Seeing the Round Corners

January 22, 2018


     Last week’s edition ended with two questions for modern-day readers about events leading to Major General George B. McClellan being relieved of his duties:

  • Would the results have been any different if McClellan had not been working so as to keep both sides in “the field till they are exhausted, when we will make a compromise and save slavery?”
  • Would the Civil War have ended sooner with fewer lives lost?

   Careful thought to the above questions is necessary to realize what was really at stake. Lincoln’s vision for the country could not be fulfilled with the country divided. Confederate forces advanced westward and Union forces were barely able to prevent them from bringing New Mexico and Colorado into the Confederacy.

In the early days of America, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians lived throughout Colorado, while the Southern Ute occupied Southwestern Colorado. Lincoln’s plans for westward expansion of settlement by white settlers and for the Pacific Railroad meant the Indians had to be removed from Colorado. 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.”

Lincoln’s true perception regarding the American Indians came through with “social expectations of conquest and possession driving the era of American expansionism.” As stated before, historical scholars found it “striking that American Indians did not figure into Lincoln’s concerns for the security of America, nor his appreciation for its national origin.”

Lincoln knew full well that America did not actually possess all of the territories it claimed, and his omission of the American Indians was also noteworthy in a later speech in 1859 wherein he discussed the resources available to the American people.

Lincoln’s speeches and correspondence prior to being elected President have been analyzed endlessly some would say. Lincoln stated “ . . . that Americ[a] owns a large part of the world, by right of possessing it; and all the rest by right of wanting it, and intending to have it.

Historical scholars determined that American Indians were implicit in that statement because “America did not actually possess all of the territories it claimed.” At the time Lincoln was well aware that “the American Indians living west of the Mississippi still asserted autonomous control over the regions they inhabited practically, if not nominally.”

Readers should also remember that Lincoln continually “viewed the presence of American Indians in the West as a foreign one that would eventually be overcome.” On a worldview, Lincoln took this position:  “American Indians’ territorial possession was a foreign though uninspiring concept.”

The Emancipation Proclamation’s freeing the slaves “set in motion massive social and political change,” but it also represented a shift in federal Indian policy. Hugely significant was that American Indians did nor receive the “equal” accord of Lincoln “ . . . sympathy toward minorities and forward thinking attitudes about equality,” as the slaves and free black persons received. Historian/professor Paul Finkelman wrote, “Indian policy was clearly secondary to the Civil War.” 

Lincoln was persuaded to appoint John Evans as Colorado’s second territorial governor. Evans was well known for his many civic accomplishments, including what is now known as the University of Denver, but what is notable about Evans is that his attitude toward the American Indians was in lock-step with Lincoln’s goals of dealing with the Indians – “neutralize or eliminate the American Indians in order for the country to expand westward.”

Lincoln idolized Henry Clay whose theory on the American Indians expressed while U. S. Secretary of State was this:  “The Indians’ disappearance from the human family will be no great loss to the world, as a race they are not worth preserving.


From Report of the John Evans Study Committee, University of Denver (2014):

  • In the after-math investigation of the Sand Creek massacre, Evans defended “what they call a massacre” as having had a “very great benefit” to Colorado in the long run, for “it relieved us very much of the roaming tribes of Indians.”
  • “The massacre is unique in that three federal investigations found the deeds committed at Sand Creek to be profound violations of nineteenth-century standards of diplomacy and warfare.”
  • This massacre is distinguished by being the lone military campaign against Native people at the hands of American soldiers that the United States government officially recognized as a massacre. (quoted from Ari Kelman, A Miosplaced Masssacre:  Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek.)  

From the Northwestern University Report on John Evans:

  • Referring to Evans’ conduct:  “Not only does his conduct ‘after the Sand Creek Massacre’ reveal ‘a deep moral failure,’ it is his conduct before the massacre that does so. It is not his response to the Sand Creek Massacre that was ‘reprehensibly obtuse and self-interested,’ reflecting ‘indifference to the suffering inflicted on Cheyennes and Arapahoes,’ it is all the actions he undertook and the attitude that he maintained before the massacre that not only reflected “indifference on the suffering inflicted on Cheyennes and Arapahoe,” but promoted suffering.”
   Yet, as Coloradans and tourists visiting from all over the world know, Evans is still idolized with Mount Evans named to memorialize him. Unfortunately, idolizing the morally corrupt individuals occurs in far too many cases.

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