A letter to the president concerning Confederate “heritage”

1860

“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”

–Donald Trump, August 17, 2017

Mr. President,

Your sentiment about history and our collective ability to learn from it could be the truest thing you’ve ever said. Since you’ve opened the door to history’s teachable qualities, this former U.S. History teacher from Chicago is delivering a lesson from the past that you need to hear.

In 1860–on November 6, to be exact–a presidential election was held. The victorious candidate was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and he received less than 40% of the popular votes that were cast. Like you, Lincoln did not win a majority of the popular vote but, as you well know, a majority of votes in the Electoral College is what the successful candidate needs to acquire. I’m absolutely certain that you would not quibble with the validity of a presidency based upon an Electoral College majority. Indeed, without that provision of the Constitution nobody would be addressing you as “Mr. President” today.

The Confederacy was born from the unwillingness of many Southern states to accept the 1860 election as legitimate. South Carolina was the first to leave ihe Union in December of 1860, and Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas all followed suit, before Lincoln was even sworn in as president. Four more states followed after Lincoln was inagurated in March of 1861.

I’m sure it isn’t lost on you that each of these states (with the exception of Virginia) were also won by you in last November’s election. The script from 1860 was completely flipped on its head in 2016. The reasons why that happened are a discussion for another day. All that matters here is that the states which couldn’t abide the election of Lincoln contributed to your own election, 156 years later.

By advancing the preservation of statues honoring Confederate generals as part of your “heritage” (which makes no sense, given that your home state of New York was instrumental in the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy), you dishonor those who gave their lives fighting to preserve the nation that you are now privileged to lead. But even more than that, you send the message that states should be able to disregard election results they do not agree with.

To put it another way, did California, or New York, or my home state of Illinois secede from the Union following the 2016 election? Of course not. The Civil War settled that issue, once and for all. That “heritage” benefits you, every single day of your presidency.

By siding with those who chose to fight rather than accept the results of a presidential election,  you are undermining the legitimacy of the institution upon which your presidency rests. Can you not see the inherent contradiction in this position? And are you willing to learn from the events of the past, as you stated we all could do just two months ago?

I urge you to take this message to heart, before going any further with your racially coded appeals to Southern “heritage.” The legitimacy of your own claim to the presidency depends upon it.