While many defend Confederate statues as part of our history, monuments are fundamentally a matter of both a community’s history and identity. We as Americans must determine what parts of our history we claim, identify with, and idealize. A monument is a symbol of our aspirations as a society.
The Confederacy is undoubtably a part of American history. When given a charitable interpretation by its defenders, the Confederacy is viewed as a symbol of the states’ rights movement. Yet the Confederacy fought for the states’ right to destroy the foundation of the United States through rebellion and the right to own other human beings as property.
American character and Southern pride should not be represented in the public square by the malefactors of its foulest chapter. Except on battlefields and in museums, where monuments commemorate the dead and ought to be honored, communities must take up the debate regarding their identity and must vote to remove or relocate Confederate statues.
Excepting monuments erected immediately following the Civil War and during its centennial, the vast majority of Confederate statues were Jim Crow-era artifacts, erected in opposition to racial equality. Regardless of personal meaning, the heritage and message of these monuments ought to earn them few defenders, even among conservatives.
Despite what the “Unite The Right” rally members would claim, conservatives stand for the fundamental equality of all mankind on both legal and moral grounds. Defenders of states’ rights need not canonize the Confederacy. Support for constitutional federalism can be attained without the baggage of racial bigotry.
The removal of Confederate statues is fundamentally a local decision. So stand, voice your opinion, and make a choice for you and your house. With what part of your history does your community identify and venerate for all to see? The heroes of an ill-founded “lost cause” or legitimate exemplars of our American experiment?
Less a question of public sculpture, the monument debate points to the fight against racial hatred in the United States. For those who do not live in communities with Confederate monuments, your voice matters — this is a battle for national identity regardless of where you live. Join the debate, and advocate for an American identity of liberty, unity, and equality. The best way to promote these values and combat racial hatred is open debate and civil goodwill.
The United States does not consist of half “White-Supremacist-Nazi-bigots” and half “Antifa-Communist-totalitarians.” Talk of civil war is only the latest iteration of the narrative that has magnified and legitimized political violence. Just beyond the blood-stained headlines, the belief in free speech, peaceful protest, and the rule of law remain cherished in America.
To heal and reconcile neighbor with neighbor and citizen with country, Americans must have the moral clarity to stand up in unity and decry hatred. “With firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” Abraham Lincoln said, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds.” Considering the damage done to the civil fabric of America following Charlottesville, it’s time to revisit his advice.
Ross Hatley is a senior studying politics. He is the president of College Republicans.