In Alexis de Tocqueville’s masterful critique of life in 19th century America, Democracy in America, his attention was drawn to many facets of American culture at the time, commenting on the manners and temperament of the people who were living the most radical socio-political experiment at the time that defined the new American republic.
The young French nobleman arrived in America in 1831, fully aware of the excesses and brutality of the Jacobin and “third estate” mobs in Paris who guillotined King Louis XVI in 1793 and executed thousands of enemies of the state during the reign of terror in Paris. A prostitute was placed on the high altar of the Notre Dame cathedral and the revolutionaries’ slogan, liberté, égalité, fraternité, reverberated throughout the French Republic. The revolutionaries decapitated 28 stone kings of Judah outside the cathedral. This was France’s age of enlightenment? Liberty, equality, fraternity? Bloody executions of clergy and aristocrats, constant political strife, and mob rule dominating the once Christian nation? Many of the executioners suffered the same fate of their victims. So much for the manners and temperament of a civilized nation. The French forgot a maxim which de Tocqueville reminds his readers when he wrote “liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
George Washington, father of the new American Republic, was enraged when a New York mob destroyed the statue of King George III in the city’s Bowling Green Park. Fr. George Rutler, well known author, who recently wrote a thoughtful commentary about the “latest hysteria … the toppling of statues by immoderate and ignorant people” commented:
“After the Civil War…[w]hen a freed black slave stunned the congregation in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond by kneeling at the communion rail, General Lee caused more of a stir when he knelt beside him. Descriptions vary, but there seems solid substance to the story and its image in words is better than any in bronze. Lee did not even want a statue of himself at his Washington College where he spent his last years promoting the liberal arts and classical virtues.”
In his popular, bestselling A History of the American People, historian Paul Johnson, writes that General Lee, was asked by President Lincoln to be his commander-in-chief of the Union Forces. Why did the General decline? Because he was first and foremost a Virginian patriot, his family’s roots ran deep in the Virginian soil and so when Virginia seceded, he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army where his career spanned thirty-four years. He led an exemplary life before, during, and after the Civil War.
Yes, history has judged that though he was an outstanding leader of his time, Lee chose the wrong side in the war. But what of President Lincoln? Like other mid-nineteenth century Americans, he was unsure about the place in society of four million slaves on the continent, most of them living in the confederate states. Today’s debates about the reasons and purposes of the Civil War will never end. The agrarian-based economy of the South heavily dependent on slave labor versus the industrialized North had much to do with the political impasse. While slavery was then and now an abomination, even the great emancipator was reluctant, a sentiment shared by many northerners and southerners at the time, unsure how whites and blacks could easily live together. Lincoln said bluntly that “it was impossible just to free the slaves and make them ‘politically and socially our equals”. He consulted with African American leaders and seriously thought about the notion of blacks emigrating to Africa or elsewhere. He was receptive to the idea.
Heather Heyer’s death in Charlottesville was tragic, a senseless act of violence. We grieve as a Christian nation with Heather’s family and for the 19 injured souls mowed down at the Charlottesville rally. Law enforcement could have done much more to keep the peace. The organizing of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and KKK members for a public protest against the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Virginia was a mistake and so was the counter-organizing of anti-fascists, anarchists, and leftist groups like the World Workers Party, a Marxist-Leninist organization spoiling for a fight. Charlottesville was ground zero for a major disaster and it happened. Local authorities should have called it off. Charlottesville is a lesson for all of us that civil co-existence and harmony is elusive in a secular, deeply divided democracy and will continue to plague our modern western societies in America and Europe. The trends are very troubling. Terrorism from without is compounded by domestic anarchy from within. Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” The founding father responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Can we keep it?
While monuments memorializing historical figures representing the Confederacy during the American Civil War are the targets of extremist organizations intent on expunging from the historical record all personages who represent the losing side of the terrible conflict between the states – that sad, dark period in America’s history – which is part of our country’s legacy, there are other acts of senseless vandalism and attacks on public statues and cenotaphs, OUR monuments, public property that belongs to all of us.
What about the graffiti of red paint sprayed at the Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C. with the vulgar words, “F*** Law”, the statue of St. Junipero Serra in a Los Angeles park defaced with red paint, or the golden statue of the French martyr, St. Joan of Arc, which stands in the French Quarter in New Orleans, recently sprayed with the words “Tear it Down”. Christopher Columbus’ 225 year old statue at a Baltimore, Maryland park was smashed just a few days ago. Now New York City and other cities are considering removing their statue of Columbus, the discoverer of America, who’s now considered by some hysterical know nothings as a “genocidal monster”?
Other recent deranged acts of violence against public monuments – An Atlanta mob damaged a “Peace Monument” erected in 1911, depicting a Confederate soldier laying down his arms. The memorial symbolizing the restored unity between the North and South after the Civil War. A bust of Abraham Lincoln was burned and hacked in Chicago. The New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized last week (second time), a rock thrown at the glass panels. General Robert E. Lee’s statue above the entryway of the chapel at Duke University was vandalized. His faced smashed.
An opinion poll conducted this month by Reuters/Ipsos found that 56% of adults surveyed believe that Confederate monuments in public places should be preserved. Only 25% commented that they should be removed while 19% don’t know. The statue of General Lee on the University of Texas mall in Austin was recently removed. The San Antonio City Council is deliberating what to do with the 40 ft. high monument in Travis Park that was commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy of San Antonio and erected in 1900. It depicts a confederate soldier with a rifle. Councilmen Robert Trevino and Cruz Shaw have proposed removing the statue. What do you think?
I believe all our monuments should be preserved as historical artifacts. They should be protected by civil and law enforcement authorities and their attackers prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Where will this stop? Our libraries scoured, biographies and history books of the Civil War period burned or trashed, photos of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee torn out or defaced? This happened once in a cultured and sophisticated society when Kristallnacht was followed by book burnings and the destruction of Jewish synagogues and centers. While our Jewish brothers may feel that there is no comparison and I certainly don’t mean to offend, we don’t diminish in any way the unimaginable suffering their race endured, but think about the raw human emotions, rage, and irrational passions we are witnessing at this time with the growing incidents of vandalism and destruction of public monuments around our nation. Do they not come from the same source? HATE! Yes, hate.
But who are the hate groups as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legitimate watchdog according to the mainstream media? Pro-life groups, the Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association, American College of Pediatricians’ Liberty Counsel, faith-based pro-life and pro-family organizations billed by the SPLC group as “extremist” groups, hate groups. How about the real hate groups along with the KKK – anti-fascists, anarchists, Marxist-Leninist agitators?