Philip Schuyler: Hero, enslaver, statue

When you fly a flag, it has meaning.

Philip SchuylerThe folks at my church had a healthy conversation about Confederate monuments, and similar symbols last week. On ZOOM, of course. Here’s a pretty thorough assessment of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA. There are the whole point of Confederate monuments.

I love the issue of the Confederate statues and flags. There’s no ambiguity for me. My problem with the Confederate flag being removed from the Mississippi state flag is that it’s taken too long.

Frankly, I was unaware that military bases bore the names of Confederate traitors. Many veterans, military families, military leaders, and service people have called for the names to be changed. The Tweeter-in-Chief declared “I don’t care what the military says.”

But the discussion brought up two other angles that are more nuanced.


One is happening right in my city. The Philip Schuyler statue is to be removed from downtown Albany.

You fans of the musical Hamilton might be familiar with the man. He was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, the father of Elizabeth, and 14 others.

Philip Schuyler was “reportedly the largest owner of enslaved people in Albany during his time.” But he also was a hero of the Battle of Saratoga. The Revolutionary War might have ended in another way without his leadership.

What will happen to the statue? One choice is to move it to the Schuyler Mansion right in Albany, where the proper historic context might be provided. Perhaps the State Museum, also in the city. Schuylerville’s mayor is lobbying to take possession of the 9½-foot (3-meter) bronze statue. The village is 45 miles to the north.

Separate from politics, removing the statue will possibly provide a much better traffic flow at that location. That junction is reliably dangerous for pedestrians in particular.

Is that all there is?

A broader question involves statues vs. systemic change. How much of a difference does tearing down monuments really make?. The Washington NFL team is changing its long-criticized mascot, for instance. “Symbols can be an easy out for powerful institutions still resistant to undoing systemic inequalities. But taken as a whole… the growing collection of fallen symbols is a sign of true progress, an early victory in what will be a long fight for fundamental change.”

Now, “at the national level, little progress has been made so far on sweeping policy reforms that would bring criminal justice, economic, health, and educational systems in line with protesters’ demands.” Of course, symbolic change is comparatively easy. Systemic change is hard, in part because it’s more difficult to agree on how to facilitate it.

S is for Statues of Robert E. Lee

The Confederate memorials were an attempt to erase history.

The conversation about Confederate statues in the United States is highly charged, as recent events in Charlottesville, VA have shown.

I absolutely agree with The Hill:
“Please don’t direct the discussion towards the ownership of slaves. Then we just get into the argument that people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. That’s not the point! Washington and Jefferson are well known in history from the beginnings of our country. [General] Robert E. Lee was a traitor to his country. These monuments were constructed well before African-Americans were permitted to vote, and they are only a reminder that racism still exists.”

But, as The Week notes in How America forgot the true history of the Civil War: “Ex-Confederates and associated sympathizers began to think up alternative histories that sounded better [than slavery], starting right after the war ended. The major plank of this was the ‘Lost Cause,’ which argued that the war was not actually about slavery — instead, it was about ‘states’ rights.’

“The antebellum South was cast as a sepia-toned paradise of noble gentlemen, virtuous ladies, and happy slaves.” John Oliver reveals The Ugly Reality Behind The ‘Lost Cause’ Cult.

In other words, the Confederate memorials were an attempt to erase history, as this southern white male and this one note.

Most of those statues were erected during the Jim Crow era before and after World War I, after the re-imposition of white supremacy. As Smithsonian magazine makes clear, We Legitimize the ‘So-Called’ Confederacy With Our Vocabulary, and That’s a Problem. “Tearing down monuments is only the beginning to understanding the false narrative of Jim Crow.

More than 4,000 black people were lynched in the South — where are their monuments?

To understand how toxic the period was, read Before its subversion in the Jim Crow era, the fruit symbolized black self-sufficiency. So, what changed? And Lynching and Antilynching: Art and Politics in the 1930s.

Robert E. Lee was NOT “invariably kind and humane” to the people he enslaved, despite scuttlebutt of his benevolence. Here’s W.E.B. DuBois on Robert E. Lee. My fellow TU blogger Rob Hoffman noted:”The last thing we need in our divided nation is to excuse the behavior of a man, even one as talented as Robert E. Lee, for betraying his country at a time when it really needed him most.”

Moreover, Lee himself said: “I think it wiser …not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

I’d like to see some of those statues in museums, where context can be explained. Listen to the semi-comedic The Ballad Of General Robert E. Lee’s Statue.

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