On October 18th, New York City’s Public Design Commission voted unanimously to remove a 188-year-old statue of Thomas Jefferson from City Hall. This decision comes following the demands of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian caucus, citing the Founding Father’s past as a slave owner. “This Administration owes it to the more than five million New Yorkers of color our members – past, present and future – represent, to resolve that the individuals memorialized within the confines of our People’s House be reflective not only of the best traditions of our city’s history and its diversity but unquestionable character,” they wrote in a letter to Mayor de Blasio.
The Caucus’ concern with “unquestionable character,” is the most striking aspect of their demand. Only a few years ago, most would scoff if told that American leaders would be tearing down the statues of our greatest icons, weeding them out for failing to adhere to modern ethical norms. In fact, many scoffed in 2017, when President Trump warned against the mass removals of Confederate statues and the potential trends it could create. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”.
Trump’s prediction was met with widespread criticism and ridicule from all corners of the media. But as it turned out, not only was his prediction correct, but he didn’t go nearly far enough.
Fast forward to the summer of 2020, at the height of the George Floyd protests and concurrent riots. Mobs of vandals were desecrating the statues of our Founding Fathers across the country, with George Washington statues being defaced and destroyed in Portland and Los Angeles. Jefferson received even worse treatment, with his statue either being torn down by protestors or removed by city officials across the nation. In one instance, a Jefferson statue was toppled at a Portland high school named after him. President Trump’s words rang true. But it wouldn’t stop there.
On the fourth of July, statues of Christopher Columbus were destroyed by rioters in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Virginia, and Maryland. In June 2020, the American Museum of Natural History moved to remove their iconic statue of President Teddy Roosevelt, one of the first progressive leaders in the United States. Even figures instrumental in the abolition of slavery were not spared by the mob. Statues of Ulysses S. Grant, who commanded the Union Army during the Civil War and personally captured Robert E. Lee, were torn down in San Francisco. President Abraham Lincoln himself, a man whose contributions to American civil liberties need no explanation, had his likeness violently torn down in Portland. Protestors even fought to remove Lincoln’s Emancipation Memorial in D.C., which they deemed racist despite it being paid for by freed slaves, and later succeeded in pressuring the city of Boston to remove its replica.
It’s impossible to exhaust the list of these egregious examples; however, it’s clear that the statues being desecrated or removed have expanded from Confederates to American heroes. This slippery slope we were warned about turned out to be a raging avalanche, and we need to understand why.
As was best exemplified by the removal of Thomas Jefferson’s statue in New York, the vast accomplishments of our nation’s icons are not something these protesters consider; their only focus is whether these figures live up to the standards of a contemporary role model. The times in which they lived are irrelevant. The expectation is that our moral goods are applicable regardless of setting.
Let’s take this logic to its furthest conclusion. Should we tear down FDR, the progressive left’s most celebrated icon, in order to avenge Japanese Internment? Should we strip Einstein’s Nobel Prize for his racism? Should we burn copies of On the Origins of Species to protest Charles Darwin’s sexism? How about Alexander the Great, who took slaves way back in the 4th century B.C.? The frivolousness of these examples may very well seem obvious, as well they should, but why is that? Because of the generations past, or the greatness of their deeds? That defense didn’t do the Founding Fathers a lick of good.
Modern civilization was built through trial and error. If you choose to vilify your predecessors for every perceived social infraction, then you will be picking apart your own history on an industrial scale. So rather than letting the past be adjudicated by a narrow-minded mobocracy, it is important, vital even, for us to continue to remember and build off the great men and women that came before us.
After all, their contributions are the bedrock of the very standards and traditions we condemn them for breaching.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.