Karlton Stein wrote regarding racial equality, removal of statues, ownership of slaves, and relating all the above to Thomas Jefferson. He asked a question: “Can someone explain to me why Jefferson’s statue should be excused from removal? Where is the equality?” This is my answer to that legitimate question.
Every cadet who graduates from West Point and accepts a commission takes an oath. This was the oath sworn in the mid-nineteenth century:
“I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.”
“Bear true allegiance to the United States” was not the “plan of the day.” Those words were the solemnly sworn commitment of a lifetime. Here is a list of some West Point graduates who swore that oath: Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, George Pickett, Jubal Early, James Longstreet. Those men (and others) went to war against the United States in direct contravention of the solemn oath they had taken.
Having statues to celebrate these men should be anathema to each of us who counts ourself as American, owing a debt to our parents who fought to protect us from enemies, and some of whom died knowing they were upholding their oath to do that. Those of us who value that kind of commitment can in good conscience take down statues of people who fought a war for an enemy against the United States.
After we do that, conversations about racial equality, about the changing ideals of our modern country, can be conducted in a much more moderate tone of voice, without conflating Thomas Jefferson with military leaders of a country that fought a war against the United States.
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