Let us be honest and state up front the Confederate statues that are once again making news, following the death of George Floyd and the protests, should have been removed from parks, courthouses, town squares and any other governmental property a very long time ago. That is a position I have long advocated.
Many of those statues were erected during the Jim Crow era, and during times when those fighting for civil rights were demanding justice. While slavery was this nation’s original sin, and the issue of slavery was the cause for the war regardless of Southern efforts to spin it with softer tones, the reason these statues must come down is that treasonous efforts to destabilize and destroy the Union must not be honored in any way.
While I understand, and feel the revulsion felt by those who protest against the statues which were erected to portray the slave-holding Confederate cause with warm sentimentality, I differ about the prime reason they should fall. Slavery was abhorrent but the fact remains those who took up arms against our national government acted in treasonous ways which must not be honored, or washed aside.
The moral victory of ending slavery in the Civil War remains a shining moment in this nation, but equally important is the lesson about the durability of our national government. It is that last point which President Lincoln fully understood needed to be addressed. He could not allow those who sought to destroy our government and nation to prevail. The act of the Confederacy taking up arms against the United States and its Constitution, the supreme law of the land, was not just rebellion, but an act of treason.
Lincoln’s main motive for the war was to preserve the Constitution and not alter the founding father’s intentions about our central government. Lincoln knew that toughness had to be employed if the Union was to be maintained. And the bulk of society has been forever grateful.
John Hay, Lincoln’s White House secretary during the war, wrote that in Lincoln’s mind it was a necessity to prove that popular government was not an absurdity. While the war was very much centered on the question of slavery, the need to not allow a split Union was forefront to all the actions that Lincoln would take. The fact that Lincoln never had a desire to be a dictator, and relaxed the necessary steps he used at times during the war, is proof of his sound intentions. The need for preserving the Union was paramount.
Men such as Vice-President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens told Lincoln directly the south would never allow slavery to be ended based on public opinion. Men such as Stephens were not delivering empty threats. Slavery was seen by a powerful segment of Southern society as a way of life and a right. The Confederacy was determined to strike at the soul of this nation–at the very heart of our central governemnt–in order to preserve the immortality of defining a person as personal property.
Call me old-fashioned but treason bothers me deeply. The statues can stand in museums and be placed in context so that what some now desire—that they be educational—can be undertaken. To think that Robert Lee should sit on any courthouse square when blacks of his time had no role whatsoever in any sense of the justice system, and the placement of such statues was designed to further limit the rights of blacks over the decades, means those statues make as much sense as placing a bust of Hitler into libraries in the international studies department.
The Civil War is unique in that the winning side did not punish the losing one. Though there was discussion of charging Confederate leaders with treason, in the end the Union decided that it was better to be lenient and focus on reuniting the country. It was an error in judgment that impacts us yet today.
An unexpected consequence of this can be demonstrated with the Confederate leadership living to write their own ‘glorious’ stories in an effort to rewrite history. It should surprise no one that they attempted to make themselves seem as noble..
But they were not noble. They were traitors to the United States. The leaders and fighters in that effort to destroy the Union must not be regarded with an appraisal other than treasonous. Their statues must be hauled down and carted away.
Now is the time.