This summer I went to the largest U.S hanging site in history. It is located in Mankato where the Sioux/Dakota tribe once lived. In the park that the memorial is located, there is a wall that has a painting of what the view of the river was when the Indians lived there. I choose to go there because it sounded interesting and we in Mankato visiting my cousins. While I was there I learned that after a six-week war against the Dakota tribe in 1862, Henry Hastings Sibley, first governor of Minnesota and militia leader, had captured 2,000 Indians and sentenced 303 of them to death. The Indians crime was killing 490 white settlers, including women and children, in the Santee Sioux uprising in the previous summer. However, Lincoln who never hated the Indians disagreed with this. He looked at the case and pardoned 265 of the Indians, which was an unpopular decision among Americans. 150 years after the mass hanging occurred, Mankato built the memorial which features a large stone buffalo and a large glass scroll with the names of the 38 men who were hanged on December 26, 1862.
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In 1862 Minnesota was a new frontier state. White settlers were pushing Indians out and a series of broken peace treaties lead to the failure of the U.S to bring promised food and supplies to the Indians which was part of the payment for new land. The Sioux leader then led his starving and angry tribe in a series of attacks against the new settlers. Andrew Myrick, a local trader, said “Let them eat grass or their own dung” when the Sioux complained of late payments and starvation. These events led to the rebellion we now call the US-Dakota War of 1862.
One thing that Historians have noticed about the mass execution of the Indians is how differently Lincoln treated the Indian rebels versus the Confederate rebels. In an article from the New York Times in 2014, it mentions how Confederate soldiers were not given the death sentence even though they killed over 400,000 Union soldiers. Whereas the Indians, who only killed 490 white settlers were given the death sentence.
The trial against the Indians was very unfair considering the Indians didn’t speak English and they didn’t have any lawyers. In the first trial, 303 Indians were being sentenced to death but only the President could sign the death orders. In a message to the Senate in December 1862 Lincoln wrote, “Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I caused a careful examination of the records of trials to be made.” Lincoln didn’t want to cause another uprise so he pardoned the majority of the Indians sentenced. In contrast, none of the Confederate rebels were sentenced to death even though their crimes were virtually the same. However, it is significant that Lincoln reviewed the case at all. Minnesota leaders were expecting him to stamp the cases and send them back. Lincoln was often seen as sympathetic towards minorities but still, Indian policy was clearly second to the civil war. After looking back at different decisions like this one we see now that the Indians were treated much more unfairly than they teach in most history classes.
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