When Haters Hijack History
Is anything and everything related to the Confederacy be wiped from the face of the earth? Doing so, these radicals risk losing sight of American history.
True, there were some Confederates who were virulent racists. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an untutored cavalry genius and perhaps the best cavalry leader of the war, was a former slave trader. He was so lost to hatred that he massacred black Union soldiers he’d captured at Fort Pillow. After the war, he founded the KKK. Anybody who still honors Forrest for his exceptional war-fighting ability is either psychotic or ignorant.
However, there were other Confederates who cared nothing for slavery, including General Robert E. Lee, the focus of the Charlottesville brouhaha. At the start of the war, President Lincoln – clearly no friend of slavery – offered Lee – the pre-eminent soldier of his generation – the command of the entire Union Army. Lee, who in early 1861 had opposed the creation of the Confederacy, graciously refused his President’s request, not because he supported slavery – he didn’t – but because he would not fight against his home state. He told Presidential advisor Francis P. Blair:
“I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four millions of slaves in the south I would sacrifice them all to the Union [here, Lee did not mean “human sacrifice,” but instead freedom for those four million slaves]. But how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?”
Late in the war, Lee strongly advocated to Jefferson Davis – as well as to individual slave-holders – that slaves should be freed on the condition that they enlist in and fight for the Confederacy.
Lee and his immediate family opposed slavery. His wife and mother-in-law were active in a pre-war Christian Southern movement to liberate slaves, relocating them to Liberia. Lee’s wife and daughter set up an illegal school for slaves at Arlington Plantation, teaching them to read the bible. On December 27, 1856, Lee wrote to his wife Mary Anna Lee:
“… In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.”
In 1862, Lee freed the remainder of the family’s slaves, many of whom were direct descendents of slaves owned by the adopted grandson of President George Washington.
Despite this, it would be inaccurate to view Lee as an active abolitionist. Like many Christian Southerners of his class and station, he felt slavery was a moral wrong, one that God would sort out in His own time. Lee had other priorities. Yet despite his willingness to free his family’s slaves, as well as to free and enlist slaves into his Army, and despite his post-war support of civil rights for blacks, far-left radical racists still want to banish Lee from America.
Where does this hijacking of American history take us?
Statue of a Confederate soldier toppled by a mob in Durham, NC
The far-right racist Nazis and Klukkers want to enshrine their spiritual father, Nathan Bedford Forrest as a hero for his undoubted gifts as a cavalry leader – as well as for founding the KKK. Fortunately, no matter how many violent rallies they hold, this will never happen. They will not succeed.
However, the far-left racists from Black Lives Matter have enough media credibility to push for more dramatic changes, and they’ve already begun to succeed. Having triumphed over Confederate heroes and symbols, they are now targeting our twelve slaveholding Presidents. Those Presidents whose honors are – or will soon be – on the chopping block include:
- George Washington, who in his will freed all his slaves
- Thomas Jefferson, who actively opposed slavery and freed some slaves in his will
- James Madison, who did not free his slaves or actively oppose slavery
- James Monroe actively opposed slavery and supported the creation of Liberia, a homeland in Africa for freed slaves – its capital, Monrovia, is named for him
- Andrew Jackson, who owned slaves and may have been a slave trader, never freed any slaves
- Martin Van Buren’s father owned six slaves. The President owned one slave, Tom who escaped to the north, and – after Tom was caught – Van Buren insisted he remain free. Politically, Van Buren opposed the expansion of slavery to western territories
- William Henry Harrison inherited several slaves and lobbied to extend slavery to Indiana – this was opposed by slave-holding President Thomas Jefferson
- John Tyler considered slavery evil, but he owned slaves and did not free them
- James K. Polk owned slaves – his will would have freed them, but Lincoln ended slavery before Polk’s will could be executed
- Zachary Taylor owned slaves but resisted the expansion of slavery into the territories – he may have been poisoned by slavery advocates
- Andrew Johnson owned a few slaves and successfully pushed Lincoln to exempt Tennessee from the Emancipation Proclamation
- Ulysses S. Grant’s wife inherited a few slaves, and Grant owned one slave for two years – yet despite crushing financial need, Grant freed that one slave in 1859. During the war, he enlisted slaves into his army and paid them for their service; after the war, he pushed for civil rights for former slaves, and for American Indians
Using the far-left Black Lives Matter movement’s flawed logic, our nation’s capital – along with one of our states – will have to change their names. The monument built to honor our first President will have to be torn down. Yes, President Washington despised slavery and wrote often of his desire to abolish it, but obviously, that isn’t enough. Joining President Washington’s “dethroning” will have to be President Jefferson. Will we have to abandon the Declaration of Independence, which he wrote? Clearly, Monticello must be torn down, while the University of Virginia in Charlottesville will have to renounce its founder. Ultimately, all twelve slave-owning Presidents will find their statues ripped down, their names banished from public property, and their real merits lost to history.
While nobody with any sense can find any logic in the far-right racist groups like the Nazis or the Klukkers, Black Lives Matter’s media power – and the fear many have of being labeled a racist for opposing them, will continue to give haters on the far left the power to rewrite American history.
Ned Barnett is, among other things, an historian who’s appeared on nine History Channel programs. He has extensively studied the American Civil War and its leaders, and he has worked for civil rights for blacks. A native of Ohio, he believes ancestors fought with a Pennsylvania regiment of coal miners to help free the slaves.