The current controversy over the removal of monuments of historical figures associated with the Confederate States (for my non-American readers, that would be the rebels of the American Civil War of 1861-65, who lost), as well as a recent trip to visit relatives north of here, got me thinking. During my travels in 2005, I visited a number of Civil War museums and battle sites, and saw firsthand the perspective that many outside the South tend to forget, that the history of that era was much more nuanced than a simple concept of evil white supremacist racists vs. heroic progressive good guys. In addition to the issues over slavery, the war was also a battle over the rights of states versus the federal government, and of two different lifestyles and economies competing for a place in the growing nation.
A number of my friends were sharing articles last week about Robert E. Lee and his complex history. He served for many years in the Union Army before leaving to join the Rebels. He was initially opposed to a war between the states. In the months leading up to the war, seven states had formally voted to secede from the United States of America, despite the fact that there was no legal means for doing so. Shortly after the war broke out, four more states voted to secede, including Lee’s home state of Virginia. Lee, with torn loyalties, eventually resigned his position with the Union Army on the grounds that he was loyal to his home state and could not fight against it.
I understand completely how one would have torn loyalties. Since the election of President Donald Trump, there has been much talk here in California about wanting to leave the Union, on the grounds that the current administration does not reflect California values. Where would my loyalties lie in that case? I’m not a big fan of this current administration, but I’m even less of a fan of many of these so-called California values. Would I stay loyal to my beautiful home state, and continue to hope that it might somehow change from within? Or would I stay loyal to the nation and its Constitution, even if it meant leaving my home behind?
And what if the State of Jefferson were to happen? In the early 1940s, the counties along the border of California and Oregon began talking about leaving the two states and forming a new state. A few minor protests happened, but the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II stopped the momentum. In recent decades, talk of this movement has revived, particularly in the northern and eastern rural areas of California. It is doubtful that this would ever happen in the current environment. In order for a state to split, the pre-split government of the state would have to approve (as well as the U.S Congress), and California’s liberal legislature would not approve the creation of a conservative state that would add Senators and electoral votes for things that go against these so-called California values. But if California were to leave the Union, especially if there were an armed rebellion involved, the federal government may be more likely to accept a new state that broke off of California and stayed loyal to the Union, much as how West Virginia formed during the Civil War.
But if somehow Jefferson were to become a state while California remained in the Union (or was readmitted after a failed rebellion), would I stay in my home and hope for change from within, or would I move north to a state that more reflected my values and did not spend my tax dollars on things that I am morally opposed to?
I don’t know.
Would I still want to move to Jefferson if it attracted the most toxic kind of activists who vote for conservative politicians, like the ones carrying torches and Nazi flags in Charlottesville? Would it be worth it to find a new home if I had more of those people around? I don’t know.
Every state and every community has a different history and culture. Every monument means something different. So instead of forming a mob to tear these monuments down, what we should be doing is studying history, and learning how people in the community feel about the situation, especially people different from us. Then, an informed decision should be made, calmly, by the people in the community, not outsiders with an agenda.