Heather Cox Richardson


On her book Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre

Cover Interview of June 06, 2010


Wounded Knee shows that we must reject extreme political rhetoric.

Leading up to the 1890 midterm election, Republicans refused to admit that their policies were not working for many Americans.  Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of farmers and workers, they accused them of being “socialists” who wanted to destroy the nation.  Having defined a Democratic victory as the end of America, the Republicans made it imperative that they win, no matter the cost.

In the short term, that cost was a massacre that left more than 250 people dead.

The Republicans’ conviction that they must win to save America had longer term consequences, as well. During the Harrison administration, officials added six new western states to the Union to increase their power in the Senate, sowed the seeds for draconian voter purges, committed the government to a western policy that dramatically changed the western environment, and undercut the ability of the Sioux to participate in the American economy in the future. These efforts dramatically reshaped the nation, and we still live with their consequences.

Today we deplore what happened at Wounded Knee Creek.  But we must recognize that what made it possible was extreme political rhetoric.  Beyond “racism,” it was the accusation of political opponents as being un-American that made any action acceptable so long as it would achieve political goals.

So long as we accept hyperbolic political rhetoric and reward the politicians who use it, we are laying the groundwork for other disasters. 

© 2010 Heather Cox Richardson