It has become fashionable in recent years to condemn iconic figures from American history because they possessed slaves. “Progressives” wish to tear down statues now, even of Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the greatest contributor ever to the advancement of human liberty, because he had been a slave owner. What they fail to understand is that societal mores change over time. What is acceptable today may not be considered societally acceptable 100 years from now. And they may want to be careful with their retrospective moral outrage, as it may come back to haunt them.
Who would have imagined just a few years ago that there would be a serious push to remove Thomas Jefferson from our public squares and spaces? But here we are. A petition was launched to have Jefferson’s statue removed from the University of Missouri campus. Likewise, students at Hofstra University in New York launched a petition to dismantle their Jefferson statue. A CNN host, Ashleigh Banfield, in a discussion about the removal of Confederate state flags from government buildings in the South, asked co-host Don Lemon, “Jefferson owned slaves….and there’s a monument to him in the capital of the United States, no one ever asks for that to come down – is it equal?” Too many examples abound to list here of the growing Jefferson erasure movement.
Many Democratic politicos are even in on the destroy-Jefferson-act. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, trailing in the pack of Democrats running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination, has already taken steps from his mighty perch as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to erase Jefferson from our national identity. In a May 17, 2019 interview with Hugh Hewitt, Buttigieg was asked if the name of the annual Indiana Democratic event known as the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, should be changed. It was, after all, named after the party’s founders, who both owned slaves. Buttigieg responded, “Yeah, we're doing that in Indiana. I think it's the right thing to do.”
Buttigieg went on to pay minor lip service to the contributions of Jefferson, but he damns with faint praise. In an interesting choice of words to explain his thinking, Buttigieg tells Hewitt, “Over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor.”
Buttigieg’s comment precisely turns the issue on its head. We honor the great figures from our history for their accomplishments during the times in which they lived for lasting contributions they made to the preservation and advancement of our nation. They operated within a framework of what was considered morally acceptable in our society at that time, just as we operate within the framework of what our society considers morally acceptable today. Our honor of them does not “evolve” over time, based upon shifting societal norms, as though we expect them to have possessed some kind of preternatural foresight of what their society would consider “acceptable” 240 years later.
And to add financial insult to historical injury, Democrats want to pay “reparations” to descendants of American slaves. The ever-shrill Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee has even sponsored a bill which, in her words, would “repair some of the damage” caused to the African American community by the legacy of slavery through the creation of a commission to consider the payment of reparations to blacks and the issuance of a “national apology” by the rest of us, apparently. Does anyone really think that either cash or an apology to America’s blacks for the enslavement of people long dead by other people also long dead would repair anything?
And of course, some of the more craven panderers among the field of Democrats seeking the 2020 nomination of their party for the presidency are all on board with this lunacy – notably the equally shrill Senator Elizabeth Warren – Massachusetts’ very incarnation of Native American cultural expropriation. Maybe her support of the Jackson-Lee plan is a stealth move to get the same reparations deal for descendants of Native Americans, and she figures she can cash in through her Papaw with high cheekbones.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose image should appear in Merriam-Webster beside the word “benighted,” gave one of the most baffling answers ever in response to a policy question when asked about reparations. I think one needs to be high to understand what she is trying to say here, but it’s probably a safe bet that she’s down with the reparations program, even when she offers this gem: “There are a lot of systems that we have to dismantle, but it also does get into this interesting area of where we are as a country, about identity. Because, like, what does it mean to be black, who is black and who isn’t, especially as our country becomes more biracial and multiracial.” That was about the most coherent thing she had to say.
I want to offer this mental exercise to those who wish to condemn American giants like Thomas Jefferson and blather on about reparations over practices that took place in our country over two centuries ago: Place yourself into a hypothetical time machine, dial it to the year 2119, and find out what Americans have decided is an odious practice in Future America. I predict that you will find that abortion – that practice in which doctors punch a hole in the skull of a baby in the womb, vacuum out its grey matter, crush the skull, dismember the baby’s body, and extract the parts from its mother’s womb – has been deemed by society to be an outrageous, barbaric practice.
Americans who are down for that procedure, which includes virtually all Democratic politicians today, may find that society has decided they were ogres and, regardless of any great accomplishments they achieved in other fields of endeavor, condemn them as we do slave owners today. Americans may insist that statues of them be torn down, streets named after them be rechristened (as it were), and that any vestige of their existence be expunged from our national memory.
So be careful, and show a little humility.
William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government, private, and non-profit sectors for more than 30 years. He is a senior investigator for Judicial Watch, Inc. (The views expressed are the author’s alone, and not necessarily those of Judicial Watch.)