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Historical Confederate monuments are being taken down and defaced from protests over the death of George Floyd. Storyful

In attacking Grant, those desecrating our cities in the supposed name of racial justice besmirched the memory of one of the figures who was most important for pushing the nation forward on civil rights.

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A statue of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States and victorious commanding general of the Civil War, was torn down by vandals in San Francisco on Friday. In attacking Grant, those desecrating our cities in the supposed name of racial justice besmirched the memory of one of the figures who was most important for pushing the nation forward on civil rights.

Grant led the fight for racial justice

There was no mystery for Grant why it was vital to defeat the Confederacy. “[I]t bec[a]me patent to my mind early in the rebellion that the North and South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation, and that without Slavery,” he wrote amid the fighting in 1863, making clear that any earlier ambivalence about the institution was gone. “I would not therefore be willing to see any settlement until the question is forever settled.”

Anyone trying to characterize the entirety of U.S. history as one uninterrupted narrative of systemic racism gives intolerably short shrift to the colossal epic to end slavery that was the Civil War, in which as many as 850,000 soldiers were killed in a country whose population was only 31.4 million when the conflict began in 1861. We surely do not need Old Testament levels of bloodshed today to earn national atonement. We have been there and done that.

Gen. Grant’s efforts to help deliver a better life for African Americans continued in his presidency, during which the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified to extend voting rights to them. Facing opposition in the southern states, Grant deployed the U.S. military to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan and enforce new civil rights laws instituted under his leadership.

GOP Sen. Tim Scott: called him, “the central force in the achievement of civil rights for blacks, the most stalwart and reliable among all American presidents for the next 80 years.” Of this claim, The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley wrote, “The evidence leaves little doubt that Bunting is right.” 

Room for improvement in America

One of the fundamental flaws of contemporary virtue signaling is it doesn’t recognize that the actual attainment of virtue is part of a process of intentionally trying to become better. America, in both its history and the ideals upon which it was founded, has consistently engaged in that process of conscious self-improvement.

Does the United States still have room for improvement? Of course. Could Grant have acknowledged the immorality of human bondage earlier? Yes. However, both the nation and the individual worked to make serious amends for their mistakes, including for the existence of slavery and Grant’s brief ownership of a slave he freed before the war.

Start from scratch:"The Conservative Case for Trump." His great-great-great grandfather fought in the Union cavalry under Gen. William T. Sherman. Follow him on Twitter: @BrettMDecker.

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