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After Robert E. Lee falls, will George Washington be next?

The U.S. president has raised the question, defending Confederate monuments. Here’s why it’s not a slippery slope at all.


 
A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed from Lee Circle Friday, May 19, 2017, in New Orleans. Lee's was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote on a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed from Lee Circle Friday, May 19, 2017, in New Orleans. Lee’s was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote on a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (AP Photo/Scott Threlkeld)

George Washington is one of the founding fathers of the United States of America and the country’s first president. Robert E. Lee was the Confederate army general who fought on the wrong side of a bloody Civil War.

That’s the simple reason why many Americans are lobbying to take down statues of Lee, but not Washington monuments.

But in the aftermath of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.—supposedly organized to protest the removal of a Lee statue—President Donald Trump has, in addition to blaming both the alt-right and the so-called “alt-left” for the deadly clash that erupted, come out firmly against those who want to remove statues of Confederate leaders.

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson [another Confederate general] is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Trump said, mentioning past presidents Washington and Jefferson’s history of owning slaves.

In a series of tweets Thursday morning, he added: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

The current president’s sudden obsession with Confederate statues has fuelled an ongoing national debate—and revealed that many Americans, like Trump, don’t see this as an obvious, clear-cut issue.

About half of Americans disapproved of the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from a park in Charlottesville, according to a recent YouGov poll, but a closer look shows the divide is broken out largely by political party or race. Far more Republicans (78 per cent) than Democrats (27 per cent) object to the statue’s removal. Not surprisingly, far more whites (57 per cent) disapprove of Lee statues being taken down than blacks (11 per cent).

Why the division? After his death, Lee grew into the central figure of the South’s “Lost Cause” narrative, which presents him as a hero of the South fighting for constitutional ideals, rather than the leader of a movement that sought to tear apart the United States in defence of slavery.

“These statues have morphed into a symbol of racism, a symbol of bigotry, a symbol of the alt-right, a symbol of white nationalist movements,” explained Robert Wright Lee IV, one of Robert E. Lee’s own descendants, in an interview with Huffington Post. “It broke my heart to see a symbol of my family being used to allow such hate. All in the name of what my relative stood for.” He believes it’s time for statues of his great-great-great-great-uncle to come down.

But what about Trump’s belief that by taking down these statues, America is “changing history” and “changing culture”?

State leaders are unpersuaded that statues are the best way to remember these chapters in U.S. history. “Our Civil War history is important, but it belongs in textbooks and museums—not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds,” wrote North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in a statement posted on Medium.

Defenders of Confederate monuments have noted that Washington and Jefferson were both slave owners, and suggested that statues of these leaders should also therefore be targeted. But there is a fundamental difference: Washington and Jefferson are primarily remembered for their efforts to build the country, whereas Lee’s historical mark is based on his efforts to break the United States apart.

“This is not about the personality of an individual and his or her flaws,” Annette Gordon-Reed, a history and law professor at Harvard University, told the New York Times. “This is about men who organized a system of government to maintain a system of slavery and to destroy the American union.”

That’s the clear and simple reason efforts are underway across the nation to bring down Confederate monuments but not blow up half the faces on Mount Rushmore.

As for the Lee statue, one person who probably wouldn’t have wanted them erected in the first place is Robert E. Lee himself. Before he died in 1870—five years after the Civil War ended—Lee advocated against any such memorials.

“As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated; my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; & of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour,” Lee wrote in a letter dated 1866.

Lee did add there was one place that should be protected to remember those who fought and died for the Confederates: their gravestones.


 

After Robert E. Lee falls, will George Washington be next?

  1. Funny how these symbols work. Not a single card carrying democrat will hand me over their “Andrew Jackson’s” from their wallets. Aj known as the “Indian Killer” and at one time the US’s largest slave owner violated nearly every standard of justice. He lived and breathed racism.

    Yet no one that I can find will get rid of these symbols out of their wallets – funny how double standards work.

    Well — I’m sure when Ms. Tubman appears on the $20 — people will start handing me their Andrew Jackson’s — NOT!

      • “You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

        Clearly you don’t understand the double standard.

        • No, I understand very well that that there isn’t a double standard unless you’re ignorant of the issue at hand.

          There has been plenty of ink written on this subject; so to still trot out the “double standard” argument after it’s been refuted and addressed ad nauseum means your reading comprehension is woefully retarded, or you’re just being wilfully obtuse.

          • And there’s the name calling. Can I point out it was YOU who started the name calling? What is this — a 1970’s playground? Grow-up all ready. Can you only imagine if Trump used “woefully retarded”? There’s been plenty of ink on abusive language and insults. But I digress.

            The $20 bill is my favourite. I do a lot of US travelling — and if a discussion starts heading in the racism direction it’s so easy to point out the double standard. You know — sadly I have not found one person yet who will freely get rid of those AJ’s in their wallets.

            Are you saying AJ was not a racist??? Like you said — there’s plenty of ink there. Are you saying his face on the $20 is not a hate symbol? How does one than distinguish between symbols of hate then? Who decides?

            You must be familiar with the saying “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye — but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?”

          • I don’t care who started what. It strains credulity that you cannot grasp the concept that the decision to commemorate a historical figure does not live or die on his personal beliefs alone. All people are products of their age and not a single one exists that didn’t have their own personal demons or foibles; it’s all taken in consideration of the overall contribution that that person made to their country and decided on a case by case basis. In the US’s case, that’s done by the people themselves; and if they’re also free to change their minds if they want to.

            And I’m pretty sure that you’re not so thick that you can’t understand this; therefore, I have no other choice but to conclude that your decision to enable misinformation and bigotry is deliberate. So, yes, I am not giving you any respect; because you and your ilk don’t deserve any.

          • I don’t know if I should feel pity for you — or perhaps anger at the ignorance our Canadian education system continually churns out? Hmmm pity or ignorance — I know — I have a new word for you “pignorance”. That’s what I feel — pignorance!

            So lets see. I suppose you think your Crayola quip is quite bright. LOL. It’s too bad you make fun of things you obviously have no understanding about. Crayola and its parent company Hallmark were/are both privately held companies. It’s too bad. I would have invested in Hallmark. In fact I did invest in the “greeting card” marked for about 20 years. I got out of it in 2005. The market saw big drops in 2010. But — I do owe the greeting card market a big “thanks”. They are just one of the reasons I was able to retire a few years back at the age of forty-two. Here — let me make it simple for you — 42! What are your retirement plans?

            I can pretty much guess the type of person you are. Your that type of person who only reads from the top 10 NY best sellers list — am I right? You only have read what your instructors, professors, teachers or peers have recommended — am I right? Your the type of person who will not go see a movie unless it’s recommended by ET — am I right? Unless a song/album charts on the top 40 — you will not purchase it — am I right? You probably only attend major theatre or Broadway productions — am I right?

            Pignorance!!! You are missing a whole wide-body of knowledge by taking such a myopic approach to life. There are more books then those in the top 10 best sellers at your local library — there are many more movies than those that show at your mainstream movie theatre (maybe try TIFF — although it’s pretty mainstream now) — there is much more music than the top 40 list (maybe you could try the top 100 – is that asking too much) — and have you ever supported local theatre??? You should try it sometime.

            What’s the point? Your version of history is narrow and based on inadequate knowledge. It’s so obvious! Broaden your mind my friend — look beyond the tip of your nose — and my goodness do us all a favour and put on that critical thinking cap.

        • Use your brain man. DOUBLE STANDARD – one set of rules for “heroes of the north” and one set of standards for “heroes of the south”. Did you not READ the article???

          One has to assume then that you are a revisionist who only agrees with one side of history – rightly or wrongly. Open your mind for a few minutes and try to understand not only the article but another viewpoint. Is it your goal to shutdown discussion?

          • Ok, after reading your post, I’ve had to reconsider my position. There is a distinct possibility that you are as stupid as your posts would indicate.

            Repeating the same thing over again doesn’t make it more true. I’ll try and dumb it down for you as much as possible; unfortunately, I can’t truly simplify it to your level as Macleans doesn’t allow for posting in crayon.

            Both Robert Lee and your so called “heroes of the north” have character flaws; however, men like GW, AJ etc, have been judged to have redeeming values over an above their contemporaries with respect to their contributions in building their country, contributions that have been deemed to make up for their character flaws. RL, on the other hand, does not, as his main claims to fame ARE his failings and flaws.

            Therefore, there is no double standard, RL is being held to the same standard as the rest; he just happens to fail it.

            So, no I have no problem understanding the article, the problem is entirely yours. And I also have no problem considering other viewpoints; it’s just the retarded ones that I have no interest in accepting. And if I’m going to be taking a side in history, I’ll be very happy to take the side that isn’t populated by neo Nazis, white supremacists, and bigots, thank you very much.

  2. 80% of those who signed the U.S. Constitution were old, white men who owned slaves. Guess it’s time to send that to the shredder.

    • Slavery wasn’t the problem. Religion was. It still is.

  3. If it remains about ‘traitors’ no. But if it devolves into ‘slavery’ (the really nasty part of the ‘treachery’) – George had a plantation full of them. Like Jefferson and the other presidential slave owners.

    There are, still, quite a few Americans who think Lincoln’s idea of ‘lettin’ them up easy’ was the wrong way.

  4. Plenty of people are willing to overlook the misguided actions and flawed thinking of Washington and Jefferson because they built the nation. Far less are willing to overlook venerating those who were not only flawed but tried to rip the nation apart. Put the confederate monuments where they belong….in the graveyards of confederate soldiers. It is a far more fitting venue and no one can claim that history is being erased.

    • Except that there have already been calls to tear down a GW staue in Chicago, and the left has long advocated for the erasure of Jefferson from the founding narrative. By the end of the decade you will see strong efforts to have Jefferson erased from Rushmore.

    • One sided version of history? Where did you go to school?
      At the same time that Washington was abolishing slavery in the south. He had no problem turning a blind eye to not only the slavery business in the north — but also the use of child labour on the whaling ships. The rich whaling ship owners were some of GW’s largest donars.
      Like I’ve said before — if you’re going to take down the heroes of the south — then you need to take down the supposed heroes of the north.

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