I was a bit confused by the Los Angeles Times report that the city of Arcata, California voted to remove a statue of U.S. President William McKinley. After all, McKinley fought bravely for the Union to end slavery and I was reliably informed that there was no slippery slope after removing Confederate statutes.
McKinley's crime was not insurrection but "colonialism" and the passage of the Curtis Act, a law that broke up the land of the five "Civilized Tribes" to sell it to white settlers. Defenders in Arcata on the other hand note that McKinley had a progressive view of African-Americans, appointing several to federal posts.
There's a strong and obvious case for removing monuments to Confederate officials: they betrayed their country to defend the institution of slavery. But McKinley was raised abolitionist, and is generally considered a slightly-above-average president (except among Republican historians, who rank him in the top ten). Declaring McKinley beyond the pale requires overlooking all the good he did in office, such as resisting an unjust war with Spain, winning it decisively in three months after being forced into by Congress, and establishing the United States as a global power.
But if this is the new normal, so be it. I regret to inform my liberal friends that after spending minutes upon minutes of research on reliable websites like Wikipedia and Google, there is not a single former U.S. president who has not committed a comparable sin against modern sensibilities that warrants a statue removal.
- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant– Owned slaves. Simple enough.
- John Adams– Passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, blatantly unconstitutional laws that banned criticism of the government, discriminated against non-citizens, and laid the legal groundwork for Roosevelt's internment of Japanese-Americans.
- John Quincy Adams– Declared the past policy of "civilizing" American Indians a failure and endorsed moving tribes to the West, paving the way for Jackson's forced removal and the Trail of Tears.
- Millard Fillmore- Oversaw the Compromise of 1850, allowing slavery to extend to the territories. Later joined xenophobic Know Nothing Party.
- Franklin Pierce– Fiercely anti-abolition. Tried to force Spain to give Cuba to the United States, which he wanted to admit as a slave state. Passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively overturning the Missouri Compromise and allowing the possibility of slavery in northern territories.
- James Buchanan– Anti-abolition, did nothing to stop the Civil War, urged the Dred Scott decision. Often considered the worst president in the nation's history.
- Abraham Lincoln– As the students at the University of Wisconsin point out, Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men during the Dakota War of 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Suspended the writ of habeas corpus without approval of Congress and jailed opposition journalists.
- Rutherford B. Hayes– Struck a deal with Southerners to end Reconstruction in return for the presidency, allowing decades of oppression of Southern blacks.
- James A. Garfield– Wrote that he had "a strong sense of repugnance when I think of the negro being made our political equal and I would be glad if they could be colonized, sent to heaven, or got rid of in any decent way."
- Chester A. Arthur– Signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which did exactly what it advertised.
- Grover Cleveland– Signed the Dawes Act, forcing Native Americans to cede their land to white settlers in attempt to assimilate them into white American society.
- Benjamin Harrison– Supported the annexation of Hawaii after the tribal government was overthrown by white settlers.
- Teddy Roosevelt– Indigenous activists have already protested a Roosevelt statue, citing his support of the forced assimilation of Indians. "I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are," he said in one speech.
- William Howard Taft– Promised in his inaugural address not to appoint black officials to posts Southerners would object to.
- Woodrow Wilson– Extremely, extremely racist, even by the standards of the day. Resegregated the U.S. government, defended the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. Jailed and censored anti-war dissenters.
- Warren Harding– Drastically restricted immigration with the Emergency Quota Act, which enacted quotas favoring Northern Europeans while punishing Italians, Eastern Europeans, and non-Europeans. The act was applauded by eugenists.
- Calvin Coolidge– Signed the Immigration Act of 1924, limiting immigration even further, banning immigration from the Middle East and East Asia, and restricting naturalization to whites and blacks.
- Herbert Hoover– Falsely blamed the Great Depression on cheap Mexican labor and oversaw the mass deportation of Mexicans in the United States, including U.S. citizens.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt– Ordered the forced internment of Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans during World War II.
- Harry Truman– Ordered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over a hundred thousand civilians.
- Dwight Eisenhower– Oversaw Operation Wetback, deporting over a million illegal immigrants with scarce due process, allowing the deportation of hundreds of U.S. citizens and laborers legally in the country.
- John F. Kennedy– Escalated the War in Vietnam, overthrew Iraqi government, attempted (poorly) to overthrow Cuban government. Campaigned on civil rights, but was dragged kicking and screaming into action as president for fear of alienating Southern Democrats.
- Lyndon B. Johnson– Escalated the Vietnam War even further, displaying Jumbo in several #MeToo moments
- Richard Nixon– Was pretty racist.
- Gerald Ford– Pardoned a guy who was pretty racist.
- Jimmy Carter– Critical of abortion, opposed federal funding of abortion. He also thinks prostitution is bad, which apparently makes him problematic?
— Jezebel (@Jezebel) June 1, 2016
- Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama– Opposed gay marriage.
- Donald Trump– Nothing problematic yet.