In recent years, the movement to remove Confederate statues from town squares and state flags and renaming military installations has sparked a backlash from the “heritage is not hate” crowd. Not exclusive to the South, those who oppose the removal of statues and renaming places honoring Confederate officers is erasing history or they say that the Civil War wasn’t fought over the issue of slavery. Such claims are silly, but here we are.
In July 2020, the House considered legislation, H.R. 7573, to replace the bust of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, with one of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black American to serve on the High Court, and remove certain statues, including those of Confederate officers, on display in the Capitol. Other than the statues specifically identified in the text of the legislation, this would include the statues of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Hamilton Stephens placed in the National Statuary Hall Collection by the states of Mississippi and Georgia. Every House Democrat who was present voted for H.R. 7573. Only 72 Republicans did, as well as then-Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI).
Similar legislation has been introduced in the 117th Congress by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), S. 366 and H.R. 1248, although the latter may not be identical. (The text isn’t yet available on Congress.gov.) Although these specific bills may or may not be the necessary remedy, the statues of Confederates should be removed.
Many Republicans aren’t willing to listen to reason about the topic. They’ll say that the removal of the statues gives a win to the political left, including Black Lives Matter, in the culture wars or that it won’t end with the removal of Confederate statues. The former is really an excuse more than anything else. The latter is a fair point, but it’s still not a reason to oppose the removal of the statues of Confederates on display in the Capitol. Others may say that states can remove the statues they’ve sent to the National Statuary Hall Collection. This is true, but Georgia is the only state that seems to be considering this, and that resolution stalled in the state House last month, although it could be taken up next year. Congress has a responsibility to step in.
Of course, there’s a host of people who don’t want to recognize the origins of the Civil War and the reasons for secession by what became the Confederate states. They’ll claim that a fraction of households in the South didn’t own slaves. The research suggests that 31 percent of households in the South owned slaves. The “lost cause” narrative has allowed many to romanticize the Confederacy as some sort of bastion of liberty. Considering the express protections of slavery in Article I and Article IV of the Confederate Constitution, this characterization is simply false.
Stephens, who became the vice president of the Confederacy and whose statue is on display in the Capitol, gave a speech in March 1861, in which he said, “[N]ot to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other…the new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions-African slavery as it exists among us–the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution…Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”
Read the secession resolutions. Georgia’s secession resolution, for example, didn’t leave any doubts. The secession document states, “The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.
South Carolina’s secession resolution makes more than a dozen references to slavery and fugitive slavery seeking freedom as its reasons for attempting to leave the Union. Mississippi’s resolution does the same, as does Alabama’s. The trend is pretty damn easy to see. Unless you’re blinded by historical revisionism or only want to oppose a bill Democrats support. Don’t get me wrong. Democrats often push bad policies, particularly when it comes to economic policy. However, this isn’t one of the times Democrats are wrong. “Owning the libs” can make one look childish at times. This is one of those instances.