The Indian Policy of Abraham Lincoln


  • W. Dale Mason


As James M. McPherson notes in his recent Tried By Fire: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, “Abraham Lincoln was the only president in American history whose entire administration was bounded by war. During his four years as president Lincoln was preoccupied with the Civil War but several events occurred that had lasting impact on Indian policy and Indian people. As David A. Nichols notes, “For the most part, the president left Indian matters to the Indian office,” the precursor of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.” An indication of the level of Lincoln’s involvement in Indian affairs is his brief mentions of Indians in each of his four Annual Messages to Congress.

Second only to winning the Civil War and establishing a just post war reconstruction, Lincoln’s highest policy priority was settling the west. The Homestead Act and facilitating the construction of the transcontinental railroad were two means designed to accomplish this end. Neither were concerned with the well being of Indians except to the extent that if Indians were in the way they had to be moved by any means necessary.


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