A little over two weeks ago, we spoke with two professors of Murray State's history department who were among the 72 Kentucky history professors who signed a letter calling for the removal of the statue of Confederate president and Kentucky native Jefferson Davis from the capitol rotunda in Frankfort. The letter went to Governor Steve Beshear and to the Kentucky Historical Properties Advisory Commission, which earlier this August voted 7-2 to keep the statue where it is. But that doesn't mean the debate is over. On Sounds Good, Todd Hatton speaks with Dr. Tom Hiter, former Director of Heritage Defense for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and longtime SCV member Dr. Don Duncan.
Jefferson Davis is one of five Kentuckians represented in the rotunda (with Henry Clay, Ephraim McDowell, Alben Barkley and Abraham Lincoln). Dr. Hiter cites a Bluegrass Poll that asked what Kentuckians thought about the statue and 73% responded that it should be left where it is. He says without regards to personal or organizational preferences, the people of Kentucky want it to stay where it is, which is reason enough not to change anything.
Hatton asks if Kentuckians want it to stay because of their nature of attachment to Davis, to which Dr. Hiter responds simple attachment isn't necessarily a factor because one could apply the same reasoning to all five of the statues. If you take a random sampling of the students on campus asking who Ephraim McDowell is, you'd be surprised to find 10% who could identify the man. Yet, the idea of what McDowell represents is important for the fact that a teacher could lead a class through the rotunda and introduce McDowell and the medical advances he's responsible for.
The same with Henry Clay - the man who invented the "American Plan," Dr. Hiter says, which called for the opening the "Old West" (rural areas east of the Mississippi) in way that would use the navigatibility of the rivers to fund northern expansion. Clay's plan is was resulted in the Civil War, he adds, and having the three men (Davis, Clay and Lincoln) represented together tells an historically important story. He says he can't imagine why a history professor wouldn't yearn to have the three in a rotunda.
The rotunda is a special place, for firsts, mosts and superlatives, Dr. Hiter says. Lincoln is a given, Henry Clay was the 'great compromiser,' Jefferson Davis was the only Confederate president. The history they bring to bear and their connection to Kentucky is unmatchable, he says. If you break the trio and put one in a museum, is detracts from the history of the Commonwealth.
But what about the ideas that the statue represents, Hatton asks. As a former history teacher, Dr. Hiter says, he can't give up the opportunity to talk about that. Davis represents, as an avatar, the Southern Cause, what America's all about. The South fought the war for the same reasons as the founding fathers in the American Revolution generations earlier, he says. If the South had won, it'd be referred to as the "War for Southern Independence," he says. The South believed deeply in state sovereignty, where individual states should be allowed to function as such. Lincoln, Republicans and the United States believed in the single republic we are present day. But Dr. Hiter Argues that a federal government capable of taking over local police forces to implement federal mandates and collecting taxes annually are ideas that would have caused Clay, Lincon and Davis to wretch in desbelief had that been a possibility at that time.
The South fought against that, Dr. Hiter says, that they believed that individual states had the right to withdraw from such arrangements. He says Lincoln believed that the country was a union of irrevocable membership - one country with the political subdivisions of states. The South believed that the Union was formed by 13 independent sovereign states and had been joined by another 30 in the process, where each state were themselves sovereign with the right to withdraw from the Union.
In response to the assertion of continued slavery, often people pull up short in support for Jefferson Davis where they draw the logical conclusion of a Confederate victory and where there's a continued existence of slavery in North America, Hatton says. To this, Dr. Hiter replies, slavery continued after the war and didn't end during or as a result of the war, but rather the 13th amendment. A strong legal case can be made, he says, that the amendment was never legally ratified because it was done so by the Southern states with puppet governments. He says we can't extend to that time period our modern sensibilities - the war didn't end with Appomattox and slavery didn't end with the war.
Dr. Hiter says the issue with the statue is a case of political correctness run amok. He says it's strange that people decided to fuss about the statue within hours of the South Carolina massacre where a misguided individual murdered people in a church. Politicians of every party immediately came on board about moving flags and statues, he says. He agrees that the statue is probably offensive to some, but not to the 73% of Kentuckians. He also doesn't disagree with the argument that a black Kentuckian be represented in the rotunda and says there should be a memorial for the tens of thousands of black Southerners who fought with the South who get ignored and the tens of thousands today who are firm supporters of the South, whose voices aren't heard because of political correctness.
One could make a case that it's possible to be proud of being Southern and what Southerners have achieved through science, arts and social justice without even going near the Civil War, Hatton says. Dr. Hiter says in every state except South Carolina there was at least one regiment of Union soldiers who fought for the North against the Confederacy. It's possible that as many as 20% of of Southerners are descended from them and it's possible to be 'anti-Confederate' and still be proud of being Southern. However, it's more common, he says, that those descendants changed their ancestors service in the years following the war because they realized those who fought for and supported the Union were misguided then and are misguided now.
As for any further effort to move the statue, Kentucky's Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo has prefiled a bill for the General Assembly in January to move the statue through legislative action. However, many bills get prefiled and this doesn't necessarily mean anything will happen.