Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonBelow is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the call for the removal of the statue of George Washington in my hometown of Chicago.  This is not the first such call to remove statues of confederate figures or those who supported segregation. The most recent such removal was the removal of the statue of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney due to his authorship of the Dredd Scott decision.  There have been demands that monuments and the names of slave-owning founders be removed.

Here is the column:

George Washington may have survived the winter at Valley Forge, but he may not see the end of the summer of Charlottesville. Bishop James Dukes of Chicago’s Liberation Christian Center and others are calling for the removal of his and Andrew Jackson’s statues and and stripping of their names from parks. Dukes insists that these monuments are “a slap in the face and it’s a disgrace” for African Americans given their history as slave owning presidents.

The bishop’s call for the removal of our first president’s statue is the latest effort to strip away the names of historical figures over ties to slavery or segregation. There is a movement to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson (who helped establish Princeton as a world academic institution) from buildings and schools, due to his support for segregation. The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson, but last year, University President Teresa Sullivan was denounced by students and faculty for merely quoting our third president in a public message because he was a slave owner.

The call to remove Washington’s statue came less than a day after President Trump asked whether Washington would be next in the movement to remove statues like the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville. The statement drew the ire of CNN’s Jim Acosta who described the notion as absurd and said it was “taken as a sign that the president perhaps needs a refresher course and needs to go back to History 101.”

220px-US_Navy_031029-N-6236G-001_A_painting_of_President_John_Adams_(1735-1826),_2nd_president_of_the_United_States,_by_Asher_B._Durand_(1767-1845)-crop220px-BenFranklinDuplessisHistory is precisely where this controversy should begin and end. Washington is rightfully condemned for his ownership of slaves. There were contemporaries like John Adams, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton who were outspoken critics of slavery. Franklin called slavery “an atrocious debasement of human nature,” while Adams referred to it as a “foul contagion in the human character.” These visionaries not only saw a great evil but answered the call of history to stand steadfastly against it.

However, before Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends in the bulldozers into Washington Park, it is worth considering a few facts about our first president’s history with slavery. Washington inherited a number of slaves at age 11 and received more slaves in his marriage to Martha Custis. However, he gradually came to oppose slavery. On the interim, Washington tried to assuage his guilt by refusing to sell slaves that would break up families, telling an associate that it was “against my inclination…to hurt the feelings of those unhappy people by a separation of man and wife, or of families.”

150px-seal_of_lafayette_collegeAfter the war, Washington continued to discuss ways to convert his plantation from slaves to tenants at the suggestion of his close aide (and outspoken opponent of slavery) Marquis de Lafayette. By 1786, Washington wrote his friend Robert Morris, “I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of [slavery].”

In the end, Washington was the only one of nine slaveholding presidents (and the only slaveholding founder) who freed his slaves upon his death. Washington freed as many of his 317 slaves as possible. Some 123 slaves were his to emancipate while neither he nor Martha could free the so-called “Custis Dower slaves” (who remained property of the heirs to the estate of Daniel Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s first husband). He further ordered that all of the elderly or sick slaves would be supported by his estate for the rest of their lives.

So where does this leave us? With a complex and flawed figure who practiced a great evil while belatedly coming to reject it. He finished his life allied with his more enlightened colleagues but this is no reason to forgive his prior history. However, that is the point of history. It is never some neat narrative divided cleanly between demons and angels. Washington was a great leader who held a nation together through sheer leadership and stands as one of the few leaders in history to refuse to become a monarch himself.

Curiously, Dukes does offer a concession. Washington Park and Jackson Park could be formally named after former Mayor Harold Washington and civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson or singer Michael Jackson. It is unlikely to convince those who view these statutes as not simply reminders of past leaders but past struggles in an evolving society. The same cannot be said for Michael Jackson. “Thriller” may be the best selling album in history, but the Battle of New Orleans still has more of a hold on history.

The fact is that we often learn as much from the failures as we do the triumphs of historical figures. Washington ultimately proved to be an early transitional figure in our ugly history of slavery. Washington himself described his desire at Mount Vernon “to lay a foundation” for a “rising generation” with a “new destiny” other than slavery.

150px-GWUlogoFor my part, I am proud to teach at the George Washington University, whose charter was paid for by Washington himself as part of that same final testament. Of course, that does not mean we could not make other improvements. Another school in Washington is named after a British king, George II, who kept our nation under colonial oppression. After all, the moonwalk and robot dance steps did have a transformative impact on my generation… and “Jacksontown University” has a nice ring to it.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.


  1. George Washington was a traitor. Most of his soldiers, sailors and marines were French and Spanish. Almost all his weapons, cannons, uniforms and ships were from those countries. Those countries were the enemies of all Englishmen for centuries when 1776 arrived.
    Unlike Lee and Davis, Washington and Jefferson were life long slave owners. They successfully fought for slavery. The numbers of slaves on their plantations grew following the War of Independence.
    The James Somerset case freaked out the rich, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant slave owners of the British provinces. A small and legit tax revolt took off with big money from the South and then money from France following the Somerset case.
    If you have never heard of the Somerset case, you probably live in an English speaking country that worships slave owners.

  2. Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    Jonathan Turley on the growing call in the USA to remove monuments to Washington and Thomas Jefferson following Charlottesville. In the UK we have seen demands for statues of Rhodes to be removed from his alma mater and in Austalia for a monument to James Cook. No doubt the progressives in NZ will soon call for similar here. These are all attempts to rewrite history and indeed to look at past history through the lens of today’s prejudices and beliefs. Whether from the left or the right that is wrong and morally reprehensible.

    1. Thank-you for your support. You have so many more statues and memorials in the UK than we do. I hope they do not come under attack. Thinking of memorials to people like Queen Victoria since she ruled over the British Empire. Also Kings and Queens before her. I love your history.

  3. Now it’s getting ridiculous. Presidents are important American historical figures, no matter their failings. They were not traitors like Robert E. Lee was, who never had anything to do with the history of the US government. Some people are trying to protest the removal of statues of Confederate traitors, as if they were on equal ground with figures from the US government. This is asinine.

  4. Let’s see, I guess it’s all about the fact that Donald Trump represents a train of thought or a particular way of thinking that his followers either endorse or ignore to spite the opposition. I wish HRC supporters were a little bit more aware of how they are screaming into the mirror when it comes to their choice in savior.

    1. Train of thought? The Donald can hardly manage a coherent brain fart on Twitter, much less two in a row.

      1. David B. Benson, how’s Hills doin’? You don’t suppose she’s all tied up with “Veropharm” do you?


        Joseph Rago –

        “Wall Street Journal Reporter Asks Russia For “Clinton Information” —-Turns Up DEAD 2 Days Later”

        “A Wall Street Journal Editor who was investigating how a Russian
        Pharmaceutical firm could have been purchased in 2014 by an American
        Pharmaceutical firm while Sanctions against Russia existed against such
        business transactions, has been found dead in his New York City
        apartment. The crux of the dead journalists investigation was how
        then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton influenced the transaction to be
        finalized, but only AFTER her husband Bill was paid $500,000 for giving
        a speech in Moscow.

        The Russia Consulate General’s office in New York City was contacted
        by Wall Street Journal reporter/editor Joseph Rago who requested a
        Thursday (20 July) in person interview with consular officials regarding
        an upcoming article he was preparing on Hillary Clinton and her links
        to Russia. Rago failed to attend the meeting and was later discovered
        dead in his apartment of as yet “unknown causes” just hours prior to
        this meeting occurring.”


    1. RPC, Wait. What are “coal flakes?” I may want to use that depending…

      And, to be sure. Barry Soetoro was an Indonesian citizen as claimed on his high school application and he is not, never was and never will be eligible for the presidency because his father was a foreign citizen of a foreign country with foreign allegiances, which the Jay/Washington letter of July, 1787, placed a “strong check” against by raising the presidential requirement from “citizen” to “natural born citizen,” which, as defined in the Law of Nations, 1758, requires that “…in order to be of the country, it is necessary that a person be born of a father who is a citizen;…”

      1. I don’t know how many times you have repeated this.

        Go see a mental health counselor.

  5. Bottom line.

    Once you accept the SPLC and the Left as the ultimate arbiters of what is “Moral” or “Acceptable” or “Admirable” then all your blah, blah about Washington gets you nowhere. If tomorrow the Left wants to tear down Statues to Washington because he was a “slaveholder” or close down the Hype Park Library because FDR was a “Racist” who put J-A in concentration camps, there’s nothing you do about it.

    You’ve already accepted the idea that “racism” is the worstest thing in the whole word. And that anything the SPLC or the ADL or the Left labels as “racist” is terrible.

    This is why “reasonable” Liberals and moderates are always useless in fighting the Left. Their No. 1 priority is never stopping the Left, but attacking the Right or being “moderate” or ” fighting racism” – or whatever BS they believe.

  6. ANGELA MERKEL: Tear down these forced labor camps.

    Abdel Fattah el-Sisi: Tearn down these Pyramids & that CAT on a hot piece of Red clay.

    Mike Pompeo: Tear down that house of spooks.

    BLM head: Disband your racist organization

  7. “…to ourselves and our posterity,…”

    Preamble –

    We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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