In a Fox News interview Monday night, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that "Robert E. Lee was an honorable man" who "gave up his country for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country," and argued that "the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War." In defending those assertions about the Civil War on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "many historians" agree with Kelly "that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War." Civil War historians tell The Washington Post that Kelly's views on the war are outdated or debunked, "sad," "strange," "dangerous," and "kind of depressing."
"It's the Jim Crow version of the causes of the Civil War," Columbia University history professor Stephanie McCurry, who wrote a book on the Civil War, told the Post. "I mean, it tracks all of the major talking points of this pro-Confederate view of the Civil War." "This is profound ignorance," said David Blight, a history professor and Civil War author at Yale. "I mean, it's one thing to hear it from Trump ... but General Kelly has a long history in the American military." Ken Burns, who made a long Civil War documentary, was succinct:
"In 1861, compromise wasn't possible because some Southerners just wanted out; they wanted a separate nation where they could protect slavery into the indefinite future," McCurry said. "That's what they said when they seceded. That's what they said in their constitution." Blight added that "of course we yearn for compromise," but "look, Robert E. Lee was not a compromiser. He chose treason. ... Lee was a Confederate nationalist." You can read more of their critiques at The Washington Post, and watch a more late-night takedown of Kelly from Late Night's Amber Ruffin below. Peter Weber