Upon Seeing the Vandalism of Statues
My wife saw it first. “Is that a tomb?” She pointed through the trees along Art Museum Drive in Baltimore. It certainly looked like one, a massive tomb-like structure set back from the road in a grove of trees, dilapidated, weeds grown up, untended. We walked along the street a mere hundred yards from the entrance of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
What we saw through the trees was like something from a movie set, a structure from the long-neglected past, now in a dystopian future. Upon the base we read, “They were great Generals and Christian soldiers and waged war like gentlemen.”
Of course, then we knew. And we were in a kind of awe, for this was one of those places we had only read about. A place desecrated in the dead of night by the vandals and barbarians of our own dystopian age.
Another inscription told the tale of the missing statue. “The parting of General Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the Eve of Chancellorsville.” Someone had even taken a hammer to hack off the name of “Lee.”
The story here is a long one.
The Long Story
Something like 20,000 Marylanders fought for the Confederacy, though three times that many suited up for the Union. At war’s end came the rapid growth of Southern-supporting organizations all over the United States, most dedicated to honoring their sons. Baltimore became the scene of vigorous debates about erecting statues for the South. Eventually there were four, including the Lee-Jackson Monument.
The statue came about from a $100,000 bequest ($1.4 million in today’s money) in the will of J. Henry Ferguson, owner of the Colonial Trust Company.
Sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser designed the statue after winning a competition against six men. She may well be the first woman awarded such an honor. The statue itself was the first double equestrian statue raised in the United States. Fraser commissioned famed architect John Russell Pope, later the architect of the Baltimore Art Museum, to design the pedestal. Even that — the only thing left of the project — was pricey, more than $600,000 in today’s money.
Though there was opposition from the black community at the time, and from others as well, when the statue was commissioned in 1948, no less than the Governor of the State came. As did the Mayor of Baltimore.
Abraham Lincoln Did Not Talk Like That
The report of the Mayor’s commission that recommended the removal of statues failed to mention that the Governor and Mayor were there that day. Probably because both of them were Democrats. It seems modern Democrats are eager to erase evidence of their own sins.
The Mayor was one Thomas D’Alesandro, the father of Nancy Pelosi. Eight-year-old Nancy may very well have been among the 3,000-strong that heard her father refer to Lee and Jackson as “two great men in the War between the States.” He also said, “we can look for inspiration to the lives of Lee and Jackson to remind us to be resolute and determined in preserving our sacred institutions.”
Governor William Preston Lane was no less effusive. “We honor here in this bronze, the character and the ability, the strength of conviction and the devotion to a cause, of two men who were great Americans, albeit they rose in this greatness and enshrined themselves in the hearts of their countrymen in a cause that was lost.”
When this all started in earnest after the riots in Charlottesville, we were told this had nothing to do with slavery. After all, Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, but Washington and Jefferson were not traitors like Lee, Jackson and Davis. But, Abraham Lincoln did not talk in that way about the men he defeated. Neither did Union officer and later president William McKinley, who approved a statue honoring Confederate dead at the Arlington National Cemetery. And neither did President Eisenhower, who kept a portrait of General Lee in the White House.
A Slippery Slope
We were told there was no slippery slope, that Washington and Jefferson and the like were safe. They may have owned slaves, but they did not commit treason. Tell that to Peter Faneuil, a slave owner who died long before the Civil War and whose name may be removed from Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Tell that to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, Francis Eppes, who owned slaves and founded Florida State University. In 1995, the University built a statue in his honor. A few weeks ago, they took it down. Heck, tell that to St. Juniper Serra, whose statue was vandalized for his “treatment” of Native Americans. Tell it to Christopher Columbus. The vandals are on a war path.
Dozens of statues have now been torn down around our country. And we must ask ourselves, are we better off today than when they were up? Are race relations any better now than last year or the year before? To ask is to answer.
Well-meaning conservatives who jumped on the anti-statue bandwagon should remember the wisdom of David Horowitz. The issue is never the issue. The issue is always the revolution. Its was never the statues.
So here we are a year later, the anniversary of the Charlottesville riots upon us. And what are we left with? An ever more hateful and violent left, and dozens of empty pedestals that are a scar upon our nation’s memory and upon our land.