George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were great men. In fact, that’s a vast understatement. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among the greatest men who have ever lived. Their life’s work was the creation of this country, the one that, for all its flaws, has provided far more people with far more freedom than any other nation on Earth. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t still be the destination of more than a million immigrants every year, more than any other county. And yet we are.

Now the United States is taking a beating, some of it justified, though not all of it. And so are Washington and Jefferson. As protests against racism sparked by the police murder of George Floyd continue, statues of these two great Founding Fathers are coming under attack, because they owned slaves. Some are being vandalized, by people whose vision of history is so warped they truly do not know what they are doing. They seem to believe that slavery began in the American colonies that became the United States, when it has of course existed for all of human history.

And now Mayor de Blasio, seeking to show off his progressivism and promote the political career of his wife, Chirlane McCray, has created a Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission to examine discrimination in New York. One thing the commission, led by McCray, will do is consider the statues the city controls and decide if any should be done away with. Asked about Washington and Jefferson explicitly, de Blasio acknowledged they’re on the table. After all, a handful of City Council members have written the mayor asking to take down the statue of Jefferson that’s in their chambers at City Hall. This is ridiculous. Washington and Jefferson lived 200 years ago. Much that was acceptable to a great many people in their day would horrify us today, slavery above all. But that doesn’t mean they were not great men who should be venerated for their achievements.

De Blasio wants the Army to change the names of two streets at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn because they honor the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. We fully agree. But there’s no equating Lee and Jackson with Washington, rightly called the father of his country, and Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence.

To be against racism is righteous. To recognize your country’s flaws as well as its strengths is wise. But to be against Washington and Jefferson is pretty much to be against America. These statues must not go anywhere.

(1) comment

Akalith

OK, the statues should stay. But saying the only reason there’s discussion about removing their statues is because they owned slaves minimizes the negative aspects of their thoughts and actions: it’s now thought that Washington’s false teeth included at least some healthy teeth pulled from his slaves. Jefferson believed orangutans had sex with black women, and never freed any of his slaves. And neither believed blacks had those “inalienable” rights white men had. Let’s not get carried away with the “greatest men who ever lived” talk, please. Great men, surely, but visit Monticello and Mt. Vernon to get a more nuanced view of how they treated their slaves.

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