Removing Confederate Monuments in New Orleans

Wayne,

New Orleans is removing four monuments erected during the Jim Crow era. Three are to Confederate leaders, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and P. G. T. Beauregard, and fourth is to white rioters who objected to the integrated police force of Reconstruction era Louisiana. There has been significant opposition, and some supporters of the monuments have issued threats against city officials and the owners and workers of the firms that will do the work. The city plans to remove these monuments, unannounced, at night, with police protection for the workers who will be wearing bullet proof vests and helmets.

This is a good and thorough essay by a knowledgeable historian, Kevin M. Levin, about these monuments found in the thousands throughout the former Confederate states and in some border Union states. He relates the story of the Robert E. Lee monument, both Lee’s life and white Southerners’ images of him.

It is well worth reading this because, in my opinion, what today’s Southern whites say about these monuments, and their ancestors, and about the Civil War distorts or erases the story of the Civil War and about the monuments themselves.

Bernard

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Bernard

Informed and knowledgeable, yes. But Lee remains in my eyes a truly superior human despite certain barbaric things he did, such as kill black Union prisoners near the end of the war. Humanity evolves (which is a truism of course). Many great philosophers and religious thinkers have stated that slavery is natural and inevitable – see for example http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/slavery/ethics/philosophers_1.shtml. Humanity has reached a new level of understanding on the matter. Yet, some humans are born unable to take care of themselves and can live only in a state resembling slavery, in which other people govern their every act but do not own them as property and thus cannot sell them. 

People are of their times and I believe should be judged according mostly to the norms of their times, less so to humanity’s new and improved norms.

 Wayne

Wayne,

Lee was also a traitor to the United States, who took up arms against the lawful government. As he did this, he abandoned his oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Many Southern white United States Army and Navy officers did not do this. 

General George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, hailed from Virginia, but you won’t find any mention of him on monuments in the state of his birth or in the states of his great battles. Honored at Thomas Circle in Washington, DC. Admiral David Farragut, that’s the “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” Farragut, opined that secession was treason, and became the Navy’s first Rear, Vice, and Full Admiral during the Civil War. Captured New Orleans and Mobile, among other victories. Honored at Farragut Square in Washington, DC. Farragut, Tennessee, near his birthplace, is named in his honor, but Southern whites find no reason to honor him with statues at the sites of his great victories, all in the South. Lost Cause historians have made sure that we only know about those who were traitors. We have to explain why the one group, traitors to the United States, and the other group, loyal to the United States, and both groups people of their times, behaved in opposite ways. (There’s a monument to Lee at Gettysburg, site of his and the South’s greatest defeat, but no monument to Thomas in Nashville or to Farragut in Mobile. Why do you suppose that is? Is it only that the first was a man of good character, worthy of honor and emulation, but the second and third were somehow scurrilous?)

 Among Southern whites, those southern white officers who remained loyal to the Union were known as traitors. Confederate state governments and the Confederate government passed laws defining those who remained loyal to the United States as traitors. Why would governments today, city, state, and federal wish to honor people who took up arms against the United States government, refusing to accept the results of a valid election, to protect their wealth produced by the violence of slavery? All these points were well known to people of that time.

 So I agree with you that white supremacists of today have an understandable desire to honor their forebears and predecessors. But if we, that is all of us, are honoring those men of that past era, we have to explain why Southern whites chose to honor only those men of good character, they say, who fought to destroy the United States, and to preserve and expand slavery, but do not chose to honor those many southern white men of good character who fought to preserve the Union and to bring an end to slavery, known to many people of that day as a great evil.

Bernard

Wayne,

I have thoughts about ideas in your statement above. Quotes from you are in italics and indented, and my thoughts are double indented.

Informed and knowledgeable, yes. But Lee remains in my eyes a truly superior human despite certain barbaric things he did, such as kill black Union prisoners near the end of the war.

I haven’t read that Lee specifically ordered that his men kill black Union soldiers. The Atlantic article’s author refers to the case of the Battle of the Crater (part of the siege of Petersburg), in which several hundred black soldiers attempted to surrender but were shot down on the spot. Confederate soldiers, officers and men, were particularly offended by armed black men. As far as I can tell, it was common practice, for Confederate whites to kill wounded black men on the battlefield after Confederate victories, and black men taken prisoner alive were sold into slavery. Normally, Confederate era historians avoid mentioning these facts, except for a few defenders of the South. For example, the exemplary Civil War historian, Shelby Foote goes out of his way to defend the honor of Gen. Forrest at the battle of Ft. Pickens, an infamous massacre of blacks (infamous even at the time). As I’ve been reading Florida history, I’m up on the battle of Olustee, in northern Florida in 1864. The famous Massachusetts 54th fought there. It was a Union defeat. Instead of pursuing the retreating Yankees, the Southerners remained on the battlefield and killed wounded black soldiers. This implicates, I’d say, both the Confederate killers and their officers. The Atlantic magazine’s historian author mentions that the Confederate army that invaded Pennsylvania on the way to Gettysburg captured “suspected black runaways (from the South)” and sent them back into slavery. That estimable historian doesn’t say that the Southern white armies considered any black person who fell into their hands as a former slave.

Humanity evolves (which is a truism of course). Many great philosophers and religious thinkers have stated that slavery is natural and inevitable – see for example http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/slavery/ethics/philosophers_1.shtml. Humanity has reached a new level of understanding on the matter.

I agree with this, that slavery, chattel slavery, property in other humans, has been part of human life for as long as we know. In the past, for the most part, slaves were captured in battle or as the result of battle. It is one of the great advances in human moral thought that we now consider buying and selling human beings and forced labor to be immoral. We (some people) still have trouble with extending the Golden Rule to all of humanity, but it is now our goal.

Yet, some humans are born unable to take care of themselves and can live only in a state resembling slavery, in which other people govern their every act but do not own them as property and thus cannot sell them. 

I think that the type of people you describe, say the profoundly retarded, fall into the expanded circle of the Golden Rule. In the past, they’d have been abandoned or exploited, but today we strive to treat them with kindness.

Southern slave owners imagined themselves as kindly caring for their dependent slaves because the owners would buy food and clothes for the slaves. Of course, the money to buy these items came from the labor of the slaves, but the owners didn’t see it that way.

People are of their times and I believe should be judged according mostly to the norms of their times, less so to humanity’s new and improved norms.

Bernard

Bernard,

No human group erects monuments to its invaders’ worthies. Bill Maher famously said that the 9/11 Islamic pilots were courageous and was blasted for saying so, but of course he was right. The Union side of the US ultimately allowed/encouraged some monuments to worthies from the South, for example Lee. The Confederate side, the invaded and defeated side, did not and cannot reasonably be expected to erect monuments to, say, Grant and Sherman. Take away statues of Lee and Beauregard and Jackson and so on from the South, and who then remains as that side’s heroes? The Southern people become losers without respected leaders, losers with no self-respect. There’s no need to condemn the South’s leaders or the people. Their descendants will become enlightened if we are to believe in the arc of rising goodness among humans (not sure I fully do, BTW). And I continue to think you are unreasonable to condemn Lee a traitor to the US and a violator of his sacred oaths. When masses of people divide, one should not dismiss any one person for having gone with the tide of the time, with his family and forbears. Would you have gone against the tide all around you? Are you sure?

Wayne

PS The West Point creed is “Duty, Honor, Country”. In that order. Even if you think of all three as #1 priority, how can a human choose definitively between duty and honor with respect to family on the one hand, versus country on the other? Some southerners went one way, others went the other. None should be condemned for his or her choice. 

Wayne,

I doubt that the West Point creed contains exceptions or allows for crossed fingers behind backs. The creed directs West Point graduates as to how to resolve conflicts of interest.

Here’s the oath of office for commissioned officers in the United States Army, adopted in about 1830. It may not have been the one that Robert E. Lee took when he graduated from the United States Military Academy, but it would have been the one he took with each promotion.

“I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.”

Here’s the definition of treason, from Article 3, Section 3, of the United States Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Here’s the definition of treason, from Article 3, Section 3, of the Confederate States Constitution:

Treason against the Confederate States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Confederates knew that they were committing treason against the United States, and they defined people within their claimed territories who remained loyal to the United States as traitors (to the Confederacy).

It’s clear to me that Jefferson Davis and Robert E Lee, both West Point graduates and long-time officers in the United States Army, lev[ied] War against the [United States].

These days, we’d say that Davis and Lee both received a fine college education at taxpayers’ expense, which they then used to wage war against those taxpayers.

Bernard

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