By Brett Linley
Late last year, the debate over Confederate statues resurfaced with a gusto. Whatever your thoughts may be, one thing is certain; many did not take kindly to President Trump’s remarks on the subject. However, there is one part of his comments in particular that’s worth noting. While it received a fair amount of ridicule, it seems now that it’s coming to life.
They were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
At the time, this slippery slope argument was easily dismissed. To most reasonable people, a clear difference exists between Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a founding father of the United States. Robert E. Lee fought for the Confederacy, which seceded to continue slave ownership. While Jefferson helped create this country, even with its initial flaws, Lee actively fought against the United States itself. Doesn’t seem like there’s much of a comparison to make between the two.
However, in an eerie fashion, it appears that Trump’s prediction may be coming to life. At Hofstra University, my Alma mater, a student is circulating a petition to remove a statue of Jefferson from the campus. The poster of the petition lists many reasons why she thinks the statue must go, among them the following:
Jefferson owned nearly 600 slaves in his lifetime, proudly embraced eugenics and raped countless enslaved black women and children and forced them to deliver his biological children.
So, as it turns out, enough is never really enough.
Recognize the Differences
A reasonable person can suggest taking down monuments to slavery. In all reality, though, there are points in history where otherwise decent men did own slaves. Slavery should always be remembered as a repugnant and despicable practice, but it must be acknowledged that there are varying degrees of awful.
Thomas Jefferson was one of many who helped lay the foundation for a country rooted in liberty. The Confederates wanted to separate from that country to maintain ownership over other human beings. Jefferson was an imperfect man in an imperfect time. This doesn’t excuse the wrongdoings he committed, but it gives them context.
Jefferson’s contributions to the founding of this country were irreplaceable, and it would be irresponsible to whitewash our history in this fashion. If nothing else, Jefferson proves that even that greatest among us can carry despicable flaws. Men of power will always be far from perfect, and should be taken as the sum of their parts.
With all of this said, we must again consider Trump’s words. While not overflowing with support, the petition already does have roughly 600 signatures as of this writing. If Jefferson can be attacked, is it beyond reason that George Washington could be next? It no longer feels like pure speculation to believe that activists will soon target more and more influential and important parts of our history.
This isn’t to vindicate defenders of the Confederacy. Far from it. It is just worth noting that we must stay cognoscente of the fact that, if we’re not careful, we could end up losing a lot more than we think.