Why Some Americans Are Still Fighting the Civil War
General Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate Army during the United States Civil War, died in 1870. But in some ways, he lives today.
Americans are having a heated debate about whether to remove statues of Lee and other Confederate heroes from public places. In comments to the press on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said that by removing them, “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.“
Trump did not explain what he meant by “culture.“ But a recent poll of Americans found that 54% of Americans overall see Confederate statues as symbols of Southern pride.
The poll also found that about a quarter of Americans see the statues as a symbol of something else: racism.
Unlike any other country in the world…
The U.S. has at least 700 statues honoring the Confederacy across the country. They recall the U.S. Civil War of the 1860s.
In that conflict, 11 Southern slave-holding states withdrew from the Union. They formed their own government, called the Confederacy.
The Confederacy protected the rights of states to make their own laws, including those permitting slavery. At the time, 90 percent of black people in the U.S. were enslaved.
After four years of bitter fighting, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered and effectively ended the Civil War.
The Confederate states re-joined the Union. And, about three years later, the country approved an amendment to the Constitution that legally ended slavery across the country.
Minisha Sinha is a historian at the University of Connecticut. She says Americans’ monuments to the Confederacy are unusual for several reasons.
First, Sinha says, “unlike any other country in the world, the U.S. actually has statues commemorating people from the South who committed treason against the U.S. government.“
Second, she says, the Confederacy was based on the belief of white people’s superiority over black people. For example, the vice president of the Confederacy, Andrew Stephens, wrote, "Our new government is founded upon … the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.“
As a result, says Sinha, Confederate heroes are not innocuous markers of American history.
“In fact, these figures represent a short-lived nation that was in rebellion against the United States, and that really stood for slavery and white supremacy.“
The Confederacy in the 20th century