Abraham Lincoln could have curried much political favor in the West had he ordered the executions of 303 Dakota Sioux – Instead, he reviewed each case.
Despite the crushing defeat at Second Bull Run, the horrific carnage of Antietam, and the political fallout of issuing the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln still listened to the facts of the 303 condemned to hang in the Minnesota Sioux uprising of 1862.
Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of the defendants. Nearly 800 white settlers had been slaughtered in the uprising, and the public demanded retribution. Lincoln was not going to allow these murders to go unpunished, but he was determined to use his pardoning power judiciously.
General John Pope encouraged his Commander-in-Chief to order all 303 hangings, sighting the popularity of such a decision on the Minnesota frontier. Lincoln famously responded,
“I could not hang men for votes…”