New Orleans has begun a trend which ought to disturb anyone with a regard for history, whether admirable or not. This city has begun to remove monuments to Confederate figures and to Civil War events.
So far, four monuments have been removed by order of the Mayor and the City Council. They include statues of P.G.T. Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. The fourth was a monument to an insurrection that took place during Reconstruction.
New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu stated that these removals were meant to distance New Orleans from racism in its history:
This is not a naive question to solve all our problems at once. This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most important, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.
He has further stated that, “The time surely comes when (justice) must and will be heard… The Confederacy, you see, was on the wrong side of history and humanity.” The Washington Post records Landrieu as saying, of Confederate leaders, “They may have been warriors, but in this case they were not patriots.”
Mayor Landrieu could not be more wrong.
How The Left Treats History
Southern history is a story of great mixture. Washington, Jefferson, and Lee sit beside slavery, while the Southern Agrarians lived through Jim Crow. It reaches from the awfulness of human chattel to the stature of leaders like Washington and Lee.
However, Landrieu’s sneering contempt for the past is normal for the Left. The arc of history bends toward justice, as Barack Obama has said and Martin Luther King said before him. Therefore, in the eyes of progressives, it’s best to be on the right side of things. People should join those who stand for “justice,” whatever it may be, and leave the rest behind.
This ongoing attempt to scrub the greatness from Southern history is part and parcel of the Left’s cultural imperialism.
Attempts to scrub our geography of monuments to past puts us in mind of the actions taken by ISIS in the Near East. ISIS has tried to destroy the material remains of the past, because that past was not Islamic, but pagan. For both the Left and Islam, the past must be destroyed and made to suit the present.
How very Orwellian.
Secession and Modern Sensibilities
Some of my colleagues at TCC have written support of the monuments’ removal, on the grounds that the South committed treason. This echoes Mayor Landrieu’s statement I quoted previously that Confederate leaders were warriors, but not patriots.
On this point, I must disagree. Southern secession, and the war which it started, is not as simple as we think it is.
Secession, as a principle, is a natural right. In 1839, John Quincy Adams looked towards the possibility of the States being “alienated from each other.” He argued:
Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a perfect Union by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gr aviation to the center.
We cannot be compelled to remain part of a political union against our wills without violation of our rights. As Clyde Wilson has argued, secession is the “last, best bulwark of our liberties.”
This is not to say that Southern secession was moral or right. The southern states seceded over fears that Lincoln would stop the spread of slavery in the territories. Further, their secession was myopically stupidly. They tried to fight a Union they could never hope to defeat.
The secession of 1861 was foolish, stupid, morally questionable, and more. But it was not treasonous.
Respecting–Not Rewriting–The Past
Contrary to New Orleans’ mayor, the South was not on the “wrong side of history,” because history isn’t a morality play. It is the living of countless human lives.
We the living have no right to destroy what past generations have bequeathed to us on no better grounds that it offends our moral sensibilities. Past generations of men and women honored their heroes in the South. Who are we to remove that?
Whatever else we may say of the Confederacies leaders, they were patriots, and many of them were men of honor. To erase their memory is to dishonor them and the history of our republic.