The Past - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Past

America is going through a major bout of self-doubt.

A few examples, mostly from our students at our fine colleges and universities.

It has been “discovered” by some Princeton students that the long-time President of Old Nassau, Woodrow Wilson, yes, that Woodrow Wilson, was sour on blacks, to put it mildly. He made sure the armed forces were segregated, for one thing, and basically refused to talk to black citizens of distinction at all.

So the modern Princetonians are furious. They should be. Mr. Wilson’s behavior was atrocious. The only thing is that he was head of Princeton roughly a century ago. He died in the office of the President of the U.S. about 95 years ago. What are we supposed to do about him?

Then there are the students at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. They have found out that there is a statue of Thomas Jefferson on campus. Yes, he wrote the Declaration of Independence. But it turns out that this Virginia planter of some 200 plus years ago, like all other southern planters, owned slaves. He might well have had a sexual affair with a slave.

Again, dismaying, even if totally consonant with the times and places of yesteryear.

But what are we supposed to do about it? He’s been dead since roughly 1830. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the Nation. What should we do about it?

Then there is a perpetual investigation into Harvard’s investments in slaves. This was about 300 years ago. Thoroughly disgusting, but it happened and it was a long time ago. What should we do about it?

What’s next? Discrediting George Washington because he owned slaves? I guess that’s already happening. Heaping scorn on Madison, main author of the Constitution because he owned slaves?

I suppose the point is that we are all supposed to be ashamed of being Americans because long ago major national figures owned slaves.

And it’s a good point. It was obvious even then that it was disgusting for one man to own another man. There is a lot of shame around some of our founding fathers. As Samuel Johnson said, it was strange that the loudest voices for freedom were the drivers of slaves.

But this is still a great country. This is still the country where 300,000 plus white men gave their lives to free the black man. In the late 18th century and early 19th century many countries had slavery and of course it was standard in Africa. Yes, it is well worth noting that the men who founded our great country were not perfect. And well worth noting some cruel anomalies in our past.

But after that, what good does it do? What good, in a world where our enemies are endlessly seeking to tear us down, does it do to join in?

This country was founded in part on a stupendous moral evil. Important that we know it. Now let’s get to work to keep on making it the best place in the world, with the evils of racism and slavery as far as possible in the rear view mirror. No Orwellian shaming of this great nation for me, thanks. The past is tragic. The present and the future are bright. If we make them bright.

Ben Stein
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Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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