by Cliff Page
With the Election of Rutherford B. Hayes by a one vote margin, the Compromise of 1877 ended the era of Reconstruction. As Southern states were re-admitted into the Union, federal troops stood down or returned to the North.
From about 1885 to 1924, before and after the 50th Anniversary of the War between the States, Americans felt a need for forgiveness, reunification and remembrance of the greatest war Americans ever fought and hopefully ever will. There was a great desire for conciliation and honor for aging veterans and those who had perished on the battlefields. The America Beautiful movement was in full swing with the goal of employing parks, public spaces, sculpture, urban landscaping and rebuilding to make life more livable, civil and cultured. The era was our American Renaissance – economically, politically, artistically and scientifically.
The venerable Grand Old Army and the Confederate Veterans of America held conventions where tales were swapped of valor, loss, glory and honor. Wizened, white-bearded veterans held reunions at battlefields, where they staged mock engagements, relived the past, broke bread with comrades and former enemies, and extended hands of forgiveness, reconciliation and respect. During this time both North and South erected their monuments and memorials to war heroes, leaders, comrades, and the many who had fallen in the field of battle.
Sculptures acted as eternal symbols to the Northern and Southern causes. The people who erected statues intended for soldiers and generals to live on in the minds of posterity, for the nation’s struggle not to be forgotten, and for their lives not to be counted as squandered in vain. The hope was that the honored men and events would be recalled far into the future, argued about, reflected upon, as actors in a grand play of immortal history. The purpose of the statues was to give meaning to heroism, bravery, honor, commitment, patriotism and duty.
The Civil War was a grand epic tragedy that should remind us of the faults and failures, and also the nobility, found in mankind. Northern and Southern monuments serve as guiding lights to direct future generations of Americans. Furthermore, the monuments are among the greatest sculptural assets of our nation, created at the zenith of our cultural history.
No one monument can define this era in time, any more than a single actor or a single scene can define a play — no more than the First Battle of Manassas could define four years of endless carnage, blood, sorrow, glory and defeat. America’s historic monuments are our heritage, the complete play, warts and all… the story of America’s great defining epoch. But, it is not just our story. It is a story for the world!
Political correctness in America has metastasized into something resembling the Maoist Cultural Revolution. As the world leader, America’s actions, attitudes and fashions are mimicked everywhere on the globe, whether they are innovative, wholesome, or obscene.
We all perceive the recent iconoclasm of extremists and terrorists in the Middle East as repugnant and a crime against humanity, art, and world history. Not long ago, the West spurned the Cultural Revolution as shameful. Somehow this madness has infected our nation nearly fifty years later, like an Asian flu. Once it hits American shores, this pathogen could become a global contagion that consumes the world’s historic culture and its symbols of heritage and civility.
Rather than accept this disease, Americans should act more civilly and maturely. America’s historic monuments are the visual representations of our American History. We have a responsibility to promote the values of our inalienable rights of speech, writing, assembly and expression. When America constrains these rights, by censorship in whatever form, she does so at her own peril.
Cliff Page, a sculptor, lives and maintains his studio in Portsmouth.There are currently no comments highlighted.