The tragedy in Charlottesville and ensuing cacophony has inspired me to offer my perspective of the history involved.
The monuments in question, hundreds, even thousands of them, were erected by proponents of The Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War, a series of myths that sought to rationalize Southern suffering. The purpose of the monuments was to say, “We lost the war, but we will win the peace.” These edifices and their inscriptions were the work of local groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederacy in the first decades of the 20th Century, people who did not personally experience the war. The monuments honored Confederate leaders and the common soldiers, but they stuck a thumb in the eye of the Union and the United States (there are at least as many monuments to Union leaders and soldiers).
The important thing about each of these monuments is that they were the work of local groups often with local political approval—a statue in a city park. Other monuments went up on private property. These were local decisions to put up the monuments and we see today local decisions to remove them.
The Lost Cause also dominated local and state textbook committees with myths like, the war started over states rights, secession was about unfair tariffs, the defeat was Jefferson Davis’s fault (he was later rehabilitated), Robert E. Lee was a flawless leader, slavery was good for the slaves. They called the Civil War, The War of Northern Aggression. Southern children were imprinted with these faulty messages for more than a century. Even academics repeated many of these myths. In the 1960s, scholars started showing that the Secessionists sought to protect slavery and fired the first shots.
No matter what a Confederate soldier’s personal motivations, he served a government that was protecting and even expanding slavery. A soldier drafted at gunpoint still served to support slavery.
Absent from any of the decisions to build monuments or draft textbooks were those most impacted by the Civil War, slaves. Their descendants serve today as local officials who exercise the same authority that the Confederate sympathizers had a hundred years ago.
These are local issues and the white supremacists who invaded Charlottesville are guilty of the same aggression they (erroneously) accuse Abraham Lincoln of.
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