand knowledge about slaves and free black persons.) Such background brings into question the admiration attributed to Lincoln for “his sympathy toward minorities and forward thinking attitudes about equality.”

While Lincoln’s authorship of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves “set in motion massive social and political change,” it also represented a shift in federal Indian policy. The American Indians did not receive the  “equal” accord of Lincoln “...sympathy toward minorities and forward thinking attitudes about equality,” as the slaves and free black persons received. As one historian and professor (Paul Finkelman) wrote, “Indian policy was clearly secondary to the Civil War.”

The adulation accorded by modern-day writers to historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln is truly disheartening when it comes to the American Indians. This writer is hopeful readers will return in coming weeks for “Abraham Lincoln and the American Indians,” and for others research may reveal who are receiving unwarranted adulation.

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