Yes, We Should Remove The Statues Of Thomas Jefferson – And Immediately

I am thoroughly convinced that this country has lost its collective mind.

Ostensibly sane people are now arguing about whether it’s “appropriate” to remove monuments to a truly sordid institution that made it acceptable to own another human being.

To be sure, this is partly Donald Trump’s fault. Consider this from the Wall Street Journal:

Standing at the center of this tumult is President Trump, who in a succession of statements and tweets since Saturday has tried to make himself understood on the status of Confederate statues and the people who wish to preserve them. Suffice to say, it hasn’t gone well.

The practical political lesson is that there are good reasons why U.S. Presidents and the people who work for them try to choose their words carefully when commenting on public events. Myriad political forces—some active, some dormant—sit beneath America’s political life, and what a President says can put those forces powerfully, even dangerously, in motion.

Absent Mr. Trump’s comments, it is doubtful that the counter-Confederate movement would have extended to the attempted renaming in Austin of Robert E. Lee Road or that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo would be demanding, as a “stand against intolerance and racism,” that the U.S. Army rename two streets at Fort Hamilton in southwest Brooklyn commemorating Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

All of that is correct. But then, the Journal says this:

We’re glad to have the clarifications on the false equivalence between Confederate generals and the Founding Fathers, but we hope these clarifiers will be around when campus demonstrators or even historians start demanding that the Founders’ legacies be repudiated because they owned slaves.

Let me just be clear, because even liberal media outlets are clinging to this absurd “false equivalence” narrative: there is no “false equivalence” if what we’re talking about is owning slaves.

Either you owned some slaves or you didn’t own some slaves.

This is as black and white as black and white gets (on multiple levels).

You don’t get a free pass for being a slave owner because you helped found a country that went on to be a beacon of democracy.

In fact, if we’re all being brutally honest, being a slave owner and then turning around and penning eloquent manifestos about how you “hold self-evident” the “truth” that “all men are created equal” is the worst kind of hypocrisy imaginable.

Imagine the balls it took to simultaneously own slaves and write those words with a straight face.

So when I read the Journal say things like “we hope these clarifiers will be around when campus demonstrators or even historians start demanding that the Founders’ legacies be repudiated because they owned slaves,” it is difficult for me to contain my incredulity.

The Founders’ legacies should be repudiated because they owned slaves. There’s no question about it.

Let me give you a hypothetical.

Let’s say I buy my own private island next month. Over the course of the next two decades, I transform that island from a backwater in the middle of the ocean into a thriving economic powerhouse with a GDP per capita that exceeds that of Qatar.

I also take in the maximum number of immigrants from war-torn countries that my island economy can feasibly accommodate while still ensuring that everyone is well to-do. In other words: my island government is as benevolent as benevolent gets.

My island is also a democracy and although I’m the executive, there are stringent checks and balances in place to contain my power.

My island has a vibrant free press and as a people, our pretensions to virtue become world famous.

There’s only one “small” problem with my island utopia: my booming economy is based on slave labor.

As it turns out, when I bought the place, I proceeded to enslave the native population who I beat mercilessly on an hourly basis via a gang of cruel task masters armed with bullwhips. They aren’t paid (they’re slaves after all), I use ethnic slurs when I talk to them, I rape the women, and the last time one tried to escape in a row boat, I shot him.

Now, when the rest of the world discovers what’s going on behind the scenes of my island “paradise”, do I get to absolve myself of guilt by pointing to my island’s high-minded ideals, booming economy, thriving democracy, and sky-high GDP per capita?

Of course not. In fact, chances are an international coalition would move in to remove me from power by military force.

Assuming my island country manages to go on existing after I’m tried in the Hague for crimes against humanity and thrown in prison forever, would anyone suggest that it would be a good idea for the government on my island to force the children of the freed slaves to attend schools named after me or walk past giant bronze statues erected in my “honor”?

Again: of course not. That would be patently absurd.

Which is why it’s equally absurd for America to pretend like we have to worship statues of slave owners for all eternity just because they founded the country.

So yeah, lets take down the statues of Thomas Jefferson.

And while we’re at it, let’s remove monuments to anyone else who was complicit in subjecting an entire ethnic group to one of the most abhorrent injustices in the history of the world.

************

 

 

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27 thoughts on “Yes, We Should Remove The Statues Of Thomas Jefferson – And Immediately

    • note that none of this means anyone is going to forget the fact that the Founders are the Founders.

      it’s not like by removing these statues everyone is just going to forget who George Washington was.

      as Colbert put it the other night, “everyone gets their history from ‘statue study’, that’s how we know Abraham Lincoln was 20-feet tall and was always sitting down.”

      turns out, there are things called “books”

      but the truly absurd part about the whole thing is people using “we can’t forget what the Founders did” as an excuse not to remove the monuments.

      it’s like, “ok, let’s make sure and remember what they did.”

      “oh, that’s right: they were slave owners.”

      • H,
        Jefferson’s greatest sin for you is hypocrisy as you reference phrases from the pearl he wrote: “penning eloquent manifestos about how you ‘hold self-evident’ the ‘truth’ that ‘all men are created equal’ is the worst kind of hypocrisy imaginable.” You start out with his hypocrisy, come up with “a hypothetical” that falls down because it takes place today, hundreds of years later—when the world is a different place. In conclusion, you pay lip service to taking down the statues because they are of slave owners who apparently were “complicit in subjecting an entire ethnic group to one of the most abhorrent injustices in the history of the world.” At least you didn’t advocate taking them down Taliban-style.

        Jefferson’s obvious hypocrisy doesn’t disqualify him in my eyes, because at least he rose above the standards of his times in many ways. Only because he obviously knew better, does he deserve harsher judgment for owning slaves. The only virtue many of his judges today have over Jefferson is that they are merely alive with today’s sensibilities: even the swine of today well know slavery is abominable. What most of today’s judges do not know is what the founders started before the Constitution subverted it and has long since been aborted. Today’s citizens know very well and are adept at assuming the position and standing like criminals at airports, being herded like cattle, and that slavery is wrong when owned by a private citizen; they’re not so good at not letting Big Brother own them.

        Like Jefferson in his time, the people today who deserve judgment would be red pill or court jester types (which type depends on which century you take your memes from) who are smart enough to recognize that there are still chains and people being coerced, yet are complicit. These would be those with connections to those with political or financial power. Do these people feign innocence as they shuffle fiat money around in accounts and benefit from the sleight of hand abstractions of central bankers, politicians, and the extremely wealthy, who virtually “enslave the non-1%”? Do they turn a blind eye as the centralized power makes wars on its own and people around the world? Perhaps these seemingly smart types don’t get it because they’re as abstracted from the injustice in which they’re complicit or benefiting, as a bomber pilot is from a ground war, or better yet, as a drone pilot on a couch in Vegas is from Yemen.

        Know anyone like that today? Then you know how Jefferson could do what he did.

    • Not sure if you want a reply or not, but on the assumption you do . . .

      First, let’s dispense with any doubt. Slavery: wrong. Confederacy: lost and good riddance. Both of those things are good things to agree on. Me? I’m an immigrant (not born here); I have no skin in the game, if you’ll pardon the pun, but I strongly agree with both those statements.

      With that out of the way, there are nuances when talking about people who lived in the 1700s and 1800s. Perhaps they are not worth talking about, but they’re there. Lee’s statue was put up in celebration of a horrendous culture. His accomplishment was that he fought to maintain a slave-based economic system.

      On the other hand, one could argue — while pointing out his faults — that Jefferson’s statue (and others) are up there to celebrate an ideal. He may not have lived it but he did eloquently write it. What he wrote forms the basis — again, while pointing out his personal failings — for something we hold up as a model to others. Is there a cult around the man? Yes. Jeffersonian is a word. Do I believe cults are good? No.

      Do I still admire the words and recognize the uniqueness of them in the context of the times? Yes. Do I think that those words served to usher in an introspection on the whole slavery thing and its eventual abolishment? Yes. Do I think that ultimately Jefferson succumbed to the comfort of his station at the cost of his ideals? Yes.

      So, where does that leave me? Well, you already said, and it’s common knowledge, that he owned slaves and used his position of power for sexual gains (some contention as to the affection angle). I don’t think anyone is trying to hide that, nor celebrate him for it. But, we can admire his ideals.

      Humans often exhibit dualistic tendencies, so it’s no surprise we can both admire and castigate the same entity. Perhaps we don’t need statues of Jefferson, especially if we’re celebrating slave ownership at the feet of those statues. But, on the other hand, that’s not what we’re doing. Personally, I don’t care much and in this digital age, we’ve perhaps lost the need for statues. On the other hand, they serve as a focus point for this very discussion, the entertaining of two separate ideas. Are they equally valid? Does one take precedence over the other?

      For instance, you call the US a beacon of Democracy . . . is it? I mean, yes, we have a unique document, the Constitution, but where do we fall as far as democracies go? We’ve interned Japanese when it was convenient. We have the highest incarceration rate. We have the death penalty. We restrict women’s rights. In fact, as far as democracies go, we’re ranked 21st (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index). It doesn’t sound like a beacon to me. Who do we blame for all that? Bush? Clinton? FDR? Nixon?

      Can I still think the US as a great country with high ideals and salute the flag even though I know about the corruption of those ideals that infests our society and the government? Yes, because I can still fight for the ideals.

      We tend to blame individuals (today it’s Jefferson and Washington) but the US had slavery from its inception all the way up until the Civil War, and not just in the South. True, it ended up only in the South, but that’s a lot of people voting for a long time for leaders who were not separationists. Can we maybe assume that slavery was not an easy thing to discuss and dispose of in those days? Can we assume countries don’t turn on a dime. Can we assume leaders are a reflection of the society they inhabit? Just how many people do we blame?

      Still . . . dynamiting Mount Rushmore . . . I’d show up for that, camera in hand. Might even try to get me one of the noses, or at least a piece of one. You know, not to worship, but as a reminder.

  1. souvenirs… I have an oil stained rock as a result of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, 1989. Makes a nice paper weight too. What about the Lincoln Memorial. He freed the slaves. Are we keeping that? I always planned a trip to see Mount Rushmore but I can’t handle the elevation these days. I don’t think we should blow up Mt Rushmore. Somehow I don’t think that is like a stupid statue. And it’s good for business at the Park. And South Dakota can use the “draw” for tourism.

    – Murphy

    • It’s never clear-cut:
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8319858/Abraham-Lincoln-wanted-to-deport-slaves-to-new-colonies.html

      There’s no indication he wanted to forcibly deport the slaves, but there’s enough evidence to suggest he was in favor of the two races being kept apart (from Politifact):

      “Seeking their support, Lincoln met with a black delegation at the White House on Aug. 14, 1862, and made the case for colonization. It was widely considered a failure. Lincoln offended his visitors, and others who read the after-the-fact newspaper coverage, by saying such things as, “It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated” and that for blacks to refuse to colonize elsewhere would be “extremely selfish.”

      Undeterred, Lincoln continued to tout colonization when addressing Congress in December 1862 and asked lawmakers to offer funding. “I cannot make it better known than it already is that I strongly favor colonization,” he said.

      Yet within weeks, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which offered an entirely different model for post-Civil War America.”

      By offering the opportunity for blacks to join the Army, Lincoln effectively shut down the colonization (repatriation) option because one could not ask for military service and then deny citizenship rights.

      There is a line from the show Firefly that I find appropriate:
      Mal: It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of ’em was one kinda sombitch or another.

      Men are men, not saints; heck, not even saints are saints.

      • I should clarify that I use “men” as a non-gender-specific colloquialism, and not as a literal description pertaining to all members of the human species, although, in fact, it does accurately describe some of the members of said species.

        I should say “humans of multiple ethnic backgrounds and various gradations of gender, with varied belief systems and levels of commitments (formal and informal) toward each other, with individual sexual preferences spanning a large and socially acceptable range, with cultural and social mores adapted from a rich history of weirdness.”

      • Disperser, just a quick note to tell you I really like the photos of San Leon, Texas – really beautiful work. Subject matter is special to me so I may be prejudiced just a tad. Nice stuff.

        – Murphy

  2. If you don’t approve of Andrew Jackson on your $20 bills just send them to me so I can spend them before he is replaced by Harriet Tubman.

  3. Dispenser, this caption is below my favorite: “This shot was a close second as my favorite of the year. This is a foggy sunrise on Galveston Bay.” And I like the next one too: “The window of opportunity for pictures was very small, and I was fortunate to take advantage of it.” Both are thru a foggy sunrise, palm trees and pier. Really soothing. 🙂 Really sorry for such a sad occasion. One of my neighbors did the same thing a few days ago – tragic – and hard to understand the deep sadness she must have felt to do such a thing.

    – Murphy

      • Mornin’ Disperser! I didn’t follow your link last night – I had to give it up and go to bed, way too late for me. So, I poured a cup’acoffee this morning and took the trip. And got sucked into two hours of reading some of your stuff, some comments about your stuff, and looking at more photos. As a result I am intrigued to read more… and I will be visiting for more. Enjoyed having coffee with you!

        – Murphy

      • Well, thank, you and sorry about sucking away a couple of hours of your life. And, always feel free to call me to task on anything that strikes you as faulty reasoning. I love me nothing more than being schooled when I’m wrong. (no joke)

  4. i’ve gotten some e-mail on this containing all kinds of factoids about Thomas Jefferson.

    number one, I know a lot about Thomas Jefferson. That’s not to say I would call myself a Jefferson expert or a Monticello scholar by any stretch, but just so we’re clear: average Joe e-mailer isn’t likely to be able to tell me anything about old Thomas that I don’t already know.

    but more importantly, all of the e-mail seems to miss the point: the more you tell me about how the Founders really didn’t like slavery but did it anyway, the worse and worse is your argument.

    because those e-mailers are basically using “peer pressure” as an excuse for being complicit in slavery.

    “stupidity” is a *far* better excuse than “peer pressure” when it comes to why someone owned slaves.

    because at least with “stupidity” you can plausibly claim that a slave owner was just inherently an idiot.

      • well, let’s pick another “ideal.” Let’s call it “resilience in the face of adversity.”

        Germany experienced a lot of adversity following World War I.

        And by God Adolf Hitler did wonders to help the German people overcome that adversity.

        so why not erect a statue to him and put it in Berlin and then when people complain we can just say “well, it doesn’t represent genocide, it represents the ideal of ‘resilience in the face of adversity.'”

        or how about O.J. Simpson. Let’s make the ideal “greatness on the gridiron.”

        should we build a giant statue of O.J. and when people complain just say “well, it doesn’t represent double murder, it represents ‘greatness on the gridiron.'”

      • Respectfully, that’s a slight misdirection. We could argue all of Europe is better for having gone through WW II and clearing out a whole lot of old ideas. But I don’t know that was Hitler’s intent.

        Also, don’t get me wrong about this: I am very big on actions trumping intentions. I judge and judge harshly on someone’s actions regardless what they meant to do (that includes me, otherwise I’ll never learn anything).

        In that respect, I can’t admire a large portion of history’s heroes. Heck, I don’t admire the majority of current humans and especially our current crop of politicians and business leaders.

        As I said, I personally think the Internet is a better way to inform ourselves of history — especially since we can get multiple perspectives — than gathering around a statue.

        But there are other things at play here. Countries need narratives and as much as I don’t like it, those narratives wind their way through mostly symbolic events and people. As we mature, those heroes and stories evolve with us. That’s the thing about statues . . . they don’t change. That’s where intent matters. Perspective matters.

        In that regard, Mount Rushmore, the Lincon Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, even the war memorials are part of the narrative. We have a Vietnam Memorial mourning the fallen soldiers, but we can sit here and justly debate the fact atrocities were committed by some of those soldiers, and that the war itself carries no glory. That memorial is as much a point of discussion as any other monument we erect.

        To be clear and bring it around, the intent of Confederate statues matter. The intent of everything we do matters.

    • Thank you.
      “There is a line from the show Firefly that I find appropriate:
      Mal: It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of ’em was one kinda sombitch or another.”
      “It’s never clear-cut:….
      Men are men, not saints; heck, not even saints are saints.”

      I should like to see the two of you debate.

  5. and china? we will just run them over with tanks? how long ago was that?
    just trying to change the subject. history is for studying–not for ridicule.
    learn from the past so you don’t repeat bad things. hmmm–that’s interesting. CB/world leaders seem to have a problem with that. is that what governments are doing–turning us into serfs with taxes exceeding 55/58% (i have no deductions because i want no debt)–they even attack your brokerage account if you frequently trade.
    i think we all know where this ends–it is just a question of when.
    but i regress–just needed to vent.
    thanks Mr. H for all your hard work.

  6. OMG How could I have overlooked KEEPING THE VIETNAM MEMORIAL! Hell YES! That horrible war of 20 years earmarked a few events of my life! (Dates, start to end: Nov 1, 1955 – Apr 30, 1975) A few of my high school friends names are on that wall, sad to say. No vote – this wall stays. Thankfully, Draft ended 1973. Quick research tells me that as far back as the Revolutionary War 1775, slave owners “allowed” their slaves to fight in the war and “return” to slavery if they survived the war. Hard to believe! And African Americans have fought in every war since, including the Civil War as separate regiments, WWI mostly segregated, WWII mostly segregated as supportive units, and eventually serving side by side thereafter.

    If you really want to be surprised, this link begins in 1775 thru today, all Wars in which the United States participated and the far right column indicates victory or loss or various results including inconclusive.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_States

    And Desegregation: (keep in mind slavery was abolished 1865) ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER…
    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended all state and local laws requiring segregation. Seems unreal that I went to all white high school until graduation year and my last year there were some black students – not many due to location related to housing! It took a few more years to see the effects of desegregation in residential areas. In fact, some entire areas of the United States held onto segregation longer than allowed by law. I have a very strong memory of going thru a small town in southern Mississippi (off the main highway and thru the woods) and a stop at an auto parts store, mid 70’s. Two water fountains, one marked White Only and the other marked Colored. I was outraged, shocked. The manager of the store looked at me like I was the crazy one. We then went to the cafe for a quick lunch before getting back on the road headed to Florida. Typical small town cafe, even red checked tablecloths and the smell of home cooking. Our table of four had great meatloaf and mashed potatoes as we watched black people coming in front door and walking thru the cafe and disappearing behind a pair of red checked curtains in a doorway. I walked over to it and pulled back the curtain to see picnic style benches lined up and maybe 20 black people having the same lunch as me. I stood there, boiling with anger but biting my tongue. When I composed myself and returned to my table and explained – we all threw our money on the table and walked out. Big difference between large cities and small remote southern towns and how both races were living. We got the hell out of that town and have never gone back. That was about 42 years ago and I was only 29.

    So, do the math as they say – it was 152 years ago that slavery was abolished and 53 years ago that segregation was outlawed. It’s time to let it go. We don’t need those reminders from coast to coast. It’s good that a new generation will only experience this argument by what they read and not what they live.

    – Murphy

  7. Maybe (as an expat Brit) I have no perspective worth considering here but
    Slavery in the colonies was both legal and part of the social norm exported from the UK at the time of the first settlers.
    that doesn’t make it right but it means that, appalling as this may seem to us in 2017, it wasn’t perceived as being wrong. In a sense, it was a hierarchic conceit of Empire – and not just British; Russia outlawed slavery in the 18th century but retained feudalism as an organizing characteristic of society.

    Therefore the tiny minority of colonials that had settled in America who viewed this as being immoral in the 17th century are to be lauded but the vast majority, quite frankly, probably couldn’t really be expected to know much better (I’m not using ignorance as any defence, merely being pragmatic about what people could have known or thought at any given time as timeline is significant here).

    Where this then gets interesting for me is that the majority of the next generations of colonials who declared independence (not, in the main for altruistic ideals but over a specific local dispute) were obviously, very unlikely to experience any Eureka moment about slavery in 1776. This just doesn’t fit any credible facts I’m aware of. Most had probably evolved less in their understanding of the injustice of slavery than those left behind in Britain (who had benefitted from the handing down of Smith v. Browne & Cooper in 1706) had done. By 1776 there was, I believe, only one abolitionist society in America, the one founded in Philadelphia in the previous year.

    So, if you can accept those postulates, the question becomes when should America have realized? Should its societal understanding have progressed, like quantum mechanics, one funeral at a time (a new generation figuring out what we all now know today that it flaunts all morality to treat people as inferior because of skin colour)? Was being cut off from the 17th century debate by time and distance sufficient excuse? Probably not IMO. The launch of the new nations with all the accompanying rhetoric that many people still expect to be revered today as part of a programme of societal control (i.e. the constitution)
    However, the latter half of the 18th century, and increasingly so after 1776 immediately preceded the dawn of a global enlightenment about slavery. Back in the former mothership, the beginning of the 19th century saw this issue gain widespread acceptance and the acts of 1807 and 1833 not only led to the outlawing of slavery but to the widespread understanding that this was wholly unacceptable.

    I don’t see the question as being “Did the founding fathers keep slaves?” if yes, then they’re bad, if not the they’re good. I’d see it as “Why didn’t these guys cotton on as quickly, if not moreso, on what people like Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton were promulgating around that time and which William Wilberforce forcibly represented thereafter, about the inequity of slavery?”

    You might say that it’s the same thing and there’ll certainly be a huge overlap between people who kept slaves post 1776 and those who didn’t pick up on how immoral a thing this is – but for me, their culpability is to whatever extent they ignored or suppressed the late 18th / early 19th century awareness of the unacceptability of slavery. I can to some extent understand those who didn’t know better before 1775. I can’t forgive those who suppressed or ignored that understanding in the 19th century, whether or not they were founding fathers and did other wonderful things or not.

    But I’m just an expat Brit with an interest in but insufficient knowledge of US history & culture.

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