Let’s all tear down some stat­ues we hate

The Review - - Opinion - Jim Smart Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­phia.com.

The re­cent tu­mult and shout­ing about stat­ues of Robert E. Lee and other Con­fed­er­ate icons all em­pha­sized slav­ery and re­bel­lion but missed one as­pect of the Civil War that was im­por­tant then: in­di­vid­u­al­ity of the states. The war twisted the con­cept of states’ rights into mean­ing only the right to own peo­ple, but there was more to it.

The men who wrote the Con­sti­tu­tion saw them­selves as cre­at­ing a cen­tral gov­ern­ment to unite a sep­a­rate group of states and com­mon­wealths in ways that be­ing united was ben­e­fi­cial, but some wor­ried about giv­ing up too much lo­cal au­ton­omy to the uni­fied gov­ern­ment.

It wasn’t easy. A bunch of Euro­pean coun­tries just tried to do it; you’ve read about the Brexit mess, right?

In­ter­ests tended to vary in, say, Mas­sachusetts or Penn­syl­va­nia or Vir­ginia. Cit­i­zens in the South­ern states were particularly wor­ried about re­tain­ing slav­ery, even though it was one of their slave-own­ing boys who had no­ti­fied King Ge­orge that it was self-ev­i­dent that all men were cre­ated equal.

That’s why the Con­sti­tu­tion, rat­i­fied in 1788, was stuck with the pro­vi­sion that “The Mi­gra­tion or Im­por­ta­tion of such Per­sons as any of the States now ex­ist­ing shall think proper to ad­mit, shall not be pro­hib­ited by the Congress prior to the Year one thou­sand eight hun­dred and eight.”

It’s also why the 10th amend­ment, tacked on in 1791, says, “The pow­ers not del­e­gated to the United States by the Con­sti­tu­tion, nor pro­hib­ited by it to the States, are re­served to the States re­spec­tively, or to the peo­ple.”

When peo­ple in those days said states, they were think­ing of them like in­de­pen­dent coun­tries. That’s hard to grasp these days. Cit­i­zens felt loy­alty to the area they lived in. Texas and Cal­i­for­nia had even been in­de­pen­dent re­publics at one time.

In those days, they said “The United States are …” Now we say, “The United States is …”

Robert E. Lee was 1 year old when the Con­sti­tu­tion stopped the im­por­ta­tion of “such per- sons” as the law­mak­ers del­i­cately called slaves. The slave own­ers couldn’t im­port them after 1808; they had to breed them.

Lee was a Vir­ginia aris­to­crat, con­nected to old fam­i­lies. Two of his an­ces­tors signed the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence. His fa­ther, “Light Horse Harry” Lee, was a hero of the Revo­lu­tion­ary War.

He at­tended West Point and es­tab­lished his mil­i­tary rep­u­ta­tion on the bat­tle­fields of the war with Mexico. He was su­per­in­ten­dent of West Point from 1851 to 1855.

When the trig­ger-happy South Carolini­ans fired on a fed­eral fort in their har­bor and touched off the Civil War, the Lin­coln ad­min­is­tra­tion asked Lee to com­mand the fed­eral forces. He said no be­cause he would not fight against his fel­low Vir­gini­ans. It was the Army of North­ern Vir­ginia that he com­manded.

If Lee had ac­cepted com­mand of the fed­eral army, it might be some other south­ern gen­eral whose stat­ues are be­ing at­tacked. Stonewall Jack­son, maybe? And Grant’s tomb wouldn’t be nearly as big.

But the haters — there are so many of them — would still be busy, north and south, white and black, Demo­crat and Repub­li­can, male and fe­male, straight and gay, young and old, poor and rich, and, oh, don’t for­get to hate ev­ery re­li­gion but your own, if not all of them.

But don’t worry. Trash­ing stat­ues will solve it all.

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