Cornell University has been silent after Cornell University biology Professor Randy Wayne raised the sudden disappearance of a bust of President Abraham Lincoln in front of a bronzed Gettysburg Address plaque in a library display. Wayne told The College Fix that he had heard that the display was removed after a complaint, but there is no confirmation of the reason since the university has not responded to him or media inquiries. Wayne is left asking the same question as Dick Holler in his 1968 song “Abraham, Martin and John“:
“Anybody here, seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good, they die young
You know I just looked around and he’s gone
Professor Wayne simply heard “Someone complained, and it was gone.”
Dear President Pollack,
I am wondering if you are aware that the bust of Abraham Lincoln purchased by Ezra Cornell and the bronze plaque of the Gettysburg Address that was beside it has been removed from the RMC in Kroch Library and replaced with nothing. If you are aware, can you tell me why? Thanks.
President Pollack has not responded.
Cornell has a particular reason for the display since it is the recipient of a handwritten copy in Lincoln’s hand known as the Bancroft Copy. It also has an envelope signed by Lincoln and a letter to Bancroft.
One issue that was raised is that Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men and signed the Homestead Act, which gave settlers land forcibly taken from Native Americans.
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.
I have heavily criticized Lincoln for the unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus and the loss of free speech rights as well as other decisions. However, historical figures often have such conflicted elements that can be discussed and understood in context as we did recently with a pre-revolutionary hero.
Cornell should respond to these inquiries from faculty and media. If this was not due to a complaint, it can simply state so and explain the reason. For now, Cornell seems content to leave the matter where Holler left his lyrics in 1968: “You know I just looked around and he’s gone.”