Op-Ed

Keep statues, don't judge by our times

The statue of John C. Breckinridge is in Cheapside Park in downtown Lexington.
The statue of John C. Breckinridge is in Cheapside Park in downtown Lexington. Herald-Leader

I make no apology for those who came before me. Their actions are not my fault nor should their actions of a century and a half ago be condemned.

Their actions are products of their times. Monuments and statues built to honor them are as much a part of our history as the persons they commerorate.

I have read with interest the columns and letters to the editor in the Herald-Leader devoted to the removal of the statues of John Hunt Morgan and John Cabell Breckinridge from the courthouse lawn and the monument of Jefferson Davis from the state Capitol.

I contend that we should leave the Morgan and Breckinridge statues where they are for history's sake. Fortunately the Davis monument will remain in the Capitol Rotunda at least for the time being.

Some individuals and groups desire to demean history by expunging everything about the Confederacy from the historical record. History may be rewritten but it cannot be changed, nor should it be.

Morgan should be remembered not as a terrorist and traitor but as a gallant and patriotic soldier. He took up arms not to defend the institution of slavery but to fight for what he believed to be right.

While slavery was perhaps the immediate cause of the War Between the States, the principle of states' rights was the real cause and for that the Confederate soldier fought. Only 10 percent of southerners were slave holders.

I am the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Confederate veterans. I have been a student of the War Between the States for most of my life, and am now in my 90th year. Both my grandfather John Esten Cooke Keller and my great-grandfather Dr. David Keller rode with Morgan.

I was 8 years old when in 1933 my grandfather died. I remember vividly sitting on his lap and listening to stories about his capture and escapes from two northern prisons and about the intolerable conditions at Rock Island prison where he was incarcerated for over a year. Grandfather also said, in a 1925 address before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that slavery was "the most diabolical and nefarious sin ever entered into." When my grandfather died, the Lexington papers called him "one of Lexington's most widely known and well-beloved citizens."

Breckinridge was the 14th vice president of the United States and the youngest to serve in this position.

He was from a proud and patriotic Kentucky family, whose members were outstanding citizens, serving their country well in several wars. He was a United States senator. He was a colonel of a volunteer regiment in the Mexican War.

A Jacksonian Democrat, he was a supporter of gradual emancipation. His statue, erected in 1887, should remain on the courthouse lawn where it has been for these many years.

Let us preserve the statues of two brave Americans and let them stay where they are.

Frances Keller Swinford Barr lives in Lexington.

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