The debate over removing Confederate statues continues to rage. People on both sides vigorously defend their position, pointing out disturbing facts about the Founding Fathers and the founding of America as reasons why the Confederate monuments aren’t so different from Revolutionary monuments. On the other side, opponents of the statues argue that they celebrate white supremacy.
Why are Confederate statues being removed? Arguments for why Confederate statues should be removed include the Confederacy's shameful history of treason and white supremacy, as well as the original purpose of these statues, which was to intimidate Black Americans while celebrating white power. In fact, even Robert E. Lee opposed Confederate statues.
Arguments for why Confederate statues should not be removed include pointing out the dark sides of other celebrated American heroes, like Washington and Jefferson, as well as the politicization of the statues when there are more important problems. Keep reading for all the pros and cons of removing Confederate statues.
Pro: Robert E. Lee Was Responsible For The Deaths Of Hundreds Of Thousands Of Americans
Granted, Robert E. Lee was not a Disney-style villain, but that doesn’t excuse his actions. Lee took up arms against the government and led a rebellion that resulted in the deaths of 620,000 people. And he did it in defense of the right to enslave millions more. Lee was a white supremacist and a slave owner who was willing to die for the right to own other human beings. And he even argued in an 1856 letter that slavery was good for Black people because it gave them the “painful discipline . . . [that] is necessary for their instruction as a race.” This is not the kind of person who should be honored with statues.
Con: Robert E. Lee Was Patriotic After The Civil War
Yes, Robert E. Lee led armies against the United States. But as Rob Dreher argues in The American Conservative, after the Civil War, Lee became patriotic. He called on defeated Southerners to lay down their weapons and commit themselves to the United States. This choice, counseling patriotism over resistance, helped heal the nation after the divisive war. The statues of Robert E. Lee, then, can be seen as a way to understand a complex and flawed man who fought for the wrong cause out of loyalty to his home state.
Pro: Confederate “Heroes” Have No Major Accomplishments Outside The Confederacy
Don’t fall for the “slippery slope” argument that Washington and Jefferson will be the next targets. Today, we remember Washington and Jefferson for their major achievements, in spite of the fact that both were flawed products of their eras. Yes, both were slave owners—and Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings was clearly an abuse of power—but both also made significant, important contributions to American history. Washington’s leadership helped found the country, and Jefferson’s words—even if he did not live by them—encapsulate the ideals of our nation.
But what did Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis do to contribute to American history, outside of taking up arms against the country? Nothing that could justify memorializing them with statues.
Con: This Should Be A Local Issue, Not A National Issue
Confederate statues were put up in cities and towns across the country—and those cities and towns should decide if and when the statues are removed. As Ben Shapiro argues in The Daily Wire, a national movement to remove the statues imposes on local rights. “Broad national movements to get rid of local pieces of history are generally driven by politically convenient impulses.”