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Identity and its Monuments

If you have not spent much time in the states that comprise the former Confederacy1, particularly the states which saw a great deal of fighting – Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia – you may not understand the ubiquity of Civil War imagery. This imagery does not consist only of the “Confederate flag,” a flag inextricably associated with slavery, segregation, and white supremacy groups. There are also statues, memorials, monuments, battle-associated cemeteries (often, and especially, Confederate ones), and historical markers indicating some event related to the war, from the profound (on this site stood the Federal breastworks that withstood repeated Rebel onslaughts) to the trivial (such-and-such famous general stayed here while passing through). Even cannon are strewn across the South, adorning memorials and symbolically defending town squares, not fired in over a century and a half, but in the minds of many still very much hot and ringing with the din of battle. Throughout much of the South, it is impossible to escape The War.

It may be objected at this point , by those of you who have spent time in cities and especially small towns in Northern states2, that there are many Civil War monuments outside of the South as well. This is true: statues of Union soldiers3 in kepis and greatcoats are not uncommon in the North4.

This contrasts starkly, however, with the sorts of monuments one sees in the South, which are much more numerous. Consider some examples (click for larger versions):

1. Richmond, VA

ConfederateSoldiersAndSailorsMonumentrichmond

2. Lebanon, TN

lebanon hatton

3. Austin, TX (Texas State Capitol)

478px-Confederate_Dead_monument_in_front_of_Texas_State_Capitol-front_view

4. Rutherfordton, NC (Rutherford County Courthouse)

rutherford cnty courthouse

5. Gallatin, TN

gallatin tn

6. Augusta, GA

augusta ga monument

7. Franklin, TN

franklin-square2-sm

If you are not yet sensing a pattern, I will spell it out more clearly: the South is full of monuments to the Confederacy5. And lest one believe that they are merely memorials for the fallen, of the sort that are erected after almost every war, a careful look will show this to not be true. Consider the the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol (3), which includes not only soldiers, but in its very center and on its highest pedestal one Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, certainly no fallen soldier he. consider other Confederate memorial on the Capitol grounds (yes, there is more than one!), a silent sentinel. Note the text (I took this picture this morning as I walked through the grounds, so I apologize for the poor the lighting)6:

Texas capitol silent sentinel

Most of these monuments were erected while The War was still part of the South’s living memory, sometime prior to the First World War, prior to the turn of the century even, yet today when The War is but a memory of a memory of a memory, they continue to hold privileged and prominent places on the grounds of state capitols, county courthouses, city municipal buildings, and town squares. More than any other part of the history of this part of the country, the events of the last few years of the slave-holding South are on display for all to see, remember, mourn, and celebrate.

One of the images above, number 7, is particularly salient for me as it stands in the center of the town square in my hometown. It depicts a Confederate soldier, sometimes affectionately referred to as “Chip” in reference to the large chip in his hat, and is surrounded by four Civil War era cannon. While it is but one of several monuments to the Confederacy strewn about town, it is by far the most prominent, sitting smack dab in the middle of the revitalized downtown area, near the Williamson County Courthouse and many popular Franklin businesses. Anyone who has spent any time in Franklin has seen it, and for those who live or have lived there it is part of the very fabric of the city, a sort of symbolic gateway into the town’s obsession with the large, bloody battle that took place there in November, 1864.

I tell and show you all of this to give context to what follows. A few years ago, my youngest brother and I past ol’ Chip while headed to a downtown restaurant. As we drove by I made an offhand remark to the effect that I wished someone would tear that damn statue down7. My brother, who is by no means a Confederate apologist, took offense, and a heated argument ensued, and lasted until we took our seats half an hour later, possibly the only argument he and I have had since childhood.

His position was simple: he was suspicious of any attempt to tear down any monuments to our past, both because our past is part of who we are today and because tearing them down could easily become a means of whitewashing our past. If we take down the Confederate monuments, he said, we would not only alter our collective identity, perhaps in unexpected and unintended ways, but it would also make it much easier to ignore the less noble parts of our history. A bloody, treasonous rebellion in defense of the institution of slavery? What bloody, treasonous rebellion? I see no signs of such a thing!

My counter was that it is precisely because the War and the Confederacy are such out-sized parts of our present-day identities, as out-sized as the statues that celebrate them, that I want the statues taken down. Not only is it the case that for a substantial number of Southerns — black Southerners — that part of our identity, and our continual celebration of it, is a reminder of violence and oppression, past and present, but it is also part of the identity of many other Southerners — white Southerners — that allows them to continue to exclude black people from Southern identity, an exclusion that no doubt contributes to (though it is certainly not the only cause of ) ongoing individual and systematic discrimination against black people in the South.

Of course, I understood then as I understand now in the wake of one of the most extreme examples of racist violence in the cultural context of the Confederate South, that ridding our town squares and county courthouses of statues and monuments to the Confederacy will not end violence, prejudice, and discrimination, but it is a step in the direction of changing the identity of the South from one in which a war to preserve the institution of black chattel slavery that it it caused, and lost, 150 years ago is so deeply ingrained to a more inclusive, hopefully less violent and more modern one, in which reconciliation and inclusion play a more important role. In other words, it would be an unequivocal move in the right direction.

Yet I understand my brother’s objection, which is not at all unreasonable, and which has stuck with me these last few years. Simply tearing down the monuments to our past can set a dangerous precedent, and while I do want us to move forward, I do not want us to forget what came before. Perhaps if we Southerners had done a better job over the last century and a half of coming to terms with the genocidal nature of our past, and in particular the part of the past that produced the Confederacy, the monuments would serve to remind us of a part of a history of a South now comprised of all Southerners, black and white. Unfortunately, not only have we not come to terms with that past, but we have actively resisted doing so in many cases. As a result, our sense of our past — how we see its monuments, and how it impacts our identities — is still a deeply segregated one.

By way of compromise the best solution might be to not do away with the monuments to the Confederacy altogether, but instead to take them down from their places of honor and move them to museums. If one day we finally come to terms with those aspects of our past that continue to divide us — centuries of slavery punctuated by a war to preserve it that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and millions more maimed, mentally scarred, or physically displaced — and what it means for us besides mere pride at a few moments of bravery under fire, the statues and monuments can come back out of the museums to be placed not in their former positions of honor, but alongside monuments to other, hopefully less violent and hateful periods of our history.


1 This excludes Kentucky, it should be noted.
2 Here I resist, only partly successfully, calling them Yankee states. Point made before it’s even made!
3 There are, it must be noted, some Union soldier monuments in the South, generally on battlefields or at memorials associated with battles, and usually raised by people from the places represented in the first years or few decades after the war.
4 This type of statue, whether it is a lone Union or Confederate soldier, is often called a “silent sentinel.”
5 This is the worst example I know, a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest flanked by the flags of the Confederacy on Interstate 65 in Brentwood, TN, just south of Nashville (source):
cddc9ea4cf6da3e4
6 Austin’s Confederate imagery is not exhausted by the statues on the Capitol grounds. The University of Texas campus has statues of Confederate generals Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee, as well as one of Jefferson Davis, and there’s even a Robert E. Lee Rd in South Austin.
7 This will come as no surprise to those of you who know that my general political philosophy consists primarily of “tear it down!”

Image sources:
Front page: http://www.midtneyewitnesses.com/wp-content/gallery/franklin-monument/franklin-square2-sm.jpg
(1):https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libby_Hill,_Richmond#/media/File:ConfederateSoldiersAndSailorsMonument.JPG
(2): http://archive.tennessean.com/article/20130225/NEWS0201/302250019/TN-considers-making-difficult-rename-remove-Civil-War-hero-memorials
(3): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_State_Capitol#/media/File:Confederate_Dead_monument_in_front_of_Texas_State_Capitol-front_view.JPG
(4): http://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/262/
(5): http://civilwartalk.com/threads/confederate-monument-at-trousdale-place-gallatin-tn.79592/
(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Augusta_Confederate_Memorial.jpg
(7) http://www.midtneyewitnesses.com/wp-content/gallery/franklin-monument/franklin-square2-sm.jpg

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110 thoughts on “Identity and its Monuments

  1. This is the Civil War monument in my town.

    It’s a concrete mold. An identical statue was in the center of the town I grew up in, and I know of at least a dozen others. They were mass-produced at some point, and put all over the place.

    Everybody seems indifferent to them; they’re just there, and not honored or revered. Nobody talks about ancestors who fought in the Civil War; my mother’s great-great uncle was Hanibal Hamlin’s secretary, and it’s not particularly a badge of pride, not a source of identity. As a child, I found it a confusing heritage; and had to reconcile my perceptions of northern emancipators with the reality of wanting to maintain civility — the appearance of civil society that included a lot of tolerance for racism.

    Today, in this most white of white states, we struggle with the influx of black Muslims into our state; mostly refugees from Somali and a few other North African nations. There have been some hot flashes over the last decade, but in every instance, the public response has been to integrate, to embrace, and not to other.

    The only things I can think of to compare the southern heritage ideal in society to here in the north might be a food — lobster. Attack our lobsters (typically cooked live) as cruelty to animals and folk will get riled.

    But more to the point is that honoring our past includes embracing things that we once accepted and now walk away from as unacceptable. Slavery was unacceptable because it was evil. Racism, likewise, is unacceptable because it, too, is evil. Memorials to those evils need context of that; these may have been our heroes. The refreshing thing, to me, is that this is a growing voice I hear from the South.

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    • Ah yes, your town’s silent sentinel is very much like the ones I linked to in other Northern (I swear I almost typed Yankee) towns: kepi and greatcoat. It is amazing how similar they all are, both in the North and the South (where the hat differs and there is almost always the bedroll).

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      • The distress over the war expresses in really odd ways.

        Here, we’re too far north for walnut trees; but we have butternut trees. As a child, I sort of remember people trying to eradicate them from their land; mostly, I think, because they ‘Butternuts’ were Confederate soldiers — the fruit around the nuts were used to dye Confederate uniforms. With the demise of local butternut trees, the native population of flying squirrels also plummeted; two species of the northern flying squirrel are on the endangered species list.

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    • Such utter nonsense, There are greater wrongs being perpetrated every day in our nation’s capitol. Barry Soetoro aka Barack Hussein Obama. His acts of high Treason are becoming virtually uncountable. The Civil War was an act of frustration rather than an effort to simply secede from the Union. Most certainly slavery was and still is abhorrent. The first Slave holder of record just happened to be a black man by the name of Anthony Johnson. His indentured servant, having worked off his debt, went his own way. Johnson sued in court and the judge remanded the slave back into the custody of his former black slave owner. It was a terrible practice but it was abolished by; the XIIIth Amendment on December 5, 1865.

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    • Such utter nonsense, There are greater wrongs being perpetrated every day in our nation’s capitol. Barry Soetoro aka Barack Hussein Obama. His acts of high Treason are becoming virtually uncountable. The Civil War was an act of frustration rather than an effort to simply secede from the Union. Most certainly slavery was and still is abhorrent. The first Slave holder of record just happened to be a black man by the name of Anthony Johnson. His indentured servant, having worked off his debt, went his own way. Johnson sued in court and the judge remanded the slave back into the custody of his former black slave owner. It was a terrible practice but it was abolished by; the XIIIth Amendment on December 6, 1865.

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  2. The whole concept is fascinating to me. For most of my life I’ve lived in US places that weren’t even officially places when the Civil War happened. Some of them places where a majority of the people’s ancestors didn’t even arrive in the US until after the Civil War.

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    • I have to add this as well. New York’s history during the Civil War is nothing to admire and NYC itself was rather horrible and filled with Confederate apologia and a horrible Race Riot that burned down an orphanage for African-Americans. However, the New York I know most is mainly filled with Jewish and Italian immigrants who did not come until decades after the Civil War at earliest.

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      • There is actually an interesting case of a memorial statue in New York that gets on-again, off-again “tear it down” coverage. J. Merion Simms was a southerner and slave owner who is considered the father of gynecology. He made great strides in various surgical techniques, but (and you can almost see this coming, can’t you) often operate on slave women without their consent and without using anesthesia. (Some as often as 30 times) Ether was available, though newly invented. He ultimately moved to New York and did pretty much the same thing to Irish Immigrant women, so it’s not just a slavery/south issue. He did use anesthesia on upper-class women because they were considered to be more sensitive to pain.

        Anyway, there is a statue to this guy in Central Park that gets a few protests and calls to be removed.

        Just wanted to throw that out there since we are discussing New York, slavery, the Civil War, and monuments.

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    • I’ve talked to several people from other parts of the country who were blown away by the ubiquity of The War in the South. As big a part of my childhood as it was, you’d think it had happened to my parents, not my great, great, great grandparents.

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      • During my first trip to New Orleans, I stayed with a college roommate who grew up just outside the city (Metarie). I remember he drove us through a huge traffic circle that had either Lee or Davis or one of those dudes atop a large column. He sarcastically remarked, “The South will rise again!” My other friend and I — he from Connecticut and me from New Jersey — had no idea what to make of it.

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      • It took a long time for the pain of the war to moderate. Consider that because it surrendered to the Union on July 4 1863 it took until 1963 for Vicksburg to officially celebrate the fourth of July (for a long time it Vicksburg July 4 was a date which will live in infamy). On the monuments when do the date from. A number of the ones shown sort of look like perhaps the early 20th century when there were still a number of veterans of the civil war alive? Of course then the question becomes when do monuments get torn down?

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    • Sort of where I’m at with it, though I have lived in places, both North and South, where the Civil War was a big deal.
      For me, US history begins in the 1940’s with the oil boom.
      Before that, the range wars. Before that, Mexican rule. The big transition between those two was when the Republic of Texas tried to claim half the territory following its War of Independence, which led to occupation by the US cavalry.

      One thing I find irksome about the way history is taught in other states is that the matter of the Spanish is mostly overlooked or downplayed.
      I find this deeply troubling on a number of levels.

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  3. “Tell about the South,” said Shreve McCannon. “What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?”

    “I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

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  4. I give only partial credit. The mere ubiquity of Civil War monuments is unconvincing. Much of the North is similarly lousy with them, of comparable size and prominent placement. Your typical Pennsylvania town has one smack dab in the center of town. Often it is literally in the center of where the two main roads meet, with traffic going around it. The other typical location is in the middle of a one-square-block park next to the courthouse. Neither do most of the ones you show stand out for grandiosity. Here is the one in Yonkers, NY: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westchester_County,_New_York#/media/File:Yonkers_Civil_War_monument_jeh.jpg and here is one in Montrose, Pennsylvania: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susquehanna_County_Courthouse_Complex#/media/File:Civil_War_memorial_Susquehanna_County_Courthouse_Complex_Montrose_PA_Aug_09.jpg

    The better part of your argument is the inclusion of figures such as Jefferson Davis, and that Nathan Bedford Forrest one in Tennessee is truly a monstrosity (as was, come to think of the Nathan Bedford Forrest himself).

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    • The NBF one in Tennessee was an intentional fish you to the city and pretty much everyone. The dude who owns that land is a world class asshole

      However, I just highlighted the statues because they’re big. In my hometown there is that statue, the cannons, and countless other smaller or less visible monuments, markers, and even museums. The private school is named Battle Ground Academy, the park prominently advertises the Federal fort, the large Confederate cemetery is a prominent attraction, and books and other reminders of the battle, the War, and the Confederacy are everywhere. I imagine this is true to some extent in Maryland and PA where there were battles as well, and in places like Gettysburg and Antietam the war probably plays an equal role in the local identity, but I’ve never seen the Romance and nostalgia for, and identity with, the Union that I see for and with the Confederacy in the South. Like I said, it creates two Souths: a black one and a white one, and ne’er the twain shall meet so long as “South,” “Southern,” and “Southern heritage” mean the Confederacy, The War, and quite frankly, whiteness and white supremacy.

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      • I’ve never seen the Romance and nostalgia for, and identity with, the Union that I see for and with the Confederacy in the South.

        I wondered for years why this is so, but the reasons turn out to be pretty obvious:

        1. The Union won – it’s hard to have nostalgia for something that never ceased to exist.
        2. At least in the Northeast, the percentage of people with Civil War-era relatives is relatively few. Part of this is that NYC and NJ were copperhead territory, but mostly it’s that the NE has always been such a hub of immigration, and was particularly so in the century after the Civil War. Still – personally, I’m only 3/4 Polish American, and the “Thompson” part of my family has roots dating back to around the outbreak of the Civil War, when one of my ancestors emigrated to Buffalo from Canada, presumably for the specific purpose of fighting for the Union and seemingly lying about his age to do so. I learned most this only a few years ago, and the details are still hazy – in fact, I heard of this ancestor exactly once when I was younger, and then only to show a picture someone had found. It was usually the Polish heritage that completely dominated discussions, even on the side of the family that was only half Polish.
        3. Relatedly, there are generally fewer long-term ties to the land, even amongst those with heavy ties to the Union. mentions how most of the people where he’s ever lived arrived at those places after the Civil War. My understanding is that many of those people were people with close relatives who fought in the war for the Union, rather than primarily being the international immigrants that arrived in the Northeast. There’s less of a connection to ancestors from 150 years ago when they lived 1000 miles away.

        That said, I’m kind of curious about how the many people with long familial ties to, say, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin feel about their heritage. These are folks whose ancestors were almost certainly the Union’s most distinguished and brave soldiers – the men of the Iron Brigade, the First Minnesota, etc. – and my understanding (perhaps wrong) is that a lot of them have remained in the general area where their ancestors lived. Would love to hear something from someone who might have some insight on this.

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        • As I understand it, the Federal Government paid Union soldiers with land to the west; here in Maine, farms and whole towns were abandoned as people pulled stakes and moved west. Most of the heritage, the descendants, of the war are long gone, now; and those ancestors are honored as pioneers instead of Civil War veterans.

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          • Good point. I’m wondering if that held equally true for some of the Midwestern communities, which were already primarily farm-based, with presumably similar land to that which the government was offering (though my assumption could very well be wrong on this).

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          • I believe that the Civil War was the first war where the federal government did not use land grants as pay. There would seem to be little reason for it, since the Homestead Act of 1862 made it possible for anyone to claim federally-owned public land if they were going to make an attempt to farm it. The big push behind the Homestead Act was to attract immigrants to the frontier, at which it was quite successful.

            To some of the other comments about why the Civil War is a bigger deal in the South… In the South, the Civil War subsumed pretty much all other policy questions. In the North, Congress was still doing other forward-looking things: the Homestead Act, establishing the land-grant university program, setting things in motion for the transcontinental railroad, etc. The War was a Big Thing, but it wasn’t the only thing.

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            • From the govs homestead act page

              With the secession of Southern states from the Union and therefore removal of the slavery issue, finally, in 1862, the Homestead Act was passed and signed into law. The new law established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.

              Local land offices forwarded the paperwork to the General Land Office in Washington, DC, along with a final certificate of eligibility. The case file was examined, and valid claims were granted patent to the land free and clear, except for a small registration fee. Title could also be acquired after a 6-month residency and trivial improvements, provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre. After the Civil War, Union soldiers could deduct the time they served from the residency requirements.

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        • My understanding is that many of those people were people with close relatives who fought in the war for the Union, rather than primarily being the international immigrants that arrived in the Northeast.

          Less so than you might think. Western Minnesota, NW Iowa, the Dakotas, and the plains portions of Montana were heavily populated by people recruited from northern Europe by the owners of the northern route transcontinental railroad from the 1870s to 1890s. Omaha and much of eastern Nebraska had a huge influx of immigrants from Ireland and eastern Europe. The numbers were perhaps not so large in absolute terms as the immigrants who settled in the Northeast, but they were very large in percentage terms.

          As a lad in NW Iowa in the early 1960s, I was somewhat unusual in that most of my great-grandparents (and all of my grandparents) had been born in the US; the large majority of the kids were tall blue-eyed blonds most of whose great-grandparents (and some of the grandparents) had been born in Scandinavia. Where in Scandinavia still counted, too — you could tell where the family roots were based on which of the several Lutheran churches they attended.

          Interesting side note — the small Iowa town where I lived then, amongst all the vikings, is now 25% Hispanic. Almost none of whose ancestors would have been involved in the Civil War either.

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          • Thanks for that . My assumption was that because the general character of the region as being heavily centered on farming had not much changed, it would be more likely for those with ancestral ties to the Civil War to still be in the area. Clearly I was wrong about that.

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            • Not really.
              Around Kearney, Missouri and surrounding area, former home of the James brothers, there area still quite a few that have relatives from the Civil War.
              I was even good friends with a few that were direct descendants of the first white settler in the area.
              Several battle markers around, re-enactors and the like.

              The black re-enactors tend to be of the Buffalo Soldier variety.

              I think that’s the difference between the upper Midwest & the lower Midwest.

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              • Also east to west. The strip of Iowa within 60 miles or so of the Mississippi River had 75,000 men in military service during the Civil War. OTOH, white settlers almost completely abandoned the equivalent of 40 counties in NW Iowa and SW Minnesota in 1862 after the Spirit Lake Massacre and Sioux Uprising. As my NW Iowa fifth-grade teacher put it during the month of Iowa history, “If you lived right here (pointing at the floor) in 1862, you cared a whole lot more about what the US Army was doing about the Indians than you did about what they were doing to the Confederates.”

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      • I am skeptical of the notion that we can successfully and usefully discuss these matters in a forum like this one. We would have to be prepared to give, enforce, and rigorously respect and support a license to say, or be seen to say, or to risk being seen to say, many things that most of us have been taught from an early age to reject presumptively, and for good reasons. If word “got out” that we were having a truly open discussion of “identity” and the meaning of the Civil War and its symbols, we might find ourselves joined by unwelcome voices, and, in time, the kind of clashes and conflicts observable on the site in the last few days might seem but a mild foretaste…

        Might be good for traffic though.

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  5. The disagreement you had with your brother is quite different than other types of disagreements you’ve probably had over the years. For example, you and your brother were both in agreement that the symbols are important reminders of a war fought to defend slavery, rather than (say) The War Against Northern Aggression, or The War for Southern Independence. Which means, to me anyway, that you guys are haggling over details, as it were: One person saying reminders of that past ought to be wiped away, the other saying that those reminders are examples of stuff that really happened and ought not be wiped away. Insofar as that short summary is correct, I confess to not having any sense of what the right answer is. Even if it’s not correct, I confess the same about the broader issue.

    The only thing I feel comfortable saying is based on the “facts” of the case. What was the basis of the North’s so-called “War of Aggression” which the South felt justified in defending itself from? Opposition to slavery. What was the basis of South’s so-called “War of Independence”? Reaction to the North’s opposition to slavery. I mean, that rationale is explicitly stated in the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States fer cryin out loud. (As a side note, the Confederate Flag only came back to the capitol grounds in South Carolina in 1961 (I think!) as a response to federally mandated desegregation of schools, which provides yet another indication of what symbol that flag expresses to some folks.)

    Beyond that, it’s all a mess. The past isn’t dead, it’s a dessicated zombie.

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    • People love The Past but usually seem to hate actual history. Now and for the next few years is the 150 anniversary of Reconstruction. A great subject, integral to where the US went, and something i doubt many people will want to learn about.

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    • What was the basis of the North’s so-called “War of Aggression?”

      I may have touched upon this in my two-part post on the Constitution, but I’ll post it here so no one has to wade through all the details.

      The Southern view of the Constitution was that it created a compact among sovereign states, with the “states people” of each state as each of the sovereigns. Under this theory, there is no sovereign “We the People of the United States”. In fact, there can’t be because, again according to this view, sovereignty can only rest in one place, and it was placed within the people of each separate state as a political society.

      A well-accepted characteristic of compacts (via hundreds of years of international law) is that each state can exercise its sovereign right to unilaterally and peacefully withdraw from a compact at any time at its own discretion. If the Constitution resembles a compact, the same thing applies. The “constitutional” right to secession is really nothing more than a sovereign’s right to withdraw from a treaty. This is the framework that formed the South’s legal argument for secession.

      Since the southern states view themselves as sovereigns, an act secession was not treason but rather an exercise of its sovereign right and an attack on a sovereign is seen as an act of aggression, hence Northern Aggression.

      That’s the basis. Take a metaphysical view of sovereignty, apply it to the Constitution and you have the 19th Century states rights vision of the Constitution. Take their belief that they’re peaceful sovereigns and throw the Civil War in the mix, bake it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and there you go.

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      • Whether or not this is accurate, though, it doesn’t change that the primary reason for their withdrawal was a desire to not only sustain, but also expand, slavery. The secession resolutions are very clear about this fact.

        The South Carolina resolution opens by referring to its previous 1852 resolution. I can’t find a copy of that quickly, but as I understand, that resolution was a protest of the 1850 Compromise, which had nothing whatsoever to do with regulating slavery in the Southern states, but instead primarily served to admit California as a free state and allow New Mexico and Utah to decide themselves whether they would be free or slave states. The Compromise also strengthened the Fugitive Slave Act, thus imposing federal will on Northern states. Part of South Carolina’s 1852 complaint was, from what I can gather, that the Northern states weren’t doing enough to enforce this strengthened provision.

        In other words, the very first complaint that South Carolina’s secession resolution makes is that secession was necessary because the federal government was not doing enough to expand slavery and force the Northern states to comply with Southern wishes in their own internal affairs. That’s not a complaint that states’ rights are being disrespected – it’s a complaint that the federal government isn’t doing enough to support slavery.

        While it’s true that the secession resolution speaks in terms of a compact, the alleged breaches of the compact are entirely that the federal government wasn’t doing enough to force the Northern states to return escaped slaves to the Southern States, and further complains that the Northern states have breached the compact by passing laws under which “the fugitive (slave) is discharged from service or labor claimed.”

        The resolution insists that, but for assurances about slavery and about Northern obligations to enforce the South’s “right” to hold slaves, the Southern states would not have signed the Constitution.

        It also complains that the Northern states have treated immigrants and escaped slaves as citizens.

        Lincoln’s declared general hostility to slavery is cited as nothing more than the final straw, and then specifically because the Republican Party (which, absent secession, would not have had a majority in either house of Congress) “has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.”

        “War” in the secession resolution is a figurative term. “Excluded from the common territory” refers to the territories that were not yet states – in other words, this is a reference to the fact that the Republicans opposed allowing the expansion of slavery into the territories.” Finally, “That the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional,” from what I can gather, is a complaint that the Republicans wanted to decentralize the federal courts, which is what they ultimately did with the Judiciary Act of 1862. This also seems to be a complaint that the Republicans wanted to include the Western states in the circuit court system and rebalance the circuits so they better reflected population, rather than providing the Southern states with an automatic majority amongst the circuits (and, as I understand based on how Supreme Court justices were appointed at the time, thus an automatic majority on the Supreme Court).

        In other words, there’s virtually nothing in here about states’ rights as we generally understand the concept. To the contrary, it appears the primary complaint was that the feds weren’t doing enough to ram slavery down the throats of the northern states, and that the Republicans were going to make it even harder to do so (even though they wouldn’t have had a majority in Congress absent secession).

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        • Whether or not this is accurate,

          It is. ;)

          it doesn’t change that the primary reason for their withdrawal was a desire to not only sustain, but also expand, slavery. The secession resolutions are very clear about this fact.

          I agree with you 1,000,000,000% on this. Please don’t take my narrow response to Stillwater in a way to ignore this issue. I provided Stillwater with a basis for the term War of Northern Aggression based on the Southern understanding of the Constitution.

          The secession discussion is separate from that, but since you mentioned it:

          While it’s true that the secession resolution speaks in terms of a compact, the alleged breaches of the compact are entirely that the federal government wasn’t doing enough to force the Northern states to return escaped slaves to the Southern States, and further complains that the Northern states have breached the compact by passing laws under which “the fugitive (slave) is discharged from service or labor claimed.”

          I agree with all of this. Above, I said that the compact theory formed the basis for the legal framework. The lack of enforcement of slave laws and the refusal of northern states to respect them was considered a breach of the compact. In a compact with wholly sovereign states, none of which are bound by any federal authority (again, so goes the argument***), they can remedy a breach by withdrawing. States rights don’t have to be explicitly mentioned or referred to because sovereigns withdrawing from treaties, compacts, alliances, etc. were well understood legal norms in the context of international law going back a few hundred years or so prior to 1860. It’s implied in the structure of the Constitution (again, according to that worldview).

          In other words, yes, slavery was the cause but the Southern understanding of sovereignty drove the belief that a unilateral secession was a legally appropriate remedy. If the people of those states felt that their lawful acts drew acts of war from the Northern states, including leaving military installations in states where they had no business being, they may see it as aggression.

          I’m not justifying the South’s position in any of this, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the states rights debates. To your point, I don’t know how other people generally understand the concept, but in my opinion, it’s best understood through the concept of state sovereignty.

          As I’ve maintained, the Constitution is (was) in many ways a states rights document although nowhere near to the extent that the radical states rights theorists made it out to be. You’re a Madison fan so I strongly recommend that you read the Virginia Resolution and the Report of 1800. Also, I think his best description of the compact nature of the Constitution was in his Notes on Nullification. He rejected both Calhoun’s and Daniel Webster’s theories of the Union, and rightly so because they were both wrong.

          I hope that clears things up a bit. I’m as giddy about this subject as you are about factions and interest groups ;)

          *** You know this but others who didn’t read my last posts on the Constitution may not know that I categorically reject the compact theory/states rights position in favor of Madison’s dual sovereigns.

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      • Take their belief that they’re peaceful sovereigns and throw the Civil War in the mix

        Peaceful sovereigns who attacked a lawfully established military base without provocation.

        I think it’s entirely possible that the Confederate States were right in their calculation that Lincoln’s election meant the end of slavery (though that’s far from certain). I also think it’s entirely possible that the Confederate States were right that the US wouldn’t allow them to secede peacefully (though that’s not certain either). But those predictions are an extremely weak source of grievance when used as “justification” for a sneak attack on either their own or another state’s military.

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    • What was the basis of the North’s so-called “War of Aggression” which the South felt justified in defending itself from? Opposition to slavery.

      Many people argue that the Union’s primary motivation wasn’t opposition to slavery but preservation of union for its own sake. (Patriotism, economics, a fear that permitting secession gives every state a “pass” on democracy, etc.) Sometimes this is said out of general cynicism, other times it is drawn from the evidence of what Lincoln and other Union leaders said, and still other times this point is derived from logical extrapolation: If you’re against slavery enough to fight over it, then you should initiate combat against territories where it is legal, not just respond to secession after the fact. (In fact, that’s just what some abolitionists had been pushing for in prior decades.) Then there are Confederate apologists who make this assertion (“Lincoln/Union never cared about the slavery issue”) as though it cancels out the mountains if evidence that slavery was the sole purpose of Confederacy.

      To an extent the argument holds weight, but it’s tricky to determine whether to call it “true” or “false” because there was such a diversity of opinion in the North at that time, with war support only unified (in the sense of a Venn diagram overlap) by the belief that union was desirable. And this is complicated by the vast difference in political attitudes about slavery compared to the present. Today it would be absurd for a politician to say “I’m against slavery but if a state wants to legalize it that’s its choice”, yet that was the standard “middle ground” stance for much of the country.

      In any case, despite the evidence that that North prioritized union above black civil rights, it’s still necessarily true that the Confederacy’s pro-slavery positions were non-negotiable to the North, or else Northern states would simply have conceded everything slavery-related so as to prevent war. (In fact, the Crittenden Compromise was a failed attempt at just that, proposed by one of the few Northerners whose reaction to slavery was a shrug. Slave states liked it, but the North-dominating Republicans hated it and it failed hugely.)

      I’m thinking the best way to summarize the diversity of Northern views would be this: “There is such a thing as too much slavery.” Technically even radical abolitionists would agree to that (except for the unspoken implication that a little slavery would be okay). Today we’ve moved far enough beyond that that much of Union rhetoric exceeds the racism we know of today, and Confederate apologists love to incorporate that into arguments that conclude with celebrating people like Nathan Bedford Forrest.

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  6. Perhaps that is the answer.

    “Tear it all down”

    But not to limit it to the South. Every single monument to the Civil War is torn down on both sides. Every memorial site on both sides is sold to private ownership and repurposed for what those owners want whether it be housing for the poor or whether it is a strip mall. Street names can be kept as those are a hassle to rename (How many people in my city even know that Mark Dabling was named after a cop killed in the line of duty? I would imagine that the answer is “Not many”.) but, otherwise, the Civil War is banished to the history books.

    That strikes me as the most equitable answer because, when you come down to it, the Civil War was an ugly affair on all sides. Both sides did things that would be considered war crimes. (Example: While it is customary not to talk about the war crimes of the victors, I’ve seen pictures and read journals taken at the time of how Confederate soldiers were treated in Northern P.O.W. camps and I can tell you that they match up with German concentration camp photos.) We’ve already gone over what the South’s monuments and flags stand for but that doesn’t make the North’s monuments any less tacky. The North’s monuments cement what would become U.S. policy of “Might makes Right”. Even if you discount Sherman’s barbarous campaign, the simple fact is that the South wasn’t convinced to rejoin the U.S. They were beaten into submission and conquered.

    As such, Northern monuments aren’t really anything to be proud of either. I’ve been struggling to figure out how I feel about the Confederate flag/monuments issue (racist symbology vs Niemoller) but your policy strikes me as the correct one. “Tear it all down”. Remove the symbols of the racist and the conqueror as one. Banish one of the most shameful times in our country’s history to the history books. Only then can we finally shake off the past and move towards the future.

    Edit: This may seem like a poor reference but, as I was hitting “Post comment”, it struck me as a pertinent one. In the Star Wars short story “Purge of the Tyrant’s Fist”,the Empire, in a rare flash of competence, conquered a rebel stronghold not through force of arms but through the removal of symbols. Vader ordered a policy of removing what the population didn’t need (monuments/museums/etc honoring Jedi) and gave them what they wanted (schools/hospitals/consumer centers to provide jobs and economic activity).

    I imagine that the same policy would do well here. People will be angry if all you do is remove a 150-year-old statue but, if you were to replace it with something the people want, the people will quickly adapt and appreciate the new benefit they have. Perhaps the policy of “Tear it all down” needs to be modified to “Tear the old down and build for the new”. Instead of just following our usual policy of taking from people and offering nothing in return, we should follow a policy of replacement and improvement.

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    • It’s the South… tear down the monuments and build barbecue joints.

      Slightly more seriously, we got into this on Will Truman’s Facebook post. Nob (HI NOB!) spoke about all that the South has to offer and the Confederacy is what they cling to. Build a monument to Jazz, to the Blues, to the food, the people — ALL the people.

      I don’t think it is purely in the minds of Southerners that “the North” (which I think really means everywhere but the South) looks down on them. That no doubt exists in certain quarters. So I understand wanting to hold fast to that which makes them unique and proud. And they probably feel like it is bonus points that it pisses the rest of the country off so much. But, seriously, there is so much to be proud of. And I think most people would gain a hell of a lot of respect if the South — of their own volition — said, “We’re going to take down this Jefferson Davis statue. And its place we’ll put something noting the unique contributions that this area made to our nation’s founding. We’ll celebrate how cotton and tobacco helped make our nation rich. And, yes, we’ll note how that was made possible by the enslavement of the African people.” Sure, some petty jerks up North would still get on their high horse about shit. But I think most of the rest of the country would stand up and applaud and support those efforts.

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      • This strikes me as too long and problematic. As just one example: “we’ll note how that was made possible by the enslavement of the African people.” would be a HUGE fubar. Northern jerks would want to turn the monument into a giant apology for slavery with accusatory overtones. Southern jerks would want to gloss over the slavery issue altogether.

        I think bulldozing the past and replacing them with whatever is desired would have a couple effects.

        1) Burying the past. In this case, leaving references to the past is just too polarizing. We have the internet and (in case of EMP burst) we have books. There is no reason to keep preserving the past with monuments that will inevitably turn into another Facebook battleground. Those who are interested will take the time to find out about their past but, for the most part, these monuments are mostly there because they’ve always been there.

        2) What are you going to sacrifice? It’s easy for Northern jerks to say “Ha ha. We’ll force you to take down your monuments and you get nothing in return. SOCIAL JUSTICE!!!” It becomes a much different discussion when the course is “Wait, we have to remove our monuments too?”

        3) The future. If we are going to remove the monuments, putting a different monument up just keeps the people mired in the past. Maybe it will be a more “sensitive” look at the past but it still keeps them mired in the past. Removing the monuments altogether puts an expiration date on how long they will remain mired in the past. Within a decade, very few will care that there was once a statue where “the best barbecue joint in the city” now is.

        Also, it removes future conflict. Any compromise monument will inevitably be seen as divisive by future generations and we’ll go through the same crap ad infinitum. Bulldozing and rebuilding solves the problem now and in the future.

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    • Hey, BSDI!

      One side commits treason to protect slavery. The other side makes the largest sacrifice in the history of the world to free a minority race. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen so we don’t unilaterally stop honoring the former!

      The civil war wasn’t a shameful moment in the country’s history, just in the confederacy’s.

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      • Case in point. The Civil War was never about freeing the slaves. Lincoln, while an abolitionist, did not have that as his priority. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves in the border states.

        But people act like all this happened and there was no course we could take but war. Why? Because the common Northernern soldier was, at the time, far less interested in forcing people to remain part of a union than being convinced that they were on this great and noble crusade. It is a common trait to convince people that they’re marching into the meat grinder for noble reasons and the winners always write the history books. If the U.S.S.R. had been able to quash it’s secessionist states, there is no doubt that their conflict would be written up as having been for noble purposes instead of the less inspirational creed of “You’ll leave over YOUR dead bodies”.

        Further, this illustrates how people react when “their side” is attacked. It is the common reaction to say “Let’s tear up their monuments but don’t you DARE tear up ours.” as opposed to the more inclusive “Yeah, there weren’t really any heroes here.” People discuss the South refusing to remove their monuments as if that’s a unique thing to hicks and racists (always have to include the villification of the other side) when it is a universal trait to irrationally protect the dusty crap that nobody really cares about except when someone proposes taking it away.

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          • Same issue as I already mentioned.

            You may remember what happened to the diversity firefighter memorial that was supposed to be put up at the site of 9/11 and how well that went over? Same thing. You put something like that up and people in the Northern States will start whining and crying about “Hey, my ancestor was white and he fought in the war so there needs to be a statue and I’m going to go on Reddit where people will assure me that a grave injustice has been done to my special snowflake self where….”

            Hum. That kinda got away from me, didn’t it? Point is that will go over like a brick made out of depleted uranium.

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            • Pyre. It seems like giving the noble good guys monuments should be less of problem. But if it isn’t then i’m not seeing where any of it leads. History is important to people and it is part of being human to understand our past. People will do that no matter what monuments we have. Nothing will please everybody, the modern US and the internet conclusively prove that. Our public displays provide many functions one of which is to show what we are. Ditching every monument seems to lower the Noble fighters to the level of Slavers. I don’t’ think that is much of a good message. Does that make decedents of slavers unhappy. Well i know they want to ignore the nasty parts of their/our history, since that is what they have done.

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              • If history is important, then there are plenty of sources to learn history from which are a lot more reliable than having a stone sculpture that was designed as an ego boost to people who have long since turned to dust.

                The fact that you’re phrasing it in hero-villain terms doesn’t build a strong case for historical accuracy nor does it really indicate a desire for a more inclusive future.

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                • Pyre. Yeah i used the hero/villain mode but if we are talking the Civil Way then it woudl seem like black union soldiers and abolitionists would be the closest to Hero’s we have. It seems like they would be people we would want to memorlize. What does it say if the noblest people can’t even get a statue because it would make other people sad.

                  Public history will always be contentious. I’m thinking about the many National Park Service monuments and battlefields. Reducing them to just tactics does a disservice to the context of the history that led people to fight. You can make Gettysburg just about hills and cannon and battlefield maneuvers. But that loses the story and the history.

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                    • There is plenty of literature both online and offline that captures the story and the history.

                      You mean, “The Noble History of how the Confederacy Fought a War to Preserve the Institution of Slavery”? How is that story supposed to go?

                      {{Alsotoo: a war to preserve the institution of whites enslaving blacks, it’s worth noting. I mean, if whites and blacks were enslaving each other willy-nilly, that’d be something different, yeah?}}

                      Of course, I get that [edit: some!] Southerners are unwilling to view the war that way. But them’s the facts.

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                    • I’ll make it easier: why is it wrong to apply that narrative to the civil war?

                      (you didn’t explicitly say the labels can never apply to anything, but you’ve failed to make any more specific argument)

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                      • It is not wrong to apply that narrative to the Civil War. However, using it as a statement to determine which monuments you want torn down/preserved is highly suspect as an argument for historical accuracy or inclusive futures.

                        LWA, for all his ignorance and petulance, is straightforward in saying “I could give a crap what the South thinks about their side or any historical facts that would contradict my view of the civil war. Tear it all down and put Sherman statues everywhere.” He is honest in his argument and doesn’t try to portray himself as a neutral judge of accuracy or inclusivity. He doesn’t try to pretend that he has any empathy for anyone’s views but his own. He just goes ahead and says “I’m right. They’re wrong. Fuck ’em”.

                        For me, I’ve been fairly honest in my dealings as well. History is not accurately portrayed through monuments. People who are truly interested in history will not find it in stone bird roosts. They will be motivated to look beyond the symbolism and the whitewashing. Having actually studied the Civil War, while outcomes such as the end of Slavery are good, this was still a “No Heroes” war.

                        The South fought to preserve Slavery. There’s nothing admirable there. The North, much like Russia has attempted with Georgia, fought to force the South to remain in a Union that they no longer wanted to be a part of. There’s nothing admirable there. Both sides led armies that were filled with rapists and looters. Both sides ran P.O.W. camps that are horrifying to read about or see photos of. The Civil War was a shameful and horrible aspect of our country’s history.

                        As such, I do not see the monuments of either side worth preserving. I may have less empathy for the South but I can still see where, if I were placed in their position, I would be resentful of someone saying “Your monuments suck so we’re going to tear them down but ours are awesome so we’re going to keep ours.” If that is the basic argument, then embrace that as the argument. But don’t try to make the argument about historical accuracy or wanting to march forward to a more inclusive future. Just admit “I see your monuments as a testament to slavery and I don’t care what they mean to you or your perceived cultural heritage. They’re gone.” and be done with it.

                        Anyway, as LWA has illustrated, this discussion has hit the point of diminishing returns so I’m out. The argument was both enlightening and interesting.

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        • The Civil War was never about freeing the slaves.

          You’re right. Or at least, partially right. I’m sure some people thought it was about freeing the slaves. What it was primarily about, and all the documents relevant to secession by southern states make clear, was preserving the institution of slavery.

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        • Um, maybe the for the North it wasn’t about freeing the slaves, but based on the declarations of secession from the South, from their pov, is was very clearly about preserving slavery.

          As to the attitudes of Union soldiers, I’m sure they were many and varied from passionate abolitionists to the Irish who came over to find as the old song goes ‘As soon as ye land, they’ll put a gun in yer hand and say ye must go and fight for Lincoln’. However, you underestimate the motivation the south provided by firing the first shots.

          My gr-gr-grandfather fought for the Union (PA 102 infantry) not once but twice. The second time he took cash to fight in place of a rich man’s son, but it was likely extra money for what he might have done anyway. The first time he joined a German regiment out of Pittsburgh and they came together because those @#$# Southern SOB’s attacked a US fort. My other gr-gr-grandfather was too young, but his older brother volunteered. It was not because they were especially sympathetic to the plight of black slaves. They were coal miners from WV, which until they broke away due to southern treason, was part of VA.

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        • The Civil War was never about freeing the slaves.

          The south seceded primarily (perhaps purely) out of fear that Lincoln would do so. That said, it is true that emancipation came late in the war (at minimum, for the pragmatic reason that some non-rebelling states still allowed it and may have seceded at the outset).

          there was no course we could take but war. Why?

          Because the south attacked a US Army fortification. The very definition of an act of war.

          It is the common reaction to say “Let’s tear up their monuments but don’t you DARE tear up ours.” as opposed to the more inclusive “Yeah, there weren’t really any heroes here.”

          I agree the latter seems neutral in exactly the sort of faux-moderate way that triggers most valid BSDI complaints. But there really were heroes in the Civil War, and they fought for the North. Indeed, you don’t make any substantive argument to the contrary. On the one side, you have monuments to people who laid down their lives (and the lives of many others) to protect their right to own slaves, doing so before they were attacked and before that right was attacked. On the other, you have people who fought to stop that from happening. On this point, I’m with Frederick Douglass:

          It was a great thing to achieve American independence when we numbered three millions. But it was a greater thing to save this country from dismemberment and ruin when it numbered thirty millions.

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        • “Further, this illustrates how people react when “their side” is attacked.”

          I find it a bit grim that there are those who believe that the Confederacy is “their” side.

          If you consciously choose to view traitors in defense of slavery as “your side” then I say we should bulldoze every Confederate monument, grind them into gravel, and replace every one with a bust of Sherman.

          Really, seriously, I am so damn tired of being asked to spare the tender feelings of people who openly pledge allegiance to this regime and its 150 year spell of evil.

          Can you all not divorce yourself from this? Why do you cling so tenaciously to it, and weave it into every fiber of Southern existence?

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  7. What do all the recent transplants think about this? There was little migration into the south be it immigration or internal migration until 1970, since 1970 there’s been a lot.

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    • When I was in junior high, the GM Saturn plant opened in Spring Hill, 20 minutes outside of Franklin, which meant a huge influx of people from Ohio and Michigan into the town. I remember hearing people wondering at all the talk of The War, but the kids I went to school with adopted the Southern identity pretty quickly, and by my senior year some of them were among the most vocal defenders of the flag.

      I don’t know if that’s still the case, as more and more people move there from other parts of the country, and I suspect that over the next several decades the white Southern obsession with The War and the Confederacy will gradually wane, even without white Southerners seriously examining the harm it causes, because so many people in the South won’t even think of themselves as properly Southern, at least not in the traditional white Southern sense.

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      • Dammit – it just occurred to me after posting my comment that a lot (though by no means all or even necessarily most) of folks from Ohio and Michigan (maybe Indiana, too?) with ties to the Civil War have probably emigrated to places like Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina over the last 20-30 years. Your comment is further confirmation of that. Still curious about Minnesota, Wisconsin, maybe Iowa, though.

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  8. My hometown was the first to voluntarily desegregate schools district wide. I know this because there is a small plaque on the green space in front of the Town Hall. I stumbled upon it one day. “Huh?” I had no idea. For something as hugely monumental as that… a small plaque most people have probably never even seen.

    And yet the South does this? Sigh…

    More on my town here: http://www.northjersey.com/news/50-years-later-teaneck-recalls-integration-of-its-schools-1.1013640

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    • My town closed its most popular public pool because the state said it had to desegregate. When the schools were forced to integrate, they just updated the black elementary school and made it a general one (I went there for 3rd grade).

      That said, my middle school principal was a graduate of Franklin’s all black schools in the 50s and 60s, and she talked to us about segregation and desegregation in Franklin. That’s how you integrate not only schools and pools and buses and restaurants, but also minds and identities: you listen, you teach, you examine.

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      • One of the women discussed in that piece — Mrs. Lacey — was my middle school science teacher. More importantly, she told us her stories of marching with Dr. King and other work she did before, during, and after the CRM. And she was quite literally with Dr. King: she was there with him the night his house was firebombed and remembers him telling folks they could not respond with violence.

        Her science lessons were what they were, but these stories… they shaped me. So much so that I have brought her back to my school to continue to tell them, helping another generation of young people understand not only what happened, but what they are capable of. I learned so much from Mrs. Lacey. Those are the folks we should build monument and memorials to, who we should find a way to freeze time around so that their work and their message and their efforts remain for posterity.

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          • Indeed. I wanted to bring her back this year but we kept getting snowed out (Snow! It’s a thing up here!). I think I have video of her presentation from last year. I’ll see if I can post it.

            But, yea, I remember one day she showed us a picture and we’re like, “Who are those people with Dr. King?” And she’s like, “That is me and my husband and my kids. He’s holding my daughter.” And we’re like, “What the F?” We didn’t know that was possible for a host of reasons. I’m sure the South has its share of human treasures who are still alive and kicking… folks of all races and genders and creeds and faiths who helped make the South — and the nation — what it is today. Let them celebrate those folks. They are far more worthy than Davis and Lee.

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  9. To be honest, I have little problem with old monuments and statues in and of themselves. To me, flying a flag over the capital building today fees very different than not hiring a demolition crew to destroy something a hundred years old. If a statue was erected to someone in 1890 I think sa ys something very important about that place, what’s in it’s DNA and bones.

    Where I think we fail, instead, is on the other end.

    In the early 1990s here in Portland the city council decided to rename Union Street and have it be Martin Luther King Blvd. At the time, the street was a little notorious thanks to later gentrification not having yet occurred. It essentially went through a lot of what were considered by white locals as Portland’s seedier parts of town. It was kind of the epitome of that classic liberal gesture to minorities: “We’re going to name something after one of you, but we hope you understand we’ll have to do it in the s**tiest way possible, lest you take on airs and believe you’re fully part of our club.”

    The backlash to this was tremendous. And to be clear, streets get renamed periodically Portland all the time. In fact, those that were most incensed by the move didn’t object to the name being changed, they objected to it being named after the person it was being re-named after. There were calls for using the names Washington, Reagan, Truman, and even Bill Schonley, the voice of the NBA Blazers. The outrage over the street being named after MLK lasted for years after the actual change. It sound weird to consider, but even now it’s occasionally brought up on local talk radio stations as being an example of “politically correct” politicians.

    And I bring this up because I think the lesson in all of this is that the lesson to be learned is about *us.*

    Tear down these monuments if you will, and in some cases I think it might well be appropriate. But I don’t know that it yet puts the focus on where it belongs, which is us. As I said, who some group of white men thought 150 years ago we should venerate means far less to me that who we choose to venerate today. It’s why I disagree with Dennis, and think that taking down the flags we raise daily means something important.

    Or to put it another way:

    We would never, ever, ever have a state-sponsored Malcolm X Day or Malcolm X state in town square, or any of the other types of tributes we have for Lee. As long as that’s the case, it doesn’t really matter if the statue of Lee stands or falls. The problem is clearly baked in us, regardless.

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    • Tod,

      Particularly good point in your first paragraph. I had vague inklings of something along those lines myself … and then (wallah!) you articulated it. Seems to me that monuments can be viewed in the same way we view other geographically-based historical artifacts: as signalling that something momentous, or interesting, or noteworthy (whatever) occurred HERE, in THIS PLACE! And that’s fine, I think. Eg., a memorial constructed to commemorate a major battle on some otherwise unknown hillside is what we human types do. I think there’s a difference between that and the type of structures Chris is highlighting in the OP. In one case, the intention is to demarcate or signal a certain space where something important occurred. In the other, the intention is more politically – or even ideologically – oriented, seems to me, and constitutes a reminder, or perhaps even a living symbol, of a set of beliefs which resulted in war when they were challenged. I mean, it strikes me as incoherent to say that a town constructs a monument to Gen. Lee on the premise that it will be viewed as a reminder of just how wrong it is to fight a war to defend slavery. There’s something else going on.

      Something like that anyway.

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    • NYC does have Malcolm X Boulevard. It also has streets named for Frederick Douglass, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (a Congressman from the area), and Dr. King. Rightly or wrongly, these are all in Harlem. I tend to think this is the right way to do it, as it allows the community to recognize its own heroes. Though it does sometimes feel off that Columbus Circle (named for Christopher) gets probably 100x the auto and foot traffic as Dr. King Boulevard. So maybe it ain’t right.

      Spanish Harlem has Tito Puente way. And the UWS has a few blocks quasi-named for Edgar Allen Poe, who once resided in the neighborhood.

      So, yea, I’m not sure the best way to handle it. What does stand out is that many of the Harlem Streets continue into other neighborhoods but are renamed. The avenues on the West Side are numbered up until the hit the park (59th Street), after which they are named. Many are then renamed once you reach the top of the park, which is more or less the start of Harlem (neighborhoods in NYC don’t really have any official status so borders are not hard and fast). Frederick Douglass becomes Central Park West becomes 8th avenue. Malcolm X terminates at the park but on the other side it is 6th Avenue.

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    • Oh I agree, though part of what I’m arguing is that in the South, part of the failure on the other end is contained in the constant presence of the Confederacy. White Southerners have, in a sense, carved out such a separate identity for themselves that a Malcolm X statue or street wouldn’t just seem strange, it would seem like a monument to someone from another world, a world that is not welcoming for them. It is not a coincident, then, that when black people see “Southern culture” they recognize immediately that they are not welcome in it, that it excludes them symbolically in much the same way that country clubs and pools once did physically.

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  10. Here’s what Rand Paul had to say about The Flag. The second paragraph seems particularly on point.

    “I think the flag is inescapably a symbol of human bondage and slavery, and particularly when people use it obviously for murder and to justify hatred so vicious that you would kill somebody, I think that that symbolism needs to end, and I think South Carolina is doing the right thing.”

    “There have been people who have used it for southern pride and heritage and all of that, but really to I think to every African American in the country, it’s a symbolism of slavery to them, and now it’s a symbol of murder for this young man, and so I think it’s time to put it in a museum,” he said.

    Not too shabby, Rand.

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  11. Chris – out of curiosity, do you have any particular insight on how the Civil War is treated publicly in the eastern part of Tennessee? IIRC, some of the more prominent families in, say, Chattanooga are fairly proud of their ancestors’ pro-Union positions during the war (how I came to this vague, yet oddly specific, knowledge is an altogether different story).

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    • Not particularly. As you probably know, Tennessee was the last state to secede (and first state to rejoin the Union), and it took a couple votes for it to do so, in large part because the East Tennessee didn’t want to secede (not necessarily because they opposed slavery, but like the mountain people in Virginia and Kentucky, they didn’t want wealthy lowland landowners dictating their fate), and the much of the mountain areas remained relatively unsympathetic to the Confederacy throughout the war. However, Appalachian culture after the war, perhaps beginning in the 20th century in fact, came to identify very much with Old Southernness, and my impression was always that the people in that part of both Tennessee and Kentucky (and, it seems, even West Virginia) were as flag-wavy as people from the areas once filled with Secessionists, and perhaps still are.

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      • To add to the point Andrew Johnson was from eastern Tn, in particular Greenville. Lincoln named him as his vice presidental running mate as a symbol of national unity. Interestingly north Alabama was also somewhat opposed to the confederacy, as were parts of Tx. (See monument in Comfort)

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  12. I agree mildly with the sentiment and general thrust of your post but I recoil at the idea of affirmatively tearing down monuments and memorials. Ditching that wretched flag seems like a no brainer but taking a hammer to the South’s monuments feels deeply problematic to me.

    Also on a pragmatic note, the south being the south, if you did institute a program of tearing down the public monuments then surely you can imagine what hair raising monuments southerners would erect in retaliation on private land where you couldn’t reach them.

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  13. For the record, I do agree with people saying things like the federal government should not send the army into the south to remove monuments. I also (obviously) believe that public support for the confederacy (whether as a monument, a flag, the name of a school, or whatever) is in terrible taste and reflects terribly on those who engage in it, while also telling all non-whites that they aren’t really equal.

    So for me, it’s a happy day when not only is Haley calling for the flag to come down but the Mississippi House Speaker is on board for their state flag. And private companies are joining in. Walmart. Amazon. Valley Forge Flag.

    Pretty good day, all in all.

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  14. A question to try to grasp the scale of this – do you have any sense of how many total monuments there are around these cities? In other words, beyond having monuments to confederate figures, is there a sense of what proportion of the public monuments in a city like Charleston commemorate the Civil War versus, well, anything else deemed worth a public monument?

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    • You know, I don’t know the numbers, but I bet there is a registry somewhere (Wikipedia has only a tiny fraction of the ones I know about). I will say this, at least in the War South (the states I mentioned in the post), while there might be a monument to a famous resident or some such, just about everything you see is to the war, and almost all of that (except perhaps some battlefield monuments) is Confederate. And they can be really big, as in Stone Mountain, GA, or really small, as in an historical marker. Add to that the flags and the books and so on, and you have a whole cultural infusion.

      I bet there is a registry of such things somewhere, though. Perhaps one of the resident historians would know where to look.

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