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The subsequent trials of the prisoners gave little attention to the injustices the Indians had suffered on the reservations and largely catered to the popular desire for revenge. However, President Lincoln’s commutation of the majority of the death sentences clearly reflected his understanding that the Minnesota Uprising had been rooted in a long history of Anglo abuse of the Santee Sioux
originally posted by: halfoldman
Sentencing all those men to death showed his "understanding" of their "plight"?
Is that how history should be interpreted?
"... in Minnesota, more than 300 Santee Sioux are found guilty of raping and murdering Anglo settlers and are sentenced to hang. A month later, President Abraham Lincoln commuted all but 39 of the death sentences. One of the Indians was granted a last-minute reprieve, but the other 38 were hanged simultaneously..."
"In Criminal Law, commutation is the substitution of a lesser punishment for a greater one. Contrasted with clemency, which is an act of grace eliminating a sentence or punishment, commutation is the modification or reduction of a punishment."
Minnesota was a new frontier state in 1862, where white settlers were pushing out the Dakota Indians—also called the Sioux. A series of broken peace treaties culminated in the failure of the United States that summer to deliver promised food and supplies to the Indians, partial payment for their giving up their lands to whites. One local trader, Andrew Myrick, said of the Indians’ plight, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.”
The Dakota leader Little Crow then led his “enraged and starving” tribe in a series of attacks on frontier settlements. The “US-Dakota War” didn’t last long: After six weeks, Henry Hastings Sibley, first governor of Minnesota and a leader of the state militia, captured 2,000 Dakota, and a military court sentenced 303 to death.
Lincoln, however, was “never an Indian hater,” Eric Foner writes in his Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. He did not agree with General John Pope, sent to put down a Sioux uprising in southern Minnesota, who said “It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so.” Lincoln “carefully reviewed the trial records,” Foner reports, and found a lack of evidence at most of the tribunals. He commuted the sentences of 265 of the Indians—a politically unpopular move. But, he said, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”