Attacks on America’s history continued in Chicago Wednesday night when vandals burned a bust of Abraham Lincoln that’s been in the neighborhood for 100 years, revealing that the violent campaign to scrub America of its Confederate past isn’t about the Confederacy at all.
Alderman Ray Lopez of the 15th Ward posted the following picture from Englewood on his Facebook page, stating, “What an absolute disgraceful act of vandalism. This bust of Abraham Lincoln, erected by Phil Bloomquist on August 31, 1926, was damaged & burned. Near 69th & Wolcott, if anyone has any information regarding this act, please contact the police or my office immediately.”
The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, was also vandalized with the words “Fuck Law” sprayed on one of its columns. Targeting Lincoln is an odd choice, considering he signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves.
Emboldened by the violence in Charlottesville, activists and some “journalists” are calling for the removal of all memorials honoring anyone who owned slaves. Not long after President Trump said targeting Confederate statues would lead to tearing down monuments to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers, CNN commentator Angela Rye confirmed his fears:
“We have to get to the heart of the problem here and the heart is the way many of us were taught American history. American history is not all glorious,” Rye said. “George Washington was a slave owner. We need to call them out for what they are, whether we think they were protecting American freedom or not. He wasn’t protecting my freedoms. My ancestors weren’t deemed human beings to him. And so to me, I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue, they all need to come down.”
One has to wonder when they’ll want to shred the Constitution, considering that nearly half of the signers owned slaves.
Despising Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy
Al Sharpton piled on by going after the Jefferson Memorial: “People need to understand that when people were enslaved and robbed of even the right to marry and had forced sex with their slave masters, that this is personal to us. When you look at the fact that public monuments are supported by public funds, you’re asking me to subsidize the In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, leftists have been calling for monuments of slave holders and to the Confederacy to be torn down in cities across the country.”
While many Americans owned slaves during the days of our founding, so did people in countless other nations, including across Africa. The difference is that Americans spilled our own blood to end it. Jefferson played a significant role in making that happen. Here is what Lincoln said about him in a tribute to his legacy:
“It is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation. . . . The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society . . . . all honor to Jefferson—to the man, who in the concrete presence of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecaste, and sagacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there today and in all coming days it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.”
Not only did Jefferson write the foundational words in the Declaration of Independence for the eventual freedom of slaves, but he abhorred slavery. Yes, he was a man of his times, owning slaves, but it’s only ignorance of those times that makes someone in the twenty-first century judge a man who has done so much for blacks in America.
Jefferson owned slaves, but also made plans for their freedom (not realized due to property debts). Some people rebuff him on this point. But I have to ask, what human being of historical significance is not without inconsistencies and contradictions? Idealism is not always realized in the midst of harsh realities.
There’s also the slur that Jefferson slept with his slave, a libel started by his political opponents, for which there is no solid proof even to this day. DNA points as much to his brother as to himself. What’s sad is people know more of the lies of his political enemies in 1800 than they know of Jefferson’s efforts to free slaves—efforts that, if they had been successful, would have prevented the Civil War.
Jefferson Drew Up Plans to Emancipate Slaves Nationwide
In 1781, in his “Notes on Virginia,” Jefferson sought the emancipation of slaves, setting up a plan to compensate their owners and bring blacks under the protection of the government. Believing it best that they start a new life in regions from which they came, he proposed that ships be prepared to take blacks to wherever they wanted to go and that an equal number of whites be brought from Europe to make up for the deficit in work. His plan was rejected.
One of the goals, he wrote, “is to provide an asylum to which we can, by degrees, send the whole of that population from among us, and establish them under our patronage and protection, as a separate, free, and independent people, in some country and climate friendly to human life and happiness.”
Jefferson wrote to William Short that slavery is a “hideous blot” on our nation. “We feel and deplore it morally and politically, and we look without despair to some redeeming means not yet specifically foreseen. I am happy in believing that the conviction of the necessity of removing this evil gains ground with time.”
To Benjamin Banneker, he wrote, “Nobody wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the appearance of a want of these is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa and America. I can add with truth, that nobody wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body and mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of the present existence and other circumstances, will permit.”
To Frances Wright, he wrote, “The abolition of the evil is not impossible; it out never to be despaired of. Every plan should be adopted, every experience tried.”
What we have in Jefferson was a man who deeply valued liberty and equality for all. He wanted to see that manifest in America for everyone. He failed in his day. He failed to free his own slaves because he didn’t want to drive his dependents into bankruptcy. Without the government accepting his proposals, there would have been no compensation for freed slaves.
Judge him as you will for this, but until you’ve walked in a man’s shoes, I’d advise you to keep silent. Imposing modern sentiments on historical figures, expecting them to act like perfect characters in a book instead of the flawed human beings they were, is never wise.
Would You Like to Be Judged By Your Worst Deeds?
History is complex, and human beings are complex. We honor the best in people, not stripping them of their dignity or their noble contributions because of the worst of their natures and their decisions. We are not led by angels. We never have been. We should not judge the past, ourselves, and our neighbors by such a standard.
Whether it’s a nation’s flawed history or the person standing next to you who has wronged you in some way, our duty to one other is to forgive. Grace is the only path to peace when we all share a history of pain. Those who seek to dwell on the past will never move forward into the future. Those who are determined to erase the past will never benefit from its lessons, and one of those lessons is to see people in the best light.
We live in an imperfect, broken world. Breaking from the past deepens that brokenness. Only grace can bring the healing we really need by accepting who we are—both the light and dark sides of our nature.