Abraham Lincoln and Minnesota

Abraham Lincoln and Minnesota

Minnesota copy
Abraham Lincoln never was able to visit Minnesota. It was the only state in the Midwest that Mr. Lincoln missed. In the summer 1859, Mr. Lincoln was invited “to visit [Minnesota] during the fall, and participate in the coming canvas” by attorney Daniel Rohrer, the Minnesota Republican chairman. Mr. Lincoln replied that he “disliked to decline the invitation. But on full consideration, I feel constrained to decline; from the necessity, (made very stringent by having lost nearly the whole of last year,) of my attending our fall courts. I regret this; but it is no less than a necessity with me.”1 A few weeks later, Mr. Lincoln told an Iowa correspondent who wanted him to visit there that “I am pressingly urged to go to Minnesota…” But according to the would-be speaker from Illinois, “It is bad to be poor. I shall go to the wall for bread and meat, if I neglect my business this year as well as last.”2

Had Mr. Lincoln gone to Minnesota, he would have followed former Illinois Senator James Shields, with whom he had almost dueled in 1842 and whom he had almost defeated for reelection to the Senate in 1855. Shields had moved to Minnesota and briefly represented the state in the U.S. Senate in 1858-1859. Shields was more peripatetic than Mr. Lincoln and was a California resident when President Lincoln appointed him an Union general at the beginning of the Civil War. The former Illinois state auditor served in the East, fighting Confederate General Stonewall Jackson at Port Republic in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. He resigned his commission in 1863 and returned to California. He would briefly serve as a U.S. Senator from Missouri in 1879.

At the 1860 Republican National Convention, Minnesota gave all of its eight votes to Senator William H. Seward on the first, second and third ballots. Governor Alexander Ramsey joined the delegation that officially informed Mr. Lincoln of his nomination. He actively promoted Mr. Lincoln’s candidacy. He told constituents on his return to Minnesota: “The candidate for president is a western man – a pioneer, one who helped to settle this great valley, where soon will be the majority of the wealth and population of the confederacy; with his own toil he helped to settle it – to redeem it from the wilderness and contribute to its present greatness. From the position of a ragged and barefoot emigrant boy, he has won his present proud station before the people. He knows their hearts, their wants, their feelings. With your homestead bills and river and harbor improvements and your internal growth, ‘Honest Old Abe’ will ever be found to sympathize and to assist.” 3 The campaign in Minnesota was a quiet one because Democrats effectively conceded that it would go Republican. In the November election, Abraham Lincoln received more that 63% of the state’s votes for president.

Shortly after his inauguration in March 1861, President Lincoln replied to a visiting Minnesota delegation led by Senator Morton S. Wilkinson: “I am very glad to meet you this evening, and thank you for the compliment of this visit. I have no time to make a speech even if I desired to do so, but I wish to express the pleasure I have experienced in contemplating your enterprising people, and watching the rapid advance of everything desirable in that young sister in the Republic-Minnesota. You may some of you differ from me, and I may be wrong, but, according to my judgment, the people up your way have very correct political views, and so in that particular, also, I give them my approbation. (Laughter.) And while their political sentiments accord with mine, I have no reason to doubt that they look upon the rights of their brethren further South, as being entirely equal to their own. (Applause.) And that while Minnesota will maintain her principles, she will require and permit nothing to be done, that does not favor the maintenance of the Constitution and fidelity to the Union. (Cheers.)” Afterwards, according to journalist Henry Villard, “The President then shook hands, and bowed himself out with less grace than Beau Brummel or Chesterfield, excusing himself by informing his guests that ‘a great man of my own making…is waiting for me upstairs.'”4

Wilkinson had been elected to the Senate in 1858. Historian E.V. Smalley wrote: that “Wilkinson was commanding in personal appearance. He was an eloquent speaker, earnest and impressive, and an effective political campaigner.”5 With the inauguration of President Lincoln, one of Wilkinson’s chief objectives was winning the appointment of Clark W. Thompson, a Minnesota businessman in the job in Indian. Thompson got the job and the Lincoln Administration got a lot of trouble. According to historian David A. Nichols, Thompson concentrated on his business and political interests while he “demonstrated only minimal concern for the Indians he supervised.”6 Unfortunately such dereliction of duty was not uncommon among Indian Affairs agents.

Wilkinson was a frequent visitor to the White House. He said that he remembered “during the dark days of 1862, during the time when President Lincoln used to tell us that when he got up in the morning it was his purpose and endeavor to do the very best he could and knew how for that day, not being able to foresee, or devise or determine what might be done, or what was best to be done for the morrow, that the Republican Senators used to meet almost every day in caucus, and by caucus conference decide upon the action they would take on pending legislation, so as to leave no chance for hesitation, or division, among themselves, but always to present a united and unbroken front to the Democratic opposition, and so as to furnish the public opinion of the North with no suspicion of division or doubt or despondency in the Republican councils.”

“But it was not always fair sailing even in our Republican caucus. The Senators met in this way one morning when some grave and important measure (which I do not now remember) was about to come up for action, I recollect that on that occasion we regaled by a long statement and speech from Mr. [Jacob] Collamer to the effect that he had about made up his mind that the country would no longer endure the reverse, and the expenses and losses which had occurred. Mr. [William P.] Fessenden followed in a similar strain. After him came [Ira] Harris, and then several others.”
“Mr. [Benjamin F.] Wade finally turned to [Zachariah] Chandler and I said: ‘This is no place for us.’ The men who have already spoken, if they join their votes with the democrats can defeat the measure. If this kind of feeling is to prevail the question is decided against us. He rose up to go and we followed.”
“They called him back, and asked him why he was going. He repeated in a short address what he had said sotte voce to us. ‘From the talk I have already heard,’ said he, ‘I see that this measure is beaten. Your votes gentlemen, if they agree with your talk will suffice with the help of the Democratic minority to kill the bill. There is no reason why we should stay. You can vote down the measure, and cripple the prosecution of the war, and bring about the ruin of the country – but I warn you that I shall demand the ayes and noes and that you shall go upon the record and take the full responsibility of your action.'”
“We went out – there was a short session, and after it there was again a notice to meet in caucus. The fainthearts had canvassed the matter over, and when the discussions began it was altogether in a different tone and temper. The caucus unanimously resolved to put the measure through without delay; and next day the bill was passed. Mr. Fessenden himself making the champion speech in its favor.”7

President Lincoln told Wilkinson in mid-1863: “I have here some papers which I started in this morning to carefully examine. They contain the entire proceedings of a military court for the trial of a young soldier for desertion. And they contain minutes of the testimony taken on the trial, together with the conviction and sentence to death of the boy. I have read just three pages of the testimony, and have found this: ‘The boy said when first arrested that he was going home to see his mother.’ I don’t think that I can allow a boy to be shot who tried to go home to see his mother. I guess I don’t want to read any more of this.”8

Wilkinson’s behavior presented other problems for Mr. Lincoln. Lincoln aide John Hay wrote: “The other day, Wilkinson, of Minnesota, went – sober – to the executive mansion, and talked with the President soberly about the Indian massacres. In the afternoon he met the bilious and ill-conditioned arrangement that does the correspondence of the Evening Post, and in that day’s letter of this latter worthy, appeared the statement that a ‘distinguished Northwestern Senator had gone to the President and told him the people of the Northwest had lost all confidence in him.’ Now, Wilkinson was known to be sober in the morning, and so, of course, said nothing of the kind.” 9

Wilkinson failed to be elected in 1864. Journalist Noah Brooks recalled: “A Western Senator who had failed of a reelection, brought his successor, one day, and introduced him to the President. Lincoln, in reply, expressed his gratification at making the acquaintance of a new Senator. ‘Yet,’ he added, ‘I hate to have old friends like Senator W — go away. And – another thing – I usually find that a Senator or Representative out of business is a sort of lame duck. He has to be provided for.’ When the two gentleman had withdrawn, I took the liberty of saying that Mr. W– did not seem to relish that remark. Weeks after. When I had forgotten the circumstance, the President said, ‘You thought I was almost rude to Senator W– the other day. Well, now he wants Commissioner Dole’s place!’ Mr. [William P.] Dole was then Commissioner of Indian Affairs.”10

At the beginning of the Lincoln Administration, a patronage fight broke out between Governor Alexander Ramsey and the members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, who by Lincoln Administration custom, controlled the state’s patronage. At first, the congressional delegation indicated they would work with Ramsey and vice versa, but that cooperation evaporated in March 1861. Upset with the disposition of positions for Minnesota, Ramsey traveled to Washington in early April 1861 to present his case. According to historian John C. Haugland, “Three considerations militated against a mutual understanding between Governor Ramsey and the Congressional delegation. First, there was the difficulty in maintaining party unity once the battle against a political foe had been own and the spoils of victory were available. A second factor of importance was the make-up of the delegation, which included individuals with high political aspirations of their own. And finally, there was the policy adopted by President Lincoln in determining the distribution of patronage.”11 Congressman Cyrus Aldrich, in particular, was determined to use patronage to weaken Ramsey and strengthen his case for elevation to the Senate in 1863.

Ramsey, a former Whig congressman from Pennsylvania, had moved to Minnesota when appointed as the territory’s governor in 1849. He turned his legal talents to real estate and managing Indian affairs – not without, in the latter case, considerable controversy. He enjoyed with another Indian affairs agent Henry J. Sibley mixed friendship and rivalry. Sibley defeated him for governor of the territory in 1857 but Ramsey won in 1859. “At the time of his election in 1859 Ramsey was still a vigorous young man under forty-five, broad-shouldered and deep-chested,” wrote historian William B. Hesseltine. “His massive head his large muscular frame, and his open countenance bespoke many homely virtues. He was no intellectual, but he had strength of character and much personal dignity. With his firmness and decision of manner was combined an unfailing good humor that undoubtedly contributed much to his wide popularity,” 12 Historian John C. Haugland wrote: “Albeit there was distrust and dissension among the members of the party, there was little opposition to Ramsey’s re-election as governor in the fall of 1861…In the election that followed, the Republican state ticket was returned to office, and the part continued to hold a decisive majority in the legislature.”13

Congressman Aldrich jockeyed with Ramsey for advantage through much of 1862 while the newspaper allies of Aldrich and Ramsey battled over their past dealings as federal Indian and land agents. Ramsey maneuvered for designation as the next senator at a special legislative session he called to deal with Indian matters in September 1862. When the Republican caucus met in January, it required 26 ballots for Ramsey to receive the required majority. Ramsey replaced Democratic Senator Henry M. Rice in the senate in 1863. But inadvertently, Ramsey had created a problem. He had to hold two offices for three months because the lieutenant governor had already taken office in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ramsey slighted Lieutenant Governor Ignatius Donnelly several times at the beginning of the Civil War and Donnelly exacted his revenge by bailing out of his job at the end of his term in favor of a term in Congress – leaving Ramsey little choice but to remain in office until a successor could take his place.

Before he joined the Senate, Governor Ramsey was at the center of a major crisis. The handling of Indian affairs in Minnesota was a source of great vexation for President Lincoln. The corruption endemic to Indian affairs led to friction between Indians, who felt they had been cheated by white traders, and whites, who wanted Indian lands. Crop failure, starvation and delays in promised payments to the Sioux were the sparks that ignited Bishop Henry Whipple, who pleaded the Sioux’s case with federal authorities said that federal Indian policy “commences in discontent and ends in blood.” 14 Mr. Lincoln said that Bishop Whipple “talked with me about the rascality of this Indian business until I felt it down to my boots.”15 The violence broke out in Minnesota on August 17, 1862 when four inebriated Sioux Indians murdered some white residents of the village of Acton. Within two days, the murders triggered a string of such incidents and widespread panic on Minnesota frontier.

Historian William B. Hesseltine wrote: “Long years of exploitation and injustice had bred a deep resentment among the Dakota tribesmen along the frontier. When this resentment came to a head and strong bands of red men attacked the white settlements, Governor Ramsey promptly appointed his old partner and political rival, Henry H. Sibley, to command Minnesota’s militia. In a six weeks’ campaign Sibley put down the uprising, captured more than a thousand Indians, and sentenced three hundred and three to death.”16

Historians Elmo R. Richardson and Alan W. Farley wrote: “The outbreak of the Sioux in Minnesota and the massacre at New Ulm in July, 1862, forced the administration to take extraordinary measures to prevent these incidents from damaging public support of the war policy. Lincoln dispatched his own secretary, John G. Nicolay, and Indian Commissioner Dole to St. Paul to quiet the mounting hysteria in the state.” 17 On August 21, 1862, Minnesota Governor Ramsey, who was seeking election to the Senate, wired the War Department that the Sioux were on the warpath. Historian Peter Cozzens wrote: “From far-off Minnesota in late August came a startling appeal. The state must receive a stay of its military-draft obligations. Governor Alexander Ramsey implored President Lincoln. An Indian outbreak has come upon us suddenly. Half the population of the state are fugitives. It is absolutely impossible that we should proceed. No one not here can conceive the panic in the state.'”18

On August 27, Nicolay, Dole and Wilkinson telegraphed President Lincoln: “We are in the midst of a most terrible and exciting Indian war. Thus far the massacre of innocent white settlers has been fearful. A wild panic prevails in nearly one-half of the State. All are rushing to the frontier to defend settlers.” 19 The same day, President Lincoln wired Ramsey: “Attend to the Indians. If the draft can not proceed, of course it will not proceed. Necessity knows no law. The government can not extend the time.” 20 Historian Peter Cozzens wrote: “From Private Secretary John G. Nicolay, whom Lincoln had sent to the Northwest to meet with the Chippewa Indians, came confirmation of Ramsey’s claims. The Indian War grows more extensive. Sioux, mustering perhaps 2,000 warriors, are striking along a line of scattered settlements of 200 miles, having already massacred several hundred whites, and the settlers of the whole border are in a panic and in flight, leaving their harvest to waste in the fields as I myself have seen even in neighborhoods where there is no danger. Against the Sioux it must be a war of extermination.”21

As the President reported in his annual message to Congress that December: “In the month of August last the Sioux Indians, in Minnesota, attacked the settlements in their vicinity with extreme ferocity, killing, indiscriminately, men, women, and children. this attack was wholly unexpected, and, therefore, no means of defense had been provided. It is estimated that not less than eight hundred persons were killed by the Indians, and a large amount of property was destroyed. How this outbreak was induced is not definitely known, and suspicions, which may be unjust, need not be stated. Information was received by the Indian bureau, from different sources, about the time hostilities were commenced, that a simultaneous attack was to be made upon the white settlements by all the tribes between the Mississippi river and the Rocky mountains.” 22

On Sept 6, Governor Ramsey telegraphed another alarming message: “Those Indian outrages continue – I ask Secy Stanton to authorize the U S Quarter Master to purchase say five hundred horses – he refuses. The state cannot purchase on as good terms, if at all, as the General Government – This is not our war, it is a National War, I hope you will direct the purchase or send five hundred horses or order the Minnesota Companies of horse in Kentucky and Tennessee home – Answer me at once – More than five hundred whites have been murdered by the Indians.” 23

The same day, President Lincoln created the Department of the Northwest. The hostilities in Minnesota presented an opportunity for President Lincoln to resolve a problem in military command. He needed to replace General John Pope after the Union disaster at the Second Battle of Bull Run at the end of August 1862. So Pope was reassigned to Minnesota at the head of the new command and he promptly sided with local Republican politicians. He wired General Henry W. Halleck in Washington: “You have no idea of the terrible destruction already done and of the panic everywhere in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Unless very prompt steps are taken these states will be half depopulated before the winter begins. Already settlements have been totally abandoned with everything in them.”24 Historian Hesseltine wrote that “when the battles were over, the President interposed the federal authority to prevent Minnesota from lynching, within the forms of martial law, the wards of the nation. Pope and Sibley and Ramsey and the people of Minnesota were equally insistent upon prompt and condign execution of the savages.”25

Mr. Lincoln got pressed from several fronts. Outgoing Senator Henry M. Rice, a Democrat, maneuvered for a military appointment based on his wide experience in Indiana affairs. Historian Allan G. Bogue wrote: “Slender in build, gentle of voice, respected by the Indians of the Northwest who knew as ‘White Rice,’ he supported [John] Breckinridge for President in 1860, but his Republican colleagues fond him dedicated to the preservation of the Union.” On October 9, Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade suggested to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he “appoint Hon. Henry M. Rice, Major Genl. with full command of the Department now under command of Genl. Pope. And this I do without any disparagement of Genl. Pope, who I regard as one of our very best officers, but he has no acquaintance with the Indian character, or experience of their mode of warfare, without which, no man is competent to command against them…” Wade wrote that Rice “was also well acquainted with military affairs, having spent a large portion of his active life with the army, as well as among the Indians. From what I have seen, I know the Chippeway tribe have the fullest confidence in him, and the Sioux before the war had like confidence in him. From all I can learn the people who are exposed to Indian depredations, have more confidence in his ability to protect them than in any other man. Mr. Rice is brave, sagacious and vigilant and persevering beyond any man I know. I hope therefore you will appoint him at once and I will answer with my head for the result. Genl. Pope might in the meantime be assigned to a field more in accordance with his wishes and better adapted to his knowledge of the profession…”26 President Lincoln endorsed letter to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “I know little of Senator Rice except that he has been a very faithful friend to the Govt. in the present troubles.”27

Unlike many contemporaries, Assistant Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher favored more humanitarian treatment of Indians. But Usher was an ally for Governor Ramsey in his planned expulsion of Indians from Minnesota. He was dispatched to the state in October to report on the situation to President Lincoln. Usher biographers Richardson and Farley wrote: “Once this unrest was calmed, a flood of land and relief claims arose to plague the Interior Department. In order to deal with the adjustment of these difficulties, Usher was ordered to go to St. Paul in October. Confidentially, he was also to investigate alleged robberies perpetrated by agency officials upon the Sioux and Chippewa tribes, thefts that might otherwise have been concealed. Arriving in St. Paul with his secretary, George C. Whiting, and his youngest son, Sam, he surveyed the extent of property damage and lives lost in the uprising. When he returned to Washington, he presented a report to Smith, and discussed with Lincoln the problem raised by the action of the Minnesota courts which had sentenced the Indian leaders to death. The evidence that he had gathered was used as a basis for the ultimate decision that local accounts of damages and atrocities were somewhat exaggerated; federal compensation was subsequently awarded in only about half of the cases presented to the Department.”28

Abolitionist Jane Grey Swisshelm went to Washington in 1863 to try to lobby President Lincoln for the execution of Sioux charged with murdering women in children in a well-publicized massacre that inflamed white residents of Minnesota. “One morning Senator Wilkinson and I went to see the President, and in the vestibule of the White House met two gentlemen whom he introduced as Sec. Stanton and Gen. Fremont. The first said he needed no introduction, and I said I had asked Senator Wilkinson to see him on my account. He replied: ‘Do not ask any one to see me! If you want anything from me, come yourself. No one can have more influence.'”29

Generals Pope and Sibley conducted mass trials for Indians accused of atrocities and sentenced 303 to death. Two days after the trials ended, on November 10, the President sent a telegram to Pope: “Your despatch giving the names of three-hundred Indians condemned to death, is received. Please forward, as soon as possible, the full and complete record of these convictions. And if the record does not fully indicate the more guilty and influential, of the culprits, please have a carefully statement made on these points and forwarded to me. Send all by mail”30 The military and civilian authorities combined to demand an immediate execution of the supposed perpetrators and to exert considerable pressure during November. The forces against execution were much less numerous or powerful but they did include Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dole. “Nothing but the Speedy execution of the tried and convicted Sioux Indians will save us from Scenes of outrage,” wrote Governor Ramsey to Lincoln.31

On November 10, Dole sent Secretary of the Interior Caleb Smith a letter urging selective clemency for the condemned Indians — which letter Smith immediately forwarded to President Lincoln: “I cannot reconcile it to my sense of duty to remain silent while measures of the character indicated in the statement above mentioned are being executed. I am fully aware, that in the prosecution of their hostilities, these Indians perpetrated most horrible and atrocious crimes, and were guilty of barbarities which shock every feeling of humanity, and are only known in Indian warfare. The whole country is justly incensed and exasperated by their conduct, but, notwithstanding this, it seems to me that an indiscriminate punishment of men who have laid down their arms and surrendered themselves as prisoners, partakes more of the character of revenge than the infliction of deserved punishment; that it is contrary to the spirit of the age, and our character as a great, magnanimous and Christian people. Nor would it, in my opinion, be attended with beneficial results. These people are a wild, barbarous, and benighted race, and are, perhaps, more than any other people, under the influence of their chiefs, headmen and prophets. A blow then, which falls upon and punishes their leaders, by whom they have been instigated, and whose commands they almost superstitiously obey, will be recognized by them as falling upon the authors of their crimes; as a just vindication of the majesty of our laws, and as an exhibition of the magnanimity of our people. On the other hand, a punishment which falls alike upon those who instigated and led them on, and those who followed through a blind and superstitious instinct of obedience, will beget a bitter feeling of revenge, which, though it may be smothered, will never be extinguished.”

“No people were ever more justly exasperated than are those of Minnesota; nor did circumstances ever more nearly justify retaliatory and vindictive measures. I am not surprised at the finding of the court, and do not desire to be understood as condemning the course of the officers engaged in the court martial. I believe that under their oaths and the requirements of the Articles of War, they could not do otherwise; but, their sentence may be modified by the President, and for the reasons above imperfectly and hastily set forth. I trust you will lay the subject before him, together with this letter, or a copy thereof, and, if possible, prevent the consummation of an act which I cannot believe would be otherwise than a stain upon our national character, and a source of future regret.”32

“By late November 1862, both sides were organized,” wrote historian David Nichols. “Ramsey and Pope met regularly in late November. On 28 November, Ramsey wired Lincoln, “Nothing but the speedy execution of the tried and convicted Sioux Indians will save us from scenes of outrage. He also offered Lincoln the escape from responsibility that Pope had proposed earlier, ‘If you prefer it turn them over to me & I will order their execution.”33 That day, Mr. Lincoln met with Senator Wilkinson and Congressman Cyrus Aldrich, who wanted executions to be held forthwith. Instead, President Lincoln said he would make his decisions after he finished with his annual message to Congress in early December.34

On December 1, President Lincoln inquired of Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, “Three hundred Indians have been sentenced to death in Minnesota by a Military Commission, and execution only awaits my action. I wish your legal opinion whether if I should conclude to execute only a part of them, I must myself designate which, or could I leave the designation to some officer on the ground?”35 Holt advised that President Lincoln must do the job himself.

Historian David A. Nichols that President Lincoln “had to respond to protests from Minnesota congressmen and a resolution of the U.S. Senate. But in order to pacify the Minnesota authorities, the President agreed to monetary compensation and to the exile of the remaining Sioux and Winnebago Indians from Minnesota. The Winnebagos had not participated in the outbreak, but they were nevertheless removed. Nearly two years later, Senator Alexander Ramsey visited President Lincoln, who complained about the size of his 1864 victory margin in Minnesota. Ramsey explained “that if [Lincoln] had hung more Indians, we should have given him his old majority.” Responded the President, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”36

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary at the beginning of December: “The Members of Congress from Minnesota are urging the President vehemently to give his assent to the execution of three hundred Indian captives, but they will not succeed. Undoubtedly the savage wretches have been guilty of great atrocities, and I have as little doubt the stories of their barbarities, bad enough in themselves, are greatly exaggerated. What may have been the aggressions and provocations which led the Indians on is not told us. When the intelligent Representatives of a State can deliberately besiege the Government to take the lives of these ignorant barbarians by wholesale, after they have surrendered themselves prisoners, it would seem the sentiments of the Representatives were but slightly removed from the barbarians whom they would execute. The Minnesotans are greatly exasperated and threaten the Administration if it shows clemency.”37

On December 6, President Lincoln ordered the hanging of 39 Indians on December 19. In his annual message to Congress, President Lincoln wrote: “The State of Minnesota has suffered great injury from this Indian war. A large portion of her territory has been depopulated, and a severe loss has been sustained by the destruction of property. The people of that State manifest much anxiety for the removal of the tribes beyond the limits of the State as a guarantee against future hostilities. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs will furnish full details. I submit for your especial consideration whether our Indian system shall not be remodeled. Many wise and good men have impressed me with the belief that this can be profitably done.” 38

Historian Nichols wrote: “How can Lincoln’s actions in Minnesota be evaluated? In his favor, it is clear that many more men would have been executed without his intervention — probably all 303 condemned prisoners. His humaneness in this must be matched against what he did (or failed to do) following the executions. He made a bargain [that] permitted the removal of tribes from Minnesota, even the innocent Winnebagos. He ordered the permanent incarceration of the pardoned in conditions that led to more deaths than the hangings. His policies left the removed tribes in destitution, partly because of the corruption and mismanagement of officials in the Indian System. Lincoln sanctioned military missions designed to destroy as many Indians as possible in the region, and he acquiesced in sizable land grabs in Minnesota. He installed as secretary of the interior the man who cooperated so closely with Minnesotans in all these matters.39

In 1864, President Lincoln easily carried Minnesota 59-41% over Democrat George B. McClellan. After the election, Mr. Lincoln was pressed to make a change in commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was strongly lobbied by his long-time friend, Dr. Anson Henry, who had moved to Oregon and had a patronage position there. “The thing that troubles me most, is, that I dislike the idea of removing Mr. Dole who has been a faithful and devoted personal and political friend,” President Lincoln said. When Henry told him he would return home, “Mr. Lincoln said rather emphatically, Henry – you must not understand me as having decided the matter – and then said, “The delegation from Minnesota are pressing very strongly for that place for Ex-Senator Wilkinson…” Illinois wanted William Pitt Kellogg.40 Before the situation could be finally resolved, Mr. Lincoln was assassinated.

Under the circumstances of the Civil War, there is poignancy in the story of one White House visitor, who recalled that after the newlyweds, Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, left a White House reception in their honor, “I had my little talk with, or rather from, Mr. Lincoln; for, naturally, I said but little during those golden moments. He was in one of his most genial moods; and judging, perhaps, from my newspaper connections that I was not a fool, he even favored me with a few of his ‘little stories,’ which he told very simply and tersely, yet with inimitable drollery. As was characteristic of him, he evidently was most amused by one wherein the joke was against himself. As I recall it, the story ran that a certain honest old farmer, visiting the capital for the first time, was taken by the member from his ‘deestrick’ to some large gathering or entertainment, at which he was told he could see the President. Unfortunately, Mr. Lincoln did not appear; and the Congressman, being a bit of a wag and not liking to have his constituent disappointed, pointed out Mr. R., of Minnesota, a gentleman of a particularly round and rubicund countenance; the worthy farmer, greatly astonished, exclaimed: ‘Is that Old Abe? Well, I do declare! He’s a better-lookin’ man than I expected to see; but it does seem as if his troubles had driven him to drink.'”41

Two Minnesotans played a somber role in the aftermath of President Lincoln’s assassination. Lincoln aide Edward Duffield Neill, himself a Minnesotan, recalled: “About ten o’clock on Saturday night Major Hay, who had recovered, came to me and said that he thought some one ought to suggest to acting President Johnson that it would be well for him to inform the widow that there was no need of undue haste in leaving the mansion. Going to the National Hotel, I found Senator Ramsey, of Minnesota, in his private parlor, and asked him if he would see Mr. [Andrew] Johnson, to which request he consented. On Sunday morning, about eleven o’clock the cards of Senators Ramsey and [Daniel S.] Norton were brought to me, and a messenger was sent to Robert, the elder son of the dead president, who came and stood by the table where his father had so lately transacted business. After introducing the Senators, Senator Ramsey delivered the request of President Johnson, that his mother should not feel constrained to leave the house until she had made all proper arrangements.”42


  1. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln(CWAL) , Volume III, p. 397 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Daniel Rohrer, August 19, 1859).
  2. CWAL, Volume III, pp.399-400 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Hawkins Taylor, September 6, 1859).
  3. William James Ryland, Alexander Ramsey: A study of a Frontier Politician and the Transition of Minnesota from a Territory to a State, p.153.
  4. CWAL, Volume IV, p. 276 (Reply to Minnesota Delegation, March 6, 1861).
  5. E.V. Smalley, A History of the Republican Party from its Organization to the Present Time; to Which Is Added a Political History of Minnesota from a Republican Point of View and Biographical Sketches of Leading Minnesota Republicans, p. 286.
  6. David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians, p. 67.
  7. Michael Burlingame, editor, An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, pp. 61-62. (John G. Nicolay conversation with Morton S. Wilkinson, May 23, 1876).
  8. Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln , p. 497 (New York Tribune, July 12, 1885).
  9. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860-1864, September 22, 1862, p. 309.
  10. Noah Brooks, Washington, D.C. in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, p. 255.
  11. John C. Haughland, “Politics, Patronage, and Ramsey’s Rise to Power, 1861-1863,” Minnesota History, December 1861, p. 325.
  12. William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, p. 275.
  13. John C. Haughland, “Politics, Patronage, and Ramsey’s Rise to Power, 1861-1863,” Minnesota History, December 1861, p. 328.
  14. David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians, p. 75.
  15. Marx Swanholm, Alexander Ramsey and the Politics of Survival, p. 16.
  16. William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, p. 275.
  17. Elmo R. Richardson and Alan W. Farley, John Palmer Usher, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior, pp. 20-21.
  18. Peter Cozzens, General John Pope, p. 200.
  19. CWAL, Volume V, p. 397. (Telegram from John Nicolay, Morton S. Wilkinson and William P. Dole to Abraham Lincoln, August 27, 1862).
  20. CWAL, Volume V, p. 396.(Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Alexander Ramsey, August 27, 1862).
  21. Peter Cozzens, General John Pope, p. 200.
  22. Roy P. Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862, Volume V, pp. 525-526.
  23. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois, (Letter from Alexander Ramsey to Abraham Lincoln, September 6, 1862).
  24. William James Ryland, Alexander Ramsey: A Study of a Frontier Politician and the Transition of Minnesota from a Territory to a State, p. 142.
  25. William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors, p. 51.
  26. CWAL, Volume V, p. 455 (Letter from Benjamin F. Wade to Abraham Lincoln, September 30, 1862).
  27. CWAL, Volume V, p. 455 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Edwin M. Stanton, October 9, 1862).
  28. Elmo R. Richardson and Alan W. Farley, John Palmer Usher, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior, pp. 20-21.
  29. Jane Grey Swisshelm, Half a Century, p. 235.
  30. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Letter from Abraham Lincoln to John Pope, November 10, 1862, Volume V, p. 493.
  31. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Alexander Ramsey to Abraham Lincoln, November 28, 1862).
  32. em>Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois. (Letter from William P. Dole to John P. Usher, November 10, 1862).
  33. David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians, pp. 106-107.
  34. New York Tribune, November 29, 1862.
  35. CWAL, Volume V, pp. 537-538 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Joseph Holt, December 1, 1862).
  36. David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians, p. 118.
  37. Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 186 (December 4, 1862).
  38. CWAL,Volume V, p. 526. (Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862).
  39. David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians, pp. 117-119.
  40. Charles M. Segal, Conversations with Lincoln, p. 374 (Letter from Dr. Anson Henry to his wife, March 13, 1865).
  41. Allen C. Clark, “Abraham Lincoln in the National Capital,” Journal of the Columbia Historical Society, Volume XXVII, p. 112.
  42. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Intimate Memories of Lincoln,p. 613 (Edward Duffield Neill, Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, February 1885).