Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the fate of four prominent monuments in New Orleans addresses a long-standing debate between those who profess a love of history and those who see that history reflected in present-day racism. The speech provides a cogent summary of this debate and a compelling argument–supported by all three branches of the government of Louisiana–for the removal of the monuments in question: statues to General Robert E. Lee, President Jefferson Davis, and General P.T. Beauregard, and an obelisk commemorating a white supremacist attack on an integrated police force during Reconstruction.
For years the pro-monument faction has professed an interest in celebrating heritage not hate, contending that removing such tributes to the past would constitute a denial of history and somehow injure the cultural identity of those southerners whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy. This argument has become increasingly difficult to defend, however, in the face of increasingly violent confrontations between the two factions. At a time when the population of New Orleans has become predominately non-white, the monuments have become a source of abiding bitterness for the many at the behest of the few.
The problem for those who seek to preserve a sense of Southern heritage by such means is that their history has a larger context, namely the history of the United States, which arose as the embodiment of the cause of Union. The proof of this may be found, redundantly, in the opening sentence of the Constitution: “We the people of the United States, in order to create a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, etc.” The Confederacy, of course, sought to dissolve that Union by the extra-Constitutional means of secession, which led to the bloodiest war in the country’s history.
In placing the American Civil War within the larger construct of the Age of Revolution, we have sought to reassert the primacy of Union in our history and in our politics, and for these reasons we emphatically agree with the decision of Mayor Landrieu, a link to whose recent speech follows: Landrieu speech