“History is based on facts. You may like or dislike facts, but nobody gets to choose their own. (Moynihan, D.P.) The fact is, people erected these statues at one point in our history. People can, and often do, draw their own conclusions from the fact that these statues exist. But we can’t stop teaching history because somebody thinks one chapter isn’t legit. We can’t stop teaching the history of slavery, genocide across the globe, war and rumors of war, or much of what’s in the history books. If we did, there’d be little to teach in history classes. Mankind is a fallen creature.”
— Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial, Thursday
Who’s going to be left once all the statues of all who had flaws have been taken down? In the United Kingdom, no fooling, they are trying to take down statues of Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. In Columbus, Ohio, the mayor has announced plans to take down Columbus, the man. Some crazies in San Francisco tore down a statue of U.S. Grant, former president and Union general. In the last few days, a mob tore down a statue of Francis Scott Key.
We the Rest of the People were assured that this would never happen once the Confederates came down. Just take down Lee from Lee Circle in New Orleans, and the slope would even out right there. Or maybe a statue of a rebel soldier here and there. And George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but we’ll stop right there. Promise.
Except last week the mob damaged a statue in Boston that honored African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. And Teddy Roosevelt is being removed from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Now the governor of South Dakota promises to protect Mount Rushmore from anybody planning to cancel those faces. Part of us thinks that’s a bit of hyperbole on the part of the governor, who may be overstating any threats, because, after all, what politician doesn’t want the publicity?
But come now: If you heard somebody on CNN say that Mount Rushmore must come down, would you be the least bit surprised? If so, you haven’t been paying attention.
Fine, Mr. Pointy Headed Editorial Writer, but what about somebody in the past whom you’ve criticized often enough in this column over the decades? What about that statue?
D ispatches from our Union’s
capital say protesters attempted to pull down a statue of Andrew Jackson near the White House on Monday night. Police got involved and dispersed the mob.
The Jackson statue sits in Lafayette Square. Videos taken from the scene show people climbing on top of the statue, tying ropes around it, and trying to pull it down. They might prove successful one night soon enough.
Oh, Lord, Andrew Jackson. (Sigh.) It’s as hard to defend a statue of him as, say, Braxton Bragg. Of all the unlikable presidents — there are so many to choose from! — Old Hickory has to be in the mix. That old Indian killer and national bank killer and, in all fairness, Redcoats killer was indeed an effective president. The Trail of Tears was effective at leaving bodies all along the highway. Andrew Jackson was so effective, and popular at the time, that he could hand-pick the next few presidents who came after him, which is why they’re called the Jacksonian presidents.
He signed the Indian Removal Act. But his face is on the Twenty. His policies directly caused the Panic of 1837. But he won the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. One historian described him as a patriot and a traitor: “A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey his superior. A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint.”
Now here was a man who divided the nation. And still does today.
What to do with his statues?
Our considered editorial opinion, which is more considered on this topic than most: Let them stand.
There may be a few more fascinating figures in American presidential history than Andrew Jackson, but only a few. There are those of us who stand on the decidedly anti-Jackson side of the line, but there are many a historian who stand on the other. And have their reasons. We could debate this stuff for hours.
Which is the point. Americans who want to understand their shared history cannot just cancel Andrew Jackson. He was too important a figure. Even the debate about whether this man should have a statue — in Tennessee only? in the District of Columbia? in Jackson County, U.S.A.? — moves us to discuss Important Matters. Such as slavery, Indian removal, a national bank, tariffs, presidential comportment, the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court, and corrupt bargains in American presidential politics.
How can we tiptoe quietly by, especially when it comes to Andrew Jackson? Or any number of people memorialized in these statues?
Even the act of putting up statues, and the people who erect them, can be debated, dissected and wrangled. Only let’s not go so far as to demand pistols. Too Jacksonesque.
As for this continued mob-borne decision to tear down statues, whitewash American history, cancel men from hundreds of years ago who sat in the highest offices of the land, and stifle debate in this rambunctious democracy, unending discussion and general wrasslin’ match called the United States, we have two words:
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