Blame Jefferson for the Confederate Flag

tags: Thomas Jefferson, Confederate flag

Nicolaus Mills is professor of American studies at Sarah Lawrence College and author of Every Army Man Is with You: The Cadets Who Won the 1964 Army-Navy Game, Fought in Vietnam, and Came Home Forever Changed

As the call to remove the Confederate flag from its official position in states across the South gathers momentum, the question that remains is, How far should this process go?

New York Times columnist David Brooks has responded to that question by observing that we now have a Robert E. Lee problem.

Brooks is, unfortunately, only half right. Lee, who led the South’s armies in the Civil War, should be distinguished from a racial extremist like Confederate general and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest, who became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. But as the recent exchange between CNN’s LegalView host Ashley Banfield and CNN news anchor Don Lemon shows, Lee is not our hardest problem when it comes to dealing with the South’s slave legacy.

Our hardest problem is Thomas Jefferson, who kept slaves, had children by one of them, and as his biographer Fawn Brodie notes, freed only five of his slaves in his will. As C. Vann Woodward observed of Jefferson in his classic study, The Burden of Southern History, “After all, it fell [to] the lot of one Southerner from Virginia to define America.”

On the eve of the Civil War Lincoln summed up the Jefferson he revered in an 1859 letter in which he wrote, “All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.” ...

Read entire article at The Daily Beast

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