by Jerry Patterson
“In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country.”
All Americans would agree with the quote above — and in a moment I’ll have something to say about the man who wrote it.
First, though, after the tragic murders by a drug-dependent man in Charleston, S.C., the nation has erupted with mostly rabid and ill-informed commentary regarding the display of Confederate flags and monuments on government property.
I support the removal of the battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol, in large part because it’s historically inaccurate — the battle flag never flew over a state Capitol. I recommend that South Carolina do what Texas has done for at least 30 years and fly the First National flag of the Confederacy, also known as the “stars and bars,” instead of the Confederate battle flag, at its Capitol.
I also understand that over the past many decades racist groups have co-opted the battle flag and, as a result, the flag means something different to black citizens than it does to me, a descendant of several Confederate veterans.
However, the feeding frenzy of the offended masses has now resulted in calling for the removal of Confederate statues across the South, as well. The University of Texas is likely to soon remove the statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and John Reagan from the campus.
Maybe we should replace the statues with more politically acceptable historical figures? Certainly, no one would object to a statue of Abraham Lincoln on the UT campus, would they?
Well, they should object. When measured by today’s standards, the Great Emancipator was a white supremacist.
Abe Lincoln was clearly quite prepared to perpetuate slavery to save the Union. In an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote: “… if I could save it [the Union] without freeing any slaves I would do it …”
During his famous debates with Sen. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln explained to the crowd: “I am not now, nor ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not now, nor ever been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.
“And I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races from living on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Lincoln was no different than 99 percent of white males both North and South. He was a white supremacist.
To be fair, Lincoln was anti-slavery, but one of his major objections to slavery was that it competed with free white labor and that he thought it gave unfair economic advantage to slave owners. While opposed to and very uncomfortable with slavery, he did not support equality.
As the war progressed, Lincoln’s views mellowed somewhat, primarily due to the bravery of black Union soldiers — he said he was in favor of allowing “intelligent” blacks to vote if they had served in the Union Army. The deification of Lincoln that began with his tragic assassination is based on a false view.
Back to that quotation above. Wouldn’t the person who wrote those words in 1856 — five years before the war began — be a credible choice for a statue on the UT campus? The same gentleman, who freed his inherited slaves in 1862, would be an inspirational choice for any educational setting.
The irony is, his statue is already on the UT campus, and many other public parks, squares and courthouses across the South. He was a man revered across the nation, even in the North, after the war ended.
He was Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Jerry Patterson is a former state senator and the former Texas land commissioner. Reach him at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This column originally stated, incorrectly, that Robert E. Lee freed his inherited slaves long before the Civil War. According to historical accounts, Lee freed the last of his slaves in December 1862.
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