In This World

This is one of my favorite letters of Lincoln (and appropriate for Memorial Day):

Executive Mansion,
Dear Fanny Washington, December 23, 1862.

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend A. LINCOLN.

Miss. Fanny McCullough.

Depoliticizing the Confederacy

Well, it looks as if the monument to the Confederate soldiers in Louisville, Kentucky,  might not be removed.

Of course, one justification for such monuments, and for retaining them even today, is that they are a testament to “courage” and the ultimate sacrifice that these soldiers made (although the one in Louisville is “capped with a statue of Jefferson Davis.”).

Fair enough, I suppose. But consider what I wrote in Loathing Lincoln (page 107): “as historian Kirk Savage has explained, by glorifying military heroes such as Robert E. Lee, the UDC [the United Daughters of the Confederacy] ‘depoliticized the Confederacy,’ and ‘the story of the Lost Cause became a glorious military record rather than a political struggle to secure a slaveholding nation.'”

So, remember the courage of soldiers, sure. But why can’t that be done by placing the statue in a museum? What, specifically, do Americans gain by allowing these monuments to the stand?

The Monument Debate Continues

In my home state of Kentucky, “A Confederate monument will be removed from a spot near the University of Louisville campus where it has stood since 1895.” I wonder if Lexington will be next? Let’s hope so.

Also, there is a nice piece in the Houston Chronicle this morning on the arguments surrounding changing the name of Sydney Lanier Middle School. My friend and Ph.D. advisor, Eric Walther, is quoted throughout. Here are two of Eric’s quotes:

“Schools that have the names of high-ranking Confederates should change, and statues should go down and be placed in a museum – that is the right spot for them.”

“We don’t want to forget about this war. One side was fighting for a more universal cause of freedom, and the other was not. We should tell the story and let it be.  We shouldn’t purge people or their history. We shouldn’t be Stalinist about this.” 

I agree with this, although with the caveat that it might allow statues of Confederate soldiers – as representatives of the “rightness” of the Confederacy – to remain in the public square. In addition, to place a statue in a museum is no erasure of history, as it allows for the study of the past to continue rather than commemorating the attempt to maintain a slaveholding republic on the North American continent as somehow noble. It is rather, it seems to me, an acknowledgement that we, as a society, no longer share the values of the Confederacy.  By so doing, we all gain.

Finally, check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report on “Public Symbols of the Confederacy” around the nation. Their main findings?

“These include:

  • 718 monuments and statues, nearly 300 of which are in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina;
  • 109 public schools named for Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons;
  • 80 counties and cities named for Confederates;
  • 9 official Confederate holidays in six states; and
  • 10 U.S. military bases named for Confederates.”

I’ve said this before, but does any one believe that the establishments of these symbols across the United States were disconnected from a particular type of politics that, let’s face it, advanced a white supremacist vision of America? Of course not, and thus there is nothing wrong with aspiring to a better politics, one in which these symbols are, to the extent possible, relegated to museums where they can be studied, but extolled as virtuous no more.