The hysteria over all things Confederate has reached new lows… literally:
The Memphis City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to move the remains of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife from Health Sciences Park.
They have been buried in a park on Union Avenue for 110 years.
Council members are also moving ahead with plans to remove the statue of Forrest, even looking at selling the statue to anyone who wants it.
It was bad enough when Apple bowed to the flood of emotion by banning Civil War-era games and apps that included the Confederate Battleflag (and we wonder why people don’t know their history?). But it should give people great pause that the current edition of the Two Minutes Hate is now resulting in the exhumation of century-old graves! That would be a rational response, though, and this is an emotion-driven crusade of cultural cleansing more appropriate to a Soviet society than it is to ours. In the interest of adding some context to it all, let’s do a little more digging, shall we? Because as long as we’re opening this can of worms, we may as well look in depth. If the point of this mob exercise is to remove all traces of symbols tainted by racism, how about we look at one of the biggest symbols of the era: ol’ Honest Abe himself?
“Free them [black slaves] and make them politically and socially our equal? My own feelings will not admit of this . . . . We can not then make them equals.” (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 2, page 256). “There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races.” (CW, 2, 405). “What I would most desire would be the separation of the white and black races.” (CW, 2, 521). “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races . . . . I, as well as Judge [Stephen] Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong, having the superior position.” (CW, 2, 16).
“I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races . . . . I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.” (CW, 3, 145-146). “I will to the very last stand by the law of this state [i.e., Illinois], which forbids the marrying of white people with Negroes.” (CW, 3, 146). “Senator Douglas remarked . . . that . . . this government was made for the white people and not for Negroes. Why, in point of fact, I think so too.” (CW, 2, 281).
If today’s battle cry is to tear down (or dig up) anything (or anyone) who is tainted by association with racism, then let’s take this to its logical conclusion and tear down the Lincoln Memorial! (I know, one shouldn’t give idiots any further ideas, but I keep hoping hyperbole will lead to reason rather than excess. And hey, if the suggestion were taken at least Southerners could feel they were being more equitably treated.) In fact, let’s abolish the U.S. flag while we’re in the heat of passion and throwing things down the Memory Hole. The Confederate banner flew over a slave nation for less than five years. Old Glory flew over a slaveholding nation for EIGHTY-NINE! (1776 until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865). Even the highly celebrated Emancipation Proclamation should be judged and found wanting — after all, it only freed slaves in areas “still in rebellion against the Federal Government.” In other words, only where Uncle Sam and Honest Abe couldn’t enforce it! Slaves living in Unionist Kentucky, Delaware, Missouri — they remained in bondage throughout the war. So tell me again how the war was all about abolition?
The South seceded in large part over fear the Federal government would restrict slavery in the territories and thus reduce its power within the Union. That is undeniable, and yes, the Confederate cause will ever be soiled by its defense of slavery as an institution. Lest we forget, though, racism was hardly confined to south of the Mason-Dixon line. Conversely, the North fought for Union, with slavery a subsidiary consideration. The North did NOT march off in 1861 under abolitionist war aims. This is in the vein of that period of history, where federalism and small states were giving way to larger, centralized states in places like Germany and Italy. The war was every bit as much about power and who would wield it at what level as it was about slavery itself.
So as long as we’re rethinking this period of history and rejecting notions that offend modern sensibilities, why not look at how the war resulted in a consolidated Federal Union with no checks on its power to interfere with individual citizens — the exact realization of many of the fears of the anti-Federalists? As sick as many people are today with how Washington gets in our business, usually with negative results, isn’t it time to rethink THAT legacy of the 1860s as well?
Be wary about all this public excitement over old symbolism — when you start digging up the past, you never know where it could lead. Old emotions, long dormant, are being stirred in many quarters. Do we really want–or even need–to go here?
Or at this stage of our history can we be mature enough to simply let sleeping Confederates lie?