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The Children of Lincoln

White Paternalism and the Limits of Black Opportunity in Minnesota, 1860–1876

2018
Author:

William D. Green

The Children of Lincoln

How white advocates of emancipation abandoned African American causes in the dark days of Reconstruction, told through the stories of four Minnesotans

Framed around four white champions of African Americans in Minnesota, The Children of Lincoln reveals a little known but critical chapter in the state’s history as it intersects with the broader account of race in America. It reveals a pattern of racial paternalism, describing how even “enlightened” white Northerners would come to embrace policies that reinforced a notion of black inferiority.

Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Children of Lincoln provides intimate portraits of four white Republicans in Minnesota after the Civil War. Having established in his previous books that African Americans were more deeply rooted and influential in the state’s history than previously recognized, William D. Green demonstrates here that Minnesotans also played key roles in debates over racial equality that resonated far beyond state boundaries. He helps us understand not only the nation’s retreat from equality in the late nineteenth century but also the persistence of racial disparities in Minnesota and across the United States today.

William P. Jones, author of The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

White people, Frederick Douglass said in a speech in 1876, were “the children of Lincoln,” while black people were “at best his stepchildren.” Emancipation became the law of the land, and white champions of African Americans in the state were suddenly turning to other causes, regardless of the worsening circumstances of black Minnesotans. Through four of these “children of Lincoln” in Minnesota, William D. Green’s book brings to light a little known but critical chapter in the state’s history as it intersects with the broader account of race in America.

In a narrative spanning the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the lives of these four Minnesotans mark the era’s most significant moments in the state, the Midwest, and the nation for the Republican Party, the Baptist church, women’s suffrage, and Native Americans. Morton Wilkinson, the state’s first Republican senator; Daniel Merrill, a St. Paul business leader who helped launch the first Black Baptist church; Sarah Burger Stearns, founder and first president of the Minnesota Woman Suffragist Association; and Thomas Montgomery, an immigrant farmer who served in the Colored Regiments in the Civil War: each played a part in securing the rights of African Americans and each abandoned the fight as the forces of hatred and prejudice increasingly threatened those hard-won rights.

Moving from early St. Paul and Fort Snelling to the Civil War and beyond, The Children of Lincoln reveals a pattern of racial paternalism, describing how even “enlightened” white Northerners, fatigued with the “Negro Problem,” would come to embrace policies that reinforced a notion of black inferiority. Together, their lives—so differently and deeply connected with nineteenth-century race relations—create a telling portrait of Minnesota as a microcosm of America during the tumultuous years of Reconstruction.

The Children of Lincoln

William D. Green is professor of history at Augsburg University and author of Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865–1912 (winner of the Hognander Minnesota History Award) and A Peculiar Imbalance: The Rise and Fall of Racial Equality in Minnesota, 1837–1869, both published by Minnesota. He is vice president of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Children of Lincoln

Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Children of Lincoln provides intimate portraits of four white Republicans in Minnesota after the Civil War. Having established in his previous books that African Americans were more deeply rooted and influential in the state’s history than previously recognized, William D. Green demonstrates here that Minnesotans also played key roles in debates over racial equality that resonated far beyond state boundaries. He helps us understand not only the nation’s retreat from equality in the late nineteenth century but also the persistence of racial disparities in Minnesota and across the United States today.

William P. Jones, author of The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights

William D. Green has done an excellent job of reconstructing the individual lives and decisions made by four Lincoln Republicans who soon after 1865 washed their hands of postemancipation issues, one explicitly asserting, ‘We have done our part.’ He traces how these four (and by analogy most northern white Americans) disengaged from the struggle for equality and sent African Americans into a ‘new era of darkness,’ undermining the very freedoms that the Civil War promised.

Annette Atkins, author of Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out

The Children of Lincoln

Acknowledgments {~?~TN: book page xi}
Introduction: “We Have Done Our Part” {~?~TN: book page 1}
Part I. The Unforgiving Radical: Morton S. Wilkinson, 1860–1863
1. The Candidate
2. In Defense of the Union
3. The Indian’s Guardian
4. A Wild Panic Prevails
5. Lincoln’s Decision
6. Pike Island
Part II. An Officer and a Gentleman: Thomas Montgomery, 1863–1867
7. The First Lieutenant Takes Command
8. Lizzie and the Troubles
9. Freedom and Education
10. Masonic Ties
11. Going Home
Part III. The Man on the Seal: Morton S. Wilkinson, 1865–1869
12. By Chicanery and Deception of a Few Politicians
13. Willey’s Amendment
14. A Lesson in Leadership
15. “Good Night”
Part IV. The Man in the Shadows: Daniel D. Merrill, 1864–1871
16. “Ole Shady”
17. Called to Serve
18. A Church Is Born and a Pastor Is Found
19. Under His Steady Hand
20. To Be in God’s Favor
21. Of Other Baptist Interests
Part V. The Buried Citizen: Sarah Burger Stearns, 1866–1875
22. Celebration, 1875
23. Standing Alone in Minnesota
24. The Lesson of Kansas
25. The Tibbetts Petition
26. Married Women’s Rights and the “King of Manomin”
27. Veto!
28. Back to Work
Part VI. The Changed Man: Morton S. Wilkinson, 1869–1876
29. A Curious Vote on the Butler Bill
30. Where the Liberals Went
31. “His Unclassifiable Head”
32. A Republican with Unchanged Views
33. The Force Law
34. Sine Die
Epilogue: The Children of Lincoln
Notes
Index