Lincoln's Bishop: A President, A Bishop and The Fate of 330 Sioux Warriors, Gustav Niebuhr, 244pp., HarperOne Publishing, $26.99.
From The Publisher: Gustav Niebuhr's compelling history of Abraham Lincoln's decision
in 1862 to spare the lives of 265 condemned Sioux men, and the Episcopal
bishop who was his moral compass, helping guide the president's
More than a century ago, during the formative years of
the American nation, Protestant churches carried powerful moral
authority, giving voice to values such as mercy and compassion, while
boldly standing against injustice and immorality. Gustav Niebuhr travels
back to this defining period, to explore Abraham Lincoln's decision to
spare the lives of 265 Sioux men sentenced to die by a military tribunal
in Minnesota for warfare against white settlers—while allowing the
hanging of 38 others, the largest single execution on American soil.
Popular opinion favored death or expulsion. Only one state leader
championed the cause of the Native Americans, Episcopal bishop, Henry
Though he'd never met an Indian until he was 37
years old, Whipple befriended them before the massacre and understood
their plight at the hands of corrupt government officials and
businessmen. After their trial, he pleaded with Lincoln to extend mercy
and implement true justice. Bringing to life this little known event and
this extraordinary man, Niebuhr pays tribute to the once amazing moral
force of mainline Protestant churches and the practitioners who guarded
It is hard to recall what powerful moral voices Protestant church
leaders had in the formative years of the nation. Gustav Niebuhr travels
back to the Minnesota frontier of 1862 when Dakota Sioux rose up
against pioneering families and slaughtered hundreds. Citizens demanded
mass executions and deportations. Into this turmoil stepped Henry
Benjamin Whipple, the state's first Episcopal bishop.
already loudly decried the crimes and corruption of those managing
Indian affairs and warned of calamity. Now he made the case of mercy and
a deeper justice, which eventually led to meeting with President
Lincoln. Despite being preoccupied with the Civil War, Lincoln was moved
to intervene, surprisingly taking the time to review all 303 cases and
overturning the death sentence for most of the Indians. Nevertheless,
the result was still the largest single execution on American soil.
not for Whipple's vigorous campaigning, both in state and in
Washington, DC, a greater tragedy might well have occurred. His success
should haunt us: Where today do we hear these trumpet calls for justice
like those given by figures such as Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple?