Virginia Military Institute’s Board of Visitors has voted to remove the prominent statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. It is a most appropriate action to take. Anyone who cares to defend the continued presence of such statuary must then also defend the Jim Crow era when much of these items were put in place.
Jackson’s location in front of the student barracks has long been a source of great animosity from those who had to walk by, and even salute the memory of someone who wanted to destroy the Union and perpetuate the original sin of our nation.
I am continually amazed at how removed many of the defenders of such statues are from understanding our history. They seemingly failed at showing up to school on the day when lectures occurred showing the two primary periods where the dedication of these racist symbols spiked. That being during the first two decades of the 20th century, when this Jackson statue was erected during the Jim Crow era, and the later erections during the Civil Rights Movement.
I have challenged those who revere Confederate statues to show me the losers from other wars in our nation’s history honored with statuary–and done so half-a-century following the last battle. It is obvious the losers of the Civil War and their racist attitudes that drove Confederates to revolt believe they can still perpetuate a myth of superiority. If anything the placement of Confederate soldiers on the Courthouse Square underscores weakness and an aversion to modernity. Living in a delusional land of Confederate flags until larger national forces demand accountability makes those defenders even more impotent.
Consider the level of absurdity that exists from those who can not accept the fact the Confederates lost. There are 1,747 publicly sponsored symbols honoring Confederate leaders, soldiers, or the Confederate States of America in general. These include monuments and statues; flags; holidays and other observances; and the names of schools, highways, parks, bridges, counties, cities, lakes, dams, roads, military bases, and other public works. Many of these are prominent displays in major cities and at state capitols.
The reason to undercut the argument of those who will not update their thinking since 1865 is because this nation should not expect Black people to salute a slaveholder. We must not allow the facts about the war to get replaced with the absurd narrative that slaves loved to be protected by their owners or that slavery was not the absolute driving force for Southern aggression.
The idea that the war was ‘between the states’ as the Confederate side wishes to term it, and can be ticked off as a sectional fight over slavery or trade or a host of other matters, undercuts a fundamental fact. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote roughly 30 years prior to the Fort Sumter episode that the absolute sovereignty of the nation was contained in the people of the Union. That is a powerful concept and one which needs to be understood in its entirety. He argued that even as far back as the Declaration of Independence the document underscored “implicitly the act of the whole people of the united colonies.”
In other words, this nation was always a nation-state and never just a contractual agreement between an alliance of sovereign states–or even colonies. It is important to understand that sovereignty lies in the nation rather than the individual states. That is why it can be easily argued the people as a whole had the right to secede from Britain and also had the right–and I think duty–to cripple and destroy the attempt by Southerners who wished to secede. The fact that, as an example, the Daughters of the Confederacy would try to spin away from a constitutional foundation by questioning which majority had the right to authorize secession–a majority in each state or a national majority–cuts to the core of what their real mission is.
In his first inaugural President Lincoln, himself argued this point and took his listeners–and the rest of us over time–back to the solid claim that the Union is and always will be perpetual. I will let Lincoln’s words carry the argument.
“Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of states in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peacefully unmade, by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it–break it, so so speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?”
What the Confederacy attempted with succession was unconstitutional and some have argued treasonous to the United States. There are moral, and without doubt, constitutional reasons as to why slavery needed to be fought and eradicated with the war. While it is true the South fought to retain and even expand slavery and statues to the Confederate leaders underscore that motive, I think a more fundamental argument can be made for removing these monuments. That is because succession runs counter to how a republic should respond to severe differences among factions. What the South was advocating was not so much a process to alleviate grievances but instead to foment a revolution.
That does not then rise to the level of expecting future generations too, in some way, honor or revere those who worked to undermine the Union. While our revolution against the Brits allowed for republican ideals to take hold there is nothing noble or inspiring about Confederates who wished to increase their hold on fellow human beings.
As such Confederate statues and other relics of slavery need to be placed in museums where context can be given so future generations can have insight. This sick fetish needs to end.