Fight the Denigration of American History

American history is everywhere under attack. The recent skirmishes started with the campaign to remove Confederate statues, but it surely won’t end there. As our betters in America’s universities want us to know, the whole of American history is suspect. In our media, in the popular culture, and in our schools, we’re subject to an unending drumbeat of how America was founded to promote imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, and genocide—unimpeachable facts, we’re told, for which all Americans must forever share the burden of collective guilt and shame.

For America to atone for her sins, her history must be denounced and then purged.

This assault on America’s past is hardly news to the Right; the Left has been waging war against American history for well over a half a century. But given this ongoing and unceasing hostility, the response of so many conservatives to recent events is terribly disturbing. While it is perhaps it is to be expected given our predilection to fight amongst ourselves (e.g., the Trump debate on the Right), it is extremely ill-advised and destructive to the things we still share in common.

One thing we should have learned is that the Left never stops; there is no end to their relentless pursuit of destructive hate. There is no room for reasonable adjudication of their claims. We are hopelessly naïve if we believe that once the Robert E. Lee statues come down, the Left will be satisfied. We all know what will follow; indeed it has already started.

The nation was founded, in large part, by slaveholders, from the author of the Declaration of Independence, to the Father of our Country, to the prime author of our Constitution. Jefferson, Washington and Madison were slave owners and the list goes on. They will need to be removed just as swiftly and lustily as the statues of General Lee.

There was a time when conservatives defended the remembrances of our past. What happened? In just the past few years we have watched as conservatives—attempting, one assumes, to act in good faith and build good will—have gone along with (or at least not objected to) utterances such as John C. Calhoun was a precursor to Adolf Hitler and that the removal of statues of Confederate icons such as Robert E. Lee, and certainly Nathan Bedford Forrest, is necessary or at least, understandable. These fought for slavery and against the Union, after all. Beyond Lee and his lieutenants, the other true American hero that has come under attack from so many on the right is Andrew Jackson. Again, we hear the ridiculous comparisons to Hitler and Nazi Germany. This isn’t just sloppy history, it is disgraceful to the memory of the man who, whatever his flaws, did so much to solidify this nation.

What a luxury we have to look back with today’s values and to virtue signal by judging the thoughts of men from the late 18th to the mid-19th century beneath contempt. How carelessly we apply today’s hard-won standards to those men just to ease our own consciences. Yes, many white Americans in that time period considered black slaves to be inferior in intellect to whites. Most whites also believed that it would be near impossible for freed blacks slaves easily to assimilate into white America. Horrifying as that may sound now, it was a commonplace at the time. Time and experience were necessary to overcome it.

From the theories of Darwin, misapplied, the birth of eugenics and the belief in the science of race emerged from this period. While Hitler was the ultimate evil expression of the movement, eugenics (much like climate “science” today) was upheld as truth and a paragon of modern science in much of the Western world, America included, for over a half a century. It was promoted by all the experts of the day, including universities and U.S. presidents and subscribed to by the entire elite class. The horror of Hitler’s Holocaust brought eugenics to its knees in the West, but to think that John C. Calhoun could somehow get pulled out of the 1840s as the absolute precursor to Hitler is a gross mischaracterization of the actual intellectual history.

During this same period, many Americans thought of Indians as savages, living in near prehistoric conditions and believed that they were an impediment to American progress and to the march West. Either they would have to assimilate into American culture and society (as many of them did) or they would have to be dealt with—meaning war, or later, their forced movement to reservations. With two vastly different cultures colliding, conflict was inevitable. It is the many consequences of that conflict that are regrettable and heart wrenching. These are sins for which America must atone. In this our nation is far from alone, as there have been sins committed by all of humanity, throughout all time, which merit regret and recompense.

Andrew Jackson, the hero of New Orleans, the first frontiersman to make it to the White House, personified the meaning of the true American hero. He was sent to fight the Red Sticks after a series of horrific massacres against settlers in the South. He cleared out the pirates and terrorists of their day from Spanish Florida and paved the way for that territory to become a state. He stood down the secessionist in South Carolina, his archrival, the one and only John C. Calhoun, in the nullification crisis of 1832 and kept us from war. For those who are curious, Calhoun led the fight for low tariffs and threatened to nullify federal tariff law. The fight over tariffs would continue to boil until 1860 when war would finally arrive. But that is another story. Jackson helped carve out the wilderness and build a great nation, his legacy secured among the pantheon of American heroes—revisionist history, especially from conservative attackers, be damned.

The same creative gift of God that has allowed us to build and dream and create such beauty has often conflicted with our ability to do great evil. It is called the human condition. Only through the grace of God does our ability to do great good outpace our ability do evil and allow us to be forgiven for our sins. And nowhere else, at no other time in human history, have these conditions taken place, has our better nature and our creative facility triumphed, such as it has in the hundreds of years of America history and the creation of this blessed nation.

History is complicated as is, hopelessly so, man.

The same man who owned slaves and didn’t even see fit to free them upon his death also penned the words that “all men are created equal.” It is one of the most revolutionary statements in human history. The men that have fought, bled, and died in the many wars necessary to build this great nation showed a bravery and courage that is nothing short of extraordinary.

From the Founders, to those that fought to preserve their faith and ideas of liberty in these almost 250 years—sins and all—would come the creation of the greatest nation in human history, where anyone from anywhere can achieve anything.

Most of all, it has given all of those who came to this land the wonderful gift of freedom. This America with all her promise and beauty was built by all of us and we can only learn of the greatness and the heartache and the beauty and the sins that exist in every one of us as Americans, by commemorating our past and all of our fallen heroes.

Photo Credit: Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

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