We have previously discussed the destruction of statues and the refusal of mobs to allow society as a whole to decide what statues should be removed. That debate is now occurring though the destruction has continued often with little comment, let alone action from universities or local governments.
This includes the Columbus statue in Little Italy in Baltimore which was torn down and thrown into the harbor with no action from the police. In an opinion piece published in The New York Times, Lucian K Truscott IV (a descendant of Thomas Jefferson) has called for the tearing down of the Thomas Jefferson memorial.
As a descendant of the former President, his call has attracted considerable attention. At the same time, leaders like Sen. Tammy Duckworth (R., IL.), a leading candidate to be the vice presidential candidate with former Vice President Joe Biden, has said that she is open to the idea of tearing down the statue to George Washington. There are also recent demands to remove the statues of Abraham Lincoln.
While this debate is welcomed, it is not clear that the full debate will be presented on the pages of the New York Times where editors publicly committed to barring opposing views like those recently of Sen. Tom Cotton.
Some of us have been engaged in this debate for years. I called for the removal of some statues over two decades ago. However, I have also opposed the removal of statues to leaders like Washington and Jefferson. We learn from history not by wiping it away but placing it into context. Washington and Jefferson are honored not because of their ownership of slaves but despite that terrible wrong.
Jefferson was a hypocrite on this issue and kept hundreds in bondage. As we discussed recently, this part of his legacy is not ignored but emphasized in tours at Monticello.
Truscott insists that Monticello “is enough.” He added: “And that is why his memorial in Washington should be taken down and replaced. Described by the National Park Service as ‘a shrine to freedom,’ it is anything but.”
While I respect Truscott’s view and appreciate his thoughtful column, I cannot disagree more with that premise. The memorial is a “shrine to freedom” because it celebrates Jefferson’s legacy in such acts as drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. It is not a memorial to his legacy as a slave owner. That legacy should be part of the context in viewing Jefferson but not a reason to tear down this memorial.