Letting the Grime Settle.

Center Square in Easton, Pennsylvania is home to a particularly fine monument to the men who fought for the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865).[1]  The monument was erected in 1888, and formally dedicated in 1900.  Herein lies a puzzle (for me).  Does the monument commemorate the men who fought in the war (1861-1865) or does it commemorate the ideas of 1888-1900?

During the 1850s, the Whig Party disintegrated and the Republican Party rose up to rally under its umbrella all the opponents of slavery and of the expansion of slavery into previously “free” lands.  “And the war came.”  The Civil War ended with the North’s concept of nationalism victorious over the South’s concept of nationalism.[2]  During “Reconstruction”[3] the victors enforced a policy of racial equality and the political enfranchisement of African-Americans on unwilling Southern whites.  This led to the election of Republican state governments in many Southern states.  Southern resistance often took the form of the Ku Klux Klan, but it did not limit itself to either clandestine violence or fraud at the polling place.

Then the election of 1876 ended with dispute and contest.[4]  The Democrat, Samuel Tilden, and the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, both claimed victory.  In brief compass, the Democrats agreed to accept the Republican as president if the last federal troops were withdrawn from the remaining Southern States and (while never formally stated) the abandonment of the freed people to the rule of the former traitors.  This “Compromise of 1877” consolidated the rule of the Southern Democrats (backed by the Northern Democrats) in the South.

African-Americans were disfranchised and lost political representation.  Excluded from the voter rolls, they were excluded from juries recruited from those rolls.  Extra-legal violence terrorized African-Americans.  Separate institutions served blacks and whites, with the black institutions being gravely under-funded by white elected officials.  .Twenty years later, in 1896, the Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of “separate but equal” in its decision on “Plessy v. Ferguson.”

So, what do the Northern Civil War memorials of this era represent except the abandonment of the Freedmen to Southern “justice”?

Should they not come down too?

[1] NB: my great-great-grandfather, Sylvester G. Hill, was killed leading his troops at Nashville in December 1864.

[2] “You can’t leave” versus “We can leave.”  Essentially, Otto von Bismarck’s concept of nationalism triumphed.

[3] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_Era

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1876#Electoral_disputes

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