Monday, September 13, 2021

Booknotes: Lincoln and Native Americans

New Arrival:
Lincoln and Native Americans by Michael S. Green (SIU Press, 2021).

Michael Green's Lincoln and Native Americans is the latest volume from SIU Press's Concise Lincoln Library, which is an extremely prolific series that "brings together expert scholars to elaborate on the life, times, and legacy of Abraham Lincoln." As mentioned before on the site, the library's collection of compact, tightly focused books "brings fresh perspectives to well-known topics, investigates previously overlooked subjects, and explores in greater depth topics that have not yet received book-length treatment."

In the introduction, Green reminds us that David Nichols's Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics (1978) remains the only full-length treatment of the subject but notes that that classic work (which is certainly due for an update) does not tell us much about the time before Lincoln was elected president. Green's own "evenhanded assessment explains how Lincoln thought about Native Americans, interacted with them, and was affected by them."

Though it's far too easy to get away with criticizing past national leaders for not having the priorities we might wish them to have had during period of intense crisis, Lincoln clearly "was not what those who wanted legitimate improvements in the lives of Native Americans would have liked him to be." To be fair, though, the author maintains that Lincoln "revealed none of the hatred or single-minded opposition to Native culture that animated other leaders and some of his own political and military officials. Lincoln did far too little to ease the problems afflicting Indigenous people at the time, but he also expressed more sympathy for their situation than most other politicians of the day."

More from the description: "At best, Lincoln’s record is mixed. He served in the Black Hawk War against tribes who were combating white encroachment. Later he supported policies that exacerbated the situation. Finally, he led the United States in a war that culminated in expanding white settlement. Although as president, Lincoln paid less attention to Native Americans than he did to African Americans and the Civil War, the Indigenous population received considerably more attention from him than previous historians have revealed." ... "In addition to focusing on Lincoln’s personal and familial experiences, such as the death of his paternal grandfather at the hands of Indians, Green enhances our understanding of federal policies toward Native Americans before and during the Civil War and how Lincoln’s decisions affected what came after the war. His patronage appointments shaped Indian affairs, and his plans for the West would also have vast consequences."

The book's final chapter "weighs Lincoln’s impact on the lives of Native Americans" and also engages in some 'what-if' analysis of how things might have been different had Lincoln not been assassinated at the beginning of his second term in office.


  1. Drew: Thanks for the "heads up" on this one. The series produces some very good, succinct volumes on important topics. This may be one of the more important.

    1. What are some favorites of yours from the series?

    2. I like the volumes on the Military, the Congress, the Union Governors, the Natural Environment, and Medicine. Those tackle subjects that either need a good overview or haven't gotten much attention period.


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