One issue that was raised by student is that Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men and signed the Homestead Act, which gave settlers land forcibly taken from Native Americans.
As I previously discussed, Lincoln’s role in the Dakota executions is legitimately controversial but has been presented without some countervailing facts. The Sioux or Dakota uprising occurred not long after Minnesota became a state and involved the death of hundreds of settlers. The Army crushed the Sioux and captured hundreds. A military tribunal sentenced 303 to death for alleged crimes against civilians and other crimes. The trial itself was a farce with no real representation or reliable evidence. Lincoln reviewed the transcripts of the 303 and told the Senate:
“Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I ordered a careful examination of the records of the trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females.”
However, only two men were found guilty of rape and Lincoln later expanded the criteria to include those who participated in “massacres” of civilians as opposed to battles with the Army.
Lincoln however commuted the sentence of 264 of the 303 convicted.
This is not the first time Lincoln has faced the ire of some in Wisconsin. When Lincoln called the nation to war against the South, many in Wisconsin did not support the cause and rioted against Lincoln. Ultimately, however, Wisconsin sent multiple regiments who fought valiantly in the War and sacrificed much to defeat both the South and slavery.
Having a statue to a leader like Lincoln is not an endorsement of his entire legacy. I have heavily criticized Lincoln for the unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus and the loss of free speech rights as well as other decisions. We learn from such public memorials, which can be augmented with a more full historical context and criticism. However, to say that Lincoln is a symbol of white supremacy ignores his pivotal role in fighting slavery, a cause for which he would ultimately give his own life.
Here is the petition in support of keeping the statue where it is if you want to support Old Abe.