W.H. Chief of Staff John Kelly Can't Get the Confederacy Right

no Confederate flagAs has been widely reported, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly last night on the Laura Ingraham Show said Robert E. Lee was an honorable man and the Civil War was fought because the North and South couldn’t compromise. Kelly was brought into the White House to keep Trump from stepping on verbal landmines. However, he has stepped on a few of his own in recent days.
The unforced historical error comes amid two indictments and the revelation yesterday of an even more damning guilty plea from a former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos relating to the Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Some historical matters arouse little passion, some are critical to get right. Anything involving slavery and the Confederacy and understandably critical to get right. And it isn’t difficult. Lee fought for the South in the Civil War which was fought to keep African slavery as a moral good. All the compromising took place before the war and was evil. See, not hard.
A good social media place to look at for a response to Kelly is Ta-Nehesi Coates thread on Lee and the Civil War.
For more from past posts, see below:
Robert E. Lee on slavery – This post contains a letter from Lee to his wife.
The Vice-President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens on slavery as the reason for the Confederacy – This post contains the words of a speech by Stephens declaring slavery as integral to the new Confederacy.
Unfortunately, it appears that Kelly may have read too much history from David Barton. Barton believes Lee was a good guy and isn’t in favor of removing the Confederate statues. Even though Barton correctly attributes the cause of the Civil War to slavery, he falters on many other alt-right talking points.
UPDATE:
And of course, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, W.H. Spokesperson came out and defended Kelly’s comments.


The heads of thousands of sane historians explode.
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Donald Trump's Odd Attraction to Andrew Jackson

In an interview slated to air this afternoon on Sirius Radio, Donald Trump reportedly lauds Andrew Jackson and implies Jackson would have prevented the Civil War (link, link). What Trail of Tears?
Who knew history could be so complicated?
Apparently not Trump because, if the reports are accurate, he managed to imply the Civil War wasn’t about slavery and laud the architect of the Indian removal policy which led to mass deaths of native American during the Trail of Tears (see my summary of this horrific episode in American history).
Here is the audio:


Andrew Jackson is not an American hero in my book. He was an unapologetic slave owner and helped insure the deaths of thousands of native people.
Regarding the Civil War, there is no question that expansion of slavery was the cause. Five states declared reasons for secession and slavery was the defining reason. Read those declarations here.

Conference on Faith and History: Allen Guelzo on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Christian Historians and PublicsLast night I attended the opening address of the Conference on Faith and History with the keynote speech provided by Civil War historian Allen Guelzo. Guelzo gave an excellent talk on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He noted several misconceptions (for instance, Lincoln did not write the speech on the way to the ceremony honoring the dead at Gettysburg) and noted the inspiration for the content of Lincoln’s remarks. He presented numerous points but here are a few:
 

  • The Gettysburg address is almost “anorexic” in verbal expression with so much packed into 272 words.
  • The address marked the transition from classical speech in American politics to “middling” speech which was a more common form of oration.
  • Lincoln clearly declared the importance of those who died at Gettysburg as the guardians of democratic principles worth dying for. Democratic ideals survived at Gettysburg even as many soldiers did not.
  • We would not remember the elegance or importance of the address if the North had lost the war. If the South had won, the North might have faded into a “Scandinavian irrelevance.”
  • In his second inaugural address, Lincoln delivered a speech which recognized that the North and South had their “hands in the toilet over slavery.” Noting that Lincoln asserted that God’s judgment had been delivered on both sides, Guelzo referred to the end of Lincoln’s address:

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Guelzo’s speech was worth the price of admission and was a wonderful beginning to the conference.

Review: David Barton’s Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White, Part One

I just finished reading David Barton’s Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White. In this book, Barton attempts to demonstrate that the Republican party has historically been the party of civil rights while the Democrats have worked to prevent full equality for African Americans. As with other claims made by Barton, this claim has some truth to it. Democrats, especially southern Democrats worked against Reconstruction era reforms while certain Republicans advocated for full civil rights based on the Declaration of Independence. However, my impression is that Barton skews the history in several ways to give less than a complete and accurate picture of the period of time he covers (from pre-Civil War to the 1960s).

Thus far, I can identify three major problems with Barton’s narrative. One, he fails to make clear the divisions within the Republican party over Reconstruction and civil rights. Throughout the Reconstruction era, moderate and radical Republicans debated how far to go in granting civil rights to freed blacks. However, Barton’s narrative is clearly Democrat versus Republican. Barton mentions Plessy v. Ferguson as an adverse decision for blacks but fails to mention that most of the Justices who decided that case were either Republican or appointed by Republican presidents.

Two, Barton fails to consider the role of the Christian church in the southern resistance to civil rights. The Confederate constitution invoked God and many post Civil War opponents of equality embedded their arguments in the Bible. Barton makes the southern resistance to civil rights for blacks into a political issue without dealing with the religious justifications for segregation.

Three, Barton fails to even mention the 1964 presidential campaign and Barry Goldwater’s vote against the Civil Rights Act as turning points in black voting behavior. Prior to the Goldwater campaign, Republican presidents had received significant support from African Americans. For instance, Eisenhower received 39% of the black vote in 1956 and Nixon got 32% in 1960. In 1964, when Goldwater ran for president, only 6% of the black vote went Republican. Although Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman began the change of trend in voting, Goldwater’s lack of support for the Civil Rights Act and the reaction of black leaders — including Martin Luther King — were crucial factors in solidifying black support for the democrats.

This clip summarizes the history nicely:

Note at 4:03 into this clip, Martin Luther King, Jr. urged everyone to vote against Goldwater. Apparently many black leaders did not believe Goldwater was personally racist but the policies adopted by Goldwater and other Republicans at the time were of great importance. Barton completely omits these events.

For a good description of Reconstruction and beyond, I can’t recommend Barton’s book. I am currently reading Concerning a New Republic: The Republican Part and Southern Question, 1869-1900 by Charles Calhoun which is thus far a much better treatment of the facts than Setting the Record Straight. In upcoming posts, I hope to add some depth to these initial observations.