Waking this morning to the news of Washington’s statue pulled down in Portland, Oregon riled me to no end. I’ve struggled with how to address this trend, and the increasingly noisy calls for the removal of statues and monuments honoring both Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
I’ve written extensively about this, before, including the many quotes of these two men who wished for, and fought for the abolition of slavery. Both hoping it could be accomplished in their lifetimes, but who also understood the complexities of what so drastic an upheaval to an institution — that existed in humanity for thousands of years — would mean to both freed slaves, and for the nation itself. Nevertheless, they managed to put into motion the very real legal mechanisms that would ultimately allow America to throw off the evil which Jefferson so eloquently described in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. Addressing King George, directly, Jefferson penned:
“he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”
Both men had complex histories, struggles, and seeming hypocrisies in their own relationships to slavery. Much of their struggles were of the legal variety in relationship to their Virginia citizenship — both before and after the founding of America — which actually prevented them from setting the examples they wanted for the rest of their new nation. While both men inherited their slave holdings, they were also known to make purchases of slaves for the very purpose of reuniting families. Both men also refused to engage in selling their slaves — primarily because of their oft stated fear those slaves could be more harshly treated under new ownership. They also refused to separate families by engaging in the slave trade.
Virginia law prohibited Jefferson from freeing his slaves because of his immense debt. By Virginia law, he could only sell them — for the purpose debt liquidation — and he refused to take that path. Washington more than once expressed his concern about the hardships his slaves would face if suddenly freed into a world not yet ready to accept them as freemen — not to mention the fact the slaves themselves would be unprepared for integration, given their lack of education and multi-generational dependence upon masters for their sustenance. Six years before his death, Washington attempted an experiment whereby he’d free some slaves to see if they would be hired as laborers on nearby plantations, but was met with total rejection of the idea by his wealthy, landholding neighbors.
Jefferson and Washington both knew that only a gradual change away from slavery, by legislative process, would accommodate all the necessary societal adaptations, among both white and black populations. Jefferson once predicted his worst fear, that a civil war would eventually be the only way for America to be shaken loose from the evil of slavery.
I could write much more, and offer dozens of anti-slavery quotes from each man, but here, I’m preaching to the choir. Most of my readers are aware of these historical facts. Elsewhere, a deliberate campaign of progressive disinformation in our education system has not only obscured these details in our history, but have often turned them on their heads. Just this Tuesday, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine made this astonishing claim in a Senate floor speech:
“The United States didn’t inherit slavery from anybody. We created it. It got created by the Virginia General Assembly and the legislatures of other states. It got created by the court systems in colonial America that enforced fugitive slave laws.”
There was no “United States” when the first ships containing slaves landed in a North American British colony in 1619. To claim that “we created it” is a total lie. Those colonial settlements — and eventually the United States — did in fact “inherit” what Jefferson called that “cruel war against human nature itself” — not just from England, but from virtually every other human civilization that preceded Great Britain. What Jefferson and Washington did leave us, was the means whereby the nation of their founding could end the practice of slavery, even if not in their lifetimes. As Washington said, his own life’s struggle with slavery was his “only unavoidable subject of regret.”
If you wish to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the public square, and remand those to museums of history, I’m 100% on board. If the destruction of monuments to such great and visionary men as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson becomes the accepted norm, our nation is truly lost.
#PushbackNOW #GeorgeWashington #ThomasJefferson #TimKaine