“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country.” Robert E. Lee 1856
Could General Lee’s sentiments deter the “tear down those monuments” crowd? Probably not.
Given their current success in removing monuments to Confederate generals, ignorant politicians and those whose hobby is going through life seeking to be offended, will soon run out of things to be offended by. Why not broaden the list of “offensive” symbols to include slaveowners Washington and Jefferson and a host of other founders? Here in Texas you could add slave owning Texas heroes such as Houston, Bowie and Travis.
Should we banish from public view all monuments to past historical figures who supported white supremacy, advocated secession, or made racist comments?
Consider Abraham Lincoln. In addition to the Lincoln monument in the nation’s capital, there’s probably not a major city in the country without a school, street, or park named after Lincoln. What do Lincoln’s own words tell us about “Honest Abe”, “the Great Emancipator”?
During one of the famous 1858 debates with Senator Stephen Douglas, Lincoln explained to the crowd: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races . . . I am not now nor have ever been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people . . . there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Lincoln’s prejudices weren’t limited to blacks. During another debate with Douglas, Lincoln opined: “I understand that the people of Mexico are most decidedly a race of mongrels . . . there’s not one person there out of eight who is pure white”.
In Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural address, he endorsed a constitutional amendment, known as the Corwin Amendment which would forever protect slavery where it existed, telling the audience: “I have no objection to its [Corwin Amendment] being made express and irrevocable”. Lincoln’s goal was to save the Union, writing to abolitionist Horace Greeley: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it”.
Virtually all white men of that time were white supremacists. Lincoln was no exception, and his comments above belie his reputation.
Was Lincoln opposed to secession? Consider his remarks he made in Congress on January 12, 1848: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one which suits them better. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much territory as they inhabit.” This is exactly what the seceding states did in 1861.
Another discomforting fact for today’s advocates of political correctness: In 2011 I sponsored a commemorative license plate for Buffalo soldiers, iconic black U.S. Cavalrymen who served on the frontier. Couldn’t today’s Native Americans claim Buffalo soldiers participated in a genocidal war against an entire race of people – the American Plains Indians – enslaving them on reservations?
If we’re going to measure Confederates of 150 years ago by today’s standards, shouldn’t we do the same with Lincoln?
Today it’s Confederates. Who’s next? Buffalo soldiers? Our nation’s founders? Our Texas heroes? The possibilities are limitless.
Jerry Patterson is a former Texas state senator, former Texas Land Commissioner, and retired Marine Vietnam veteran. He resides in Austin, Texas.