Yesterday morning, an article appeared in the Charleston Gazette calling for the removal of the rather large statue of General Stonewall Jackson that stands in the southeast corner of West Virginia's Capitol complex. In fact, the writer suggested that not only should we take down the statue, but it should be buried. Literally.
Admittedly, I wasn't sure what to think. But after giving the issue some thought, I've put together some ideas on the issue.
1. Slavery is indefensible and Jackson was on the wrong side of the aisle. But this is not indicative of who Jackson was as a man. He was a devout Christian who believed slavery as a part of life. This isn't defending slavery. This is understanding Jackson, who definitely is not the only flawed man with a statue, particularly with respect toward slavery.
At the time of George Washington's death, he owned more than 300 slaves.1 Who would dare suggest removing a statue of the General? In fact, American history is full of men who owned slaves and yet are revered by our culture. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry all owned slaves.
As governor of Virginia, James Monroe was quick to allow the execution of 30 slaves who had participated in a revolt.2 Does this make him evil? No, it means he made a mistake. And even the greatest of men make mistakes.
As a society, we are quick to point out the obvious flaws of a man that account for the small portion of his actions, yet spend very little time examining the vast majority of good deeds that never seem to be exposed to the public.
2. Jackson had an impact on society. Jackson's military tactics and ability to think strategically and act decisively are studied by variously military academies around the world. If you do not believe the study of military history merits an important contribution to society, take time to read this article, Whispers of Warriors.
3. Stonewall Jackson was a traitor who rebelled against the nation he swore an oath to defend. Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution and as such, carries a serious penalty. Not only is one executed for such an action, but the stigma carried through history is an even further humiliation.
In American history, the name Benedict Arnold is synonymous with betrayal. Yet, had he died before his famous turn to the British, he would have been remembered as one of the Revolution's greatest heroes.
So, doesn't this put Jackson in a class with Arnold? No. Benedict Arnold was a bitter, greedy man who betrayed America for money and lack of recognition he believed was due him. Stonewall Jackson wasn't part of the Confederacy for fame or money, but out of loyalty for Virginia. And in the 19th century, loyalty to one's state often outweighed the national interest.
4. Contrary to the belief of West Virginians, this state was not filled with enlightened citizens who saw the incalculable evil of slavery and chose to secede from Virginia on the basis of morality. The people of western Virginia were vastly different than their eastern brethren economically and had been politically underrepresented for decades. They had been contemplating how to break away from the state for some time. The American Civil War proved to be a perfect opportunity for an exit. Slavery wasn't as important to the western portion of the state because plantation life wasn't sustainable in the mountainous region that is West Virginia.
In fact, many of what are now West Virginia's eastern counties were against the idea of leaving their home state of Virginia.
5. Jackson was an American.
In Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, he noted,
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Lincoln never distinguished between Union or Confederate soldiers (which also is the case in the Gettysburg Address). Nor should we distinguish between the Americans we memorialize.
Leave the statue alone.
1The Papers of George Washington, http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/will/slavelist.html
2Boser, Ulrich. "The sorry legacy of the founders," U.S. News & World Report, January 4, 2004. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/040112/12/slave.htm
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