Giving Thanks for Refugees and Other Immigrants 

On Thanksgiving Day 2020 I give thanks for the courage and fortitude of immigrants in my own family and of refugees and other immigrants in the U.S..

Personal Ancestral Immigrants

My earliest immigrant ancestor, to my knowledge, was William Brown (my seventh maternal great-grandfather), who left England as a young boy before 1686 to come to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, eventually settling in Leicester, MA, where he was one of its early settlers and officer of the town in various capacities. [1]

His grandson (my fifth maternal great-grandfather) was Perley Brown, who was born on May 23, 1737 in Leicester, MA, where later he was a Minuteman and then fought for the colonists in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Bunker Hill and was killed in the Battle of White Plains, NY under the command of General George Washington.[2]

My first maternal great-grandparents, Sven Peter Johnson and Johanna Christina Magnusson (Johnson), were born and married in Sweden and emigrated to the U.S. sometime before 1881, when their daughter (my maternal grandmother), Jennie Olivia Johnson (Brown), was born on February 28, 1881, in Ottumwa, Iowa.[3]

My paternal first great-grandfather, Johann N. Kroehnke (John Krohnke) was born on November 26, 1839 in Holstein, Prussia and emigrated to the U.S. circa 1867 and denounced Allegiance to the King of Prussia (William I?)  when he applied for U.S. citizenship in Davenport, Iowa on October 9, 1867 and received his U.S. naturalization papers on March 7, 1871. He settled in Benton County, Iowa, where he met Elizabeth Heyer, who was born October 13, 1847 in Krofdorf, Prussia?, but the dates of her arrival in the U.S. and obtaining U.S. citizenship are unknown. The two of them were married on December 26, 1871 in that same Iowa county. Thus, she is my first paternal great-grandmother. [4]

To determine whether there are additional immigrants in my family tree, I need the assistance of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.[5]

Refugees and Other Immigrants

I also give thanks for the courage and fortitude of the millions of refugees and other immigrants who have come to the U.S. and who have become U.S. citizens, a few of whom as a pro bono lawyer I helped obtain asylum as their first step for obtaining U.S. citizenship. I thank them for helping me learn about their personal histories and later introducing me to the moving experience of U.S. naturalization ceremonies, when they obtained their U.S. citizenship. (I also was the pro bono attorney for an Afghan man for his interview for U.S citizenship.)[6]

One such ceremony was in Minnesota in February 2016 when U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank before swearing in the new citizens, said, ““We are a better country now than we were five minutes ago. We are better with you than without you.”  The Judge  added that three of his five daughters were naturalized citizens.[7]

Ed Collins of Wilmington, Delaware recently wrote about his attending such a ceremony 35 years ago at San Francisco’s Masonic Temple at the invitation of a friend from college. Collins said he “was stunned upon arrival to see around 150 applicants and 300 or so friends and relatives in the auditorium. A judge led the ceremony supported by a military color guard and a small military band. The judge spoke eloquently about the duties of citizenship as well as its privileges. All joined in lustily singing a number of patriotic songs. Finally, the judge led the applicants in swearing allegiance to the U.S. and then pronounced them citizens of the U.S.”[8]

Collins added, “An amazing roar of cheering, applause, laughing and crying swept the room. I have never seen such a large display of emotion and total joy. That moment led me to understand the value that these good people placed on U.S. citizenship. I urge every American to attend a naturalization ceremony at least once. You won’t look upon U.S. citizenship the same way again, and you won’t take your citizenship for granted.”

Even more inspiring was the December 2015 naturalization ceremony at Washington, D.C.’s Rotunda of the National Archives Museum, where the original Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are permanently displayed on the 224th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The welcome of the new citizens was given by President Obama. Here are some of his remarks that day:[9]

  • “To my fellow Americans, our newest citizens. You are men and women from more than 25 countries, from Brazil to Uganda, from Iraq to the Philippines.  You may come from teeming cities or rural villages.  You don’t look alike.  You don’t worship the same way.  But here, surrounded by the very documents whose values bind us together as one people, you’ve raised your hand and sworn a sacred oath.  I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as “my fellow Americans.”
  • “Just about every nation in the world, to some extent, admits immigrants.  But there’s something unique about America.  We don’t simply welcome new immigrants, we don’t simply welcome new arrivals — we are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional.”
  • “And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind.  So life in America was not always easy.  It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants.  Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.  There was discrimination and hardship and poverty.  But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them.  And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”
  • “We can never say it often or loudly enough:  Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America.  Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business.  Many of the Fortune 500 companies in this country were founded by immigrants or their children.  Many of the tech startups in Silicon Valley have at least one immigrant founder.”
  • “We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation.  And we are strong enough to acknowledge, as painful as it may be, that we haven’t always lived up to our own ideals.  We haven’t always lived up to these documents.”
  • “And the biggest irony of course is that those who betrayed these values were themselves the children of immigrants.  How quickly we forget.  One generation passes, two generation passes, and suddenly we don’t remember where we came from.  And we suggest that somehow there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not remembering we used to be ‘them.’”
  • “The truth is, being an American is hard.  Being part of a democratic government is hard.  Being a citizen is hard.  It is a challenge.  It’s supposed to be.  There’s no respite from our ideals.  All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves — not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient.  When it’s tough.  When we’re afraid.  The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more than just immigration.  It’s about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be.  It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding:  “E Pluribus Unum” — that out of many, we are one.”
  • “That is what makes America great — not just the words on these founding documents, as precious and valuable as they are, but the progress that they’ve inspired.  If you ever wonder whether America is big enough to hold multitudes, strong enough to withstand the forces of change, brave enough to live up to our ideals even in times of trial, then look to the generations of ordinary citizens who have proven again and again that we are worthy of that.”
  • “That’s our great inheritance — what ordinary people have done to build this country and make these words live.  And it’s our generation’s task to follow their example in this journey — to keep building an America where no matter who we are or what we look like, or who we love or what we believe, we can make of our lives what we will.”
  • “You will not and should not forget your history and your past.  That adds to the richness of American life.  But you are now American.  You’ve got obligations as citizens.  And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them.  You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is.  It’s not something to take for granted.  It’s something to cherish and to fight for.”
  • “Thank you.  May God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.”

Conclusion

Given the recent frequent negative comments about immigrants, especially in the rural areas of the U.S., it would be instructive to have such naturalization ceremonies broadcast live in all parts of the states where they occur. Another source of information and inspiration for all current U.S.  citizens is the recent widespread statements of governors justifying their support for resettlement of refugees in their states. [10]

Pope Francis also provides a religious justification for welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating refugees and other immigrants.[11]

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[1] Carol W. Brown, William Brown: English Immigrant of Hatfield and Leicester, Massachusetts and His Descendants, c. 1669-1994, at 1-4 (Gateway Press, Baltimore, MD 1994).

[2] Id. at 17-27.  See also these posts to dwkcommentaries: Watertown, Massachusetts, 238 Years Ago (April 20, 2013); The American Revolutionary War’s Siege of Boston, April 19, 1775-March 17, 1776 (July 27, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775 (July 30, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Campaign for New York and New Jersey, March 1776-January 1777 (Aug. 13, 2012); The American Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn (Long Island), August 1776 (Oct. 8, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of Harlem Heights, New York, September 1776 (Oct. 10, 2012); The American Revolutionary War: The Battle of White Plains, October 1776 (Oct. 12, 2012). George Edwin Brown and Jennie Olivia Johnson Brown, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 17, 2013); n.1 supra at 267.

[4] Hansen, The Heyers From Krofdorf to Keystone at 9, 19 (Amundsen Publishing Co., Decorah, IA 1977).

[5] Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., PBS.org.

[6] Becoming a Pro Bono Asylum Lawyer, dwkcommentaries.com (May 24, 2011).

[7] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Naturalized U.S. Citizens: Important Contributors to U.S. Culture and Economy (June 7, 2015); Minnesota Welcomes New Citizens (June 8, 2015); Another U.S. Citizenship Naturalization Ceremony (Feb. 18, 2016).

[8] Collins, Letter: A U.S. Naturalization Ceremony to Remember, W.S.J. (Nov. 23, 2020). Collins was prompted to write his article by reading another about a recent naturalization ceremony attended by Wall Street Journal columnist Jo Craven McGinty. (McGinty, More Green Card Holders Are Becoming U.S. Citizens, W.S.J. (Nov. 13, 2020).)

[9] President Obama Welcomes New U.S. Citizens with Inspiring Challenge, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 16, 2015)(contains full text of Obama’s speech).

[10] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (December 31, 2019); Five More States Have Consented to Refugee Resettlement (Jan.7, 2020); U.S. State Governments Celebrate Refugees’ Accomplishments (Feb. 2, 2020).

[11] Pope Francis Reminds Us to Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2020).

 

 

President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the Military Commission’s Convictions and Sentences of the Dakota Indians

President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln

Before he participated in the U.S. Military Commission’s convictions and sentences of the Dakota Indians, President Abraham Lincoln was involved the U.S.-Dakota War itself in August-September 1862.[1]

Lincoln reentered this drama on October 14th at a Cabinet meeting when Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, read aloud a report from General John Pope that the War was over and that the Army held about 1,500 Dakota prisoners. “Many, Pope said, “are being tried by military commission for being connected in late horrible outrages and will be executed.”[2]

Lincoln and the Cabinet were upset with Pope’s apparent plan to execute many of the captives, and three days later Pope was directed that there be no executions without the President’s approval.

Roughly three weeks later (on November 8th), after the completion of the military commission trials, Lincoln received a telegram from Pope containing a list of the 302 Dakota men who had been convicted and ordered to be hung.[3]

Immediately (on November 10th) the President by a telegram put all of these convictions on hold pending his Administration’s review of these convictions. Lincoln instructed Pope to submit the “full and complete” trial records for these cases to the President along with any materials that might indicate which of the men were the most guilty along with a “careful statement” regarding the commission’s judgments.

This instruction annoyed Pope, who responded the next day not with a “careful statement,” but with a vehement objection to the order. According to the General, “the only distinction between the culprits is as to which of them murdered  most people or violated most young girls.” Moreover, Pope said, “The people of this State [of Minnesota] . . . are exasperated to the last degree, and if the guilty are not all executed, I think it nearly impossible to prevent the indiscriminate massacre of all the Indians–old men, women and children.”

Pope reiterated these sentiments on November 24th when he urged the President to make a speedy decision. He warned, “Organizations of inhabitants are being rapidly made with the purpose of massacring these Indians.”

Exactly what the presidential review would entail was not immediately clear. Lincoln contemplated setting guidelines for executing “only a part” of the 302 men and sending the cases back to Minnesota for an “officer on the ground” to make case-by-case designations. But on December 1st Joseph Holt, the Judge Advocate General, advised the President that the power of review could not be delegated.

Therefore, that same day (December 1st), the President asked two aides (George C. Whiting and Francis H. Ruggles) to make a “careful examination” of all the transcripts and identify those Dakotas who “had been proved guilty of violating females.” The aides soon responded there were only two who had been so convicted.

Lincoln was surprised so few rapists were among the 302 on death row. Therefore, the President asked his aides to make “a further examination” to identify “all who were proven to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles.” Whiting and Ruggles did just that and reported that 38 additional Dakota men had participated in massacres. The report contained a brief summary of the proof against each man plus the transcripts of their trials.

The first man on the execution list was Joseph Godfrey, the escaped black slave who had been the first to be tried by the military commission. The summary of his case by Whiting and Ruggles said, “Engaged extensively in the massacres, and, though sentenced to be hung, recommended to have his punishment commuted to imprisonment for ten years, because of the valuable testimony and information furnished the commission.”

On December 5th or 6th Lincoln reviewed his aides’ report and trial transcripts. He then personally penned his execution order to Colonel Sibley with the names and trial numbers of 39 men to be executed on December 19th.[4] They were the 2 convicted for rape and 37 of the 38 men convicted for participation in massacres. The only one on the latter list of 38 who was not included on the execution list was Joseph Godfrey.

On December 11th in response to a Senate resolution, the President forwarded to the Senate the Whiting-Ruggles report, the trial transcripts and related materials. In his cover letter Lincoln referred to his aides’ list of 38 men convicted for participation in massacres, but said, “One of the [38 men] . . .  is strongly recommended by the [military] commission which tried them, for commutation to ten years’ imprisonment.” Lincoln, however, did not mention the name of this individual (Godfrey) or his black race. This review, Lincoln added, was done “to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other.”

Throughout this period, the President and his Administration were under great pressure to approve all of the ordered executions in addition to the pleas from General Pope.

Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey, who was running for election to the U.S. Senate in January 1863, urged the President to order the execution as soon as possible of all those condemned by the commission. “It would be wrong upon principle and policy to refuse this,” Ramsey said. “[Otherwise] private revenge would . . . take the place of official judgment on these Indians.”

Minnesota’s other public officials and newspapers echoed these sentiments as did letters, petitions and memorials submitted to the White House.

Virtually the only Minnesotans suggesting some mercy were Minnesota’s Episcopal Bishop Henry P. Whipple and other pastors.

Lincoln perhaps drew some comfort from a December 17th petition from 38 Dakota leaders that said “the bad [Dakotas] ought to be punished” and all “of the Indians who were engaged in killing the white men and women and children should be hanged.” The “good” Indians, on the other hand, should be “well treated” and permitted to return to their homes on the reservation.

On December 23rd, Lincoln directed the reprieve of one of the 39 to be executed as a result of a last minute plea by a Presbyterian missionary (Rev. Thomas Williamson) and his sister (and endorsed by Brigadier-General Sibley) on the ground that the certain evidence at the trial was unreliable.

Accordingly on December 26th, 38 Dakota men were hung to their death in Mankato, Minnesota.

The fate of the other 264 Dakota men (including Mr. Godfrey) who had been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging by the military commission was not addressed directly by President Lincoln. But they were not pardoned. Instead, they were transferred to a U.S. detention facility in Davenport, Iowa, where most of them spent the next three years. After they were released from detention, they were transferred to several reservations for the Dakota. Joseph Godfrey went to a Nebraska reservation where he lived until his death in 1903.[5]


[1]  As discussed in a prior post, On August 21, 1862, Lincoln’s focus on the worsening situation in the Civil War was interrupted by the news of the start four days earlier of the U.S.-Dakota War in southern Minnesota. About a week later the President reluctantly granted a de facto, indefinite extension of time for Minnesota to fulfill its quota for more troops for the Civil War so that the State could provide men to fight the Dakota War. In addition, on September 5th the President created a new military Department of the Northwest to be in charge of the Dakota War under the command of General John Pope.

[2] This post is based upon David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics Ch. VIII (Minn. HIst. Soc’y Press 1978, 2000, 2012) and Walt Bachman, Northern Slave Black Dakota:The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey at 221-22, 228-32, 239, 243-45, 252-56, 262-66,, 352-56 (Pond Dakota Press; Bloomington, MN 2013).

[3]  The commission had sentenced 307 Indians to be hung, but five were removed from the execution list before it was submitted to the President.

4 The original of the President’s order is at the Minnesota Historical Society. Davis, TWO Sioux War Orders: A Mystery Unraveled, Minn. History at 117 (Fall 1968). Through a  subsequent exchange of telegrams the date of the executions was postponed to December 26th. 

5 An evaluation of President Lincoln’s involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War and of legal issues relating to the commission trials and judgments will be the subjects of other posts.