Charlottesville represents a national problem that Donald Trump exasperated for himself. The issue that many in the United States minimize or outright ignore is the issue of slavery in the country. Trump’s arguments for and against the alt-right proves this point. The alt-right are labelled racists and many may be so, but many are also not racists. The problem lies in that no one in the United States wants to have an honest discussion about slavery in the United States. Instead, slavery is ignored while Southern statues and the Civil War are framed as a constitutional crisis pitting states’ rights against the federal government’s right to enact national laws. But the real problem is that the citizens of the United States do not want to acknowledge slavery as a significant part of the formation of the country.
The United States was created for slavery.
In 1706, England effectively ended black slavery by a court decree that immediately freed any black that entered England. In 1772, Great Britain effectively emancipated all British slaves. In 1776, the United States declared independence from England. Much of the history of the move towards independence is spent on the Boston Tea Party and the English dictates that pushed the colonies towards independence, but the slavery factor is given a cursory mention at best.
Slavery remains a problem for the United States because it was an economic driver for the country until the Civil War. In 1820, after several attempts to end slavery in the country, the U.S government imposed a ban on slaves above the 36º 30′ line. In effect, only a few southern territories could keep slaves.
In 1821, México freed all slaves born in México. In 1824, slavery was abolished in México under the new constitution. By 1829, all slaves were free in México. In 1830, then Mexican president Anastasio Bustamante attempted to abolish slavery in Coahuila and Tejas, both Mexican territories. The Anglo settlers circumvented the law by calling their slaves “indentured servants for life.”
In 1835, Anglo settlers, most of whom were recent arrivals from the United States, launched the Texas Revolution. Many of the rebels were undocumented immigrants who had come to Tejas in contravention of Mexico’s ban on immigration in 1830. (Yes, this is a fact seldom discussed in history classes in U.S. schools) The rebels decried an oppressive Mexican government, but the issue of slavery was central to the Texas War of Independence, but generally ignored.
In 1836, Texas again made it legal to own slaves after achieving their independence.
In 1845, Texas was admitted into the United States. The issue of slavery was a central issue and upon entry into the United States, Texas remained a slave state.
Although the 1820 law, the Compromise Act, made it illegal to hold slaves in much of the U.S. territories, nonetheless, the United States government enacted the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, forcing the return of escaped slaves in the slavery-free parts of the country to be forcibly returned to their owners.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves across the country. In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in the United States. In 1861, right before the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, the United States was embroiled a bloody civil war between the states that held slaves with those that had abolished it.
Although the narrative has been created over the years that the American Civil War was about state’s rights, the fact remains that the most significant issue was slavery.
Although the Thirteenth Amendment and the end of the American Civil War seems to have ended the controversy over slavery, the question has yet to be settled.
Consider the argument that Charlottesville and other recent violence between alt-right and other groups centers on the notion that protecting Southern monuments, such as the Robert E. Lee statue, is what is driving the violence. Lee was a Southern general who fought on the losing side of the war. There are many other Southern monuments in the Southern states.
Now ask yourself, is there a Hitler monument anywhere in the world? Or, how about an Osama bin Laden statue? How many war monuments commemorating the losing side of a conflict can you name?
The Civil War may have ended and slavery may be illegal in the United States, but the issue of slavery was never settled collectively across the United States, and thus there remains the ongoing conflicts and the monuments to war heroes who lost the war.