Does Abraham Lincoln deserve the accolade “The Great Emancipator?”

Does Abraham Lincoln deserve the accolade “The Great Emancipator?”

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Good historical essays are sharply focused on a limited topic.
Historical essays should have a clearly stated argument (thesis).
Historical essays are built, step by step, on carefully acknowledged evidence.
Historical essays should include original, dispassionate thoughts of the author.
History essays are clearly written with an intended audience in mind.

“Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide?” by Guenter Lewy

–Introduction: Lewy introduces the problem, namely, that it is common for historians to deem the Indians’ plight in American History as intentional genocide on the part of Euro-Americans. He presents numerous historiography in order to validate this problem. He then presents his thesis: “That American Indians suffered horribly is indisputable. But whether their suffering amounted to a ‘holocaust,’ or to genocide, is another matter” (45).

–Body: First argument: Most Indians died of infectious diseases brought by the Europeans—does not prove genocidal intent. There is no conclusive evidence of biological warfare being used against the Indians intentionally. The U.S. government even tried to inoculate the Indians against smallpox.

Second argument: The Pequot Massacre (1636) is not evidence of genocidal intent. He cites that the Indians had been torturing prisoners outside the forts and threatening villages, so the Puritans reacted out of self-protection—not necessarily out of intent to commit genocide. Same issue with King Philip’s War (1675/76). The council in Boston still would punish colonists who cruelly murdered Indians.

Third argument: warfare on the Plains against Indians usually followed the rules of war. The U.S. army under Sherman and Sheridan were combating Indians raids. Methods of destroying lodges and stores of food in order to force the Indians into submission. Ex. of Wounded Knee—“tragic accident of war” (50). He notes that some Indian women and children were allowed out of the encampment and wounded Indian warriors were given medical care.

Fourth argument: under the definition of genocide stipulated by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the deaths of Indians do not constitute genocide because they were not intentionally aimed at destroying the Indians as a cultural group. Exception of California Indian atrocities.

–Conclusion: Lewy argues that one must always contextualize their judgment of historical actors. Namely, one cannot impose the values or standards of one’s own time period on past societies, which did not necessarily share the same values and standards. Overall, Lewy claims the conduct of war mostly followed the standards of right and wrong for the respective time period. In America’s case, genocide was more an individual guilt—not the whole nation or the government’s intention.

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