“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.”
Later I’ll identify the source of that quotation from 1858.
I acknowledge that for too long our history has been presented as if only white men did anything worthy of note. For that reason, when I was a state senator, I was proud to sponsor legislation establishing a Texas Juneteenth Commission for the purpose of erecting a monument to that iconic holiday at the Texas capitol.
Over the past several weeks, cities and counties and gutless politicians across Texas have sheepishly joined a nationwide stampede to remove Confederate monuments. They’ve been joined by a clueless rabble intent on destroying or defacing monuments — and not just Confederate ones.
If you understand our history you’ll know it isn’t simple. However, to the mobs tearing down and defacing icons across Texas and the nation, it’s simple — all history is bad.
Even the media has been swept up in this crusade. CNN’s Angela Rye opined that Washington and Jefferson monuments “need to come down.” Perhaps taking a cue from Rye to expand their target list, the Lincoln Memorial Plaza and the World War II Memorial in Washington have been defaced with spray paint. Even a monument to Black soldiers who served in the Union Army was vandalized in Boston.
Here in Texas the same historical, perhaps hysterical, stupidity has emerged. A San Antonio Express News on-scene reporter tweeted that a Black Lives Matter protest was headed to the Alamo because of the “Confederate monument there.” No such monument exists. There’s a Cenotaph monument to the Texian and Tejano Alamo defenders, and the next day it was defaced with spray paint.
We’ve moved far beyond the proverbial slippery slope.
Because it will be difficult to go back, we need definitive criteria going forward. Which monuments are to survive?
Let’s consider Abraham Lincoln. During one of the 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, the future “Great Emancipator” explained: “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 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 that would forever protect slavery, saying the amendment should be “express and irrevocable.”
Lincoln’s overriding goal was to save the Union, and he wrote to abolitionist Horace Greeley: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it.”
Was Lincoln opposed to secession? Consider remarks he made in Congress in 1848:
“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form 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.
One more thing to consider: Buffalo soldiers were the iconic Black U.S. cavalrymen who served on the frontier during the Indian wars. Couldn’t Native Americans claim Buffalo Soldiers were participants in a genocidal war against an entire race of people — the American Plains Indians — resulting in their enslavement on reservations?
If we’re going to measure Confederates of 150 years ago by today’s standards, who’s next? Lincoln? Buffalo soldiers? Our nation’s founders? Our Texas heroes?
It appears, unfortunately, they are all next.
The source of that quote above?: U.S. Army Colonel, later Confederate General Robert E. Lee, in a letter written home while stationed on Texas frontier duty three years before the Civil War.
History isn’t simple at all.
Jerry Patterson is a retired Marine Vietnam veteran, former state senator, former Texas Land Commissioner and lives in Austin.
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