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Gen. Kelly was Right

November 4th, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly recently remarked that failure to compromise was what caused the Civil War. He was actually correct. Americans had been compromising with slave interests since the Constitutional Convention in an effort to maintain the Union, but Southerners had been agitating for secession over the issue of slavery since at least 1820. The quote by Calhoun below demonstrates the Southern point of view: no compromise. On the other hand, Lincoln and the North were willing to compromise on the issue of slavery, but not union.

The view that the South fought to preserve slavery and the North fought to end it is simplistic. It is symptomatic of Americans’ tragic lack of academic sophistication, particularly about its history. The simplistic view satisfies the American Exceptionalist narrative that the Southerners were the “bad guys” and Lincoln and the Northerners were the “good guys.” But in fact, while the preservation of slavery was integral to Confederate secession, slavery was not an issue for the Union until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 (nearly halfway through the war), that in fact freed exactly zero slaves. The purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to associate the war with slavery to make it unpalatable for the British to support the Confederacy, and secondarily to deprive the South of labor. It was a political and tactical act, not a moral one. Because the Proclamation limited emancipation to the states still in rebellion, slavery continued to exist legally in the Union States of Louisiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, until the Thirteenth Amendment.

Nor is it even remotely accurate to suggest that Southerners were racist and Northerners not. In fact, racism was then ubiquitous regardless of region, as it continues to be today. There is no better indication of this than that 313 Union officers resigned after the Emancipation Proclamation because they didn’t want to fight to free slaves. Abolition and racism were (are) two very separate issues, and one could be against slavery and still racist as much as one today can be against animal cruelty but not think of animals as capable of equal citizenship. The myth that racism is limited to the South only unjustly relieves the rest of the country from guilt or complicity. In 1945 when Jackie Robinson became the first Black Major League baseball player, he didn’t integrate Southern baseball, but American baseball. When President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948 integrating the armed services, he wasn’t integrating the Southern armed services, but the American. And I shouldn’t need to point out that Topeka, Kansas (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954) is hardly located in the South. As President Obama once correctly remarked, racism is in America’s DNA. And it will remain so as long as we continue to comfort ourselves with simplistic historical fables.

Saying that inability to compromise was the immediate cause of the Civil War is not racist, it is historically accurate. It does not suggest that one wishes slavery still existed.

By the way, I am a Berniecrat.

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