Talk­ing points

Was the Civil War un­nec­es­sary?

The Week (US) - - News 17 -

It’s time to aban­don the no­tion that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is the “wise, sane ‘gray head’” res­train­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s “ig­no­rance and mal­ice,” said Ed Kil­gore in NYMag.com. The re­tired Marine gen­eral last week echoed his boss’s back­ward views on the Civil War, claim­ing that the con­flict was the re­sult of a “lack of com­pro­mise” be­tween the two sides—im­ply­ing that if the North had not been so darn neg­a­tive about slav­ery, se­ces­sion and war could been avoided. Adding to his “de­press­ingly ret­ro­grade views,” Kelly then claimed Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral Robert E. Lee was an “hon­or­able man” who fought out of loy­alty to his home state of Vir­ginia. The truth is that “the his­tory of the Re­pub­lic to 1860 is lit­er­ally a his­tory of com­pro­mises” on slav­ery, said Je­lani Cobb in NewYorker.com. The 1820 Mis­souri Com­pro­mise and the 1854 Kansas-Ne­braska Act ex­panded the num­ber of slave states and gave new ter­ri­to­ries the right to de­cide for them­selves. The North’s re­peated ap­pease­ment of the South kept black peo­ple in chains for many decades—but couldn’t “stave off a na­tional reck­on­ing” on the is­sue for­ever.

That’s not nec­es­sar­ily true, said John Daniel David­son in TheFed­er­al­ist.com. The var­i­ous com­pro­mises made by Congress “lim­ited the spread of slav­ery,” and put the prac­tice on “the path to ex­tinc­tion.” Had both sides been more flex­i­ble and pa­tient, we might have reached eman­ci­pa­tion without fight­ing a dev­as­tat­ingly bloody war. The Con­fed­er­acy clearly wasn’t an hon­or­able cause, said David French in Na­tion­alRe­view.com, but “hon­or­able men can fight for the wrong cause” for the right rea­sons. Many South­ern­ers feared that the Union Army wanted to in­cite a “bloody, geno­ci­dal slave re­bel­lion” and de­stroy the South. You can hardly blame men like Lee for want­ing to “de­fend hearth and home.”

Lee was no hon­or­able man, said Adam Ser­wer in TheAt­lantic.com. He per­son­ally owned slaves and had them whipped, and his army kid­napped and en­slaved free blacks. Kelly’s “rosy view” of both Lee and the Con­fed­er­acy is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the “Lost Cause” myth—the re­vi­sion­ist lie that Con­fed­er­ates were nobly fight­ing for states’ rights against a North­ern ag­gres­sor. The ugly re­al­ity is that the South fought for the mon­strous free­dom “to own black peo­ple as prop­erty,” and to beat, rape, and sell them. What ad­di­tional com­pro­mise does Kelly sug­gest the North should have made to pre­serve that free­dom?

Kelly: Gen. Lee was ‘an hon­or­able man.’

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