Cities across the South, following Charlottesville and New Orleans, now engage in a focused examination of whether to remove their Confederate monuments. That’s made notably more challenging in North Carolina because our General Assembly enacted a law in 2015 taking the power out of the hands of local leaders. Gov. Roy Cooper has asked that the usurping and ill-motivated statute be repealed: “We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery.”
Reports, though, are that the chances of repeal are small. One of the law’s principal Senate sponsors, Republican Tommy Tucker of Waxhaw, still revels at his handiwork. The Civil War, after all, wasn’t really about slavery.
“It was the North and their tariffs over Southern goods,” Tucker made clear. Republican lawmakers apparently feel duty bound to defer to such cutting-edge wisdom. They are, as I’ve said on occasion, an inspiring lot. They say they speak for North Carolina. They embody our values. They are our literal representatives. They lead us toward a new Carolina.
Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. He was also the United States’ greatest president, its greatest leader, its greatest orator, and its greatest writer. His Second Inaugural Address is the greatest speech ever delivered by an American president. It is etched, in full, on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial. It is a core component of the American canon. Tucker should read it. Then he should resign. And he should take a lot of his brothers and sisters with him.
As the Civil War’s end approached, Lincoln said:
“One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than restrict the territorial enlargement of it.”
Still, for Lincoln and his audience, the moral stakes of the Civil War moved past such constitutive and legalistic claims:
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth of the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”
As far as I can glean, there is no monument to Tommy Tucker on the Washington Mall.
And I have little doubt that Tucker’s enthusiasm for Donald Trump remains as steadfast as his affection for the Confederacy. This week, of course, the president effectively offered words of support and parity for Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan – as he lashed out at any and all who might disagree with his assessment of equivalence in Charlottesville. Trump, it will be recalled, had himself photographed at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 20, as he prepared for his own inauguration. If he had looked to the right, he would have seen these closing words:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
No chest pounding, no recrimination, no belligerence, no hatred, no self-aggrandizement, no gloating, no revenge, no boastfulness, no self-satisfaction. Only duty, democracy, honesty, obligation, courage, sacrifice, forgiveness, empathy, faith, and, finally, love. Not exactly Trump’s wheelhouse. Or, perhaps, Tucker’s. History will likely ask if it is our own.
Gene Nichol is Boyd Tinsley distinguished professor of law at the University of North Carolina.