On this date… November 19, 1863… Pennsylvania

The airwaves today are filled with gushing remembrances of Abraham Lincoln’s brief eloquent eulogy at the Gettysburg Battlefield site on November 19, 1863.  In that speech, Lincoln stated that the nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  While he does not mention the abolition of slavery specifically, he goes on to describe a “new birth of freedom” for the nation.

Lincoln’s nation, however, did not include Native Americans.  By 1863, the policy of Indian “removal” had evolved into government-sponsored genocide, with widespread public calls for the “extermination” of Indians.  While Lincoln was speaking, Minnesota and California were offering bounties for dead Indians.  A scalp was worth $200 in the former, but only 25 cents in the latter.

Slavery was not over either. While Lincoln was speaking (and for many years afterwards), a brisk trade in Navajo children filled wealthy New Mexico homes with domestic servants.  Union troops were baffled by the practice, but the eyes of justice turned the other way.

1863 was also the year that the Navajo were subject to a scorched earth policy, their homes and fields burnt and their livestock shot.  The Sand Creek Massacre, where Cheyenne women and children were butchered (because “nits make lice”) took place a year later, in November 1864.

So the Gettysburg Address swirls in one reality, a landmark speech that defines a nation.  In another reality, a woman ran up a hill with children in her train, while gunshots rang out and her field of maize was set ablaze.


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