The Left and Borglum's Legacy

Thanks to the tenor of the times, Donald Trump’s epochal 4th of July address has, despite his own intentions and the impact of his words, put the crosshairs on Mount Rushmore.

Though it has gained momentum in recent days, the campaign to degrade Mount Rushmore has been in gear for some time now. One of the triggers was a thoroughly PC piece published in 2016 in no less than the Smithsonian magazine.

Just take a look at the subjects. Washington, we know, was a slaveowner. Forget that the fact that he manumitted his slaves as soon as it was practicable. Forget that he trained them in trades or provided pensions for them. Forget that he presided over the beginning of the largest abolition of slavery in human history up to that point. None of that counts under Antifa law.

Jefferson, we know, was even worse, having raped his daughter’s teenage companion and gotten her with child. Of course, we all know that the researchers of the paper “proving” the fact “reformulated” their conclusions a short time later, don’t we? (What? We don’t?)

As for Lincoln, he considered sending freed slaves to Africa before a meeting with the leaders of America’s free blacks changed his mind. And Teddy… well, the man who dined with Booker T. Washington in the White House apparently committed some thoughtcrimes himself from time to time.

But that’s not all there is to it. There’s also the matter of Gutzon Borglum’s relations with the Klan.

Shortly before applying his genius to Mount Rushmore, Borglum was hired by the Daughters of the Confederacy to create a mammoth monumental relief on Stone Mountain, a little northwest of Atlanta. Conceived as a “shrine to the South,” Stone Mountain was to feature carvings of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson on horseback.

The Ku Klux Klan, then reaching its peak in numbers and influence, was providing much of the funding. Borglum had been raised in the Midwest, with his roots in Denmark, and was something of a nativist. He was worried that the “Nordic” elements of the country might be overwhelmed by “lesser breeds,” by which he meant Italians, Irish, Jews, and East Europeans. This no doubt fit in well with the attitudes of the Klan. Borglum agreed to include a Klan symbol in the project, specifically a “Klan altar,” whatever that might be.

Despite this initial cordiality, the Klan’s native belligerence and arrogance soon collided with Borglum’s ego. In addition, the promised funding was not forthcoming. Soon there were heated words, and Borglum found himself fleeing the state three steps ahead a mob of the Knights of the White Bedsheet. An attempt was actually made to have him extradited from South Carolina. The Klan then dynamited every trace of the work that Borglum had started.

The Klan hired another sculptor, and then another after that. Since anything more complex than lighting up a cross is something of a challenge to the average Klansman, it won’t surprise readers to learn that Stone Mountain was not finished for another half-century, in 1972. By that time, the Klan’s fortunes had fallen and KKK symbols, whether “altars” or otherwise, were nowhere to be found.

Whatever Borglum had thought of the Klan before he arrived in Georgia, we can be sure that his opinion had undergone a considerable shift by the time he left.

Like anyone else, Gutzon Borglum was a complex figure, full of contradictions and idiosyncrasies. How else can we explain how he could go from carving a monument to the leaders of the Confederacy to one in part honoring their greatest enemy in only a year’s time?

Considering the Klan connection, it comes a bewildering to learned that Abraham Lincoln was Borglum’s ideal among Americans, a man he admired so much that he named his son after him. This possibly also explains why Lincoln reposes in isolated majesty in the monument itself, gazing steadily past the other three.

It was, in fact, Lincoln Borglum who completed his father’s initial work in 1941 after Borglum died of a heart attack. The monument itself is officially incomplete – it was intended that the full figures of the four presidents be carved, much as the Confederate leaders appear at Stone Mountain. But it’s no loss – the incompleteness is the source of the monument’s majesty. It doesn’t appear to be the work of man at all, but something that sprung out of the rock itself, that has always been there, waiting to greet the American settlers as they emerged across the plains. Stone Mountain is an impressive carving. Mount Rushmore is something else altogether.

This past week Mount Rushmore served as the setting for the start of a counteroffensive against an effort to set that city ablaze. There could have been no better backdrop for Donald Trump’s speech and his superb end run – so typical of his methodology -- around the anarchists and their allies. That speech gave the back of the hand to Antifa along with a stern rebuke to the whimpering eunuchs of Columbus and Boston, so eager to surrender that they don’t even wait to learn what the terms are. Trump’s order for a National Garden of Heroes has undercut the anarchist effort, guaranteeing that worthy Americans will be honored despite the efforts of the mob. It’s one more humiliation of the left by a man who has become defined by humiliating the left.  

The battle will continue. On July 3, just prior to Trump’s speech, the Washington Post published a piece huffing and puffing about Borglum’s “Klan connections.” (It’s really too bad that Borglum couldn’t have lived to construct a monumental bust of Robert Byrd, isn’t it?) Attacks on monuments will no doubt go on, but it’ll all be pantomime – the President has removed crippled the impulse behind it.

Borglum’s story is American to its core, like that of the men whose likenesses he carved -- all flawed geniuses who accomplished more than what was actually in them. The Virginia aristocrats, the frontier lawyer, the wild-eyed cowboy, and the sculptor of the grandest ambitions who cared less for slightly darker people than he should have. Borglum’s legacy is not embodied in a monument stained by Klan emblems or debased by Klan money. It is represented in the images of the men who designed and built the City on the Hill. It is a monument worthy of such an effort and such an ideal. There is nothing like it elsewhere, and there is little likelihood it will be matched in our epoch.

Thanks to the tenor of the times, Donald Trump’s epochal 4th of July address has, despite his own intentions and the impact of his words, put the crosshairs on Mount Rushmore.

Though it has gained momentum in recent days, the campaign to degrade Mount Rushmore has been in gear for some time now. One of the triggers was a thoroughly PC piece published in 2016 in no less than the Smithsonian magazine.

Just take a look at the subjects. Washington, we know, was a slaveowner. Forget that the fact that he manumitted his slaves as soon as it was practicable. Forget that he trained them in trades or provided pensions for them. Forget that he presided over the beginning of the largest abolition of slavery in human history up to that point. None of that counts under Antifa law.

Jefferson, we know, was even worse, having raped his daughter’s teenage companion and gotten her with child. Of course, we all know that the researchers of the paper “proving” the fact “reformulated” their conclusions a short time later, don’t we? (What? We don’t?)

As for Lincoln, he considered sending freed slaves to Africa before a meeting with the leaders of America’s free blacks changed his mind. And Teddy… well, the man who dined with Booker T. Washington in the White House apparently committed some thoughtcrimes himself from time to time.

But that’s not all there is to it. There’s also the matter of Gutzon Borglum’s relations with the Klan.

Shortly before applying his genius to Mount Rushmore, Borglum was hired by the Daughters of the Confederacy to create a mammoth monumental relief on Stone Mountain, a little northwest of Atlanta. Conceived as a “shrine to the South,” Stone Mountain was to feature carvings of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson on horseback.

The Ku Klux Klan, then reaching its peak in numbers and influence, was providing much of the funding. Borglum had been raised in the Midwest, with his roots in Denmark, and was something of a nativist. He was worried that the “Nordic” elements of the country might be overwhelmed by “lesser breeds,” by which he meant Italians, Irish, Jews, and East Europeans. This no doubt fit in well with the attitudes of the Klan. Borglum agreed to include a Klan symbol in the project, specifically a “Klan altar,” whatever that might be.

Despite this initial cordiality, the Klan’s native belligerence and arrogance soon collided with Borglum’s ego. In addition, the promised funding was not forthcoming. Soon there were heated words, and Borglum found himself fleeing the state three steps ahead a mob of the Knights of the White Bedsheet. An attempt was actually made to have him extradited from South Carolina. The Klan then dynamited every trace of the work that Borglum had started.

The Klan hired another sculptor, and then another after that. Since anything more complex than lighting up a cross is something of a challenge to the average Klansman, it won’t surprise readers to learn that Stone Mountain was not finished for another half-century, in 1972. By that time, the Klan’s fortunes had fallen and KKK symbols, whether “altars” or otherwise, were nowhere to be found.

Whatever Borglum had thought of the Klan before he arrived in Georgia, we can be sure that his opinion had undergone a considerable shift by the time he left.

Like anyone else, Gutzon Borglum was a complex figure, full of contradictions and idiosyncrasies. How else can we explain how he could go from carving a monument to the leaders of the Confederacy to one in part honoring their greatest enemy in only a year’s time?

Considering the Klan connection, it comes a bewildering to learned that Abraham Lincoln was Borglum’s ideal among Americans, a man he admired so much that he named his son after him. This possibly also explains why Lincoln reposes in isolated majesty in the monument itself, gazing steadily past the other three.

It was, in fact, Lincoln Borglum who completed his father’s initial work in 1941 after Borglum died of a heart attack. The monument itself is officially incomplete – it was intended that the full figures of the four presidents be carved, much as the Confederate leaders appear at Stone Mountain. But it’s no loss – the incompleteness is the source of the monument’s majesty. It doesn’t appear to be the work of man at all, but something that sprung out of the rock itself, that has always been there, waiting to greet the American settlers as they emerged across the plains. Stone Mountain is an impressive carving. Mount Rushmore is something else altogether.

This past week Mount Rushmore served as the setting for the start of a counteroffensive against an effort to set that city ablaze. There could have been no better backdrop for Donald Trump’s speech and his superb end run – so typical of his methodology -- around the anarchists and their allies. That speech gave the back of the hand to Antifa along with a stern rebuke to the whimpering eunuchs of Columbus and Boston, so eager to surrender that they don’t even wait to learn what the terms are. Trump’s order for a National Garden of Heroes has undercut the anarchist effort, guaranteeing that worthy Americans will be honored despite the efforts of the mob. It’s one more humiliation of the left by a man who has become defined by humiliating the left.  

The battle will continue. On July 3, just prior to Trump’s speech, the Washington Post published a piece huffing and puffing about Borglum’s “Klan connections.” (It’s really too bad that Borglum couldn’t have lived to construct a monumental bust of Robert Byrd, isn’t it?) Attacks on monuments will no doubt go on, but it’ll all be pantomime – the President has removed crippled the impulse behind it.

Borglum’s story is American to its core, like that of the men whose likenesses he carved -- all flawed geniuses who accomplished more than what was actually in them. The Virginia aristocrats, the frontier lawyer, the wild-eyed cowboy, and the sculptor of the grandest ambitions who cared less for slightly darker people than he should have. Borglum’s legacy is not embodied in a monument stained by Klan emblems or debased by Klan money. It is represented in the images of the men who designed and built the City on the Hill. It is a monument worthy of such an effort and such an ideal. There is nothing like it elsewhere, and there is little likelihood it will be matched in our epoch.