January 8, 1866 to January 7, 1870
“William R. Marshall becomes the state’s fifth governor. Energy and ambition characterized the life of Minnesota’s fifth—and only southern-born—governor. During William Marshall’s administration, his adoptive state experienced a post-Civil-War surge of growth and development: its population doubled to 350,000, its railroad mileage quadrupled, and its commercial endeavors flourished.” *
Governor Marshall personified the spirit of his pioneering neighbors in the Midwest. His work experience included: dairy farming, livestock farming, reporting the news, and banking. He voluntarily fought in the Civil War, and the Dakota Wars. **
Some of us, living in the present, may stumble over Marshall’s support of the abolition of slavery, and then fighting to expel the Dakota Nation from Minnesota. Would modern scholars, educated in the doctrines of the Frankfurt School or Cultural Marxism, consider him a racist because he fought for African-Americans, but against Native Americans?
Perhaps we would do better to enter the worldview of his era, and see things through the lens of 19th Century Midwesterners? Maybe it’s consistent with his belief system to come to the rescue of slaves because they did not aggress against his country (United States)? What if he rationalized specifically fighting the Dakota Nation, (not all Native Americans), because a few hundred of them made war on Minnesota?
Lord, I simply do not know his heart. You are the Only Wise Justice of this world, so will You reason and wrestle with us in prayer? It is easy to applaud those who voluntarily gave their lives to fight in the Civil War, if it was out of a heart to end the institution of human slavery. It is less laudable, but still reasonable, to assume that some Minnesotans fought the South because of political rather than moral or spiritual reasons.
In the same fashion, we know little of Marshall’s rationalizations for his role in the Dakota Wars. Did he fight for the protection of his political state? Did he do battle because he was “just following orders”? Was Marshall a man given to ethnocentrism and racism towards “Indians”? Was he an amoral conqueror, only acting out his role in the drama of natural selection? Did he fight out of a sense of justice?
So we go to prayer, Eternal Father, beginning with gratitude that You are the Only One who can unravel the mixed motives of the human heart. We do good with a bad heart. We do bad things to others with good intentions. Will You forgive us our pride whether in doing justice, or in our failures to do so? Will You forgive us the pride of a glorious, self-righteous martyrdom; of “falling on the sword” for others with narcissistic hearts?
Regardless of his motives, we applaud the honorable actions of the governorship and life of William R. Marshall. We thank You that he took part in: freeing slaves, protecting settlers, and growing our economy? Where Marshall offended You in the displacement of the Dakota Nation; will You bring forgiveness and healing?
Holy Spirit, thank You for the encouragement of charity Marshall brought to the state of Minnesota. Forgive any judgments established from him or to him through the generations. Thanks for his heart of good will towards our most vulnerable neighbors shown by the following quote below.
“It is due to the State that an enlarged philanthropy should characterize its efforts for its helpless ones. These children of sorrow, the blind, the dumb, the insane, have a claim upon us that we cannot disregard. If speedy action for their relief is not taken it will be a reproach to our Christian civilization.”
Lord, may we be civil because we are Yours! May we love our enemies! May we be conduits of Your generosity for those in need! Amen!
*** Minnesota Historical Society Collections. “The inaugural address of Governor Marshall, January 8, 1866, “Executive Documents for the state of Minnesota for the year 1865”, pages 31-38 (St. Paul, 1866).