Kelly: Was the Civil War unnecessary?
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? ■