Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced his intent to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Monument Street near downtown Richmond. Plans were rolling forward to either destroy or move the statue elsewhere until a Virginia judged placed a 10-day injunction on those plans. Despite the injunction, the Governor remains steadfast. This is a bad idea.
Debates around statues and monuments featuring controversial figures of the past tend to center around feelings, not facts. The Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond evokes feelings of intolerance and racism from a select, vocal few. They see the statue as a symbol of oppression, intended to intimidate “people of color.” But these types of feelings do not make any logical sense once facts enter the equation.
Who Was Robert E. Lee?
Robert E. Lee was born and raised in Virginia. Lee had a spotless reputation when the war started, having already served 32 years in the military for the Union. He was originally asked to be the Union’s general, but he refused. And the reason why Lee refused is simple. He did not want to fight against his home state of Virginia. During the Civil War era, states were much more important than the idea of federalism. So, Robert E. Lee chose to fight for the Confederacy.
People without a strong grasp of history may label Lee’s decision to fight against the Union as a bad one. But the question is why?
The Confederacy is typically characterized as a place full of racist slave owners that wanted to keep and expand slavery. And nothing else. Some of that is true, but what of the Union? The North (Union) and South (Confederacy) both had slaves throughout the entire civil war. As a matter of fact, the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the Union. It only applied to “states in rebellion” which was the Confederacy. The last slaves in the present-day United States of America were freed after the war, in Kentucky, in December of 1865. Kentucky was a Union state.
To remove or hide the statue of Robert E. Lee, or any other general Union on Confederate, is to remove or hide history. In the case of Virginia, the current “woke” tone around the statues may distract people from remembering that Virginia was in fact, the capital of the Confederacy. People might forget that Robert E. Lee was from Virginia. Most people don’t even know that the Confederate Flag originated in Northern Virginia as a Battle Flag in 1861.
Neither the North nor the South have a claim to righteousness during the war. The conscripted men who died on the battlefield serving their country may. Not anyone else. And the reality is that the war did wind up freeing the slaves.
Hidden History Distorts The Present
Another piece of obfuscated history is how the Republican party started. They began in 1854 as an anti-slavery party. Their very first President, Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves. Of course, the credit does not totally go to Lincoln, but he deserves the bulk of it.
Virginia’s Governor and other politicians are either spineless or liars or both. Spineless because they are caving to the Black Lies Matter on the issue of the statue. Liars because they know the true history of the great state of Virginia, and how much progress has been made since the end of slavery, but they’d rather hide history to prevent that information from existing in the zeitgeist.
Either way, removing the statue is a bad idea.