The Monuments Endgame: How Far Do We Go?

All across the South, statues of Confederate heroes are being removed, warehoused, and in some cases destroyed.  They are being removed under the false assumption that they are "symbols" of racism.  That assumption is based on a grossly simplistic understanding of Southern history.

In a letter of Dec. 27, 1856 to his wife, Robert E. Lee called slavery a "moral and political evil."  During his life, he emancipated slaves, created schools for slaves, and aided the passage of slaves to Liberia.  In the context of the antebellum South, Lee was decidedly an enlightened individual.  It is surprising that his statues are not being preserved to celebrate his moderate views.

It is true that, regardless of his personal views, Lee as commander of the Southern forces was defending slavery.  That, however, was not Lee's motivation, nor was it that of Stonewall Jackson, another Southerner of moderate views.  Forced to choose between commanding the armies of the North and those of the South (both of which offered him command), Lee chose the South out of loyalty to his home state of Virginia.  Lee was a professional military officer who made a principled decision.  He was regarded as such by many in the North, including Ulysses S. Grant, to whom he surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

It is important to note that in 1860, only twenty percent of Southerners owned slaves, and only a few thousand large slave-holding plantations existed.  The upland South did not fight in defense of slavery, since slavery played a minor role in states such as North Carolina and Tennessee.  Large-scale plantations did exist in the Deep South, many of them sites of great cruelty, but these were the exception.  Even in the Deep South, a majority of whites owned no slaves.

The current efforts to remove Confederate monuments are not based on historical reality.  Instead, they are a political gambit meant to divide Americans and spur support for progressive candidates in advance of the 2018 and 2020 elections.  The removal of monuments is designed to bait Southern conservatives by attacking Southerners' pride in their region. 

No people can live without a history and a distinctive identity.  The idea that everything about the South, and by extension about so many Americans who voted for Donald Trump, is "evil" and must be removed from the public sphere is nothing less than a form of political violence.  It is intended to spur an overreaction on the part of Southerners and a counter-reaction among liberals in the North.

In addition, the orchestrated campaign to remove all vestiges of white Southern history is selective and in effect racially motivated.  According to Webster's, "racism" is the belief that racial traits are determinative and that one race is superior to another.  But what is "race"?  It is "a group of individuals who share physical traits" or "a common culture or history."  Clearly, heartland Americans, and Southerners in particular, are "racial groups" against whom progressives, and Obama in particular, have repeatedly demonstrated bias.  How many of those "counter-protesters" supporting removal of Confederate statues are motivated by animus against a people whom they dislike because of their conservative culture? 

It doesn't stop with Confederate monuments.  Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders and, according to progressive thinking, must also be expunged from history.  So were Presidents Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Taylor, Johnson, and Grant.

Indeed, most influential persons in the South owned slaves, as did most Northern leaders up until slavery was abolished in the North in the mid-1820s.  Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice John Marshall, Patrick Henry, and Sen. Steven A. Douglas were all slaveholders, as was General William Tecumseh Sherman.  One might also include the American feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose family were slave-owners.  Slavery was also widely practiced among Native American tribes.

According to the logic of the left, America's entire history before 1830, and in the South before 1860, must be expunged.  And it goes farther.  Those implicated in the suppression of blacks during the Jim Crow era and beyond are to be erased from our history as well.

That would include Woodrow Wilson, who endorsed segregation and refused to suppress KKK activity in the South, and FDR, who ordered segregation in the military throughout his four terms in office.  And there was LBJ, whose congressional record was consistently anti-Civil Rights when it served his interests.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton were all descendants of slaveholding families, as was Obama, whose white ancestors also owned slaves.

The attempt to remove all vestiges of Southern history from the public space is the work of left-wing extremists whose primary motivation is to neutralize Donald Trump.  Their targets are selective and politically motivated.  It is not Robert E. Lee who offends the left, but Donald J. Trump and the ordinary Americans who voted for him.

As always, the left is intent on power, and the strategy of going after Civil War monuments is simply a means to an end.  If the issue were slavery, then the record of slaveholders in the North would have to be erased from the history books as well.  But the issue is not slavery; it is politics in the present.  The synchronized movement to remove Confederate monuments has been spearheaded by Democratic mayors loyal to the party.  This effort has a specific target: the sensibilities of those who voted for Trump in overwhelming numbers.  The intent is to divide the electorate and rouse antipathy toward Trump among liberals.   

Southerners have a right to preserve their history.  It is the basis of their common identity.  White Southerners are and always have been decent, hardworking, and well intentioned people, and it is crucial that they retain pride in their past.  The attack on their culture is motivated, above all, by an effort to divide Americans in advance of the midterm and presidential elections. 

Once again, the left has resorted to the politics of divisiveness based on the demonizing of a particular class of persons, just as it did with "the rich" in previous campaigns, only now the "demons" are an entire race of Americans: white Southerners.  This is the politics of hate at its worst, and it's time to reject it, just as we have rejected all forms of racism in the past.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

All across the South, statues of Confederate heroes are being removed, warehoused, and in some cases destroyed.  They are being removed under the false assumption that they are "symbols" of racism.  That assumption is based on a grossly simplistic understanding of Southern history.

In a letter of Dec. 27, 1856 to his wife, Robert E. Lee called slavery a "moral and political evil."  During his life, he emancipated slaves, created schools for slaves, and aided the passage of slaves to Liberia.  In the context of the antebellum South, Lee was decidedly an enlightened individual.  It is surprising that his statues are not being preserved to celebrate his moderate views.

It is true that, regardless of his personal views, Lee as commander of the Southern forces was defending slavery.  That, however, was not Lee's motivation, nor was it that of Stonewall Jackson, another Southerner of moderate views.  Forced to choose between commanding the armies of the North and those of the South (both of which offered him command), Lee chose the South out of loyalty to his home state of Virginia.  Lee was a professional military officer who made a principled decision.  He was regarded as such by many in the North, including Ulysses S. Grant, to whom he surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

It is important to note that in 1860, only twenty percent of Southerners owned slaves, and only a few thousand large slave-holding plantations existed.  The upland South did not fight in defense of slavery, since slavery played a minor role in states such as North Carolina and Tennessee.  Large-scale plantations did exist in the Deep South, many of them sites of great cruelty, but these were the exception.  Even in the Deep South, a majority of whites owned no slaves.

The current efforts to remove Confederate monuments are not based on historical reality.  Instead, they are a political gambit meant to divide Americans and spur support for progressive candidates in advance of the 2018 and 2020 elections.  The removal of monuments is designed to bait Southern conservatives by attacking Southerners' pride in their region. 

No people can live without a history and a distinctive identity.  The idea that everything about the South, and by extension about so many Americans who voted for Donald Trump, is "evil" and must be removed from the public sphere is nothing less than a form of political violence.  It is intended to spur an overreaction on the part of Southerners and a counter-reaction among liberals in the North.

In addition, the orchestrated campaign to remove all vestiges of white Southern history is selective and in effect racially motivated.  According to Webster's, "racism" is the belief that racial traits are determinative and that one race is superior to another.  But what is "race"?  It is "a group of individuals who share physical traits" or "a common culture or history."  Clearly, heartland Americans, and Southerners in particular, are "racial groups" against whom progressives, and Obama in particular, have repeatedly demonstrated bias.  How many of those "counter-protesters" supporting removal of Confederate statues are motivated by animus against a people whom they dislike because of their conservative culture? 

It doesn't stop with Confederate monuments.  Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders and, according to progressive thinking, must also be expunged from history.  So were Presidents Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Taylor, Johnson, and Grant.

Indeed, most influential persons in the South owned slaves, as did most Northern leaders up until slavery was abolished in the North in the mid-1820s.  Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice John Marshall, Patrick Henry, and Sen. Steven A. Douglas were all slaveholders, as was General William Tecumseh Sherman.  One might also include the American feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose family were slave-owners.  Slavery was also widely practiced among Native American tribes.

According to the logic of the left, America's entire history before 1830, and in the South before 1860, must be expunged.  And it goes farther.  Those implicated in the suppression of blacks during the Jim Crow era and beyond are to be erased from our history as well.

That would include Woodrow Wilson, who endorsed segregation and refused to suppress KKK activity in the South, and FDR, who ordered segregation in the military throughout his four terms in office.  And there was LBJ, whose congressional record was consistently anti-Civil Rights when it served his interests.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton were all descendants of slaveholding families, as was Obama, whose white ancestors also owned slaves.

The attempt to remove all vestiges of Southern history from the public space is the work of left-wing extremists whose primary motivation is to neutralize Donald Trump.  Their targets are selective and politically motivated.  It is not Robert E. Lee who offends the left, but Donald J. Trump and the ordinary Americans who voted for him.

As always, the left is intent on power, and the strategy of going after Civil War monuments is simply a means to an end.  If the issue were slavery, then the record of slaveholders in the North would have to be erased from the history books as well.  But the issue is not slavery; it is politics in the present.  The synchronized movement to remove Confederate monuments has been spearheaded by Democratic mayors loyal to the party.  This effort has a specific target: the sensibilities of those who voted for Trump in overwhelming numbers.  The intent is to divide the electorate and rouse antipathy toward Trump among liberals.   

Southerners have a right to preserve their history.  It is the basis of their common identity.  White Southerners are and always have been decent, hardworking, and well intentioned people, and it is crucial that they retain pride in their past.  The attack on their culture is motivated, above all, by an effort to divide Americans in advance of the midterm and presidential elections. 

Once again, the left has resorted to the politics of divisiveness based on the demonizing of a particular class of persons, just as it did with "the rich" in previous campaigns, only now the "demons" are an entire race of Americans: white Southerners.  This is the politics of hate at its worst, and it's time to reject it, just as we have rejected all forms of racism in the past.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

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