Being Selectively Correct
Protesters confronting each other this weekend in Charlottesville, Va., may have been in the wrong place. Their demonstrations, both pro and con, were focused on a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a city park.
Charlottesville officials have decided the statue has to go. Like those in many other Southern communities, they have decided the monument is unacceptable. Lee fought for a cause centered on keeping slavery alive on our continent, after all.
Among protesters supporting removal were University of Virginia students and, no doubt, some faculty.
What if they could remove the statue of a man who was one of the key figures in a movement that perpetuated slavery here 30 years longer than might have been the case otherwise?
It isn’t going to happen, of course. Thomas Jefferson helped found UVA. They’re not going to pull the statue of him off campus.
Yet Jefferson’s efforts helped keep slavery legal here until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The politically correct crowd is extraordinarily selective in their outrage, as well as their understanding of history. One wonders how many of the UVA students — or, for that matter, their professors — have stopped to realize that when Jefferson and the other Founders broke away from Great Britain, they were prolonging the life of the “peculiar institution.”
In 1807, Great Britain banned the slave trade. When that didn’t eliminate human bondage, the British enacted the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. It outlawed the practice throughout the British Empire — a full three decades before Lincoln acted.
Had Jefferson and the others not insisted on separation, there might have been no slavery to fight about in 1861.
Jefferson’s defenders will argue he favored abolition. Well, yes, but we also know he owned slaves and, in a very important way, mistreated at least one of them. That would be Sally Hemings.
Many others have pointed out the hypocrisy of tearing down statues of Confederate leaders while ignoring the sins of others.
Let’s get one thing about that out of the way: Confederate soldiers, from private on up to general, were some of the most courageous, dedicated and, in a way, patriotic people in our history. Unfortunately, they were fighting for a really lousy cause.
But many didn’t see themselves as defending slavery. They believed they were fighting for liberty and to defend their home states.
After the war, many, including Lee, became defenders of the rights of black Americans.
Shouldn’t all that be taken into account, too?
And here’s the thing: It’s one thing to tear down statues of leaders such as Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. But what about the statues, hundreds of them, of private Confederate soldiers that stand in many communities as memorials to the bravery of men from those towns and counties?
Do they, too, have to go?
It is important that we as Americans make it clear we have no tolerance for bigotry and discrimination in any way. But our intellectually dishonest way of demonstrating that is no more acceptable than excusing some slaveholders because, well, they treated their slaves kindly.
Except in one regard.
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.