The New York City Public Design Commission voted on Tuesday to remove a statue of Thomas Jefferson from the New York City Council’s chambers at City Hall, despite earlier predictions from reporters and liberals that statues of the Founding Fathers weren’t at risk of being removed.
“We acknowledge that the piece needs to be removed from the City Council chamber,” Commission President Signe Nielsen said after the vote. “We as a commission will act before the end of 2021 in finding an appropriate location where it remains in the public realm.”
The commission’s vote is the latest in a trend by progressive activists to remove statues and monuments of historical figures they deemed problematic. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump warned against the removal of Confederate statues and monuments because he said next could be the Founding Fathers.
“So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down … I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Trump said.
Trump’s comments were dismissed by many in the media, saying that no one is trying to remove statues of the Founding Fathers.
In 2017, The Atlantic wrote “statues to slaveholding Founding Fathers” would not be on the chopping block despite the growing movement to remove anything people deemed offensive.
“We can distinguish between people who wanted to build the United States of America and people who wanted to destroy it,” Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed said. “It’s possible to recognize people’s contributions at the same time as recognizing their flaws.”
Slate had a similar piece titled, “Removing Confederate Memorials Doesn’t Mean Washington and Jefferson Are Next.” Writer Jamelle Bouie, who is now a New York Times columnist, suggested any claim that Founding Father statues would be removed “doesn’t really even make any sense” and that “the notion that there’s some slippery slope is dumb.”
The New York Times similarly quoted Gordon-Reed in an effort to dismiss fears that Jefferson statues could be removed.
“There is a crucial difference between leaders like Washington and Jefferson, imperfect men who helped create the United States, Ms. Gordon-Reed said, and Confederate generals like Jackson and Lee, whose main historical significance is that they took up arms against it,” the piece stated.
Primetime news also rushed to shut down claims that Founding Father statues could be removed. In 2017, NBC published an article titled “Statues of Washington, Jefferson Aren’t ‘Next,’ But It’s Complicated, Historians Say,” featuring historians arguing the concern is a “false slippery slope.”
Meanwhile, on “CNN Tonight,” Democratic activist Keith Boykin argued with host Don Lemon that he “can draw the line” at Jefferson statues despite him previously owning slaves.
“I don’t know where anyone else draws the line. But I can draw a line there … George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, though they were slave owners, never took up arms against the United States of America,” Boykin said.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco school board also voted to change the names of 44 public schools honoring former presidents such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and William McKinley.