June 2012 Letters to the Editor
How does Gregory J. Scott know that President Lincoln was “arbitrary” in determining the number of Dakota to be sentenced to death (“The No-Win War,” May)? In Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising, Hank H. Cox writes that “Lincoln’s motivation for intervening on behalf of the convicted Sioux was […] an abiding passion for mercy.” He quotes Lincoln’s rationale as such:
“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, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females. Contrary to my expectations, only two of this class were found. I then directed a further examination, and a classification of all who were proven to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles. This class numbered 40, and included the two convicted of female violation. One of the number is strongly recommended by the Commission which tried them, for commutation to 10 years’ imprisonment. I have ordered the other 39 to be executed on Friday, the 19th.”
Lincoln’s explanation entirely refutes any opinion that his decision was arbitrary.
I was quoted correctly as stating that the Dakota combatants were “killers of defenseless people.” But I’m concerned about how readers will interpret the phrase about me drawing “comparisons to 9/11.” The comparison I make is that some see the 38 Dakota who were hanged as murderers while others see them as freedom fighters. With 9/11, some see the hijackers as terrorists while others view them as heroes. In both cases, people look at the same event and come to diametrically opposed conclusions.
I devoured your article on the Dakota War of 1862. I was very impressed with how you attempted to grapple with this intensely emotionally charged conflict. I’ve been obsessed with it for years and, as a schoolteacher, have worked to make sure some of the many voices are heard. Both sides need to be included. Yes, 38 men were hung, but there is also sadness for 600 settlers. Your article shaped this well. Truly, thank you.