No! God Did Not Create all Slave-Holders Equal

In these troubled times, I find it hard to think and write about economics, so this post will be drawn largely from Abraham Lincoln’s great Cooper Union Speech which helped him gain the Republican nomination for President in 1860. What a difference a century and a half makes!

I am drawn to this speech because we are told that if we take down the statue of Robert E. Lee — a Virginian slave-holder who was once a hero of mine — in Charlottesville, Virginia, that will set us off on a road that will inevitably lead us to take down monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were also Virginian slave-holders. At least that’s what Tucker Carlson said on his show on Fox News on Tuesday night.

On Monday a mob tore down a civil war soldier’s memorial in Durham, North Carolina. Police stood idly by and liberals across the country applauded it. Which statues are next, the president asked today, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson? . . .

Thomas Jefferson indisputably was a great man. He was the author of the Declaration of Independence. Founder of the University of Virginia and maybe, most importantly, the greatest thinker in American political history.

All of us live in his shadow. Unfortunately, however, Jefferson was also a slave holder. That’s real. It’s a moral taint. We ought to remember it.

But to the fanatics on the left it means that Jefferson must be purged from public memory forever. The demands are already coming that we do that.

In 2015, the students at the University of Missouri demanded the removal of a Jefferson statue. Two years ago, on CNN, anchor Ashleigh Banfield suggested the Jefferson Memorial in Washington might have to go. . . .

Now, to be clear, as if it’s necessary, slavery is evil. If you believe in the rights of the individual, it’s actually hard to think of anything worse than slavery.

But let’s be honest. Up until 150 years ago when a group of brave Americans fought and died to finally put an end to it, slavery was the rule, rather than the exception around the world. And had been for thousands of years, sadly.

Plato owned saves, so did Mohammed — peace be upon him.

Many African tribes held slaves and sold them. The Aztecs did, too. Before he liberated Latin America, Simon Bolivar owned slaves.

Slave-holding was so common among the North American Indians that the Cherokee brought their slaves with them on the Trail of Tears. And it wasn’t something they learned from European settlers.

Indians were holding and trading slaves when Christopher Columbus arrived. And by the way, he owned slaves, too.

None of this is a defense of the atrocity of human bondage. And it is an atrocity.

The point however is that if we are going to judge the past by the standards of the present. If we are going to reduce a person’s life to the single worst thing he ever participated in, we had better be prepared for the consequences of that. And here’s why: Forty one of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence held slaves.

James Madison, the father of the Constitution, had a plantation full of slaves.

George Mason, the father of the Bill of Rights, also owned slaves, unfortunately. But does that make what they wrote illegitimate?

Carlson made no mention of George Washington, but others have.

Of course, the argument is sophistical, because it conflates all slave-holders, suggesting that all slave-holders are equal, so that to deny Robert E. Lee and other Confederate heroes the privilege of being immortalized in stone or in bronze would require us, on principle, to consider all other slave-holders equally unworthy of such honor. But here’s the difference: most slave-holders — people like Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Mason — held slaves, because they lived in societies in which slave-holding was condoned and socially acceptable. But not all slave-holders had the audacity to claim that slave-holding was a natural and inalienable right of theirs, for the vindication of which they would go to war against their fellow countrymen to establish a new regime that would preserve, protect and defend that sacred right till the end of time. Not all slave-holders dared to justify their slave-holding as a high principle; it was only those Secessionists who started the Civil War to create the Confederate States of America to uphold a society dedicated to the proposition that some men are divinely entitled to “wring their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces” who entertained that audacious and repugnant conception of their own natural and rightful supremacy.

In his Cooper Union speech (see a marvelous re-enactment of the speech by Sam Waterston here), Lincoln conclusively showed how vast a difference there was between the attitude to slavery of the Founders of the American Republic — including those who owned slaves — and that of the Secessionists who chose to make war rather than allow the Republic to survive.

Herewith are selections from Lincoln’s magnificent address:

In his speech last autumn, at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in “The New-York Times,” Senator Douglas said:

“Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better, than we do now.”

I fully indorse this, and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and an agreed starting point for a discussion between Republicans and that wing of the Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry: “What was the understanding those fathers had of the question mentioned?”

What is the frame of government under which we live?

The answer must be: “The Constitution of the United States.” That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787, (and under which the present government first went into operation,) and twelve subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in 1789.

Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? I suppose the “thirty-nine” who signed the original instrument may be fairly called our fathers who framed that part of the present Government. It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the whole nation at that time. Their names, being familiar to nearly all, and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated. . . .

What is the question which, according to the text, those fathers understood “just as well, and even better than we do now?”

It is this: Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or anything in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government to control as to slavery in our Federal Territories?

Upon this, Senator Douglas holds the affirmative, and Republicans the negative. This affirmation and denial form an issue; and this issue – this question – is precisely what the text declares our fathers understood “better than we.” . . .

In 1789, by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution, an act was passed to enforce the Ordinance of ’87, including the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The bill for this act was reported by one of the “thirty-nine,” Thomas Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is equivalent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress there were sixteen of the thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution. They were John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S. Johnson, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William Few, Abraham Baldwin, Rufus King, William Paterson, George Clymer, Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, James Madison.

This shows that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, properly forbade Congress to prohibit slavery in the federal territory; else both their fidelity to correct principle, and their oath to support the Constitution, would have constrained them to oppose the prohibition.

Again, George Washington, another of the “thirty-nine,” was then President of the United States, and, as such approved and signed the bill; thus completing its validity as a law, and thus showing that, in his understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor anything in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government, to control as to slavery in federal territory. . . .

In 1803, the Federal Government purchased the Louisiana country. Our former territorial acquisitions came from certain of our own States; but this Louisiana country was acquired from a foreign nation. In 1804, Congress gave a territorial organization to that part of it which now constitutes the State of Louisiana. New Orleans, lying within that part, was an old and comparatively large city. There were other considerable towns and settlements, and slavery was extensively and thoroughly intermingled with the people. Congress did not, in the Territorial Act, prohibit slavery; but they did interfere with it – take control of it – in a more marked and extensive way than they did in the case of Mississippi. The substance of the provision therein made, in relation to slaves, was:

First. That no slave should be imported into the territory from foreign parts.

Second. That no slave should be carried into it who had been imported into the United States since the first day of May, 1798.

Third. That no slave should be carried into it, except by the owner, and for his own use as a settler; the penalty in all the cases being a fine upon the violator of the law, and freedom to the slave. . . .

The sum of the whole is, that of our thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution, twenty-one – a clear majority of the whole – certainly understood that no proper division of local from federal authority, nor any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories; while all the rest probably had the same understanding. Such, unquestionably, was the understanding of our fathers who framed the original Constitution; and the text affirms that they understood the question “better than we.”

But, so far, I have been considering the understanding of the question manifested by the framers of the original Constitution. In and by the original instrument, a mode was provided for amending it; and, as I have already stated, the present frame of “the Government under which we live” consists of that original, and twelve amendatory articles framed and adopted since. Those who now insist that federal control of slavery in federal territories violates the Constitution, point us to the provisions which they suppose it thus violates; and, as I understand, that all fix upon provisions in these amendatory articles, and not in the original instrument. The Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott case, plant themselves upon the fifth amendment, which provides that no person shall be deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law;” while Senator Douglas and his peculiar adherents plant themselves upon the tenth amendment, providing that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Now, it so happens that these amendments were framed by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution – the identical Congress which passed the act already mentioned, enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. Not only was it the same Congress, but they were the identical, same individual men who, at the same session, and at the same time within the session, had under consideration, and in progress toward maturity, these Constitutional amendments, and this act prohibiting slavery in all the territory the nation then owned. The Constitutional amendments were introduced before, and passed after the act enforcing the Ordinance of ’87; so that, during the whole pendency of the act to enforce the Ordinance, the Constitutional amendments were also pending.

The seventy-six members of that Congress, including sixteen of the framers of the original Constitution, as before stated, were pre- eminently our fathers who framed that part of “the Government under which we live,” which is now claimed as forbidding the Federal Government to control slavery in the federal territories.

Is it not a little presumptuous in any one at this day to affirm that the two things which that Congress deliberately framed, and carried to maturity at the same time, are absolutely inconsistent with each other? And does not such affirmation become impudently absurd when coupled with the other affirmation from the same mouth, that those who did the two things, alleged to be inconsistent, understood whether they really were inconsistent better than we – better than he who affirms that they are inconsistent?

It is surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the original Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live.” And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not only “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live,” but with them all other living men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with them.

Now, and here, let me guard a little against being misunderstood. I do not mean to say we are bound to follow implicitly in whatever our fathers did. To do so, would be to discard all the lights of current experience – to reject all progress – all improvement. What I do say is, that if we would supplant the opinions and policy of our fathers in any case, we should do so upon evidence so conclusive, and argument so clear, that even their great authority, fairly considered and weighed, cannot stand; and most surely not in a case whereof we ourselves declare they understood the question better than we.

Some of you delight to flaunt in our faces the warning against sectional parties given by Washington in his Farewell Address. Less than eight years before Washington gave that warning, he had, as President of the United States, approved and signed an act of Congress, enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory, which act embodied the policy of the Government upon that subject up to and at the very moment he penned that warning; and about one year after he penned it, he wrote LaFayette that he considered that prohibition a wise measure, expressing in the same connection his hope that we should at some time have a confederacy of free States. . . .

But you will break up the Union rather than submit to a denial of your Constitutional rights.

That has a somewhat reckless sound; but it would be palliated, if not fully justified, were we proposing, by the mere force of numbers, to deprive you of some right, plainly written down in the Constitution. But we are proposing no such thing.

When you make these declarations, you have a specific and well-understood allusion to an assumed Constitutional right of yours, to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. But no such right is specifically written in the Constitution. That instrument is literally silent about any such right. We, on the contrary, deny that such a right has any existence in the Constitution, even by implication.

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.

This, plainly stated, is your language. Perhaps you will say the Supreme Court has decided the disputed Constitutional question in your favor. Not quite so. But waiving the lawyer’s distinction between dictum and decision, the Court have decided the question for you in a sort of way. The Court have substantially said, it is your Constitutional right to take slaves into the federal territories, and to hold them there as property. When I say the decision was made in a sort of way, I mean it was made in a divided Court, by a bare majority of the Judges, and they not quite agreeing with one another in the reasons for making it; that it is so made as that its avowed supporters disagree with one another about its meaning, and that it was mainly based upon a mistaken statement of fact – the statement in the opinion that “the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.”

An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not “distinctly and expressly affirmed” in it. Bear in mind, the Judges do not pledge their judicial opinion that such right is impliedly affirmed in the Constitution; but they pledge their veracity that it is “distinctly and expressly” affirmed there – “distinctly,” that is, not mingled with anything else – “expressly,” that is, in words meaning just that, without the aid of any inference, and susceptible of no other meaning.

If they had only pledged their judicial opinion that such right is affirmed in the instrument by implication, it would be open to others to show that neither the word “slave” nor “slavery” is to be found in the Constitution, nor the word “property” even, in any connection with language alluding to the things slave, or slavery; and that wherever in that instrument the slave is alluded to, he is called a “person;” – and wherever his master’s legal right in relation to him is alluded to, it is spoken of as “service or labor which may be due,” – as a debt payable in service or labor. Also, it would be open to show, by contemporaneous history, that this mode of alluding to slaves and slavery, instead of speaking of them, was employed on purpose to exclude from the Constitution the idea that there could be property in man.

To show all this, is easy and certain.

When this obvious mistake of the Judges shall be brought to their notice, is it not reasonable to expect that they will withdraw the mistaken statement, and reconsider the conclusion based upon it?

And then it is to be remembered that “our fathers, who framed the Government under which we live” – the men who made the Constitution – decided this same Constitutional question in our favor, long ago – decided it without division among themselves, when making the decision; without division among themselves about the meaning of it after it was made, and, so far as any evidence is left, without basing it upon any mistaken statement of facts.

Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action? But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me – my money – was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle. . . .

A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. Even though the southern people will not so much as listen to us, let us calmly consider their demands, and yield to them if, in our deliberate view of our duty, we possibly can. Judging by all they say and do, and by the subject and nature of their controversy with us, let us determine, if we can, what will satisfy them. . . .

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’ new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

I am quite aware they do not state their case precisely in this way. Most of them would probably say to us, “Let us alone, do nothing to us, and say what you please about slavery.” But we do let them alone – have never disturbed them – so that, after all, it is what we say, which dissatisfies them. They will continue to accuse us of doing, until we cease saying.

I am also aware they have not, as yet, in terms, demanded the overthrow of our Free-State Constitutions. Yet those Constitutions declare the wrong of slavery, with more solemn emphasis, than do all other sayings against it; and when all these other sayings shall have been silenced, the overthrow of these Constitutions will be demanded, and nothing be left to resist the demand. It is nothing to the contrary, that they do not demand the whole of this just now. Demanding what they do, and for the reason they do, they can voluntarily stop nowhere short of this consummation. Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing.

Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality – its universality; if it is wrong, they cannot justly insist upon its extension – its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.

So, Mr. Carlson, before you start opining about slavery again, instead of citing Plato and Muhammed, peace be upon him, why not try reading some of the speeches of the sixteenth President of the United States?

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11 Responses to “No! God Did Not Create all Slave-Holders Equal”


  1. 1 Bradley Lewis August 17, 2017 at 7:36 am

    What a great column! Thanks for so persuasively sharing Lincoln’s comments and their context.

  2. 2 JG August 17, 2017 at 10:00 am

    During that era slave holders or not and including Lincoln believed whites were superior to blacks. so what is your point? There is no doubt the ideas of slavery and racism are evil, but one cannot fully discern the agent’s culpability. Because to commit a sin one has to have full knowledge of the evil in the act. Because slavery and racism were so pervasive at this time, it is impossible to discern one’s true culpability. that is why the bible says only jesus can ultimately judge. Judgment is referring to the mind and heart – not the action. So what is your point?

  3. 3 David Glasner August 17, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Bradley, Thank you for your kind words.

    JG, The point is that the Founders, though many were slave-holders themselves, were clearly conscious of, and conflicted by, the evident contradiction between their own beliefs in the equality of all human beings, and the shameful practice of slavery. That is why they could not, in writing the Constitution under which we all live, even bring themselves to pollute that sacred document with such detestable and immoral concepts as “slavery” and “slave,” therefore substituting, in their shame at their own hypocrisy, circumlocutions and euphemisms for those obscene words. The Confederates, however, transformed what had been an acknowledged and greatly lamented vice into a virtue, proudly making it a founding principle upon which they were building their new nation. Lincoln, in his intellectual honesty and rigor, worked his whole life to overcome the contradictions in his own views about human equality. His youthful endorsements of white supremacy cannot be used as evidence that he clung to that belief till he died. He may have grown up believing in white supremacy; he did not die believing in white supremacy.

  4. 4 Sam Martin August 17, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    I will be moving in as a student at the University of Virginia this Saturday, so I thought I would weigh in on the discussion. I would suggest that while the protection of slavery, as the economic institution that made the opulence of the Southern bourgeoisie possible, was the formative motive for the secession movement, the reception of Southern war memorials by the public is not strictly limited by the immediate circumstances of the conflict. In a paper on the meaning of war memorials, the historian Reinhart Koselleck writes, “What is certain is that the meaning of ‘dying for…’ as it is recorded on memorials is established by the survivors and not by the dead. For the sense that the deceased may have wrested from their dying eludes our experience” (“War Memorials: Identity Formations of the Survivors” p. 288). Lee is as effective an embodiment of this fact as any, since while, as you rightly point out, he was an unabashed supporter of slavery, his involvement in the Civil War was tied up with his sense of duty to his family and community much more than racism. The pressure to take down Lee’s statue only restores old ideological differences, and gives racists an unneeded excuse to share a common aim with people for whom the statue had a completely different meaning. In a time when the conflict that brought about its construction is long over, the memorial and others like it should be taken as an opportunity to strengthen community on the basis of reflection on our shared finitude, a part of human existence in which everyone is equal.

  5. 5 JG August 17, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    thank you. I understand and you make some valid points. I’m inclined to leave it up to the locals. Some eyes may see the statues from a different perspective and without malice, and each personal memorial has a unique history.

    Also, I think Tucker is more concerned about the slippery slope and the overreach of the left for political gain. After more thought, my hunch is he would agree with your assessment.

  6. 6 Kurt Schuler August 26, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    David, echoing JG, I think that you and many others who have commented have missed the key to understanding the controversy over Confederate statues: why now? The Civil War has been over for more than a century and a half. Blacks in the South have had full civil rights for half a century. Most Americans have low interest in history anyway and know little more about the Civil War other than that it happened. And, of course, a black man has been elected president, twice.

    The statue-moving and statue-smashing are not really about the statues or the Civil War or the Jim Crow period when many of the statues were erected. Rather, they are a pretext for many liberals to vent their continuing anger that Donald Trump won the presidential election. Accordingly, Tucker Carlson’s concerns are well justified. Already there has been vandalism to statues of Jefferson at the University of Virginia (which he founded) and the College of William and Mary (which he attended). There has also been vandalism to statues of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore, Buffalo, and New York City, and the mayor of New York is “reviewing” whether the statue there should remain. In liberal Arlington, Virginia, where I live, the school board has just announced that it will review school names. One of the high schools is called Washington-Lee, and if you know the community it is not far-fetched to think that the school board will receive comments from people claiming to be offended by both names and will appease them by renaming the school.

    In such circumstances, keeping the statues is important not so much for their own sake as for the sake of the principle that erasing the past to satisfy the short-lived political passions of the present is a bad idea.

    Finally, about Robert E. Lee in particular, read the oration by Charles Francis Adams, Jr. called “Shall Cromwell Have a Statue?” After asking why Oliver Cromwell is honored with a statue outside the House of Commons in London, he asked whether it is appropriate to have a statue of Lee in Washington. Adams was as well placed as can be to give a judicious answer. He was the descendant of two presidents, his father was the U.S. ambassador to Britain during the Civil War, he himself fought against the Army of Northern Virginia in the Civil War and led a black regiment, and he had recently stepped down as president of the American Historical Association when he gave the oration. Adams answered “yes.”

  7. 7 David Glasner August 27, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Sam, Thanks for your comment, and good luck as you embark on your college career at UVa. I agree with you that the question of taking down statues of Confederate war heroes is not entirely clear cut, and my the residue of youthful admiration for Lee is sufficient to cause mixed emotions at the thought of his being taken down from his pedestal. The motivation for this post was not so much to make a positive case for taking down statues of Lee or Stonewall Jackson, as to dismiss the notion that taking down Lee somehow commits us to taking down Washington and Jefferson. I reject that comparison. But I think that statues of Lee on horseback are especially problematic because they emphasize his role as the leader of a military uprising against the US, while a statue of him in civilian clothes (if any such statues even exist) would be less problematic and could be more easily regarded as a tribute to his role in achieving a postwar reconciliation.

    JG, As I said, my main aim in this post was to explain why there is no comparison between a statue of Lee and a memorial to Washington and Jefferson. That doesn’t mean that there is no case for leaving up a statue to Lee. Just don’t tell me that we must keep the statue of Lee or else we will lose the statues of Washington and Jefferson. If that’s the concern, then start making the case that Washington and Jefferson don’t deserve to be put in the same category as Lee, not that they are exactly the same, which is what Tucker Carlson is saying.

    Kurt, I am surprised that you think that there is any mystery why all this is happening now. The country is now in a state of extreme agitation and anxiety thanks to forces unleashed and taboos broken by the last Presidential election, which is causing and provoking all sorts of long-suppressed grievances and grudges to be aired in a way that was almost unthinkable two years ago. The inflammation of the political and social atmosphere was a deliberate strategy that achieved its desired outcome. But as you know there are also unintended consequences of human action. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind!

    As I already observed in responses to Sam and JG, I think there are reasons for keeping statues of Lee and other Confederate figures in place, but it is an intellectual travesty to assert, as Tucker Carlson did, that there is no distinction between those statues and the statues of Washington and Jefferson. And if you are interested in protecting the statues of Washington and Jefferson, there is no worse argument to make than that the statues of Lee and Jackson are no different from the statues of Washington and Jefferson.

  8. 8 Sam Martin August 27, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    David, Thanks a lot for your kind words, and for the clarification — I see your point now and I agree completely. Washington and Lee were different men with different attitudes, and our commemoration of them should not confuse those important distinction.

  9. 9 Kurt Schuler August 28, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    David, read what Adams said and consider how well qualified he was to render judgment — far more, I think, than anyone today. If you and other readers of this blog aren’t at least a little moved by it, you are lacking some part of the imagination necessary to engage historical events on their own terms instead of as part of a Whig interpretation of history.

  10. 10 David Glasner August 28, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Kurt, I take your suggestion about reading Adams, and I will read it. I will repeat again what I have said in response to other commenters: my main point is not to advocate tearing down all memorials to the Confederate heroes, but to refute the facile comparison between Lee and what he stood — and fought for — and Washington and Jefferson and what they stood and fought for. There’s a huge difference. And we should also be honest and acknowledge that the historical hagiographic picture of Lee that has been handed down to us is very far from the whole truth about the man. Finally, we should also be willing to acknowledge that his memory has been co-opted by some of the most reprehensible forces in American life who the false image of what he was and what he stood for as a tool for the systematic oppression of a whole class of Americans. That his memory was put to such scandalous misuse is not Lee’s fault, but that also makes perpetuation of that distorted view of who Lee was and what he stood for all the more problematic. But I do have some sympathy for the position that you are taking, and I am not advocating eradicating all memorials of the Confederacy, provided that those memorials are not used to perpetuate the repugnant ideology that inspired the Confederacy and that perpetuated nearly a century of racial oppression even after its defeat.


  1. 1 John Kelly v. Abraham Lincoln | Uneasy Money Trackback on October 31, 2017 at 2:16 pm

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About Me

David Glasner
Washington, DC

I am an economist in the Washington DC area. My research and writing has been mostly on monetary economics and policy and the history of economics. In my book Free Banking and Monetary Reform, I argued for a non-Monetarist non-Keynesian approach to monetary policy, based on a theory of a competitive supply of money. Over the years, I have become increasingly impressed by the similarities between my approach and that of R. G. Hawtrey and hope to bring Hawtrey's unduly neglected contributions to the attention of a wider audience.

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