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Tag: robert e lee

Why General Lee Doesn't Deserve A Statue But Jefferson Does

Reprinted with permission from Creators

In New York City, a statue of Thomas Jefferson has graced the City Council chamber for 100 years. This week, the Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove it. "Jefferson embodies some of the most shameful parts of our country's history," explained Adrienne Adams, a councilwoman from Queens. Assemblyman Charles Barron went even further. Responding to a question about where the statue should go next, he was contemptuous: "I don't think it should go anywhere. I don't think it should exist."

When iconoclasts topple Jefferson, they seem to validate the argument advanced by defenders of Confederate monuments that there is no escape from the slippery slope. "First, they come for Nathan Bedford Forrest and then for Robert E. Lee. Where does it end? Is Jefferson next? Is George Washington?"

No historical figure is without blemish, they protest. And it's unfair to condemn our ancestors using today's standards. If owning slaves is the discrediting fact about Lee, how then can we excuse George Washington? As if on cue, "TFG" chimed in with a statement chiding the city for "evicting" the "late, great Thomas Jefferson, one of our most important founding fathers." Not so important, apparently, that former President Donald Trump felt the need to learn about him though, because the next phrase was "a principal writer of the Constitution of the United States." Sigh. No, Jefferson was in Paris during the Constitutional Convention. He authored another founding document Trump hasn't read. But never mind.

There is an answer — a reason why it's right to remove Robert E. Lee from his pedestal in Richmond, Virginia, yet wrong to exile Thomas Jefferson from a place of honor in American life. It requires grappling with the full complexity of human beings and the mixed legacy of history. We must, as William Shakespeare said, "Take them for all in all," that is, judge them for their entire lives, not just a part.

People who defend monuments to Lee on the grounds that he played an important role in our history are confusing significance with honor. Lee surely played a huge role in our history, but as the leader of an army whose aim was to destroy the union. That made him a textbook traitor. As Ulysses Grant put it in his memoir, recalling his feelings upon accepting Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Lee had fought "valiantly" but for a cause that was "one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."

Is it fair to judge Lee by our modern standards? Perhaps not, but even by the standards of his own day, he is wanting. Much has been made of Lee's supposedly agonizing decision to resign his U.S. Army commission because he could not "raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children." But others, including Gen. Winfield Scott, who offered Lee command of the Union army in 1861, also hailed from Virginia, yet remained loyal, as did Virginian Gen. George Henry Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," and an estimated 100,000 white Southerners who fought for the Union.

Lee's image has been sanitized and even beatified by purveyors of the "Lost Cause" narrative about the Confederacy. They've depicted Lee as an upright, chivalrous defender of tradition, a moral man and a Christian. But, as Adam Serwer reminds us, Lee was a cruel slave master. In the words of Wesley Norris, one of his slaves who attempted to escape and was whipped, "Not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done." As the leader of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee enslaved all of the Black Union soldiers he captured as well as free Black Pennsylvanians his army encountered.

As the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson enshrined the ideals that made this nation. Jefferson's words formed our national identity as free people and marked a departure in human affairs. A 19th-century Hungarian nationalist, Lajos Kossuth, called the American Declaration of Independence "the noblest, happiest page in mankind's history."

Was Jefferson a hypocrite? Oh, yes. One of history's most flamboyant. He owned slaves and almost certainly fathered children with his dead wife's half sister, Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman. But he never defended the institution (as Lee did), quite the contrary. He wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

Do we overlook Jefferson's shameful private behavior? No, but we take him in full. His contribution to human liberty, despite his personal behavior, entitles him to a place of honor. There will always be an asterisk, but to say that statues honoring him "shouldn't exist," as the New York City assemblyman did, is to dismiss the Declaration, the American anthem.

As for George Washington, there would have been no nation to criticize or lionize without him. If Jefferson was the poet laureate of liberty, Washington was the living exemplar of republican virtue. Having led the revolution, he could have proclaimed himself king or dictator. Some urged him to do so. When King George III was told by the American artist Benjamin West that Washington intended to resign and return to private life after winning his country's freedom, the king said, "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."

He was. Many a revolutionary leader came after him. Most became despots in turn. None has achieved his greatness.

Yes, Washington held human beings in bondage, and that was terrible. Owning slaves is a blight on his record, but the rest shines bright. No nation that has judgment — and gratitude — can fail to honor him forever.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense."To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: mercuryatlasnine at Pixabay

It Has Always Been About Slavery

“Our new government is founded upon … the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
— Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, 1861

As if he had not already dumped enough fuel on a raging inferno, President Donald Trump has now taken up common cause with the Lost Cause: the historically inaccurate, myth-driven campaign to sanctify the Confederacy. The president was apparently not satisfied with merely showing his sympathy for white supremacists, insisting that their ranks include some “very fine people.”

A day or so later, he went on Twitter to bash the movement to take down Confederate monuments and statues — though he had previously said those decisions should be left to local authorities. Trump tweeted that he was “sad” to see the “history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

That is nonsense — sanitized blather that is widely repeated among Confederate sympathizers and apologists for Southern secession. As a Southerner born and bred, I’ve heard those arguments my entire life. And I’ve walked past elaborate memorials to men who preferred a broken, war-scarred land to a nation where black men and women could be free to own their bodies and their labor.

Neither history nor culture would be “ripped apart” by the removal of Confederate statues to museums, where they belong. Instead, the civic fabric can begin to mend when memorials to secessionists are removed from public spaces.

The mythology that honors those Confederate icons is as elaborate as it is false, with tentacles that extend through generations. There are, indeed, many “very fine people” among those who wish to keep such memorials in place, who continue to defend Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis as patriots. They don’t wish to wrest citizenship away from black and Jewish Americans, but they cannot admit that their ancestors supported the horrific institution of slavery.

But those who insist on honoring the mythology of the Lost Cause should consider this: White supremacists see the Confederacy for what it was. They know that Lee and Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest and P.G.T. Beauregard fought to preserve an institution that kept black men and women in bondage — never paid for their labor, whipped and beaten at the whim of their masters, their children and spouses sold off for profit.

That’s why so many rebel flags hover over white nationalist rallies; that’s why neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, the Traditionalist Worker Party and other hate groups gathered at Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Lee. They weren’t there just to defend a piece of bronze. They were there to defend the ideology for which Lee was prepared to give his life — the South’s right to enslave men and women of African heritage.

Since Reconstruction, Confederate sympathizers have been about the business of constructing a competing narrative about the Civil War built on “alternative facts” — otherwise known as lies. They claim that the secessionists wanted to protect the South against “Northern aggression.” They insist the war was waged to defend states’ rights. (The states’ right to do what?)

According to Vice News, there are more than 1,500 Confederate memorials scattered throughout the country, most of them, as you might expect, in the 11 states of the Old Confederacy or border states such as Kentucky. A few, however, are in the Northeast, the Midwest and even the Far West.

Most of those memorials were erected long after the war ended — between 1890 and 1940, according to historians. That’s no coincidence: Those statues began to rise after Union troops pulled out of the South and white supremacists began to assume power once again. The KKK was created, Jim Crow laws were passed, and the lynching of innocent black people became commonplace. That’s what those statues commemorate.

If we are going to honor history, let’s do that. Let’s honor the facts, the sordid truth, the ugly reality: The Confederacy was built on a defense of the institution of slavery — an insistence that the white race was morally and intellectually superior and ordained by God to rule over the black race.
David Duke knows that. That’s why he was in Charlottesville.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

Arkansas Governor Wants Civil War Icon Separated From MLK Holiday

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) – U.S. civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil War Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee will share a common holiday on Monday in three southern states, but perhaps for the final time in one of them, Arkansas.

The state’s Republican governor is pushing to separate the joint celebration after critics said it is an insult for the man who fought to end racial segregation to share a day with a man who fought to preserve slavery.

“They need to be distinguished and separate,” Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference this month about the remembrances.

Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama for years have observed a joint holiday for King and Lee, whose birthdays are just four days apart.

Arkansas in the 1940s set up a day in mid-January to honor Lee and created a holiday for King in 1983. Two years after that, it combined the two for a joint day marked on the third Monday in January.

In January 2015, Arkansas lawmakers defeated a bill that would have reserved the January date for King and established a memorial day, although not a holiday, for Lee in November.

Racial sensitivity has been heightened across the South following the murders of nine black worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina church in June 2015 by a suspected gunman who is a white supremacist and adorned his social media website with Confederate regalia. 

The shooting caused many Southern states to re-examine symbols of the Confederacy.

Arkansas State Representative Fred Love, a Democrat who led the unsuccessful campaign in 2015 to separate the joint holiday, said passing the measure would be a winner in terms of race relations.

“It would show how far we’ve come,” he said.

For many in Arkansas, Lee remains a revered figure who fought with dignity for the South.

Representative Jeff Wardlaw, a Democrat who voted against Love’s bill, said his conservative constituents are concerned Lee would be officially disregarded.

“I’m the kind of guy who does what his constituents tell him they want, and last year they indicated they didn’t want a change,” Wardlaw said.

Hutchinson wants lawmakers to pass legislation that gives King a day of his own when they meet for a regular session in the Republican-dominated statehouse

“It’s important that that day be distinguished and separate and focused on the civil rights struggle and what he personally did in that effort,” Hutchinson said.

(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Paul Simao)

Photo: Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (C) chats after a news conference in Havana, Cuba September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Confederate Memorial Day Disappears From 2016 Georgia Holiday Calendars

By Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)

ATLANTA — Confederate Memorial Day has been struck from Georgia’s official 2016 state holiday calendar. So has Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

Most state employees will still get days off for both events, but the controversial names have been replaced with the more neutral term “state holiday.”

The change was reflected in emails that landed this week in the inboxes of many state employees.

Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, said the state still intends to celebrate the days even if it doesn’t “spell it out by name.”

“There will be a state holiday on that day,” he said. “Those so inclined can observe Confederate Memorial Day and remember those who died in that conflict.”

But it was a noticeable departure from the 2015 calendar, which clearly listed April 27 as the Confederate holiday and Nov. 27 as Lee’s birthday. And it comes as Georgia’s embrace of Confederate symbols has come under increased scrutiny since the racially tinged massacre of nine black worshippers at a Charleston, S.C., church by a suspected white supremacist.

Democrats including former Gov. Roy Barnes, who engineered the redesign of Georgia’s state flag 14 years ago, have said the state should abandon Confederate Memorial Day in favor of a holiday in February commemorating the day Georgia was founded. State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) has said he’s exploring legislation to force the issue.

Photo: Dorret via Flickr