Letter to the editor: Following the despot's heel
In his recent "As I see it: Context for history?" opinion, columnist Pete Abler raises interesting points regarding the nuances of history.
In today's world, the instance Abler cites of former president Thomas Jefferson's relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, and of fathering their children certainly qualifies as a socially charged fact of history. Mr. Abler rhetorically asks whether an explanatory, clarifying statement (read: "apologetic") might qualify for inclusion on a historical plaque to be placed at the Jefferson Memorial, in keeping with similar recent steps taken regarding statues and memorials for Confederate states' war leaders and statesmen.
A point for reflection. Yet, try for a moment putting this into comparative context. As a slave state of the Civil War era, Maryland ultimately pledged and fought for the Union cause, but not without the stark reality of disintegrated families, friends and neighbors fiercely fighting against one another, enlisted into opposing, uniformed, Blue vs. Gray regiments with identical-sounding military unit names.
The official state song, "Maryland, My Maryland," was written in 1861 and has been unsuccessfully challenged eight times in court, thereby preserving the historical lyrics. No big deal. Unless you are gobsmacked by such phrases as: "The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland!" (in reference to President Lincoln); and, "Maryland ... Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!"
Thomas Jefferson was a former president with a mistress, and not a despot. Neither was Lincoln. We in central Minnesota are citizens, not despots, nor, as far as I like to believe, "Northern scum."
There are clear lines between such blatant wrong-headedness, and righteousness ("with charity for all" - Abraham Lincoln). Surely, some historical contexts deserve or warrant plaques; some don't, and for those, due diligence by mentioning is without a doubt going far enough. That's what history books, and columnists, are for.