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If Liberty Dies in Our Hearts, no Constitution Law or Court Can Save It: A Meditation on Independence Day in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been contemplating the ideas of liberty and freedom this week. I intentionally did not watch the President’s speech at Mount Rushmore for after what he did at Lafayette Park and in front of St. John’s Church on June 2nd showed me that when he speaks of freedom, he speaks of his own, and when he speaks of liberty it is for the few, and servitude for the masses, and yes those masses include the bulk of the men and women that blindly follow him. So instead I read the official transcript today and look at images and videos as well.

Nothing I read in it surprised me. It was as scripted as Leni Reifenstahl’s Film of the Nuremberg rallies, right to Trump making a flyover in Air Force One. After a series of platitudes invoking the President’s whose images are carved on that mountain, and a brief mention of American greatness, which he promised would “soon be greater.”  He made a perfunctory reference to the Declaration’s words that “all men are created equal,” words that only serve to camouflage a life and presidency that denies them, the protections of the Bill of Rights, and the guardrails of the Constitution and our institutions that curb the ability of one man to violate the Constitution and our laws, and surrender our nation into the hands of an avowed enemy, Russia, in word, thought, and deed.

He then went into a diatribe against attacking statues and memorials around the country, without mentioning that the primary memorials were those to Confederates, Slave Owners, traders, as well as those that helped exterminate the vast majority of indigenous, or native peoples of this land including the ancestors of the people who protested outside the park, for the land had been ceded to their ancestors in the Treaty of Laramie of 1868, and was considered sacred to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Sioux, and Arapahoe tribes that agreed to that treaty with the United States. .I will come back to that later.

Interestingly, he mentioned the Battle of Gettysburg and other Civil War battles without mentioning why they were fought, at was as if the rebellion of the Confederacy a nation founded “upon the cornerstone of slavery,”  In Trump’s speech it was was if the cause of the Confederate rebellion never existed, and the lives shed to preserve the Union and in turn emancipate Black slaves didn’t matter. Like everything else in  his speech it was designed to camouflage and obscure his actions to disenfranchise Blacks, and to treat them as less than citizens, because for him the understanding is that Black Rights do not matter, and the rallying cry of many “Black Lives Matter” is uniquely anti-American and anti-freedom, that is his understanding that it is his freedom, and the liberty of the few that matter. No one else.

Of course  slavery, its continued existence where it was already legal as well is expansion by whatever means into new territories, reintroducing it to the Free States, and invading Cuba, and Central American nations to expand it, was the first reason cited in every Confederate State’s ordinance of Secession, and in Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’  Cornerstone Speech. 

In his speech, Trump never mentioned slavery, emancipation, of for that matter the evils committed in the name of racism against newly freed Blacks, Jim Crow, the thousands of Lynchings, the massacre of whole towns, or sections of cities by the terrorist paramilitaries of the White Leagues, Red Shirts, White Liners, and of course the Ku Klux Klan, of which Trump’s father was a member of, even being arrested at a Klan demonstration in New York in the 1920s.

He made no distinctions, but lumped anyone who disagreed with him into people who hated the United States and it’s history and were determined to overthrow America. It was a speech as vilifying as any made by Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950s. This should not be surprising, because Trump’s mentor was none other than McCarthy’s counsel when he was shot down in his crusade to accuse Army leaders of being communists, or supporting communism, Roy Cohn, in 1954.

In effect Trump declared over 60% of Americans were revolutionaries and traitors, with the implication that only he could stop them. It was about his authoritarian vision of Law and Order. It was Orwellian in structure. Based on his actions at Lafayette Park, I know what he will do if he feels threatened. His speech at Mount Rushmore was a prelude to what he will do if he gets the chance, and if the military follows his orders. As a historian I wanted to throw up.

But, back to that mountain and the land around it. As I mentioned, that land was ceded by treaty to the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Sioux, and the Arapaho in 1868. The treaty was to be observed by all parties. Instead in less than years, the treaty was revoked with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills  in 1877, though incidents of U.S. citizens violating the treaty went unpunished by the U.S. Government which also hamstrung and prevented the Sioux from punishing offenders. For Americans guided by Manifest Destiny it was only the latest action in a century of American crimes against humanity in the continued genocide of the indigenous tribes that began when Europeans colonized the Americas beginning in the 1500s, but in the British colonies beginning beginning at Jamestown in 1607, and the Plymouth Bay, later the Massachusetts Bay Colony a Little over a decade later.

Judge Learned Hand 

I will finish this article with an excerpt of Judge Learned Hand, of the 2nd Appeals Court, considered by many to be the greatest American jurist never appointed to the Supreme Court. In his I am an American Speech of May 21st 1944 in New York’s Central Park he addressed nearly a million and a half people, in a speech given at a naturalization ceremony for new immigrant citizens. In it he stressed that all Americans were immigrants who had come to America in search of liberty. Liberty, he said, was not located in America’s constitutions, laws, and courts, but in the hearts of the people.

In the most frequently cited section of the speech he said:

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it… What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

The interesting thing is that while Hand referenced Jesus in the speech, is that he had abandoned the Christian Faith while at Harvard, and became an agnostic and skeptic, that he at least hoped for some kind of cosmic justice where the least would be equal to the greatest. Likewise, his words as to what freedom really is stand in stark contrast to everything Trump and his loyal supporters who consider everyone else an enemy and traitor, as Hand so rightly predicted:

What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow.

Sadly, we have seen that happen before our very eyes and it will continue for as long as Trump is in power or people who follow his  totalitarian beliefs, and perversions of history, overt racism, and denial of civil, voting, economic and religious rights of his opponents is practiced, be it at the Federal, state, or local level. Trump and his most committed followers are savage, with no understanding, appreciation, or respect of the culture, laws, and freedoms, they presume to defend.

Tonight, I watched the film Gettysburg. It is one of my favorites, even though it can cut though its errors, and somewhat mythologized depiction of some of the leaders portrayed in the movie. But in it there is an exchange between Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and an old Irish former Regular Army soldier named Buster Kilrain, who is more of a composite character than an actual historical character, but it is worth mentioning, because it contradicts everything that Trump shows in thought, word and deed on a daily basis. I can identify with Kilrain. As someone who is roughly 43% Irish by my DNA, and the son of a Navy Chief, educated in desegregated public schools and universities, I could not be considered a part of Trump’s sheltered rich, white elite. Likewise, as a Priest, career military officer and seminary graduate, there is much I can identify with in Chamberlain. The dialogue between the men is fascinating because it reveals my own inner struggle as a human being.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Tell me something, Buster. What do you think of Negroes?

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if you mean the race, I don’t really know. This is not a thing to be ashamed of. The thing is, you cannot judge a race. Any man who judges by the group is a pea-wit. You take men one at a time.

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: To me, there was never any difference.

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: None at all?

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: None at all. Of course, I haven’t known that many freed men, but those I knew in Bangor, Portland, you look in the eye, there was a man. There was a “divine spark,” as my mother used to call it. That is all there is to it. Races are men. “What a piece of work is man. How infinite in faculties, in form and moving. How express and admirable. In action, how like an angel.”

Pvt. Buster Kilrain: Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a great vast difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel, there is no “divine spark.” There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country. Equality? What I’m fighting for is the right to prove I’m a better man than many of them. Where have you seen this “divine spark” in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance. Not a leaf, not a tree. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is  justice. Which is why I’m here. I’ll be treated as I deserve. Not as my father deserved. I’m Kilrain, and I damn all gentlemen. There is only one aristocracy, and that is right here. [taps his temple]And that’s why we’ve got to win this war.

Today, I find myself agreeing with them and Judge Learned Hand. President Trump has declared war on a majority of American citizens, including me. On June 2nd for the first time in my life I felt like a President of the United States was threatening me, as a Priest, a citizen, and Naval Officer. I felt that again in his Mount Rushmore speech. I will respect his office and obey lawful orders, but my oath is to the Constitution of the United States, and not political leader or party. I will not remain silent when he attacks the very foundations of the United States to protect the racist monuments of the Confederacy and the other sordid actions of Americans, and other people who enslaved and committed genocide in the name of race and religion.

Donald Trump is an existential threat to every American who values liberty and freedom, and a man who would destroy his country in order to enrich and save himself, although I wonder if there can be salvation for anyone like him.

So, don’t forget why Independence Day matters, what our history really teaches, and that those who oppose Trump do not want to overthrow the United States, but seek to uphold and advance its highest ideals while being absolutely honest as to where we have failed as individuals and a nation to do so. That is patriotism. What Trump proclaims is a toxic nationalism. Yale historian Timothy Snyder wrote in his book On Tyranny:

The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same thing as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist, “although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kiš put it, nationalism “has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.” A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.

Trump is a nationalist in the tradition of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Putin, the Kims of North Korea, Erdogan, and so many other nationalists only concerned about their power over a state that can make their wishes come true.

So until tomorrow, with thoughts of true freedom, independence and the protections of basic human rights for all,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Silence In the Face of Evil Itself: A Dark Meditation of Resistance in Trump’s America

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I have written about that a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, though I hoped for a different outcome. In the past three and a half years the President has gone from bad to worse.

He cannot tell the truth about anything, so his staff and supporters invented something they called alternative truth, or alternative facts. Within months of his inauguration he was overturning civil rights protections for many Americans, those who had little power to resist. He went after the voting rights of Black Americans, the elderly, and the poor. He went after LGBTQ people’s basic civil rights, many of which were only recently won. He went after the human rights of immigrants, and refugees, even the children of people who came here decades ago, the Dreamers who were raised as Americans, who served in the military, and how had become contributors to the American way of life, though they were deprived of citizenship. He promised to build a wall to keep out Latin American refugees, though not completed he took actions that separated families and locked children in cages on concrete floors as he enriched the most wealthy with tax cuts, but in the process blew the budget deficit into realms never dreamed about before. He attacked patriotic Americans, including members of the military calling them traitors because they respected the Constitution more than worshipping him. He went after long time American allies and made himself a de facto ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He made his presidency one of White Supremacy and the economy, but his Presidency was built upon smoke mirrors and lies. When the novel Coronavirus 19 was identified as an epidemic in China and then as a pandemic he ignored it and then minimized it time after time again. Then everything came apart on him with dire results for the country at large.

When COVID 19 finally began to hit the United States and kill people he finally acted, but far too late. Now over 118,000 Americans are dead, and that is the official count, which is certainly a large undercount, with two million more being infected and half of those still at risk of death. But it wasn’t until the economy began to tank and Wall Street crashed that he did anything. The virus is still here, with tens of thousands a day being infected, as he continues to push to reopen the economy to go back to a normal that cannot be restored, regardless of the number of lives lost.

Then there were a spate of targeted killings of Black men by Whites acting as vigilantes, and police brutality and excessive force. The men, and a woman who happened to be an EMT for the City of Louisville, can only be classed as murder. The straw that finally broke the proverbial camel’s back when George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds until he was dead. When massive protests broke out all over the nation he ordered maximum force to be used and tried to co-opt the military into becoming involved into his political fight for survival. In doing that he attacked peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park and at St John’s Episcopal Church. The assault, launched as he was speaking from the Rose Garden was brutal. Tear gas, pepper spray grenades, rubber bullets were followed rolled by an all out assault by Federal Police and National Guardsmen, including mounted units. When the square was cleared the President marched out for a photo-op displaying the Bible as a weapon. Military leaders reacted in horror and refused to support any more such actions.

Sadly, I could keep listing abuse after abuse of the law and Constitution by President Trump, but don’t think that I need to continue.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To the soon to be former GOP Congressman, Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him seem to want blood flowing in the streets, they want a new Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that Congressman King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns, including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.”


The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while former Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her successors deny that the President’s words and actions, and vilify anyone that bothers to disagree with the President or their blatant lies. So when Huckabee Sander is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or former DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.


Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my old chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

In fact two years ago Wednesday, in my former Chapel, a parishioner, a retired Navy Officer attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for preaching basic Catholic and Christian social justice teaching that goes back to the Old Testament where the Psalmists cry out for justice against oppressors and the Kings, Priests, and rich who the Prophets condemned, and which at least in the Catholic tradition still remains. The man blatantly lied about what I said. He said that in the sermon I called the President Hitler, and the Border Patrol the Gestapo.

It was all a lie, but an investigation was launched. Instead of trusting my life and career to a brand new Navy lawyer, I reached out to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who found me an experienced former military lawyer who had taken on high profile cases before. The investigating officer wanted to interview me, but I refused without legal counsel. So he interviewed half of the congregation that was present that day. None would corroborate the accusations but some said that they disagreed with my sermon because of their political views. I was exonerated and the investigation stopped there, but if I had retired out of that assignment, I would have probably never darkened the door of a church again. That experience confirmed the worst thoughts that I had about the Conservative Christians who make up the majority of President Trump’s Cult. They no longer care about Christ, the teachings of the Christian faith, but only care about establishing a Christian theocracy on the order of the modern Taliban, Calvin’s Geneva, or Torquemada’s Spanish Inquisition.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. In 1945 Captain Gustave Gilbert, a US Army Psychologist assigned room the major Nazi War Criminals noted that one thing tied all of them together, the absence of empathy. He would remark, that he had come to the conclusion that “evil is the absence of empathy.”

As I conclude this article I am reminded of the words of the German General Henning Von Tresckow, who died in the attempt to kill Hitler and destroy the Nazi State:

“The idea of freedom can never be disassociated from real Prussia. The real Prussian spirit means a synthesis between restraint and freedom, between voluntary subordination and conscientious leadership, between pride in oneself and consideration for others, between rigor and compassion. Unless a balance is kept between these qualities, the Prussian spirit is in danger of degenerating into soulless routine and narrow-minded dogmatism.”

I think we could easily substitute the United States for Prussia in his words. We have lost that balance that Tresckow described, and it will destroy us if we are not careful.

Sadly, the absence of empathy all too well describes the malignant narcissistic sociopath that is President Trump, his family, his inner circle, and his most faithful supporters appear to be. I could be wrong, but I know that I am not. I expect that things will get worse much worse before they get better. I say this because I truly believe that since they don’t believe in the promise of the Declaration that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or the rights laid out in the Constitution including its amendments.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Statues With Limitations: Time to Take Them Down

The Confederate Monument in Portsmouth, Virginia in 2017 and on June 11th 2020

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to apologize for the delay in getting this out. I have been working on most of the week. In fact, I thought I would have it ready on Wednesday night, but I was not happy with my revisions and the situation kept changing. So I kept editing, redoing, adding and deleting. That consumed Thursday night and Friday night as well as I tried to include the bases named for former Confederates is well. I quit last night and decided enough, that I would use what I had written about them in a separate article.  

This is a heavily edited and revised consolidation three articles that I wrote in 2017 following the White Nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, that the violence inflicted on the counter-protestors by the White Nationalists.  Of course that was when President said that “there were very good people on both sides.” I shuddered when I heard his words. Since then the President doesn’t even try to hide his massive amount of racism and admiration for the republic built on the foundation of slavery, whose descendants and supporters through the south and even in the north, erected monuments which were for the most part to perpetuate the memories of traitors, and to remind Blacks that they were not equal.

Over the past two weeks this topic, which was shut down pretty quickly after Charlottesville, has risen again with good reason. The brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a White police officer, which was followed by protests with a militarized police response, causing additional violence against unarmed and mostly peaceful protestors. The President Trump ordered an attack on peaceful protestors by heavily armed federal police and National Guardsmen, firing tear gas, firing rubber bullets, and brutalizing people indiscriminately following a speech from the Rose Garden to the Nation. He did it for a photo op outside St. John’s Church where he held up a Bible like a weapon. I never felt more afraid of an American President than I did at that moment. Overwhelming numbers of people agreed, and some of the finest, most honorable, and distinguished military leaders this nation has produced since Vietnam began to speak out, former Secretary of Defense and Marine Corps General James Mattis compared Trump’s actions to those of Hitler and the Nazis. And still Trump tweeted, but military commanders and governors took action.

Admiral Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations set about the process of banning the official or unofficial display of the Confederate flag on Naval Bases. The Commandant of the Marine Corps extended his ban on it to bumper stickers, and flags on cars, clothing, or displayed in barracks rooms. Governors, Mayors, and City Councils began to order or debate the removal of statues on public grounds. The Army announced that it would consider renaming bases named in honor of former Confederate Generals, only to have Trump defend names of the bases and state that they would not be renamed. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted that the bases should be renamed and included that in the National Defense Authorization Act, which the President has promised to veto if the amendment was included.

But last night at least two important Confederate Monuments were toppled or so heavily damaged before authorities could have them removed. The first was the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Richmond’s Monuments Boulevard, which was toppled from its base. The other was Portsmouth, Virginia’s monument to “Our Confederate Dead.” The city council had taken up a discussion about removing the monument, but demonstrators accompanied by a brass band with no police intervention, heavily damaged it amid a party like atmosphere.

Truthfully, it reminded me of when East Germans tore down the wall, and other Easter European nations topped statues of Stalin and other Communist leaders in 1989 as they overthrew their Communist governments. Sadly, it was marred when one man trying to clear people out of the way of a statue that was being pulled down was pinned under it and seriously injured.

Context is Everything

Why they Fought: Willing Volunteers or Draftees

The context of the placement of the Confederate Monuments is paramount as I will explain, and my comments are not meant to impugn the lives of people’s ancestors. However, what motivated these men to fight is part of the context. Many, who were not professional soldiers, especially early in the war were eager and willing volunteers with dreams of glory, speedy victory, and return to normal life after the Confederacy achieved independence. While many did not own slaves, and were poor, the fact that they were White, meant that they were at least not at the bottom of the social ladder. Likewise, some slave owners, some who held many and others just a few felt strong enough to join up.

My family on both my paternal and maternal sides fought as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy, despite their part of Virginia officially siding with the Union and becoming the state of West Virginia. One of them, the family patriarch on my paternal side was a slave holder who after the war refused to swear his allegiance to the United States and quite possibly was a member of White Supremacist groups after the war. There is no doubt of what he fought for, and the fact that he was a traitor and remained a traitor to our country.

I don’t know as many details about the maternal side except they were part of the same regiment, none were subject to conscription and as such all volunteered willingly to fight against the United States. For me that is a problem, I find it hard to honor their military service because it was against the United States. There are no records that I know of, no letters that they wrote which say what they thought, and they are not “mentioned in dispatches” (the manner in which the Confederate Army honored soldiers) for any particular gallantry, in fact the history of the regiment mentions that my paternal family patriarch, an officer, deserted in February of 1865.

I also have draw a distinction between the kinds of men that served in the Confederate Army. In particular I make a distinction between those that were eager volunteers for the Confederacy, like my ancestors, and those who were unwilling conscripted in the Confederate Draft beginning in early 1862. Interestingly enough the Confederates resorted to a draft before the Union because the Confederate Army could not get enough willing volunteers. These men were drafted, often against their will, and the Confederate draft had exemptions for the rich, and slave owners, who could pay for substitutes, and go on with their life running plantations. However, a few notable slave owners, like Wade Hampton of South Carolina not only did  not take advantage of that privilege, to volunteer, but Hampton went beyond volunteering, but actually armed and equipped what was in effect a combined arms regiment of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. He was a volunteer, who had never served in the U.S. Army and he served throughout the war, serving with distinction, and went home to nothing.

Most of the soldiers drafted had no means to pay for a substitute or did not have the political connections to escape it. Interestingly one of the notable exemptions to the Confederate Draft were the men who were exempted because they owned more than ten slaves or worked for someone that owned more than 20 slaves. This was known as the Twenty Slave Rule, which was modified in Draft Law of 1864 to 15 slaves. As you can imagine many poor Whites who owned no slaves found the rule to be quite unjust, but this kind of privilege is just that, quite unjust.

As a result the conscripts were frequently abused by the willing volunteers and their commanders, and frequently deserted. When found, most were summarily executed following a Drumhead Trial. As the war became more desperate, deserters were summarily executed without any trial. Hundreds of deserters from the Army of Northern Virginia were executed in the last months of the war by the direct order of Robert E. Lee simply because they were trying to go home to their families who had been displaced by the advance of Sherman’s army in Georgia and the Carolinas. These men were victims of the war and secessionist leaders as much as anyone. If you read some of their letters they are heartbreaking.

All of those who volunteered to serve the Confederate cause were traitors. But the men who had previously been officers in the United States Army or Navy, or in high Federal office, were far worse, because they broke their oath of office. No-matter their reason for serving the Confederacy, none of their their gallantry as soldiers, battlefield heroics, leadership skills, or tactical brilliance matters because they were traitors to the United States. Yes they were Americans, and many had served honorably before the Civil War, but that makes them no less traitors.

After the war a some of the survivors reconciled with the Union, and openly opposed the growing myth of the Lost Cause, and took no part in subsequent violence or in implementing discriminatory measures against the now free Blacks. Among the most prominent of these men were Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, John Mosby, and Billy Mahone. I have little doubt that A.P. Hill would have joined them had he not been killed in action at the end of the war. Following the war Hill’s widow opposed Jubal Early and other proponents of the Lost Cause.

Longstreet, received a pardon and his citizenship with the help of the Radical Republicans who were most vocal in terms of Reconstruction, and he announced his support for the election of Ulysses S. Grant in the 1868 election. For this he was condemned by many former Confederates. He received an appointment as Surveyor of Customs New Orleans. In 1872 he was appointed as head of the Louisiana Militia, by the Republican Governor. In 1873 he sent troops to stop the threat of an attack on the majority Black town of Colfax, but they arrived a day after several hundred members of the White League committed what is now known as the Colfax Massacre. In 1874 he led the New Orleans Police, and local militia, including Blacks to defend the temporary capital against a force of more than 8,400 members of the White League, which outnumbered his force by more than two to one. The action became known as the Battle of Liberty Place by opponents of Reconstruction and White Supremacists. During the action he was wounded, his men defeated and Grant sent in Federal troops to restore order. The supporters of the Lost Cause despised him because he told the truth when they claimed that States Rights, not Slavery. Longstreet on hearing this, said “I never heard of any other cause of the quarrel than slavery.” Longstreet in word and deed proved his loyalty. Despite the fact he was one of the corps commanders in American history, and stood for what was right after the war he did not get a Fort named after him.

Robert E. Lee himself did reconcile and opposed the use of the Confederate flags, uniforms, and monuments, after the war, but still held very racist views and never apologized for his actions. I will explore Lee’s actions during the secession crisis, during, and after the war the at a later time because for the most part they are neither honorable or noble.

Interestingly, very few monuments, except those on battlefields are dedicated to these men in the South, except for Robert E. Lee who ironically wanted no part of them. Nor are there monuments in the South to Southern officers who remained loyal to the Union during the war including Generals Winfield Scott, George Thomas, John Buford, John Gibbon, Montgomery Miegs, and Admiral David Farragut.

Likewise there is another class of men who have to be considered when dealing with the Monument Controversy. These were the political leaders whose actions led directly to the deaths of three quarters of a million men, including hundreds of thousands of Southern men, and the destruction of much of the South. How even the most devoted Southerner who wants to honor their soldiers can tolerate monuments to these political leaders who got so many of them killed  in their back yards is beyond me. These were also the men who ensured that primary reason for secession given in their various articles of secession for each state was preserving and expanding slavery, while maintaining white superiority. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens noted in his Cornerstone Speech:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

There is a final group that needs to be considered. These were Confederate veterans, including notables like General Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as men who did not serve in the war who joined paramilitaries such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White Leagues, that terrorized and killed newly free blacks, sometimes destroying whole towns or neighborhoods in the process.  There were others politicians, turned soldiers, and went into politics again who established the Black Codes. These were pre-Jim Crow laws that placed many former slaves into a form of slavery by other means, imprisoning them and making them forced laborers on plantations, and businesses, many owned by Northerners.

Racism and slavery was at the heart of the war, and it proved to be not just a Southern problem. Many Northern businesses and banks had a strong financial interest in slavery, and there was a strong anti-war, pro-Confederate movement, known as the Copperheads in the North that fully approved of slavery, the post-war Black Codes, and Jim Crow. Likewise there were many Northerners who were just as racist as any Southerner, before, during and after the war. There were and are still are some  Sundown Towns, though they don’t openly say so, in the North and states that were never a part of the Confederacy. In no way can all Northerners be fully excused from the crime of slavery, nor can many be absolved of being as racist any pro-slavery Confederate or Jim Crow proponent. Some of these men have monuments built in their honor which likewise should be examined if we are going to talk about the Confederate monuments.

As to the monuments themselves, the vast majority were erected after the Plessy v. Ferguson case that legalized the Jim Crow Laws and empowered the movement to disenfranchise blacks, to fire them from positions in Federal and State governments, and to use violence against Blacks to keep them in line. Almost all of the monuments which were erected between 1895 and 1930 were put up not to honor the men who served but to remind Blacks of their status. The same is true of the next major surge of monument building which occurred during the Civil Rights movement, again to demonstrate to Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, and many of these monuments were erected in places where no Confederate soldiers came from, and others which commemorate men who committed terrorist acts and murder against Blacks in the years after the war. In many case these monuments are located in cities and towns that are heavily African American. Two of these are no far from where I live in Norfolk and Portsmouth Virginia. They have different histories which I think leads to a discussion about their context.

Context and Placement Matter

Alexander Pope wrote “Monuments, like men, submit to fate.” 

Instead of going directly into what I think should be done with these monuments but think that a little bit more background and context is necessary. That context is best put in the difference between history and memory. History, is made by people because it has real world effects cannot be erased because for good or bad its effects always are with us. Memory on the other hand is often selective and tends toward sentimentally, or our sense of anger, or grief  over over past losses or the loss of a mythological past.  Because of that, memory often leads to the preservation of things that provide us with a certain sense of comfort, or things that buttress our innate sense of superiority and desire for revenge.

Statues and monuments themselves have to be taken in their historical context: especially what they meant to the people that erected them and the era in which they were constructed. From time immemorial people and nations have erected statues and monuments to dieties, empowers, kings, generals, and yes, even philosophers and historians. They have also sought to commemorate the lives of soldiers who died in various wars, in part to honor their dead, as did the ancient Athenians at Kerameikos, but more often to build upon a sense of national myth and purpose, to link the sacrifices of yesterday’s leaders, or soldiers to their current generation’s political, social, and even spiritual urges.

Some religions like Judaism and Islam have traditionally frowned upon the erection of statues and images that represented their dieties, their saints, or their leaders, fearing that such images could lead to idolatry. There was even a constroversy in the Christian Church, the Iconoclast Controversywhich dealt with the issues of statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or Saints which took more than a hundred years to resolve.

In Western society, especially since the Romans there has been a conscious attempt by nations to built statues and monuments to their leaders and other men, as women seldom rated such honor, whether the men actually deserved honor or not. As such there are monuments across Europe in prominent places to honor men with political, social, hereditary, or economic connections. Often when compared to their contemporaries, or others, before or after them, did little to be heirs to such honor. This does not mean that they were necessarily bad people, or even unworthy of the honor of their time, but rather that they are undeserving of perpetual honor in the most public of locations, or in places unconnected with where they made their name.

Cemeteries and museums are the best places for statues which have past their effective life in the public square. Removing them from places of honor does nothing to harm history, nor does it write them out of history. I like how the Old Testament writers of the books of the Kings and Chronicles end their discussions of the kings of Israel and Judah. They note that these men’s lives and deeds, good and evil, are written about and where they were buried to be with their ancestors. An example of the is Jehu, one of the kings of Israel in the book of Second Kings: “Now the rest of the acts of Jehu, all that he did, and all his power, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?”

Since the Jews of the Old Testament did not build statues to their leaders for fear of idolatry, they ensured through the oral, and later the written tradition that these leaders, the good and the bad, were remembered for their work and contributions, as well as their failures. The Islamic tradition is quite similar.

The ancient Greeks, particularly those of Athens chose to use the cemetery as a place to remember their dead. In dedicating the Mount Auburn Cemetery during the Greek revival, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted:

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.”

Cemeteries are always places where the dead can be honored or remembered, and where their descendants can find comfort and even sense the presence of their departed ancestors.

But the public square is another matter. Times change, societies change, governments and systems of governmental change. The statues that the early colonists of the British American colonies erected to King George III after the French and Indian War, had no place in the new republic and were removed. Monuments to Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin where removed from their places of prominence in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania once those countries escaped Soviet domination. After the Second World War, the new Federal Republic of Germany banned any monuments to Nazi Leaders as well as the use or display of Nazi paraphernalia. Instead, resisters to the Nazis, as well as the victims of the Nazis have been honored and remembered, especially those killed in the Holocaust. Since reunification Germany has continued to honor the victims and resistors much to the new generation of Germans born in the former East who know little about the evil of the Nazis and seek to follow their example.

However, when a monument is located in prominent place it makes a statement about the values and character of the people who put it there and the times in which they lived. But as I said, times changes, as do societal values, and in the case of the cause of the Civil War, so do views on race and the value of other human beings.

Statues in public places dedicated to specific individuals or events tend to have a shelf life, which means that they regardless of who they are dedicated, to need to be periodically re-examined in the light of history to see if they should remain in their current place of honor or be moved to a different location.

But, the United States is a comparatively young country, our oldest monuments are likewise comparatively new, and many pale in comparison to those of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In those areas multiple civilizations and empire have risen and fallen, massive monuments have been erected, toppled, or faded away. Many surviving monuments now are in museums, in collections of antiquity representing fallen civilizations, or have been moved from places of honor and replaced by ones that more appropriately represent the current national culture and experience.

As we approach the first quarter millenium of our experiment as a republic it is a good time to look at what we have commemorated with monuments and make considered decisions about each of them, and not just Confederate monuments.

Obviously many, especially those that deal with our founding as a nation and our founders need to stay, but others should be replaced, or removed to more appropriate venues. In cases of monuments that memorialize the most shameful parts of our history, and men whose actions subjected others to inhuman treatment, and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands we do have options of what to do with them which now have to be exercised.

One option could be to leave them where they are and place other monuments and markers to explain the historical context and promote truthful history versus myth, as we have with men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  In both cases we honor the good but we own up to other things about them.

Another option is to remove them, but what replaces them should be well thought out. This actually goes beyond the monuments themselves. Our actions have to do with history, historical preservation, and the narrative that a community wants to communicate about its history, its values, and yes, even its future. Whatever replaces the monuments we replaced, for good or bad in the long run, are part of what bind generations together, or drives them apart.

A third option is destroying them,  especially those dedicated to men who were evil, or represented evil causes. In the case of many of the relatively generic mass produced monuments to Confederates during the Plessy v. Ferguson and Civil Rights Era, the monuments were not placed to honor long dead soldiers but to stick a finger in the eyes of Blacks, and defy those who called for more than emancipation, but true equality.

It think in the case of truly evil men that their statues and monuments should be placed in poorly kept parks, at eye level with other statues like them. This allows people to view them not as exalted figures, but as for their littleness and evil.  A number of Eastern European countries have done this with statues of Stalin, Lenin, and others from the Soviet era.

But the generic mass produced ones are another matter. They are of no particular quality, their value only in reminding Blacks that they are despised.They should be removed, and if someone wants them as a backyard ornament, or if someone wants them to stand guard over the graves of Confederate dead as they lay in repose. That may be the best option, but there are so many of them.

The placement or monuments is of more importance than their existence, and their contexts matter. Honore De Balzac noted: “With monuments as with men, position means everything.

Removal, Relocation, Preservation, or Destruction: What Now?

It is interesting to see how memory and myth cloud history when it comes to monuments, especially those to the Southern Confederacy. This confederacy that was described by its Vice President, former US Senator Alexander Stephens in these words:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” 

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who so many monuments are dedicated was not happy with his Vice President’s remarks. This was not because he didn’t believe them himself,  but because Stephens honesty could hurt the cause of the Confederacy abroad. Davis knew that France and Britain had to recognize and support the Confederacy was to survive.  He noted:

“That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” 

How President Trump’s closest advisors, who tend to be better read than him, cannot understand the purely Machiavellian words of Jefferson Davis is beyond me. How they think that openly proclaiming racism is harmful to their policies and political goals is beyond me. Likewise how the President can tweet it or repeat them can only be described in three ways: he is no political genius, he is completely ignorant of history, or that he really is the embodiment of evil. I don’t see any other choices.

The sad fact is that the vast majority of the Confederate monuments, wherever located, were not built to honor the several hundred thousand Confederate dead; but rather to remind Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, wherever the were erected. They are monuments to White Supremacy, racism, and to intimidate Blacks in the public square.

This is most evident by looking the periods during which they were constructed, eras in which discrimination, intimidation, and violence against Blacks was predominant. Very few were built in the first two decades following the war, but the first big surge in construction came in the aftermath of Plessy v. Ferguson in the 1890s the although some of those, including the monument which was for the most part destroyed in Portsmouth, Virginia last night were funded  by the wives, mothers, and children of the fallen; were not erected until the 1890s as every right of Blacks was stripped away, not just in the South, but in the entire United States.

Honestly I cannot understand why any of these monuments remain where they are some 155  years later, unless the context of their construction and monuments or historical narratives to the victims of the Confederacy and the institution of Souther Slavery are placed alongside. I am hard pressed to explain why they remain in places of honor. Instead if displayed they should be displayed as symbols of shame next to monuments dedicated to the victims of slavery, and those who fought to destroy it, along with historical exhibits that show the depth of the evil of the era and the suffering or the victims, as otherwise good people watched everything and did nothing.

But most memorials to the Confederate dead memorials, the very few that were built other than expressions of White Supremacy are a tiny minority. Most of the Confederate monuments that spark such freak show of White grievance today were erected anywhere from 30 to 150 years after the war.

The periods that they were built are interesting of themselves. The biggest spike in construction began in the immediate aftermath of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that legalized Jim Crow and the second during the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement beginning around 1948. The chart below provides a good representation of when the Confederate monuments were built.

As I mentioned I think that each monument should be examined based on its historical merit. Since the vast majority of these monuments happen to be from the days of the Confederate resurgence after Plessy and at the height of the Dixiecrat response to the Civil Rights movement beginning after Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Plessy in 1954, there is nothing redeeming in the vast majority of them.

So I am going to use the example of the monuments in Hampton Roads area as a teaching point.

In the Commonwealth Virginia where I live, there were 223 Confederate monuments standing at the time of Charlottesville, the most of any state. That is in a sense understandable due to it being the largest state in the Confederacy as well as the site of its capital. There are three major public monuments located in South Hampton Roads as well as a number of monuments in local cemeteries throughout the area.

The one located in Portsmouth is the oldest and the most interesting from a historical point of view. Planning and fund raising for it began in the late 1860s shortly after the war and it was dedicated on the site where slaves were whipped and punished in the town square. It was dedicated in 1893. The head of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter say that it was placed there when a church where it was planned to be located backed out. I do not know the veracity of that claim. That being said the location is still problematic, especially since Portsmouth has been a large Black population,  and many of the Black families in Portsmouth trace their roots to the slaves of the city’s ante-bellum times.

The monument itself was, before its destruction last night most interesting monuments that I have seen. It is an imposing sight in the old court square. At its center is an obelisk on which is inscribed To Our Confederate Dead. The obelisk is surrounded by four statues representing an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artillleryman, and a sailor. It was one of the most impressive Confederate monuments I have seen, but despite the fact that it was funded by war widows and their families, it could not remain in place. It stood in the place where slaves were auctioned and a block from where they were held in deplorable conditions until they were auctioned off like cattle.

Three years ago I thought it be would fitting if the monument was moved in its entirety to a cemetery in the city where Confederate war dead are buried. It could be replaced by any number of monuments, perhaps one to the Portsmouth’s war dead from the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and the current wars which have been going on since 2001, or maybe even better a monument to the victims of slavery, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow with an adjoining historical and research center. The Germans do this with concentration camps. However after it was shattered on June 10th, I think that it it is time for it to be removed. I think that if its supporters want they can pay for it to have dismantled, removed,  and restored so it can be displayed in a private location out of public view, they can. However, I think that maybe the city to move it to a less prominent position and leave it the way it is as a reminder to future generations, with an explanation of where it stood and why it stood there. It would kind of be like the preserved remnants of the Berlin Wall.


Norfolk’s monument is another case in point. After Portsmouth’s monument was destroyed, Norfolk’s Mayor announced that the statue crowning it would be removed in 24 hours weather permitting, and that the monument it stood on would be removed within two weeks. I wish that Portsmouth had the sense to do that in 2017, or even two weeks ago. The statue was removed today and the rest of the monument will follow.

Norfolk’s monument, where is, or is soon to be was, located within a block of where Norfolk’s slave auctions took place, the slave jail, and  slave infirmary  were located, and but a few blocks from the docks where slaves were shipped to other destinations in the South. This is important because Norfolk was the leading port in the slave trade from about the 1830s until the outbreak of the Civil War, and that was not because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but to the trafficking of slaves already born in the United States.

The monument was over 80 feet tall. When it was built it towered over the city. In the years since it still occupied a prominent position in the center of the city, but now has been dwarfed by massive towers representing banks, businesses, and hotels. It was capped by the figure of a defiant Confederate soldier holding a sword and the Confederate flag, nicknamed Johnny Reb. At its base are engravings of the Confederate Battle Flag and a dedication to Our Confederate Dead. It was lake the others aWhite Supremacy. The city should make a prudent and well informed decision of what to do with it.


In Virginia Beach the Confederate Monument is outside the old Princess Anne County Courthouse where slave auctions were held, and which is on the grounds of the current Virginia Beach Municipal complex. In older times it would have been seen by all entering the city hall or courts for any reason. It is over 20 feet tall and topped by the statue of a Confederate infantryman. Unlike the other monuments simply dedicated to the dead. Instead this one is dedicated to Our Confederate Heroes.

Now compared to the Norfolk or Portsmouth memorials it is in a distinctly less visible location and one has to go out of their way to find it. I think it could remain where it is but only if there was monument to the victims of slavery who were bought and sold there. That would provide appropriate context for it. However, there is something about being dedicated to Confederate Heroes which has no appropriate place in the public square. Its design is unremarkable. It was dedicated not long after Plessy v. Ferguson. Likewise, it was located where slave auctions were held in a county that provided very few soldiers to the Confederate cause. This it can only be interpreted one way, to remind people that Blacks are inferior. I think that it should be removed and destroyed as there is nothing that it commemorates, that is worth preserving, even in a museum or cemetery.

There is one other located in our area. It is in the Denbeigh section of Newport News, at site of the old Warwick County Courthouse. Denbeigh was named after the Denbeigh Plantation. When the county seat was moved to Newport News when Denbeigh and Warwick county were consolidated as the independent city of Newport News in 1958.

The courthouse is now a museum. The monument, which was dedicated in 1909 to the men of Company H, 32nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, stands outside the museum. The regiment, recruited from the Peninsula in early 1861 had a number of companies farmed out to the artillery was reconstituted as a small, 7 company regiment in 1862. It was decimated at Antietam and served to the end of the war with the Army of Northern Virginia where just five officers and forty-two enlisted men surrendered with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9th 1865. Since this monument is dedicated to a specific unit which distinguished itself in numerous engagements, including Antietam, and Petersburg I think that relocating it to one of those battlefields where it fought would be completely appropriate. Leaving it in place is more problematic. The Newport News City Council decided to cover it until they could decide what to do and requests have been made for its removal.

All of these monuments served a twofold purpose. In the case of Portsmouth, it began with monetary donations from war widows and for a monument was to honor the fallen. By the time it was built that purpose was also mixed with the political desire of many whites to re-establish White Supremacy. As to monuments located in cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are interred it is only fitting that they remain where they are, those are the places of their repose. My only objection would be to displays of the Confederate Battle Flag in those cemeteries.

As to what should be done with each monument there are options, but what can actually be done with them are dictated by State Laws which stipulates that localities can erect monuments like the former law of Virginia which stipulated that the state cannot “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.” That was problem for the Virginia legislature finally changed the law. Last week Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam ordered the monument to Robert E. Lee on Richmond’s Monument Boulevard be removed. His order was temporarily stayed by a Federal District Judge after objections by a avowed Confederate sympathizer currently running for office in Northern Virginia.

As a historian I think that all of these monuments can serve as teaching points. Likewise,  whatever is done with them has to be the to context of the context of when and why they were erected in relation to slavery, and White Supremacy. Additionally, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow needs to be clarified as part of teaching history and in the process of expunging the myths of the Lost Cause and the Noble South from the historical narrative.

I want to make a couple of points. First I do not think it is wrong for the relatives and descendants of those who fell in any war to want to remember them, but that should not be these memorials. I have traveled throughout Europe and I have seen the monuments in city squares Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany. These monuments list the names of the war dead of those towns in wars dating back to the Napoleonic era and before and many are in churchyard cemeteries.  Even if I disagree wth the cause that they fought for I will not forbid their descendants to honor their memory, even if I for reasons of conscience refuse to honor the military service of my ancestors who rebelled against the United States in 1861. I may carry their blood and DNA, and they will remain part of my heritage, but I cannot honor or memorialize the cause for which they fought.

I think that the remaining Confederate monuments serve no purpose where they are. I have described what I think would be best done with the ones in our local era. But they have to be replaced. I would suggest that they be replaced by monuments to victims of slavery, the unwilling conscripts pressed into service of an immoral and inhuman cause, and those who opposed that cause, before, during, and after the war, and learning centers staffed by trained historians and archivists who are not out to promote the Noble South and Lost Cause myths.

Norfolk’s monument is in the process of being removed, Portsmouth’s, now mostly destroyed, should be removed. I have already discussed the Virginia Beach and Newport News monuments, the fates of which are yet to be decided. The same is true for many other of the Confederate monuments throughout the South. In the last two weeks But, at the same time we have to address the monuments to Confederate leaders which built during the same time period as these generic representations of Confederate soldiers. The fact is that the leaders of the Confederate rebellion against the United States are much more responsible for the deaths of three quarters of a million soldiers and the devastation of the South than any ordinary soldier. These leaders include the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, secessionist politicians like Henry Benning and military leaders like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Braxton Bragg. I see little reason for monuments to men who were responsible for such great suffering to remain in places of honor.

But honestly even this is not enough. We have to remove the the monuments or do something to explain their presence. Likewise, in order to do justice, we have to fully tell the story of the victims of slavery, the Black Codes, and “Southern Justice.” Likewise, we have to also honor the Southern Unionists like George Thomas, Montgomery Meigs and Winfield Scott who did not forsake their oaths the the country, and remember men like Robert E. Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, Billy Mahone, and John Mosby who fully reconciled to the Union, supported the rights of Blacks, and who were deomonized and then written out of Southern history by the proponents of the Lost Cause.

So anyway, monuments to the Confederacy, its leaders, and those in other parts of the country dedicated to others of questionable merit, must be held to the bar of history, otherwise we mock all of their victims by keeping them in the public square long after their time is up. We will also really look hard at schools, highways, streets, named after the leaders of the Confederacy.

I will deal with the Forts tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, historic preservation, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, war crimes

America’s Original Sin Revealed Again: The Malignant Open Wound of American Racism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Joseph Conrad wrote in his book Heart of Darkness: “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” 

Those  words are terrifying when you think of them.

Since the first  African slaves arrived at Jamestown in 1619 the American experiment has not been without its flaws, mistakes, crimes, and to use the often frowned upon, its sins. There have been many sins in that experiment; the long term genocide committed against the original inhabitants of the country, the Native American tribes, which now reside in reservations with little economic opportunity and as the COVID 19 pandemic have shown, little access to healthcare and many other disadvantages built into treaties they signed with the government of the United States.

Then there are others as well, the treatment of almost every immigrant group at the hands of English, Scottish, and Welsh Protestants who dominated the political, economic, cultural, and sociological hierarchy of the new republic. That included the Irish and German immigrants who had their churches burned and treated as second class citizens by the Know Nothings of the 1830s to 1860s. Then there were Southern and Eastern Europeans, Jews from many countries, Japanese and Chinese, and then the Mexicans, who we robbed of 40% of of their country’s land by a war that Ulysses Grant said: “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.”

But all these aside, America’s original sin was the enslavement of millions of Blacks which sadly only ended in name with emancipation, Reconstruction, the XIII, XIV, and XV Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Instead of real freedom African Americans saw those rights wiped away by State Legislatures, beginning in the South but throughout much of the nation, enacted Black Codes, Voter Suppression programs, such as Poll Taxes and Voting Tests, and Segregation laws. These were backed up by White Nationalist and Racist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts, and the White League. up to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Courts, going up to Supreme Court of the United States, which upheld voter suppression laws, Poll Taxes, and Segregation under the guise of separate but equal in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896. Of course while Plessy legalized segregation in all walks of life, it did nothing for equality, which for Blacks was ruthlessly destroyed. The courts also looked the other way when Black townships were attacked and massacred by the well armed Paramilitaries of the KKK, White Leagues, and Red Shirts, or the lynchings of Blacks that claimed thousands of lives.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Harlan, a former slave owner and in his dissent with the Plessy decision wrote:

“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.”

Justice Harlan’s words were prophetic and directly address what is happening today.

Such crimes are still happening even today, sometimes by those that claim the mantle of the original lynching as in the case of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota which was captured on video from several sources, which showed an officer putting his full body weight on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes, 8 minutes in which Mr. Floyd begged for his life saying “I can’t breath,”  but by the time the officer now accused of his murder assist by three other officers, was dead. This was despite the presence of many witnesses who tried to persuade them not to keep killing him.

Mr. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill by a store owner. The crime was a non-violent misdemeanor, but the police responded as if Mr. Floyd had committed an armed robbery or murder. In fact he was unarmed and otherwise non-violently protest his arrest, he was killed. Though the mayor of Minneapolis called it murder and demanded that prosecutors act quickly, they demurred and delayed until protests broke out, which spun out of control. They have now spread  country, some peaceful, some that became violent, and some peaceful protests which were met with police spraying pepper spray and launching Tear Gas, into peaceful protestors, including at least one member of Congress.

Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.” 

President Trump embodies the words of Atticus Finch in that book. He has only fanned the flames with his tweets, and retweets which only incited supporters to help commit destructive acts, and provoked the protestors to respond in kind. The actual truth and facts of what happened in each case, beginning with the murder of George Floyd, will not be determined until all the forensic, video, and audio evidence provided by legitimate news organizations, ordinary citizens, and police records is examined to determine what happened in each demonstration following his murder. But after several days of inaction by prosecutors to change the police involved the anger burst into protests.

Malcom X said something very appropriate, and which if you have not experienced poverty, and discrimination, you may find it hard to empathize with the plight of American Blacks. The often  misunderstood Civil Rights leader said: “The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities – he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites.” What we tend to forget is that such treatment in Europe brought many English, Scots, Irish, Germans, and others to the United States, where their descendants emulated the behaviors of their ancestor’s oppressors, especially towards Blacks who many believed were sub-human, the same term used by the Nazis to describe the Jews. Think about if you or I were the products of such longstanding, pervasive, and institutionalized discrimination, how would you feel or what would you do? If you cannot answer the same as Malcom X, then you will never understand.

Sadly, this is nothing new to American Blacks, and who of us, if we were in their shoes would not protest, even in anger if their local, state, and Federal governments actually pursued policies of justice rather than passing laws that they refuse to enforce, and meaningless rhetoric promising better times, voting rights, civil rights, and equality. The last President to do this, at great political cost to himself as a Southern Democrat, who against his party’s wishes pushed into law the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, as well as the promise of the Great Society. Had Johnson not gotten derailed by Vietnam he might have accomplished much more.

But what would White’s do if their civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcom X, as well as allies like Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, while lynchings continued. What would White America do if their churches, like the 16th Street Baptist Church, of Birmingham Alabama were bombed, or the parishioners Charleston, South Carolina’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church gunned down at a Bible Study by a hate filled murdering racist in 2015. What would we say if people fighting for our right to vote as were murdered in cold blood by on and off duty law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan, as were Andrew Goodman, Mickey Scherner, and James Chaney near Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964.

Today American Blacks are most impacted by the economic crisis and medical crisis caused by COVID 19 harder than the Black Community harder than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. If one were to be fair, who could not blame them for ceasing to believe the rhetoric of political leaders. Who could not blame the majority who protest peacefully, but who are demonized, and set up by others intent on inciting violence, be they angry Blacks, or White Nationalists following  social media posts designed by their developers, be they American supporters of racists groups or President Trump, or foreign actors, like Vladimir Putin’s Russian, or Premier Xi’s Chinese intelligence units attempting to exploit the divisions In the American electorate as they did in the 2016 Election which President Trump lost by one of the largest majorities of popular votes, while winning three states by slim majorities which gave him win in the Electoral College.

I won’t go into details of the various “news” and opinion articles I have seen over the past few days, because so much disinformation has been published That it is hard to wade through, and it will take time. I would rather be right on specific cases than engage in generalities, and right now the only thing I can be sure about is the historic precedent and the murder of George Floyd. As far as the individual protests, I cannot comment more until I see more evidence, especially when so much disinformation is being reported about the protests, and the President continues to throw gasoline on the fire by his out of control tweets, as do his supporters. Likewise he continues to use this as a Political weapon to attack Democratic Mayors, Governors, and his Democratic rival for the Presidency, Joe Biden, as well as the free press which tries to report the events honestly on the ground, which had left several reporters, and innocent bystanders injured by rubber bullets fired by police while covering the riots.

That being said I honestly believe that outside agitators, mostly from the political right if you believe the local leaders and not White House propaganda, including off duty police officers are inciting much of the violence and looting. That does not mean that there might not be some left wing agitators, but the left has nothing to gain from inciting violence, it would only make the lives of Blacks harder, and encourage more violence against them.

No American is benefitted by the actions of Donald Trump, who can play on the the imagined fears Whites of Black people by simply playing one off against the other. He learned well from his KKK member father, it’s only when it costs you money when it becomes important, but despite court judgments against him and his corporation, he continues. That makes it obvious that his hatred of Blacks is what really is driving his response, and he will pay the political price, even as the nation suffers as a whole suffers for his actions and words. To this end we must fight for justice and not be silent in the face of evil.

One cannot look on as a bystander when innocent and non violent people are being assaulted and killed by police. As Yehuda Bauer said:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

Bauer also wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

I have no idea how this is going to play out, but a coming economic depression, an unending pandemic which had killed over 105,000 Americans as of today, and now massive riots provoked by unnecessary police violence and the incredible inequality brought about by America’s Original Sin are a perfect storm to make things a lot worse.

The wounds caused by America’s original sin are so deep, gangrenous, and malignant that they cannot be healed simply applying a bandage and hope that they will heal. That’s pretty much what we always do, even when well intentioned pass laws that are ultimately ignored, gutted, or overturned by their opponents. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed on April 9th 1945 on the direct order of Adolf Hitler wrote these words:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

That is all of our task today, if we are silent, we are complicit in that original sin, and it becomes our personal sin as well. America’s Original Sin needs complete disinfecting, and major surgery to cut out and excise it from our identity. Evil is the absence of empathy, which is the mark of a malignant sociopath. If you can turn away from the plight of African Americans and America’s Original sin, then there is little hope for you, and our country. But like Nelson Mandela I believe:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Colfax Easter Massacre at 147, The Day Freedom Died

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One hundred and forty-seven years ago today one of the worst acts of terrorism against Americans by Americans was conducted by members of the White Leagues, a violent white supremacist group in Louisiana. This is from one of my Civil war texts and it is something not to forget in an age where violence against racial and religious minorities is again raising its head.

So tomorrow when I revisit the RMS Titanic and mention a few other things to big to fail.

Have a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The violence against Southern blacks escalated in the wake of the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and with the increasing number of blacks being elected to office in some Southern states during the elections of 1872. In Louisiana a Federal court ruled in favor of Republican Reconstruction candidates following a Democrat campaign to interfere with the vote, which included attacks on polling sites and the theft of ballot boxes. As a result the Louisiana Democrats “established a shadow government and organized paramilitary unit known as the White League to intimidate and attack black and white Republicans.” [1]

The White League in Louisiana was particularly brutal in its use of violence. The worst massacre committed by the White League occurred Easter Sunday 1873 when it massacred blacks in Colfax, Louisiana. Colfax was an isolated nondescript hamlet about three hundred fifty miles northwest of New Orleans. It sat on the grounds of a former plantation whose owner, William Calhoun, who worked with the former slaves who were now freedmen. The town itself “composed of only a few hundred white and black votes” [2] was located in the newly established Grant Parish. The “parish totaled about 4,500, of whom about 2,400 were Negroes living on the lowlands along the east bank of the Red.” [3] Between 1869 and 1873 the town and the parish were the scene of numerous violent incidents and following the 1872 elections, the whites of the parish were out for blood.

White leaders in Grant Parish “retaliated by unleashing a reign of terror in rural districts, forcing blacks to flee to Colfax for protection.” [4] The blacks of parish fled to the courthouse seeking protection from a violent white mob following the brutal murder of a black farmer and his family on the outskirts of town. The people of Colfax, protected by just a few armed black militiamen and citizens deputized by the sheriff took shelter in the courthouse knowing an attack by the White Supremacists was coming.  As the White League force assembled one of its leaders told his men what the day was about. He said, “Boys, this is a struggle for white supremacy….There are one hundred-sixty-five of us to go into Colfax this morning. God only knows who will come out. Those who do will probably be prosecuted for treason, and the punishment for treason is death.” [5] The attack by over 150 heavily armed men of the White League, most of whom were former Confederate soldiers, killed at least seventy-one and possibly as many as three-hundred blacks. Most of the victims were killed as they tried to surrender. The people, protected by just a few armed men were butchered or burned alive by the armed terrorist marauders. It was “the bloodiest peacetime massacre in nineteenth-century America.” [6]

The instigators of the attack claimed that they acted in self-defense. They claimed that “armed Negroes, stirred up by white Radical Republicans, seized the courthouse, throwing out the rightful officeholders: the white judge and sheriff”and they claimed that the blacks had openly proclaimed “their intention to kill all the white men, they boasted they would use white women to breed a new race.” [7]The claims were completely fabricated, after sending veteran former army officers who were serving in the Secret Service to investigate, the U.S. Attorney for Louisiana, J.R. Beckwith sent an urgent telegram to the Attorney General:

“The Democrats (White) of Grant Parish attempted to oust the incumbent parish officers by force and failed, the sheriff protecting the officers with a colored posse. Several days afterward recruits from other parishes, to the number of 300, came to the assistance of the assailants, when they demanded the surrender of the colored people. This was refused. An attack was made and the Negroes were driven into the courthouse. The courthouse was fired and the Negroes slaughtered as they left the burning building, after resistance ceased. Sixty-five Negroes terribly mutilated were found dead near the ruins of the courthouse. Thirty, known to have been taken prisoners, are said to have been shot after the surrender, and thrown into the river. Two of the assailants were wounded. The slaughter is greater than the riot of 1866 in this city. Will send report by mail.” [8]

Federal authorities arrested nine white men in the wake of the massacre and after two trials in which white majority juries were afraid to go against public opinion, three were “convicted of violating the Enforcement Act of 1871.” [9] None were convicted of murder despite the overwhelming evidence against them and even the lesser convictions enraged the White Supremacists in Louisiana who had employed the best lawyers possible and provided them and the defendants with unlimited financial backing. Assisted by the ruling of Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Bradley, who had a long history of neglecting Southern racism, white Democrats appealed the convictions to the Supreme Court.

The attack, and the court cases which followed, notably the judgment of the Supreme Court in United States v. Cruickshank which dealt with the appeal of the men responsible for the Colfax Massacre led to a “narrowing of Federal law enforcement authority” and were “milestones on the road to a “solid” Democratic South.” [10] The decision of the court in United States v. Cruikshank was particularly perverse in its interpretation of constitutional rights and protections. The court ruled in favor of the terrorists and declared that “the right of the black victims at Colfax to assemble hand not been guaranteed because they were neither petitioning Congress nor protesting a federal law. Assembling for any other cause was not protected.” [11]

The Cruikshank decision amounted to a Supreme Court endorsement of violence against blacks, and made it “impossible for the federal government to prosecute crimes against blacks unless they were perpetrated by a state and unless it could prove a racial motive unequivocally.”[12] Northern politicians and newspapers, reeling under the effects of the stock market crash of 1873, which had denounced the massacre just a year before now ran from the story and from support of African Americans. A Republican office holder wrote, “The truth is, our people are tired out with this worn cry of ‘Southern outrages…. Hard times and heavy taxes make them wish the ‘nigger,’ the ‘everlasting nigger,’ were in hell or Africa.” [13] Racism and race hatred was not exclusively the parlance of the South.

In the wake of Justice Bradley’s reversal of the Colfax convictions whites in Grant Parish engaged in brutal reprisals against blacks, leading to many murders and lynchings, crimes which law enforcement, even that favorable to the rights of African Americans were afraid to prosecute for fear of their own lives. Louisiana’s Republican Governor, William Pitt Kellogg wrote Attorney General Williams blaming the violence on Bradley’s ruling, which he wrote, “was regarded as establishing the principle that hereafter no white man could be punished for killing a negro, and as virtually wiping the Ku Klux laws of the statute books.” He added that with the Army leaving the state that his government and other Reconstruction governments would fall, “if Louisiana goes,” Kellogg wrote, “Mississippi will inevitably follow and, that end attained, all the results of the war so far as the colored people are concerned will be neutralized, all the reconstruction acts of Congress will be of no more value than so much waste paper and the colored people, though free in name, will be practically remitted back to servitude.” [14] Governor Kellogg could not have been more correct.

In the years that followed many of the men involved in the massacre and other murders before and after were hailed as heroes, some, including the leader of the attackers, Christopher Columbus Nash were again appointed to office in Colfax and Grant Parish and blacks were reminded every day of just what they had lost. On April 13th 1921 the men who committed the massacre were honored with a memorial in the Colfax cemetery honoring them as “Heroes… who fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for White Supremacy.” In 1951 the State of Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry dedicated a marker outside the Courthouse which read: “On the site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three White men and 150 Negroes were slain, this event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of Carpetbag misrule in the South.” [15] That marker still stands, there is no marker commemorating the victims.

Other massacres followed across the South, aimed at both blacks and their white Republican allies. In Louisiana the White League had some 14,000 men under arms, in many cases drilling as military units led by former Confederate officers. A White League detachment southwest of Shreveport “forced six white Republicans to resign their office on pain of death – and then brutally murdered them after they had resigned.” [16] This became known as the Coushatta Massacre and it was a watershed because for the first time the White League targeted whites as well as African Americans. The violence, now protected by the courts ensured that neither would last long in the post-Reconstruction South and that the freedom of African Americans in those states would amount to a cruel illusion.

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant including comments about the Colfax massacre and the subsequent court decisions in his message to Congress. Grant was angry and wrote: “Fierce denunciations ring through the country about office-holding and election matters in Louisiana…while every one of the Colfax miscreants goes unwhipped of justice, and no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous crime.”[17] President Grant, the man who so wanted to help African Americans attain the full measure of freedom, was unable to do more as the Congress and Courts took sides with the Southern insurgents.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.151

[2] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.312

[3] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.42

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[5] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.91

[6] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[7] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.11

[8] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.22

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.494

[10] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.251

[11] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.314

[12] Ibid. Goldfield American Aflame p.494

[13] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.213

[14] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.217

[15] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died pp.261-262

[16] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 185

[17] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.228

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“We are All Americans” Reflection on Appomattox during The COVID-19 Pandemic

chamberlian gordon appomattox

Joshua Chamberlain Receives the Surrender of John Gordon at Appomattox

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a difficult, tiring, and yet extraordinary week. I have had little sleep, and did all that I could do to be with and among the people I serve. Of course I always wear a high quality face mask when outside the confines of my very isolated cubicle so I can be out and among them. Unfortunately, technology, the unpreparedness of our nation and military for the novel Coronavirus pandemic, and my own medical needs made yesterday very exhausting and frustrating. I haven’t published anything here since 7 April, which is unusual for me, as I seldom miss a day without writing something. Over the past couple of days I have been working on a different article which will be later today or early tomorrow. I just thought that this was more timely.

So now I am publishing a highly edited and revised post about the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia to the Armies commanded by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

That event is something that all Americans should still celebrate today, because it was a moral and patriotic act of surrendering individual agendas for the sake of the Union, reconciliation, and equality. I hope that we can learn from it today.

Until tomorrow or whenever,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

One hundred and fifty-five years ago on the 9th and 10th of April 1865, four men, Ulysses S Grant, Robert E. Lee, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Ely Parker, taught succeeding generations of Americans the value of mutual respect and reconciliation.

The four men were all very different. The very thought that they would do so after a bitter and bloody war that had cost the lives of close to three quarters of a million Americans which had left hundreds of thousands others maimed, shattered or without a place to live, and who had seen vast swaths of the country ravaged by war and its attendant plagues is quite remarkable.

The differences in the men, their upbringing, and their views about life seemed to be insurmountable. The Confederate commander, General Robert E. Lee was the epitome of a Southern aristocrat and career army officer.

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, like Lee was a West Point graduate and veteran of the War with Mexico, but there the similarities ended. Grant was an officer of humble means who had struggled with alcoholism and failed in his civilian life after he left the army, before returning to it as a volunteer when war began.

Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had been a professor of rhetoric and natural and revealed religion from Bowdoin College until 1862 when he volunteered to serve in the Army against the wishes of his wife. He was one of the heroes of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, who helped exemplify the importance of citizen soldiers, and military professionals in peace and war.

Finally there was Colonel Ely Parker, a full-blooded Seneca Indian.  Parker was professional engineer by trade, but was barred from being an attorney because as a Native American he was never considered an American citizen. At the beginning of the war Parker was rejected from serving in the army for the same reason, but his friend Grant obtained him an officer’s commission and kept him on his staff for the entirety of the war.

grant 1

General Ulysses S. Grant

On 5 April 1865 the Confederate line around the fortress of Petersburg was shattered at the battle of Five Forks. To save the last vestiges of his army Lee attempted to withdraw to the west. Within a few days the once magnificent Army of Northern Virginia was trapped near the town of Appomattox. On the morning of April 9th 1865 Lee replied to an entreaty of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant requesting that he and his Army of Northern Virginia be allowed to surrender. Lee wrote to Grant:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 9, 1865

Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I received your note of this morning on the picket-line, whither I had come to meet you and ascertain definitely what terms were embraced in your proposal of yesterday with reference to the surrender of this army. I now ask an interview in accordance with the offer contained in your letter of yesterday for that purpose.

R.E. LEE, General.

The once mighty Army of Northern Virginia, which had won many victories, but more defeats, and in almost every battle except Fredericksburg and Cold Harbor, lost as a higher percentage of casualties that they could not replace, as compared to their foes in the Army of the Potomac. At its peak strength during the Gettysburg campaign, Lee’s Army numbered nearly 80,000 men, but less than two years later it was now a haggard and emaciated, but still proud force of about 15,000 soldiers. For Lee to continue the war now would mean that they would have to face even more hopeless odds against a vastly superior enemy. Grant recognized this and wrote Lee:

I am equally anxious for peace with yourself, and the whole North entertains the same feeling. The terms upon which peace can be had are well understood. By the South laying down their arms they will hasten that most desirable event, save thousands of human lives, and hundreds of millions of property not yet destroyed. Seriously hoping that all our difficulties may be set-tied without the loss of another life, I subscribe myself, &c.,

Since the high water mark at Gettysburg, Lee’s army had been on the defensive. Lee’s ill-fated offensive into Pennsylvania was one of the two climactic events that sealed the doom of the Confederacy. The other was Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, which surrendered to him a day after Pickett’s Charge. That day became known as The Most Glorious Fourth, because the dual defeats coincided with the 87th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But it was Grant’s victory which cut the Confederacy in half, and was the true beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

ileerob001p1

General Robert E. Lee

However, those disastrous defeats did not end the war. Lee conducted a bloody and ultimately doomed defensive struggle that lasted through 1864 as Grant bled the Confederates dry during the Overland Campaign, leading to the long siege of Petersburg. Likewise the armies of William Tecumseh Sherman cut a swath through the Deep South, captured Atlanta, the true industrial and economic hub of the Confederacy. Grant forced Lee into a protracted siege at Petersburg, while Sherman cut a swath across Georgia and the Carolinas, capturing Charleston, South Carolina, the ideological heart of the Confederate cause, South Carolina’s Capital of Columbia, and Wilmington, North Carolina, the last of the major Confederate seaports.

With each battle that followed Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia became weaker, and finally after the nine month long siege of Petersburg ended with a Union victory there was little else to do. Lee wanted to continue the war but his beloved shatter shell of an Army was trapped. On the morning of April 9th a final attempt to break through the Union lines by Major General John Gordon’s division was turned back by vastly superior Union forces.

But, two days before, on April 7th Grant wrote a letter to Lee, which began the process of ending the war in Virginia. He wrote:

General R. E. LEE:

The result of the last week must convince you of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia in this struggle. I feel that it is so, and regard it as my duty to shift from myself the responsibility of any further effusion of blood, by asking of you the surrender of that portion of the C. S. Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia.

U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant-General

Lee was hesitant to surrender knowing Grant’s reputation for insisting on unconditional surrender, terms that Lee could not yet bring himself to accept. Lee replied to Grant’s offer with this message:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 7, 1865 Lieut. Gen. U.S. GRANT:

I have received your note of this date. Though not entertaining the opinion you express on the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the Army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer on condition of its surrender.

R.E. LEE, General.

The correspondence continued over the next day even as the Confederates hoped to fight their way out of the trap that they were in. But now Robert E. Lee, who had through his efforts extended the war for at least six months, knew that he could no longer continue. Even so, some of Lee’s younger subordinates wanted to continue the fight. When his artillery chief Porter Alexander recommended that the Army be released he recommended that the soldiers of the Army, “take to the woods and report to their state governors.”

Lee knew that such action would bring about even more death and destruction.

“We have simply now to face the fact that the Confederacy has failed. And as Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs. We must consider only the effect which our action will have upon the country at large.”

Lee continued:

“Already [the country] is demoralized by the four years of war. If I took your advice, the men would be without rations and under no control of their officers. They would be compelled to rob and steal in order to live…. We would bring on a state of affairs it would take the country years to recover from… You young fellows might go bushwhacking, but the only dignified course for me would be to go to General Grant and surrender myself and take the consequences of my acts.”

Alexander was so humbled at Lee’s reply he later wrote “I was so ashamed of having proposed such a foolish and wild cat scheme that I felt like begging him to forget he had ever heard it.” When Alexander saw the gracious terms of the surrender he was particularly impressed with how non-vindictive the terms were, especially in terms of parole and amnesty for the surrendered soldiers.

Abraham Lincoln had already set the tone for the surrender in his Second Inaugural Address given just over a month before the surrender of Lee’s army. Lincoln closed that speech with these words of reconciliation.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

appomattox surrender

Lee met Grant at the house of Wilmer McLean, who had moved to Appomattox in 1861 after his home near Manassas had been used as a Confederate headquarters and was damaged by artillery fire. Lee was dressed in his finest uniform complete with sash, while Grant was dressed in a mud splattered uniform and overcoat only distinguished from his soldiers by the three stars on his shoulder boards. Grant’s dress uniforms were far to the rear in the baggage trains, and Grant was afraid that his slovenly appearance would insult Lee, but it did not. It was a friendly meeting. Before getting down to business the two reminisced about the Mexican War in which they had both served and first met. At that time Lee was one of the rising stars of the Army, and Grant a mere Lieutenant.

Grant provided his vanquished foe very generous surrender terms:

“In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”

When Lee left the building Federal troops began cheering in jubilation, but Grant ordered them to stop. He did not want to personally humiliate Lee anymore than the reality of defeat and surrender already done.  Afterward, Grant felt a sense of melancholy and wrote “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

In the hours before and after the signing of the surrender documents old friends and West Point classmates, separated by four long years of war gathered on the porch or around the house. Grant and others were gracious to their now defeated friends and the bitterness of war began to melt away. Some Union officers offered money to help their Confederate friends get through the coming months. It was an emotional reunion, especially for the former West Point classmates gathered there.

“It had never been in their hearts to hate the classmates they were fighting. Their lives and affections for one another had been indelibly framed and inextricably intertwined in their academy days. No adversity, war, killing, or political estrangement could undo that. Now, meeting together when the guns were quiet, they yearned to know that they would never hear their thunder or be ordered to take up arms against one another again.”

Grant also ordered that 25,000 rations be transported to the starving Confederate army waiting to surrender. The gesture meant much to the defeated Confederate soldiers who had had little to eat ever since the retreat from Petersburg began.

The surrender itself was accomplished with a recognition that only soldiers who have given the full measure of devotion can know when confronting a defeated and humiliated enemy who before had been their countrymen. Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the heroic victor of Little Round Top was directed by Grant to receive the final surrender of the defeated Confederate infantry divisions on the morning of April 12th 1865.

The morning dawned rainy and the beaten Confederates marched to the surrender grounds. As first division in the column, that of John Gordon passed, Chamberlain was so moved by emotion he ordered his soldiers to salute the defeated enemy for whose cause he had no sympathy. Chamberlain honored the defeated Rebel army by bringing his division to present arms.

Gordon, was “riding with heavy spirit and downcast face,” looked up, surveyed the scene, wheeled about on his horse, and “with profound salutation returned the gesture by lowering his saber to the toe of his boot. The Georgian then ordered each following brigade to carry arms as they passed third brigade, “honor answering honor.”

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Chamberlain was not just a soldier, but before the war had been Professor of Natural and Revealed Religions at Bowdoin College, and a student of theology before the war. Chamberlain, a citizen soldier could not help to see the significance of the occasion. He understood that some people would criticize him for saluting the surrendered enemy.

However, Chamberlain, unlike others, understood the value of reconciliation, and at his heart was a Christian, and theologian, as well a staunch abolitionist and Unionist, who had nearly died on more than one occasion fighting the defeated Confederate Army. However, unlike many hardline politicians and ideologues, Chamberlain understood that the achievement of equality for all, the freedom, enfranchisement, and integration of African Americans into society, and true Union could be achieved unless the enemies became reconciled to one another. At that point the men of the Army of Northern Virginia knew that they were defeated and at the mercy of those who vanquished them.

Chamberlain noted that his reasons for doing what he did afterward.

“The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry”—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”

The next day Robert E Lee addressed his soldiers for the last time. Lee’s final order to his loyal troops was published the day after the surrender. It was a gracious letter of thanks to men that had served their beloved commander well in the course of the three years since he assumed command of them outside Richmond in 1862.

General Order
No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell. — R. E. Lee, General

Sadly, Lee failed to acknowledge his role in bringing the Confederacy to complete destruction by not telling his Commander in Chief, President Jefferson Davis that the war was lost when Atlanta fell. For all his virtues, he could not overcome his innate racism, and lack of moral courage to confront an arrogant superior that the war could not be won and the Confederacy surrender. Only Lee could have done so, Davis would not listen to anyone else, as no one had Lee’s stature and respect among Southerners. But he did not do that until his army was for all intents and purposes destroyed. If effect he continued to fight when there was no human, or Christian purpose to do so. With the fall of Atlanta he knew that there was no political, economic, diplomatic, or military reason to continue the war, but he did so anyway.

But Appomattox was the beginning of the end of the end. The war had really been lost at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863, and was certainly lost when Sherman captured Atlanta and began his march across Georgia, which ensured that the Confederates would have to deal with Abraham Lincoln and not the Northern Peace Democrats or Copperheads, who were willing to let the Confederacy live than to continue a war that was being won on all fronts. Other Confederate forces continued to resist for several weeks, but with the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, led by the man that nearly all Southerners saw as the embodiment of their nation the war was effectively over.

Lee had fought hard and after the war was still under the charge of treason, but he understood the significance of defeat and the necessity of moving forward as one nation. In August 1865 Lee wrote to the trustees of Washington College of which he was now President:

“I think it is the duty of every citizen, in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid the restoration of peace and harmony… It is particularly incumbent upon those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.

Unfortunately, by that time, despite his remaining prejudice and failure to acknowledge the evil of the cause for which he had fought, offered words which should have been heeded by every man and woman in the former Confederacy.

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Brigadier General Ely Parker

Lee’s words, do offer a lesson for all of us in our terribly divided land need to learn regardless of or political affiliation or ideology in the midst of a global pandemic that pays no respect to the lives of anyone, that knows no border, race, creed, nation, or religion.

After he had signed the surrender document, Lee learned that Grant’s Aide-de-Camp Colonel Ely Parker, was a full-blooded Seneca Indian. He stared at Parker’s dark features and said: “It is good to have one real American here.”

Parker, a man whose people had known the brutality of the White man, as well as a man who was not considered a citizen and would never gain the right to vote in his lifetime, replied, “Sir, we are all Americans.”

That afternoon Parker would receive a commission as a Brevet Brigadier General of Volunteers, making him the first Native American to hold that rank in the United States Army. He would later be made a Brigadier General in the Regular Army.

I don’t know what Lee thought of that. His reaction is not recorded and he never wrote about it after the war, but it might have been in some way led to Lee’s letter to the trustees of Washington College. I think with our land so divided, ands that is time again that we learn the lessons so evidenced in the actions and words of Ely Parker, Ulysses Grant, Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain, for we are all Americans.

Sadly, I think that there is a portion of the American population who will not heed these words and will continue to agitate for policies and laws similar to those that led to the Civil War, and which those that could not reconcile defeat, and almost immediately put into place laws that made newly freed slaves, into slaves by another name again during the Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. For me such behavior and attitudes are incompressible, but they are all too real, and all too present in our divided nation.

But I still maintain hope that in spite of everything that divides us, in spite of the intolerance and hatred of some, that we can overcome. I think that the magnanimity of Grant in victory, the humility of Lee in defeat, the graciousness of Chamberlain in honoring the defeated foe, and the stark bluntness of Parker, the Native American, in reminding Lee, that “we are all Americans,” is something that is worth remembering, and yes, even emulating today.

But even more so we need to remember the words of the only man whose DNA and genealogy did not make him a European transplant, the man who Lee refereed to as the only true American at Appomattox, General Ely Parker, the Native American who fought for a nation that not acknowledge him as a citizen until long after he was dead.

In the perverted, unrequited racist age of President Donald Trump we have to stop the bullshit, and take to heart the words of Ely Parker. “We are all Americans.” If we don’t get that there is no hope for our country. No amount of military or economic might can save us if we cannot understand Parker’s words, or the words of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” Really, it does not matter if our relatives were second sons of European Gentry, religious dissidents, refugees of repressive regimes, African Slaves, Asians seeking a new life in a new country, or Mexican citizens who turned on their own country to become citizens of a new Republic, men like Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican governor of El Norte and one of the First U.S. Senators from California.

Let us never forget Ely Parker’ words at Appomattox, “We are all Americans.”

Sadly, there are not just more than a few Americans, and many with no familial or other connection to the Confederacy and the South than deeply held racism who would rather see another bloody civil war because they hate the equality of Blacks, Women, immigrants, and LGBTQ Americans more than they love the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

That is why Parker’s words to Lee still matter so much and why we must never give up the fight for equality for all Americans. Likewise, whether one likes it or not, Robert E. Lee broke his sacred oath to the Constitution as a commissioned officer, and refused to free the slaves entrusted to his care by his Father in Law in 1859, who also refused to support his Confederate President’s plan to emancipate and free African American slaves who were willing to fight for the Confederacy until February 1865.

Lee the Myth is still greater than Lee the man in much of this country. Lee the man is responsible for the deaths for more Americans than the leaders of Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, or any other foreign power. He even cast aside such loyalists as George Pickett, whose division he destroyed in a suicidal attack at Gettysburg on July 3rd 1863, and then continued to damn Pickett for mistakes which were his own until the end of the war.

Both sides of my family fought for the Confederacy as officers and members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry. Most reconciled, but others didn’t, including the patriarch of my paternal side of the family. His decision ended up costing the family millions of dollars in the following years. The maternal side was smart enough to reconcile after the war and to later engage in the profoundly libertarian practice of bootlegging until the end of prohibition. I don’t know if any members of either side of my family were KKK supporters, but if they were I wouldn’t be surprised.  They lost almost all they had during the war by fighting on the wrong side and when their rebellion ended in defeat many refused to reconcile with the United States, or head the words of Robert E. Lee, and they deserved it.

But, despite his words Robert E. Lee refused to completely admit his crime of treason. He used the language of reconciliation without fully embracing it.

So for me April 9th is very personal. I have served my country for nearly 38 and a half years, and in the midst of a pandemic I continue to serve while wondering if the grim necessity of the times keep me from retiring.

That being said, I cannot abide men and women who treat the men and women that I have served with in the defense of this county as less than human or fully entitled to the rights that are mine, more to my birth and race than today than any of my inherent talents or abilities. That includes my ancestors who fought for the Confederacy on both sides of my family. Ancestors or not, they were traitors to everything that I believe in and hold dear.

As for me, principles and equality trump all forms of racism, racist ideology, and injustice, even when the President himself advocates for them. I am a Union man, despite my Southern ancestry, and I will support the rights of people my ancestors would never support, Blacks, Hispanics, Women, LTBTQ, and other racial, religious, or gender minorities.

So I am a Unionist and a continuing abolitionist when it comes to protecting and advancing the rights of those whose rights continue to be trumped by prejudice. So I am a supporter of Equal rights for African Americans, immigrants of all races, nationalities, and religions. Likewise, I am a women’s rights advocate, including their reproductive rights, and a supporter of LGBTQ people and their rights, most of which are opposed by the Evangelical Christians who I grew up with. I also will not hesitate to criticize the elected President of the United States when he pisses on the preface of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and attacks the bedrock principles of the Bill of Rights.

How can I be silent? I know that I cannot be a bystander, Even when in the midst of a pandemic these same people are not only being victimized by the Coronavirus pandemic, but by the government that should be doing it can to protect and defend the lives and livelihoods of all of us, citizens, those on the way to citizenship, or those who simply hope and long to be free by leaving their homelands to become truly free.

So I will stand fast on this anniversary of Appomattox and echo the words of Eli Parker to all, no-matter their status or unforgiving ideology that stand against them:  “Sir, we are all Americans.” Such people, who represent the most extreme and ideological pillars of the political Right and Left, may not understand this, but I certainly do.

The failure to work towards reconciliation and equality on both sides of the ideological spectrum will doom us all, and destroy the Republic and the ideals that were planted in the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, the XIII, XIV, XV, and XIX Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the end of DOMA, and the yesterday to be ratified Women’s Rights Act. The reversal of any of these achievements places us on a trail that only leads to an imperfect and imagined past which is often overplayed with myth and ideology to create a nation where diversity is the enemy, where race and religion matter more than the simple understanding that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” 

 

 

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“Nothing is Easier than to Denounce an Evil Doer; Nothing is more Important than to Understand Him” The Uncomfortable Necessity of Understanding Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”

I think one of our problems is that we want to believe that evil is simply done be evil people. That is why when we see a Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or the monsters of the so-called Islamic State, we are often strangely comforted. This is often  because we can point to a single person with a wicked ideology and say “they are evil,” all the while forgetting that they are, or were, like us, also human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us of the folly of that type of thinking:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A few years ago I took a break from my Gettysburg studies and writing and dusted off an old academic paper dealing with the one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. I did that because I felt that I needed to reexamine the nature of evil in the modern world. Since that time I have gone back, done more study, more writing, and made more visits to locations of Nazi evil. I will be doing more of that in the next few weeks as we go back to Germany for an eighteen day visit.

When I ponder the evil committed by supposedly civilized men and women of Germany, I realize that they are little different than others who share the culture of the West. These people were the products of a culture of learning, and of science. They were part of a culture formed by the Christian tradition, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, the age of Reason. As I pondered this I came to remember something said by the late Iris Chang, “civilization is tissue thin.”

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                                    Lynching in the American South

That series of articles about the Einsatzgruppen dealt with the ordinary men, and the bureaucratic systems that implemented an ideology so twisted and evil that it is unimaginable to most people. In fact even in the Nazi system the majority of the genocide was not committed in the death camps, but up close and personal by men standing over pits with pistols, rifles, and machine guns.

While most people in the United States know a little about the Holocaust, most do not fully comprehend how devilish and insidious the crimes of the Nazis were. More frightening is the fact that in a 2015 survey 46% of people worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust, and of the 54% who are aware of it some 32% think it is a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. The numbers will only get worse as we become farther removed from these events and the survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators die off. The same is true for other genocidal acts.

We typically know about the extermination camps like Auschwitz, but the lesser known dark side of the Holocaust, perhaps the scariest part, is the story of the men of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen and affiliated units, including those of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen SS, the mobilized battalions of the Order Police, and locally recruited units, rounded up massive numbers of people and killed them up close and personal. In all these units murdered over two million people, about 1.3 million of whom were Jews.

My study of the Holocaust began in college as an undergraduate. My primary professor at California State University at Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler had been an interpreter and interrogator at the Nuremberg trials. I was able to take a number of lecture classes from him a large amount of research and independent study courses in a year of graduate work while finishing my Army ROTC program at UCLA. It was an immersion in the history, sociology, and the psychology of evil, during which I was able to meet and talk with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

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                       Einsatzgruppen and Ordungspolizei in Russia

Since then I have continued to read and study. I lived in Germany for over four years, and made many other visits, during which I went to a number of Concentration Camp sites. I visited the rebuilt synagogue in Worms which had been destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht, and other museums and Holocaust memorial sites in Germany. I visited the Zeppelin field, the site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies in Nuremburg, as well as the graveyards which contain the victims of other Nazi crimes, including the Nacht und Nebel or night and fog actions, where people simply disappeared and were murdered by the Gestapo.

For me, those visits were sobering, maybe even more so because I understood exactly what happened in those sites. These are uncomfortable places to visit, and I can understand why many people would not want to visit them, or even study them.

The darkness that they remind us of  is a part of our human condition. Traces of the evil on display in those places is present in every human being. Frankly, most people cannot bear looking into that abyss, for fear that they might be swallowed by it.

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                                                            Nankingnanking_massacre_1

I can understand that and I have to admit that it is hard to do so. I am a historian as well as a clinician with much experience dealing with death and trauma. With my training I do a pretty good job of keeping my emotional distance to maintain objectivity when confronted with evil. However, it is hard for me not to have some emotional reaction when visiting these places, or reading about the events and people, and in writing about them.

Likewise, I am very troubled by the growing lack or awareness or denial of the Holocaust. It is very hard for me not to have a virulent reaction when I see books and websites dedicated to Holocaust denial, or that minimize other well documented genocides, and crimes against humanity.

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                                      Soviet Mass Killings in Ukraine

My sensitivity to human suffering and the terrible indifference of people in this country to it was greatly increased by my experience of war, and my post-war struggles with PTSD, depression, anxiety, which at points left me very close to committing suicide. A non-chaplain friend, a now retired Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer that I served with at my last duty station recently remarked that I am a tremendously empathic person, and that I have a large capacity to feel the pain and suffering of others. This capacity for empathy and the ability to feel the suffering of others is part of who I am. It is a good thing, but it makes my work studying and writing about the Holocaust, other genocides, crimes against humanity, and subjects like American slavery, racism, and Jim Crow a sometimes difficult and often very emotionally consuming task. This sometimes leaves me even more sleepless and anxious than normal; especially when I see the indifference of so many people to the suffering of others today.

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                                                  The Killing Fields

It is that indifference which motivates me to write; because if these events are not recalled and retold, they, like any part of history will be ignored and then forgotten. The statistics bear this out. There are people today, who say that we should stop talking about these events, that they are old news, and they cannot happen again; but history tells us different, and not just the Holocaust, but indeed every genocide. Then there are those who shamelessly use the Holocaust imagery to spread fear among their followers even as they openly demonize minority groups and religions as the Nazis did to the Jews.

I have to agree with Elie Wiesel who said, “Indifference to me, is the epitome of all evil.”

The late Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II wrote something that is pertinent to almost every modern episode of genocide, or other crime against humanity. It is the ability of leaders, be they political, military, or religious to convince people to rationalize actions that they normally would find repulsive.

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

There are many other such events that we could note; the American decimation and genocide committed against native American tribes that spanned close to two centuries, the 1915 Turkish genocide of Armenians, the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Chinese Communist “Great Leap Forward,” the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the more recent but seldom discussed action of the Myanmar government and military against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

                        Rwandan Genocide

What we call civilization, to use the words of Iris Chang, is tissue thin. That is why we must never forget these terrible events of history, and that part of human nature, and in a sense part of every one of us, that makes them so easy to repeat. That is why we must periodically take the time to remember and reflect on the Holocaust, other genocides and crimes against humanity.

It is even more important now with the rise of fascist, nationalist, and racist regimes around the world. Even in the United States these demons of the past, racism, nationalism, and fascism have come out into the open as those who believe in them have become emboldened by the words of President Trump and members of his administration.

In fact in trying to clean up his inaction after the violence committed by neo-Nazis and KKK sympathizers in Charlottesville the President first equated the Nazis and Klansmen with the people that they attacked and under pressure made a speech condemning the Nazis and Klansmen. According to Bob Woodward, when a Fox News correspondent said that was an admission that he was almost an admission that he was wrong.” The President exploded at Rob Porter, the aide who convinced him to make the speech: “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” the President told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?” A few days later the President returned to the subject and again made the argument of moral equivalence.

Coupled with so many of the President’s words and policies directed against Blacks, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Africans, and others; as well as his attacks on the First Amendment and his praise and defense of cold blooded dictators around the world one has to take it more seriously.

This is not an issue that simply lurks in the past, it is a very real part of the present. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

 

Yes, these are terribly uncomfortable subjects, but we cannot allow this generation to allow them to be forgotten, lest they be repeated. That is why that I must continue to write about them and do my best to make sure that they are not forgotten as we cannot afford to let them happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Don’t Believe Him Anymore, He’s Telling the Truth: the Paradox Of Trump’s Lies and Racist Words and Actions

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the weekend in a series of tweets targeting female Democratic Party members of Congress, President Trump rekindled the subject of his racist and White Nationalist views, which he began the very day that he announced his candidacy for President. In his tweets he challenged their citizenship and told them that they should go home and fix the countries they came from. His tone was similar to when he referred to other countries as shit hole countries. The next day he doubled down on it and so did many of his Congressional, right wing media, and members of his White, Evangelical Christian base.

Likewise, over his first two and a half years the President has told over 8,000 direct lies or distortions of the truth, and regularly charges his critics with lying, fake news, or even treason. Back in 2015 I said that I believed that he was a racist, and I compared his words to those of the racist Know Nothings Of the 1830s to 1860s in a blog article back then.

Those words cost me friends, but I think that the President’s every tweet, word, and policy, as well as his actions have proven me right; from his announcement, to Charlottesville, to his immigration policies, to his “shit hole countries” remarks, to his tweets over the weekend, and remarks Monday. They were all bloody red meat which his followers swallowed hook line and sinker, especially White Evangelical Protestants who form a large part of his base.

The President’s racism is not not a new thing. In the 1990s when five black youths were falsely accused, charged and later acquitted of raping a woman jogger in New York’s Central Park, Trump took out newspaper adds urging their conviction and the use of the death penalty. One of his earliest ventures in the New York Real Estate market was in 1973  in which the Justice Department showed that he discriminated against minorities applying to live in his apartments. Trump settled out of court.

The President’s past anti-Semitic comments wreaked of Nazi comments in the Third Reich. His continued words and policies against non-White Christian immigrants before he was elected and since his election show all the evidence that he is an out and out racist. I would like to believe that such could not be true, but every action of his demonstrates it. The old saying that if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck is most appropriate when dealing with the words, actions, tweets, and policies of this President, his administration, and his Party. Every day I see Republicans tweeting, writing, or saying that this is all President Obama’s fault, which is absolute bullshit.

If you asked me what the President could do to change my mind I would answer the following:

Stop lying. However, this is not possible because he honestly believes everything he says. He lies so much that he cannot tell truth from a lie. Most people understand when they are lying, even when they lie to protect someone from harm, but Trump cannot tell the difference. It’s habitual, and pathological, and his Party, supporters, and media accomplices let it happen. He was all in on the birther  conspiracy theories about President Obama, Hell, even the leaders of the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, and their so-called moderates struggle with accusing him of being a racist.

Second, the President could stop dividing Americans based on race or disagreement with his racial policies. He could easily stop his racist rants on Twitter or at his rallies if he did not personally believe them and revel in the adoration of his followers who pick up his chants.

As a historian it almost feels like the things I studied about the anti-immigrant Know Nothings, the ante-Bellum Slave Power South, Jim Crow, the treatment of almost every ethnic group which has ever arrived in the United States, to include the Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, other Eastern Europeans, Arabs, Jews, Asians, including the internment of Japanese American citizens in World War Two, the treatment of others including Cubans, Haitians, and others fleeing political persecution or natural disasters. Please let’s not forget what how we treated the inhabitants of the country we took over in regard to Native Americans, Mexicans, and even the French.

Sure, we do have our better angels, but the history Of the United States demonstrates a clear, consistent, and unending history or racism, hatred of immigrants, especially those of darker skin, or non-Christian religions. Sadly, that racism is rising exponentially, in both extremist groups and in the mainstream of the GOP and White America. I can hardly believe what I am seeing. It reminds me of the very racist tenor of the busing debate in my home town back in 1974-75.

As far as the lying, I am reminded of the words of Adolf Hitler’s Finance Minister, Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk noted: “He wasn’t honest with his most intimate confidants…. In my opinion, he was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between truth and lies. 

This very evening at one of his rallies Trump supporters began to chant “Send her back” in relation to U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat from Minnesota, a naturalized citizen whose parents fled war torn Somalia in the early 1990s. It sounded like a Nazi rally. Trust me, I have watched and listened to plenty of Nazi propaganda and seen just how the President uses the same type of language and gestures to goad his supporters into such behavior.

So my friends I will leave you with that to ponder. I think that the quote fits, and if he is not turned out of office that he will destroy the laws and institutions that made this country great.

And finally, this I hate to say, if after all of this someone still supports the President, they are most likely racist, and White Nationalist. Trump appeals not to the better angels of our nature, but the demonic nature, that which despises that Sacred Secular Scripture Of the Declaration “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” 

White Nationalists and Know Nothings hate those words and seek to limit them to themselves, as it appears that the President does. I don’t know them man, but his words and actions, past and current lead me to believe that there is no other answer to the paradox of Donald Trump.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Silence in the Face Of Evil is Evil Itself

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

Today I blocked and deleted a former friend from a church I went to decades ago because of his attitude towards me and what I post on Facebook. I get tired of the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be patriotic when in fact they openly support a President who openly denies his oath when he said today that he would accept “dirt” on his political opponents from foreign sources.

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

I have written about that subject a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, although I hoped for a different outcome. Trust me, as an American with a profound respect for the office of the President that is what I wanted, but it didn’t happen.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him want bloodshed, they want Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.” 

The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies and denies the President’s words and vilifies anyone that dares to question her. So when she is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.

Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.” 

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil. I will live and die as a Christian who believes those sacred words of secular scripture found in the Declaration.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A Reminder Of How Violently Freedom Can Die: the Colfax Massacre

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Judy was released from the hospital today having exceeded all expectations in recovery, mobility, and flexibility. Compared to her first knee replacement surgery in November it is a night and day difference. That is a good thing because I am so “crippled up” as my paternal grandmother “Granny” would say. Trying to get up to one of my hanging lights in the living room I took a shortcut and didn’t use a ladder. Instead, I tried to balance on the arm of a couch and a rather lightweight end table. My right ankle, which I sprained last week when my right knee went out, gave out, I fell and crashed smashing the table and ending up on the floor, with either a bruised or broken rib to show for it. So it is really a good thing that she is doing so much better. So tonight a rerun from a couple of years ago.

One hundred and forty-six years ago today one of the worst acts of terrorism against Americans by Americans was conducted by members of the White Leagues, a violent white supremacist group in Louisiana. This is from one of my Civil war texts and it is something not to forget in an age where violence against racial and religious minorities is again raising its head, and not just in the United States.

Have a good day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The violence against Southern blacks escalated in the wake of the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and with the increasing number of blacks being elected to office in some Southern states during the elections of 1872. In Louisiana a Federal court ruled in favor of Republican Reconstruction candidates following a Democrat campaign to interfere with the vote, which included attacks on polling sites and the theft of ballot boxes. As a result the Louisiana Democrats “established a shadow government and organized paramilitary unit known as the White League to intimidate and attack black and white Republicans.” [1]

The White League in Louisiana was particularly brutal in its use of violence. The worst massacre committed by the White League occurred Easter Sunday 1873 when it massacred blacks in Colfax, Louisiana. Colfax was an isolated nondescript hamlet about three hundred fifty miles northwest of New Orleans. It sat on the grounds of a former plantation whose owner, William Calhoun, who worked with the former slaves who were now freedmen. The town itself was composed of only a few hundred white and black votes”[2] was located in the newly established Grant Parish. The “parish totaled about 4,500, of whom about 2,400 were Negroes living on the lowlands along the east bank of the Red.” [3]Between 1869 and 1873 the town and the parish were the scene of numerous violent incidents and following the 1872 elections, the whites of the parish were out for blood.

White leaders in Grant Parish “retaliated by unleashing a reign of terror in rural districts, forcing blacks to flee to Colfax for protection.” [4] The blacks of parish fled to the courthouse seeking protection from a violent white mob following the brutal murder of a black farmer and his family on the outskirts of town. The people of Colfax, protected by just a few armed black militiamen and citizens deputized by the sheriff took shelter in the courthouse knowing an attack by the White Supremacists was coming.  As the White League force assembled one of its leaders told his men what the day was about. He said, “Boys, this is a struggle for white supremacy….There are one hundred-sixty-five of us to go into Colfax this morning. God only knows who will come out. Those who do will probably be prosecuted for treason, and the punishment for treason is death.” [5] The attack by over 150 heavily armed men of the White League, most of whom were former Confederate soldiers, killed at least seventy-one and possibly as many as three-hundred blacks. Most of the victims were killed as they tried to surrender. The people, protected by just a few armed men were butchered or burned alive by the armed terrorist marauders. It was “the bloodiest peacetime massacre in nineteenth-century America.” [6]

The instigators of the attack claimed that they acted in self-defense. They claimed that “armed Negroes, stirred up by white Radical Republicans, seized the courthouse, throwing out the rightful officeholders: the white judge and sheriff” and they claimed that the blacks had openly proclaimed “their intention to kill all the white men, they boasted they would use white women to breed a new race.” [7] The claims were completely fabricated, after sending veteran former army officers who were serving in the Secret Service to investigate, the U.S. Attorney for Louisiana, J.R. Beckwith sent an urgent telegram to the Attorney General:

“The Democrats (White) of Grant Parish attempted to oust the incumbent parish officers by force and failed, the sheriff protecting the officers with a colored posse. Several days afterward recruits from other parishes, to the number of 300, came to the assistance of the assailants, when they demanded the surrender of the colored people. This was refused. An attack was made and the Negroes were driven into the courthouse. The courthouse was fired and the Negroes slaughtered as they left the burning building, after resistance ceased. Sixty-five Negroes terribly mutilated were found dead near the ruins of the courthouse. Thirty, known to have been taken prisoners, are said to have been shot after the surrender, and thrown into the river. Two of the assailants were wounded. The slaughter is greater than the riot of 1866 in this city. Will send report by mail.” [8]

Federal authorities arrested nine white men in the wake of the massacre and after two trials in which white majority juries were afraid to go against public opinion, three were “convicted of violating the Enforcement Act of 1871.” [9] None were convicted of murder despite the overwhelming evidence against them and even the lesser convictions enraged the White Supremacists in Louisiana who had employed the best lawyers possible and provided them and the defendants with unlimited financial backing. Assisted by the ruling of Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Bradley, who had a long history of neglecting Southern racism, white Democrats appealed the convictions to the Supreme Court.

The attack, and the court cases which followed, notably the judgment of the Supreme Court in United States v. Cruickshank which dealt with the appeal of the men responsible for the Colfax Massacre led to a “narrowing of Federal law enforcement authority” and were “milestones on the road to a “solid” Democratic South.” [10] The decision of the court in United States v. Cruikshank was particularly perverse in its interpretation of constitutional rights and protections. The court ruled in favor of the terrorists and declared that “the right of the black victims at Colfax to assemble hand not been guaranteed because they were neither petitioning Congress nor protesting a federal law. Assembling for any other cause was not protected.” [11] The Cruikshank decision amounted to a Supreme Court endorsement of violence against blacks, and made it “impossible for the federal government to prosecute crimes against blacks unless they were perpetrated by a state and unless it could prove a racial motive unequivocally.” [12] Northern politicians and newspapers, reeling under the effects of the stock market crash of 1873, which had denounced the massacre just a year before now ran from the story and from support of African Americans. A Republican office holder wrote, “The truth is, our people are tired out with this worn cry of ‘Southern outrages…. Hard times and heavy taxes make them wish the ‘nigger,’ the ‘everlasting nigger,’ were in hell or Africa.” [13] Racism and race hatred was not exclusively the parlance of the South.

In the wake of Justice Bradley’s reversal of the Colfax convictions whites in Grant Parish engaged in brutal reprisals against blacks, leading to many murders and lynching’s, crimes which law enforcement, even that favorable to the rights of African Americans were afraid to prosecute for fear of their own lives. Louisiana’s Republican Governor, William Pitt Kellogg wrote Attorney General Williams blaming the violence on Bradley’s ruling, which he wrote, “was regarded as establishing the principle that hereafter no white man could be punished for killing a negro, and as virtually wiping the Ku Klux laws of the statute books.” He added that with the Army leaving the state that his government and other Reconstruction governments would fall, “if Louisiana goes,” Kellogg wrote, “Mississippi will inevitably follow and, that end attained, all the results of the war so far as the colored people are concerned will be neutralized, all the reconstruction acts of Congress will be of no more value than so much waste paper and the colored people, though free in name, will be practically remitted back to servitude.” [14] Governor Kellogg could not have been more correct.

In the years that followed many of the men involved in the massacre and other murders before and after were hailed as heroes, some, including the leader of the attackers, Christopher Columbus Nash were again appointed to office in Colfax and Grant Parish and blacks were reminded every day of just what they had lost. On April 13th 1921 the men who committed the massacre were honored with a memorial in the Colfax cemetery honoring them as “Heroes… who fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for White Supremacy.”

In 1951 the State of Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry dedicated a marker outside the Courthouse which read: “On the site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three White men and 150 Negroes were slain, this event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of Carpetbag misrule in the South.”[15] That marker still stands, there is no marker commemorating the victims.

Other massacres followed across the South, aimed at both blacks and their white Republican allies. In Louisiana the White League had some 14,000 men under arms, in many cases drilling as military units led by former Confederate officers. A White League detachment southwest of Shreveport “forced six white Republicans to resign their office on pain of death – and then brutally murdered them after they had resigned.” This became known as the Coushatta Massacre and it was a watershed because for the first time the White League targeted whites as well as African Americans. The violence, now protected by the courts ensured that neither would last long in the post-Reconstruction South and that the freedom of African Americans in those states would amount to a cruel illusion.

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant including comments about the Colfax massacre and the subsequent court decisions in his message to Congress. Grant was angry and wrote: “Fierce denunciations ring through the country about office-holding and election matters in Louisiana…while every one of the Colfax miscreants goes unwhipped of justice, and no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous crime.” [17] President Grant, the man who so wanted to help African Americans attain the full measure of freedom, was unable to do more as the Congress and Courts took sides with the Southern insurgents.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.151

[2] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.312

[3] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.42

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[5] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.91

[6] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[7] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.11

[8] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.22

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.494

[10] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.251

[11] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.314

[12] Ibid. Goldfield American Aflame p.494

[13] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.213

[14] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.217

[15] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died pp.261-262

[16] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 185

[17] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.228

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