Let’s all tear down some statues we hate
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.