A Brief History
On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus, the Italian adventurer sailing into the unknown in the name of the Spanish Crown, landed in the Bahamas, the landing that became known as the “discovery” of America (or, “The New World” if you prefer). We previously used this historic event for an article that questioned whether or not Americans should still celebrate Columbus Day. Today, in the year 2020, Americans are taking down Confederate related statues and memorials left and right, and have moved on to also targeting anything related to any historical figure that had anything to do with owning slaves, tolerating slavery, or having some sort of racist tendency. Even the revered “Founding Fathers” of the United States are being attacked, with demands that the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument be taken down in Washington, D.C. For that matter, our very capital city is named for a slave owner!
The problem, as seen by this author, is that Americans have lost perspective. While today the very thought of slavery is repugnant and blatantly wrong, immoral and without any sort of justification, things were not always that way. In fact, almost every single culture and society in the long history of the World condoned having slaves at one time or another. Greeks, Persians, Romans, Europeans, Asians and yes, Africans have all embarrassing histories of slavery being part of their culture. Likewise, most cultures considered themselves superior to other races, nationalities, and people, not just White Northern and Western Europeans. Many “tribes” considered themselves the only true “humans.” Ethnocentrism is a phenomenon common to people all over. Today we have a broad understanding of the myth and misconceptions about “race,” and for that matter, whether or not there is such a thing as race, other than the Human Race! The Classical Greeks that invented democracy were slave owners. Does this mean democracy is therefore bad? Can we separate good ideas and good deeds from those bad ideas and bad deeds also performed by flawed humans?
Columbus is attacked today as being a racist that enslaved and mistreated Native Americans (indigenous people of the Caribbean). A poor administrator, Columbus does not seem like a very good person, but we are not celebrating the man so much as we are his major accomplishment of making the voyage to the New World and back with enough technical data to make such trips repeatable. His seamanship and courage in making these voyages, especially the first one, are a great feat of adventure and worthy of note and respect, even if the man himself was not so much a saintly figure. Robert E. Lee, the general in charge of most of the Confederate States of America Army during the US Civil War has been a target of revisionist history in recent years and especially in 2020. He was a slaveholder! Yes, a rich man that inherited a large number of slaves, all of whom he freed prior to the Civil War! Should he not be recognized for voluntarily divesting himself of such a shameful “asset?” Incredibly, Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general that fought the Confederacy and won the war, thus enabling the Emancipation Proclamation to actually go into effect has recently been attacked because he too, was a slave holder. He had received a slave as part of his marriage, but freed the person in short order, not to mention he was a confirmed and adamant abolitionist. Yet we have Americans today trying to tear down his statues and rename places and buildings that bear his name. Do Americans understand perspective at all?
If we do not permit Southern US citizens to honor their ancestors, then who among us should be allowed to do so? Virtually every single one of us has ancestors that behaved in ways we would find shameful today. What about Japanese or German Americans who had ancestors that fought against the United States in World War II? For that matter, how about people of British origin that had ancestors that fought against the US during the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812? Spanish American War? Should every single ethnic group or nationality currently in America wallow in the misdeeds of their ancestors?
Woodrow Wilson may well have been a racist, but he did offer the world the League of Nations in an effort to foster human rights across the globe. Andrew Jackson certainly was genocidal against Native Americans, but he was also a fierce patriot that loved his country and fought for it. We do not have to throw these people out of our history and our culture along with their good works, we just need to recognize their faults just as we recognize their accomplishments. Benjamin Franklin has been among those recently attacked and threatened with being thrown on the historical scrap heap. Sure he was flawed, but he was also one of the greatest humans in history, with an incredible legacy that profits humankind to this day.
What is perspective? Perspective is that every single Black African slave sold to White people to be taken to the New World was sold to the White slave traders by Black slave traders. Does this mean Black Americans should hate Black Americans for engaging in the disgusting trade of human beings? Contrary to the myth and the sometimes idiotic portrayal of capturing Black Africans by Whites in Africa, rounding up future slaves like a sickening cattle round up, the sad fact is that Black Africans captured other Black Africans, usually of a different “tribe” or cultural group and sold them to White slave traders.
Speaking of slave owners, should we condemn the prophet Muhammad, because he was a slave owner?! Does this mean anyone that practices the religion of Islam should be denounced as honoring a vile slaver? Many of the founders of Islam and the Islamic empires were slave owners and slave traders.
The grandparents of this author came to the United States from Eastern Europe around the turn of the 19th/20th Century. Not only had none of them ever owned slaves (especially African slaves), they and their parents and grandparents were themselves slaves of a sort as serfs in the feudal system that subjugated the poor masses in Eastern Europe back then. Should this author be held accountable for the immoral and disgusting practice of importing and fostering slaves in the United States, even though none of my ancestors had anything to do with such activity? Some seem to think so!
The so called Founding Fathers of the United States were great men in many ways, though also seriously flawed in other ways. This is the normal human condition. Have you ever heard of the Biblical challenge, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” Martin Luther King, Jr. did as much or more for the cause of civil rights in the United States as anyone, and gave his life for his noble cause. Yet he plagiarized his college dissertation, an offense that had it been known at the time would have gotten him expelled instead of being granted a doctoral degree. Does this fact diminish his great works? Should we cast his memory aside, or should we celebrate the good he did with his life?
Few people can be considered all good or all bad. The worst among us usually have some sort of good traits or deeds in their resume, and the best of us have mistakes made in the past. Our contention is that any person’s legacy has to be looked at as a whole, with an accounting of the overall balance of good versus bad attributable to that person or persons. By narrowly focusing on only one aspect of something as complex as a human life we run the risk of losing perspective, and perhaps destroying any sense of American identity we have left. For all our faults, Americans still have a rich heritage of positive accomplishments and virtuous acts to be proud of. While we need to admit and denounce those evil and nefarious things done by our country and our countrymen, we do ourselves a disservice to forget about the great examples of human progress due to Americans such as the Founding Fathers, as evidenced by our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights. Plus, many of our previous oversights and wrongs (such as slavery and treating women as second class citizens) have been corrected, at least somewhat. The United States is a work in progress, something we need to remember. What do you think?
Question for students (and subscribers): Should Washington, Jefferson, and others be removed from monuments, memorials, and our money? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
McClanahan, Brion. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers. Regnery Publishing, 2009.
Robbins, James. Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past. Regnery Publishing, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a painting by John Vanderlyn (1775–1852) of the Landing of Columbus, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925. This image is a work of an employee of the Architect of the Capitol, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, all images created or made by the Architect of the Capitol are in the public domain in the United States.