Trump Gets It Half Right   Leave a comment

Yeah, Donald Trump is no history scholar. In fact, he probably isn’t much of a history buff. We actually read history books.

In an interview that aired Monday May 1 with Salena Zito, he wondered aloud if better leadership could have prevented the Civil War.

Trump thought that Andrew Jackson would have prevailed in a showdown between the North and the South. After all, he did it before in the 1830s. Trump then said this:

He [Jackson] was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this.’

Trump followed up by violating all that is sacred in American religion – he questioned if the Civil war was necessary. The horror!

Image result for image of abe lincoln as a warmongerThe leftist media immediately pounced, openly mocking Trump for believing that Andrew Jackson was alive in 1861. He died about 15 years before. Social media trolls ran post after post criticizing Trump’s “revisionist” history, lambasting him for not knowing when Jackson was alive, or that he dared to buck modern historical interpretation.

Leftist reporter for The Atlantic David Graham published a piece titled “Trump’s Peculiar Understanding of the Civil War” in which he made a number of kind of peculiar claims himself. Graham suggested:

  1. “nullification” is unconstitutional because the federal courts say so.
  2. “The Civil War was fought over slavery, and the insistence of Southern states that they be allowed to keep it.”
  3. The Civil War wasn’t tragic because Ta-Nehisi Coates said so in 2011.
  4. War was inevitable because of the “Confederate states’ commitment to slavery.”
  5. If Trump had read great history like Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography Team of Rivals, he would have a different position on the War—which is really pretty hysterical.

Graham also Graham insisted that Trump can’t be blamed for being such a historical ignoramus because even though he attended great schools, “many Americans are still taught, incorrectly, that the war was essentially a conflict over state’s rights, with abolition as a byproduct of the war. This revisionist view flourished after the war, and though gradually being displaced, is common across the country.”

I found that sort of interesting, that a modern day revisionist would call traditional history revisionism.

The Atlantic followed up with Yoni Applebaum’s “Why There Was a Civil War,” which berated Trump for suggesting the Civil War might have been avoided. To Applebaum, the question of the War begins and ends with slavery and nothing but slavery. He provided one quote from Lincoln to prove his point and, as most shallow Lincoln apologists do today, several quotes from the Southern States’ declaration of causes that seem to prove unequivocally that slavery and only slavery led to the War.

He applied a theory of moral causation to the War that the vast majority of Americans missed when the question of war or peace was still on the table in 1860 and 1861.

“There are some conflicts,” he wrote, “that a leader cannot suppress, no matter how strong he may be; some deals that should not be struck, no matter how alluring they may seem. This was the great moral truth on which the Republican Party was founded.”

I encountered this theory once back in college, but evidence to the contrary persuaded me to give the whole era a different look.

Trump’s reverence for Jackson is concerning, not the least because it offends my Indian DNA. I don’t go so far as to refuse to spend $20 bills because his image is on it … that’s just weird and inconvenient, my tribal brethren … but I don’t exactly love Jackson either. Yes, he supported Henry Clay’s death with South Carolina in 1832, which allowed South Carolina to nullify the Force Bill. That’s something we often ignore. Nullification worked in 1832 and, contrary to Graham’s ill-informed suggestion, the federal court system has never had the final say on the constitutionality of nullification. That was always the point, actually. States don’t ask permission from the federal courts to nullify unconstitutional legislation. Every proponent of the Constitution, including staunch unionists Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson, swore in 1787 and 1788 that laws contrary to the Constitution could be voided by the States.

My main issue is with the idea that the Civil War was inevitable because of the moral conflict of slavery. The entire history of America up to the Civil War was built on compromise, and there were ongoing discussions of Constitutional amendments in Congress. Moreover, there was no irrepressible moral conflict until the North  fabricated one.

 

The South was willing to compromise in 1860 and 1861, as it had been for the 80 years prior. Jefferson Davis insisted that any compromise placed before the special Committee of 13 established to handle the crisis needed the support of both Republican and Democratic members. He could get the Democrats to support several, but the Republicans, led by president-elect Lincoln, voted down every single one.

Lincoln, while not yet sworn in, refused compromise, which led six other Southern States out of the Union in early 1861. Lincoln could still have saved the Union through compromise at this juncture, but chose not to do so. The Union still existed even with seven States missing. The government, banking houses, and infrastructure remained. It seems that the “Confederate States insistence on slavery” had nothing to do with War. War and secession are separate issues. Secession didn’t mean war was inevitable. Most Americans hoped otherwise, even in the South where President Davis insisted that the South simply wanted to be left alone. The South was acting very much like the American colonies had acted in 1776 and the North was playing the role of the British crown.

There were also still six other slave States in the Union as late as April 186. Over a month after Lincoln took office, six slave States that had already rejected secession. There’s no evidence Lincoln was worried about slavery at this point. He supported a proposed 13th amendment which would have protected slavery indefinitely in the States where it already existed. He promised never to interfere with the institution in the South. Lincoln’s objective in March 1861 was to “preserve the Union” at all costs, and by “preserving the Union” Lincoln meant preserving the Republican Party and his fledgling administration. He had received less than 40% of the popular vote in 1860. Letting the South go would have certainly made him a one-term president, which might well have killed the newly-minted Republican Party.

Yes, letting the South go would have ensured the existence of slavery within the Union for the near future, but its days were numbered. Every other power abolished slavery by 1880. Still this was not a moral question for most Americans. Lincoln received thunderous applause across the North in 1860 when he made campaign promises to leave the institution alone. Racism was an American institution and Lincoln never challenged the prevailing attitudes on blacks. He agreed with them. The Republican Party’s objective was always political. Bottle the South up, ensure that the Whig economic agenda could be ascendant, and control the spoils. They never dabbled in moral issues.

The tragedy of the Civil War was that more than a million men died for a conflict that was unnecessary. The elimination of slavery was merely an afterthought to Lincoln. He wanted war. He had the chance to save the Union without war before he took office. He refused it. He had the chance to save the Union without war in March 1861. He rejected attempts by the South to peacefully purchase Fort Sumter and began polling his cabinet about provisioning Sumter less than a week after taking office, knowing full well it would cause war. As he later told a political ally, his decision to provision Fort Sumter had the desired outcome, meaning armed conflict. Nothing can sugarcoat Lincoln’s head-long rush into the bloodiest war in American history.

So, though he is certainly no historian, Trump may have been on to something here. Better leadership could have avoided the carnage. Ooo, I just committed American sacrilege.

But who cares. No one really reads The Atlantic anymore, anyway.

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Posted June 20, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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