A Monumental Discussion: Meg Groeling


I have written several versions of an essay on my feelings concerning the issue of the removal of Confederate monuments and statues, and I am never satisfied that I have expressed myself well, or even accurately. My words sometimes fail me when my emotions are involved.

I see this as a very complex issue. Slavery, Jim Crow, oppression, race-baiting, racial identity, Daughters of the Confederacy, artistic merit, current politics, Nazis . . . it goes on and on. Even with a Masters in Military History, I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps I will try this approach–States’ Rights, and some words from General Lee. These are two things I know to be dear to southern hearts. 

During the Civil War the Confederate States claimed they were fighting for the right of individual states to make governmental decisions for themselves, including the right to own other people. They wanted no Federal interference in the expression of these rights, and felt that the election of Abraham Lincoln threatened to encroach upon this in some manner. When Lincoln was elected in 1860, southern slaveholding states chose to secede from the Union rather than seek compromise or take Lincoln at his word. “There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension,” he said in his First Inaugural Address before quoting a sentiment “found in nearly all the published speeches” he’d given up to that point:

I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” [i]

Although Lincoln was clear about exactly which right he was being called to task about, Lost Cause proponents have, over the last 150 + years, muddied a variety of waters until there is now a concern about just how far the rights of a state can go, and when are Federal concerns pressing upon this political line.

More directly, today–when it comes to the removal of statues and monuments to the Confederacy–just who is asking–demanding–the removal of these offensive-to-many marble and metal monstrosities? NOT the Federal governmental. They are being removed because the people who live next to them have found their voices and are demanding that they go. States are voting to remove these structures, cities are voting, local councils are arranging to remove these outdated icons of white supremacy. The Federal government has backed off to the extent that the current President does not even know what to say, or when to say it. I see this local decision making as States’ Rights writ large.

No less a personage than Robert E. Lee thought the statues were a bad idea in the first place:

And yet . . . many in the former confederation of seceded states can’t stand it. Some are even appealing to the Federal government to protect their right to bait people of color with statues of idols like Nathan Bedford Forrest [ii], Jubal Early [iii], and Unknown Southern Soldiers [iv]. Funny how States’ Rights can turn around and bite back just when least expected. The states, the cities, the neighborhoods have spoken, and this is what they say. “Get rid of the statues.” Local government, folks. Local government.

Is it not time to remove the offending statues that are keeping open the sores of a war that supposedly ended over 150 years ago? It is, at least, a beginning toward some sort of reconciliation. If we do not begin an honest conversation among our citizens, we will never move forward. We need to stop blaming the press, academic historians, and liberals. The fight for the rights of smaller political entities like cities, townships, and yes–states– has had an unexpected result. We should not celebrate the ugliness of our nation’s past. Rather we should listen to the voices of the people who have reaped the rewards of smaller government and local control and pull these icons down.


[i] Abraham Lincoln, “Inaugural Address of the President of the United States on the Fourth of March, 1861,” Senate, Ex. Doc No. 1, ordered to be printed March 8, 1861 (https://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/01264_0.pdf).

[ii] http://wreg.com/2015/06/25/mayor-wharton-wants-nathan-bedford-forrest-statue-and-body-removed-from-park/.

[iii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/montgomery-finds-spot-for-confederate-statue-site-of-historic-ferry/2017/02/28/1de4fc08-fdf4-11e6-8f41-ea6ed597e4ca_story.html?utm_term=.e2ff242056b1.

[iv] http://time.com/4901801/charlottesville-protests-confederate-statue-removal-accelerated/

40 Responses to A Monumental Discussion: Meg Groeling

  1. It may be nitpicking, but I take exception to your use of R.E. Lee’s comment to justify your opinion. He didn’t address the erection of the statues that are being attacked today. His comment clearly addresses marking with ” memorials of granite the position and movement of armies on the field”. To carry your argument to the extreme, once the statues are gone, they’ll want to remove the corp and unit markers, then turn the Battlefield’s into amusement parks and tract housing. Then they’ll come after YOUR books! There goes your history, heritage and gravy train.!

    1. My gravy train? That is, indeed, debatable. I just hope my student loan is paid off before I die.
      Personally, I was very moved by Lee’s comments. Markers on battlefields, however, went up anyway. They mark very different things than white supremacy or racial bullying. As Lincoln also said, the battlefields have been consecrated by blood. Corps and unit markers simply make it easier to follow troop placements. Most were paid for by subscription from people in the state they represented. I humbly suggest that both victors and vanquished feel similar emotions when standing in the places where their countrymen fought and died. and I think those emotions are a combination of sadness and awe.

    2. Actually, the point is that Lee said that even those as inappropriate. For what it’s worth, an awful lot of people are drawing a distinction between monuments which were placed on battlefields (and which by definition have a large historical component) and those erected in places where people live and work – many of which were erected largely/entirely to celebrate a cause and constitute a symbol. By the way, show me somebody who has said that “unit markers” should be removed from battlefields.

      1. Well said. We’d just be wandering around Gettysburg in a fog looking for something to let us know Buster Kilrain was there if not for battlefield markers.

  2. Agree with Meg. If markers are for historical content to help us understand who we are and where we have come from and so therefore to help us be a better country in the future, they should stay. If put up for purposes of intimidation and to promote white supremacy they should come down.

  3. Very good article with the emphasis on local control. While I’m against the removal of monuments I agree wholeheartedly that local communities should make the decisions. You mention that states and cities have “voted.” I disagree. I have not had that opportunity. The monument to my dead Confederate ancestors in Louisville was taken down on a decision by the mayor. If the entire city of Louisville had the chance to vote, I assure you the monument would still be standing. Yes, I can choose to use my democratic rite to vote the mayor out of office, but that statue is not going back up. My wish is that we could slow down and discuss more, kind of like we are doing on this site. Perhaps, one day you will convince me as I am learning a lot. In the meantime good discussion but let’s listen to all opinions before acting so quickly.

    1. This comment is the sort of discussion which needs to take place – not a bunch of label-throwing invective.

      1. Exactly. There is zero thought process involved in any of this, and that’s the part that may bother me the most. The process in which these statues are being removed is awfully akin to hysteria, and decisions made in a frenzy are seldom backed with any real thought.

      2. True, but there’s a lot of that, along with false history and current politics, involved in the opposition to removal, as well. I’ll leave aside for the moment the use of these monuments by the treasonous neo-Nazi crowd.

    2. John, I agree 100%: we should slow down and discuss more. Let cooler heads prevail–even if they ultimately decide to remove a monument anyway. At least it should be done after calm discussion and consideration, not as a knee-jerk reaction.

  4. The monuments that are being taken down represent the blood and treasure given by southern soldiers in their quest for nationhood and independence. We are all aware that the vast majority of southern soldiers were NOT fighting for slavery but for the same principles as the founding fathers. Where does this political correctness and bullying stop? They’ve already vandalized the Lincoln Memorial and a statue of Lincoln in Chicago, busted up the nations oldest statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore….where does it end??? I believe the majority of Americans would vote to preserve these monuments as American history. Those politicians that are tearing them down are giving in to the violent left. Violence from the left or right extremist must be met head on by the police departments and nipped in the bud as shown in Boston this past weekend. Our free speech is under attack, the founding fathers will be next.

    1. You make two erroneous assumptions: (1) “the vast majority of southern soldiers were NOT fighting for slavery but for the same principles as the founding fathers” – that’s not true if you read much of the correspondence, journals, and diaries kept by soldiers. Many viewed the war as the result of their perception that the North intended to abolish slavery and all that went with it, and fought to prevent that. It’s a completely different point from whether a majority actually owned slaves. The guys who led secession sold the population on those fears, concerns about slave uprisings, miscegenation, etc and the threat to white domination of their culture. Your statement reflects another attempt to sanitize history because you can’t, and won’t, defend slavery from a 21st century perspective. (2) :”those politicians that are tearing them down are giving in to the violent left”. Wrong. A lot of the opposition to these statues doesn’t come from the “violent left” – it comes from people who don’t think that statues which symbolize racism and slavery should stay in places where they are no longer appropriate. It’s just as easy (and over-inclusive) to say that the opponents to removal “are giving in to the neo-Nazi/KKK/white supremacist right.”

    2. Robert, can you provide proof for any of what you have claimed above, I can show that in the case of the Chicago Lincoln Statue that it had been neglected and damaged well before this issue broke out.


      As to the others I have no idea if what you have said is true or not. This issue is not going to be resolved by stirring up what I’ve seen referred to as the “Recreational Outrage” generation.

      The sad part is that this does need discussion, not simply knee jerk reactions, and social media cannot provide for it.

  5. It will not surprise Meg that a fellow mathematician applauds her argument. A distinction I would continue to make is between battlefields and cemeteries on the one hand (leave these alone) and generic public spaces on the other (subject to the will of the local polity).

      1. Luckily there is no monument to Ellsworth in Virginia! Trespassing is against the law here in the Commonwealth, ole Elmer should have read the law 😉

      2. Rob–Alexandria was under martial law at the time Col. Ellsworth went for the flag grab–there is a plaque to James Jackson, the defender of that flag, on the Monaco–which was formerly the Marshall House.

      3. I know Meg…i pass by it once a month. We can debate when martial law was put into effect over a drink when you come to Alexandria.

  6. The problem with your argument is that these “local decisions” have been made by mostly Democrat controlled city councils with little input from the local citizenry. Perhaps a local vote by all properly registered citizens would suffice, but where has that happened? And I put little credence in polls and arguments by the press.

  7. John:

    Let me get this straight. You want a citywide (or statewide) referendum on the removal of each and every Confederate statue. Hmmm. Aren’t you going down a slippery slope? Where do these referendums stop? Maybe we should do away with Congress, state legislatures and city councils and just have voter referendums on every law, ordinance, administrative rule, etc. from now on.

    1. Bob – I agree it is a slippery slope and I do not want to see any monuments removed. My response was because Meg said “the states, the cities, the neighborhoods” had demanded the statues come down. Better it be decided by a vote of all a localities citizens rather than a Democrat controlled city council or county commission. But I view this vote as a last resort hoping that some sensibility would be restored to adults.

    2. Once again a comment that takes us to an extreme view such as a suggestion to “do away with Congress,”. The context of my remarks is let’s slow down and have meaningful discussion. Just like Meg’s excellent article (even though I disagree with her pro-removal stance) stressed local control and decisions, I’m simply asking for honest and substantive discussion on an issue that is receiving national attention. I would have liked the opportunity to let my metro council member know my views and give him or her the chance to reach out to his or her constituents. Perhaps he would have pushed for a referendum. Regardless, In doing so perhaps we can learn from each other.

      And be careful with that “slippery slope” argument. That can and unfortunately is being used by some monument defenders.

  8. From what I read, and from my experience, local control is not driven by paper ballots. There are open meetings, chances to talk to candidates at public events (we have that at our Farmer’s Market here), and other forums for discussion. Very few people attend unless there is a hot button issue. States can certainly vote without offering the same vote to the people. That is what state legislatures do. There are also gubernatorial decisions in some states. Each case concerning the statues and monuments should be handled individually or in small groups. For instance, the City of Alexandria, VA convened an Ad Hoc Committee to discuss the twin issues of renaming streets and removing the statue of the single Confederate soldier, Appomattox. Their minutes and remarks are available on line.

    None of these meetings are secret. In fact, I have sat at tables in front of our Veteran’s Building hoping someone will ask me something, or display any interest at all about any of the things I have out on said table. Less than 50 people showed up to hear our Congressional representative speak about Washington last week. I will be counting heads at the Town Hall tomorrow night. Being involved locally is a thankless job most of the time, but that is where things that affect me personally get done, so I try to know what is up. I may be a “libtard,” but I know how government works. Sometimes one side “wins,” sometimes the other–but I guarantee that those who do not participate will lose the most, and be wondering why.

  9. #slipperyslope If we remove every monument that either offends someone or is to a slave owner, racist etc.. in our history…we got a lot of monuments to take down Meg. Sad days for public history that hysteria of a small segment of the population (just look at the NPR/PBS survey) controls the discussion. Most Americans don’t care about these monuments…

  10. I’d be able to accept more of what is presented here if it wasn’t for the ‘bigger picture’ being obscured. ‘Local’ and state governments? Outside agitating forces do NOT represent anyone in a community ‘finding their voices’. Many are asking “why now?” when it comes to this sudden attention being devoted to tearing down statues and monuments. Interesting how the two latest ‘spurts’ of activism follow tragedies, and the responses to them appear to be premeditated, in the way of being coordinated and orchestrated. The hideous atrocity in Charleston, SC, a few years ago resulted in a full-fledged assault on Confederate flags EVERYWHERE. This latest round of midnight removals and mob-fueled destruction of monuments is being blamed on the death of the young woman activist in Charlottesville. It’s like the apparatus for removing them, the crowds ready to be BUSED in, the social media and regular media entities automatically onboard, etc., were and ARE all staged and ready to be unleashed by way of the proper excuse. To that end it appears, certainly to my cynical side, that those casualties are acceptable ones, because a larger agenda is being served! And when all is said and done, whatever ‘injustices’ some are assigning to the statues or whatever other symbols du jour that WILL be targeted, they are NOT going to change anything among the aggrieved. Removing statues and targeting gravesites will not result in lower murder rates within black neighborhoods, will not reduce unemployment rates, income disparities, graduation rates, etc. It really does come across as a gross deflection from REAL issues.

    If anything is happening here, it is an attempt at eliminating Democratic Party history more than anything, as in their culpability for slavery, the war, and its aftermath. Some make a case that many of the statues were erected via Democrat Party politics, LOCAL AND STATE, so removal via the same means is appropriate. To that I say the element lacking is the HONESTY as to why they are being brought down so suddenly and ruthlessly.

    I do not celebrate the Confederacy or have any romantic notions of life then and there. The Civil War represents the darkest period this nation faced. But if only ONE SIDE is going to determine what is and what is not acceptable as far as public displays then the seeds for the NEXT Civil War are being sown. At least that’s how I see it.

  11. Thanks Meg for using Lee! He was one that understood in order to have a united union and long lasting peace the south would have to completely compitulate and take what ever the north would give them. And then learn to live with it. From the look and sounds of it we’re going through another messy reconstruction period! Ironic a Civil War might come out of this one instead of coming after one just ending!

    1. I was very moved by Lee’s letter, and by other things he said/wrote after the War. I am beginning to believe you may be correct–another period of Reconstruction.

  12. Well said Douglas. I wish there was a way to get communication records between virginia governor Mcaillife (Dem) and Charlottesville mayor because I’m sure there was collusion to get police in Charlottesville to pull back and let fights begin. Then the injuries and death could be used to call for nationwide pull down of all things confederate. And look what happened. It was all purposeful!

    1. I agree totally. Someone had the police stand down and I believe only the governor could make that call.

    2. When all else fails, go for the conspiracy theory. Did you actually watch the Nuremberg March with the torches on Friday night? A lot of good young Americans died fighting that Hitlerite garbage. We don;t have to watch it reborn on our shores.

      1. Only the governor could make the call for the police to stand down. John is one that would deny anything that would implicate the alt-left or democrats in wanting violence to further their means.

      2. Actually, what I saw in Charlottesville was the Eastern Front of WWII, where the Nazis and the communists were going at it full fledged! I see no difference what so ever between ‘alt right’ and ‘alt left’ or whatever label the usual suspects will slap on them. Thugs are thugs, period. But let’s look at what this has all devolved to. Those being called
        Nazis and Klansmen and the like are supposedly protecting symbols that communists and anarchists want to destroy via any means necessary. Personally, I don’t see a ‘good guy’ anywhere. For me, there is no “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. They should ALL be opposed by truly fair minded people.

      3. Robert: You know nothing about my political affiliations or views. Operating without facts is a reliable way to get things wrong. Let’s leave it at that.

  13. Spirited replies, gentlemen. Cool off, but come back to the ring ready to go again. It may take many rounds of discussion before anything is resolved, but we MUST keep talking.

  14. I have not read your columns before,but in this one you omit alot. You never mention the tariffs and taxes the southern states had been under since the 1830 ‘s as a reason for succesion. Only the desire to keep slaves,when the average southerner had no slaves and could have cared less about keeping them. But he did care about the absurdly high taxes. Even Lincoln said “how will I run my govt.without those taxes”. It wasn’t til halfway through the war that he brought in the slavery issue when he had lost the northern support for the war.before that point he had said the war was to retain the union.when it was all just to cover up the fact that is was over money plain and simple. If it were about slavery would he not have freed the northern slaves,or the slaves that his generals used throughout the war. He had said if he could win this war and not free a slave he would. But he needed the support of the northern people and abolishonists help to sway public opinion. He demonized the south over slavery and it is still going on today when it was only the few rich landowners and the politicians that cared anything about slavery.

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