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As I watched a crowd of militant Leftists in Durham, North Carolina this week pull down a statue of a Confederate soldier, I was left not only angry but befuddled by the ignorance of it all: the vitriol of the mob focused on this seemingly inoffensive monument depicting a common soldier, seemingly war-weary and tired, not vengeful and triumphant; the wicked glee of the rioters as they danced around and kicked the fallen, twisted metal wreck; their infernal laughter as they celebrated a false victory over racism. My anger at the actions of the mob was heightened for personal reasons—of which more below.

Pulling down statues is a time-honored tradition among revolutionaries in many cultures, its symbolism reflecting opposition to a current regime. Thus American Revolutionaries toppled statues of King George III during the 1770s; Russians destroyed monuments of Vladimir Lenin as communism collapsed in the 1990s; Iraqis knocked over effigies of Saddam Hussein as American forces ousted the dictator’s government in 2003. Typically, as these examples illustrate, the statues chosen for destruction are those of contemporary rulers, or of those who embody the philosophy of power under which those rulers operate. But statues of Confederates? Even in the Jim Crow Era, this might have been a puzzling choice. But in 2017, one must ask: Where does the philosophy of the Confederacy, if there can be said to be such a thing, hold sway? Leaving aside the monumental question of whether the Confederacy was founded upon the protection of slavery and the promulgation of the idea of racial superiority—and Alexander Stephens’ execrable “Cornerstone Speech” gives one ample fodder for such charges—one must ask these “activists,” in what hall of power is this philosophy represented today? It seems to be held only in the fevered minds of a tiny group of white supremacists—”clowns,” as presidential adviser Steve Bannon called them.

Of course, radical Leftists like these can find a racist under every bed. Reckless and fuzzy charges of “pervasive” and “latent” racism are useful tactics for furthering their ends of attacking Republicans, conservatives (these two groups still occasionally overlapping), and “white privilege,” with their clandestine purposes being the seeking of fame, fortune, and power for themselves. Targeting the statues of long-dead and defeated Confederates is a means of promoting the notion that every white person is secretly sympathetic to the racist views of these American ancestors. By focusing their anger on tangible targets, they make real an enemy that exists only in their twisted heads and hateful hearts. By attacking the past, they suggest that racism is deep-rooted in American soil, infecting everything that grows in the land, and that there can be no racial progress until the evil is eradicated by overturning the very foundations of the country.

Too often we conservatives ask the slippery-slope question in reaction to the Left’s attack on our statues and weakly warn, “Well, if they tear down statues of Confederates, what’s next? The Washington Monument? The Jeffersonian Memorial?” Though well-meaning, the problem with the slippery-slope question is that it seems to concede that Confederate monuments are less dear to us, less of a big deal, for these slaveholders—or supposed promoters of slavery—are indeed morally stained. In effect, those asking this question concede ground to the Leftists. This is a mistake.

Men’s souls are neither black nor white, but gray—figuratively speaking. We should not judge historical figures in a vacuum, ignoring the mores of their times. We should not judge them solely by their inability to rise above their times. We should not judge them by their worst faults. Instead we ought to take the measure of a man in his totality. As my colleague John Groves has written in these pages:

The men and women who have shaped [American institutions] possessed virtues and vices, and their vices do not nullify their virtues…. The inconvenient truth is that America, like all other nations, is the product of both selflessness and selfishness, virtue and vice, wisdom and foolishness. If we reject the important historical figures who possessed the latter along with the former qualities, we must ultimately reject them all.

The desecration and removal of statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis are abominable acts, a type of cheap virtue-signaling by the rioters, at the expense of those who not only cannot defend themselves, and whose case cannot be made in the space of the short sound bytes allotted by the modern media. The rioters in these cases have chosen the easiest of targets: Confederate leaders, who were themselves slaveholders and wielders of power.

But the soldier depicted by the upended monument in Durham? Who was he most likely? The base of the monument declaims: “In Memory of the Boys Who Wore the Gray.” He was probably a simple farm boy, the American South being overwhelmingly an agricultural civilization in the mid-nineteenth century. Chances are that his family did not own slaves (72% of North Carolina families did not, according to the Census of 1860). But perhaps he, or his family, did own slaves. And yet did he, and did Confederate soldiers from other states, fight to preserve slavery? As the late, great historian Shelby Foote has said, “Believe me, no soldiers on either side gave a damn about the slaves.” Or as historian S.C. Gwynne writes, if the young cadets of the Virginia Military Institute who followed Stonewall Jackson had been asked why they were fighting,

few would have replied that it was because of their convictions about slavery. Or their beliefs about state sovereignty. Or any of the other great national questions that had been debated for so long. They would have told you then—as most of Stonewall Jackson’s soldiers in the army of the Confederate States of America would have told you later—that they were fighting to repel the invaders, to drive the Northern aggressors from their homeland. That was why Virginia went to war. The great and complicated political reasons for secession, thundered about in Congress and in the state legislatures, were not their reasons, which were more like those expressed by a captive Confederate soldier, who was not a slaveholder, to his puzzled Union captors. “I’m fighting because you’re down here,” he said.

The statue after its toppling

Durham’s Confederate soldier might have volunteered to fight for his state, which had not seceded in fear that Lincoln’s election might lead to the ending of slavery, but in brotherhood with her sister Southern states after Lincoln had declared his intention to invade them for the purpose of putting down the rebellion. He might have been drafted and had no choice but to fight. He was likely in his twenties, as most of the Durham rioters seemed to be. Unlike them, however, his daily life did not include air conditioning, a cell phone, a laptop, an iPod, government subsidies for education, food, and medical care, and leisure time for pouting from a pampered perch of privilege. His life was tough before the war—if a farmer, he worked from sunup to sundown, ploughing, harvesting, feeding animals, hauling bales of hay, shoveling manure. He was not well-fed like the rioters, certainly not overfed like some of them. During the war his life was even tougher, as he battled not only the bullets of the enemy, but the bacteria and disease of camp life. He likely suffered often from dysentery; he ate rock-hard, moldy biscuits often laced with worms; instead of $8 Starbucks lattes, he downed weak, black, stale coffee (when he could get it). He had likely already witnessed, close-up, several people dear to him die—certainly a grandparent, uncle, or aunt, perhaps a baby brother or sister, a parent, surely a fellow soldier, and probably after much physical suffering, given the lack of medical knowledge of the day. The Durham soldier was granted no “safe spaces” from death, drudgery, and despair; he was given no “trigger warnings” so as to avoid having his feelings hurt.

Likely this soldier was much like my ancestor Nathan Dail, who hailed from Perquimans County, North Carolina, and who in 1862 as a twenty-seven-year-old enlisted as a private in Company C of the 52nd North Carolina Regiment. Though I don’t know for certain, the probability is that he owned no slaves and was indeed a simple farmer. One thing I do know for sure: Nathan did not bequeath any fortune to his descendants. And like most men, Nathan was surely flawed. But what he and his counterparts stood for—all those represented by the Durham statue—were duty, devotion, sacrifice, principle, courage, tireless effort, and the quiet heroism of the humble who toil for something greater than themselves: for wife, child family, God, country.

Compared to the rioters who pulled down his effigy, that Confederate soldier atop the pedestal in Durham was a moral colossus.

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10 replies to this post
  1. This is beautiful. As the descendant of Confederate soldiers on both sides — small farmers and “plain people — I deeply appreciate it.

  2. White supremacists may be clowns, but an unhinged clown with a gun (or a car) is still dangerous and scary. And they seem to be big fans of these monuments.

  3. Here are indications of the confederate slave regime beyond the Cornerstone speech, though the latter is certainly the most worthy of attention.

    The Confederate officers including Lee had no moral excuse to prop up such a regime. The enlisted men are to be pitied, as they were no doubted bullied (by fellow men) or cajoled (by sweethearts) into enlisting and after all what alternative was there other than to flee north to avoid the castigation of staying home?

    This does not excuse the mobbing of statues, but when a locality wishes to bear the expense of removing a statue from town square to a more appropriate historical site, it should not be obstructed.

    And again, enough sentimentality about what was a virulent slave gulag regime in the confederacy. It was a just war to save the slaves every bit as it was just to save the Jews from the Nazis. Even if the North was not clear about it, the South was unmistakeable.

    “From the Declaration of Causes of Secession

    Georgia, second sentence “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery”

    Mississippi, second sentence: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. ”

    South Carolina: “This stipulation [slavery support] was so material to the compact [constitutional ratification], that without it that compact would not have been made. ”

    Texas: “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

    That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.”

    Virginia, first sentence: “The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.”

    Alabama: “And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States,”

    Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy: “[In the Constitution].. we find provision made for that very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men”

    Alexander Stephens, VP of Confederacy: “The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions–African slavery as it exists among us–the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution […] The general opinion of the men of that day [Revolutionary Period] was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution [slavery] would be evanescent and pass away […] Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

    • Sue: The thought of men being inferior beings persisted long after the Confederacy passed from the scene. In Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock in 1903, the Court stated unanimously ” “It is to be presumed that in this matter the United States would be governed by such considerations of justice as would control a Christian people in their treatment of an ignorant and dependent race. Be that is it may, the propriety or justice of their action towards the Indians with respect to their lands is a question of governmental policy, and is not a matter open to discussion in a controversy between third parties, neither of whom derives title from the Indians.”

      Men are fallible, but I think I grow weary of self-righteous people of today who congratulate themselves for being civilized yet we get into numerous wars and kill unborn children. I might add that the North was never interested in the black people but merely used them as pawns to increase their power. Destroying the South for mendacious reasons is just as sinister as what the South did.

  4. Efrem, acknowledging and condemning the violation of inalienable right in slavery is the first step towards vindicating the inalienable right to human life. Of all places, Charlottesville should acknowledge the soaring truth of the Declaration of Independence in her town square, not the Declaration of Secession.

    There are many ugly violations of inalienable rights in the 20th century and today, many related to eugenics. Guess where eugenics made its debut – in the slave gulags of the south, where masters were tempted beyond reason to encourage childbearing to increase their material holdings. Some of these “encouragements” were more objectionable than others – but they were all facilitated by the regime’s upholding the slavery – not just making it legal, but also providing police protection – “slave patrols” were the very first police department, and all white males, slaveholding or no, were conscripted to perform on such. Even beyond that, the South sought to “build a wall” around themselves, via the fugitive slave clause, to make themselves into a concentration camp for blacks.

    This is one issue on which BLM is right, however virtue-signaling. Trump is wrong to divert the mob from the confederacy to the founders (who’s next week?) There is a qualitative difference in the digging in of the confederacy. And there was a positive good embodied in the founders’ Declaration of Independence that we must acknowledge (even if the South didn’t) in order to uphold the right to life.

  5. Furthermore Efrem, and more to the specific point you make, that SCOTUS decision was very close in timing to Plessy and the whole period was in thrall to Jim Crow. Which was itself marked, as a dog makes its mark, by the placement of the Confederate statues. I do not usually agree with Democrats, but have to agree with Mayor Landrieu’s assertion that these statues, when placed in the town square, indoctrinated Jim Crow. How do you explain to you granddaughter who Lee was, that he merits such towering recognition?

    No the town square was meant for unequivocal honor.

  6. I really would like to know the history of where the slaves in our country came from and how they were given over, sold, captured, to the men who then brought them here. Were they already slaves who were subsequently sold to a new slave market? Slavery as an economic product, to put it bluntly, was nothing new nor has it by any means been put out of business. It is still a global commodity no one, I mean, no one, will publicly acknowledge.

    I am sincere in my questions and in no way are my intentions meant to disrespect anyone in their human circumstance of life. Only in God’s eyes can humanity acknowledge equality in judgement.

    Back in the 1970’s my husband was refused a job at the electric company because he was the wrong race, nothing about his qualifications. During the same time, my sister in law, and her fellow high school students were blocked from walking down certain hall ways because they were of the wrong race. We all just moved along with life and prospered.

    Life is hard. God told Adam, by the sweat of your brow, you will eat, or something like that. No one gets a free pass. It was just a few hours ago, while out for a beautiful summer afternoon, I mentioned to my husband that in everything we do, all of our interactions with each other, family or otherwise, we are accountable to God. Our government, over time, has put into place public education, available to all, assistance when charity or family isn’t enough, now what? Repent, and pray.

  7. It does not matter what he stood for anymore. What is important, is the result of his destruction. The end goal in this ugly morality play is to eliminate the Christian character of the Southern people. If we Christian Southerners, Like our Confederate ancestors can be vilified then we can have no impact on national policy. We become the enemy, a focal point of everything evil. We become a teaching point. Everyone gets that point, Defy us and we will destroy you.

  8. I wrote in comment to Mr. Groves’ essay False Idols, Looking at America’s Founders with a Clear Eye, “I wonder when the self-righteous Jacobins will tear down the Washington Monument. He was after all a slaveholder.” I suppose that it can be taken as though I make a moral or praiseworthy distinction between Washington and Lee; but nothing could be further from my mind. Rather I place Washington with Lee as both being ordinary sinful men who in times of great peril in their country took positions of leadership. The difference I do make is that one statue, being life-size, can easily be knocked down or moved, while the other cannot be moved without great cost, or brought down without certain death for the miscreants that might attempt it. This since I expect that at least since 9-11 great resources would be marshaled against those that would attempt the destruction of the Monument.

  9. Some would write that the North fought for a great cause or on the side of right, but that is the kind of self-righteous thinking that pervades this country and is in need of being rejected. What both the abolitionists and the fire eaters of the nineteenth century had need of was getting to their knees and asking God to forgive them their own wickedness. Instead the abolitionists were like “progressives” today such as Nancy Pelosi who self-righteously compare their party with the Republicans and say, “They pray in church on Sunday, and prey on everyone the rest of the week. And while we’re doing the Lord’s work by ministering to the needs of God’s creation, they are ignoring those needs, which is to dishonor the God who made them.” Perhaps Pelosi should get to her knees and ask God to forgive her for being a key player in a party that militantly believes in aborting the completely helpless innocents of God’s creation. So too should the abolitionists have asked themselves, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”

    It is as the late Canadian author Robertson Davies once said, “You are working for mankind are you? Well, the best thing you can do for mankind is to devote your best energies to making the best possible job of yourself; then you will have something to give mankind that will really rouse its attention.”

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