President Donald J. Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former general in the U.S. Marine Corp, showed his stunning lack of knowledge about the origins of the American Civil War when he said that compromising on the issue of the slavery would have prevented the conflict that took place from 1861-1865 and called Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States Army, an “honorable man.”
Kelly made his remarks Oct. 30 on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” which is broadcast on Westwood One and Talk Radio Network and is a conservative platform. During the interview he said, “I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today.” He added, “But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”
In reality, several compromises, which all allowed some measure of human bondage, were tried before the Civil War began. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 aimed to balance the number of slave states entering the union with non-slave states. The Compromise of 1850 allowed slavery in new territories and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 essentially left the question of slavery up to voters in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Both states joined the Union right as the Civil War was beginning.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House spokeswoman, doubled down on the “compromise” talk on Oct. 31. During a press briefing Huckabee Sanders defended Kelly and said, “Look, all of our leaders have flaws. That doesn’t diminish the contributions to our country and certainly can’t erase them from history. And General Kelly was simply making the point because history isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not our history.”
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, responded swiftly to Kelly’s remarks on this issue as well as his refusal to apologize to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) for making inaccurate statements about remarks she made months ago about an FBI building in Miami.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly needs a history lesson,” Richmond said in a statement. “The Civil War was not a disagreement between ‘men and women of good faith on both sides’. It was a struggle for the soul of this country.
“Thankfully, the right side won the war and slavery is no longer the law of the land. The Congressional Black Caucus is not surprised by the Trump White House’s repeated attempts to whitewash history or by its continued inability to apologize when it is flat out wrong.
“We continue to call on General Kelly to apologize for his lies about Congresswoman Wilson. He is starting to sound a lot like his boss.”
Recently, Kelly said that Wilson claimed credit for a $20 million appropriation for a FBI building in Miami, an area Wilson represents in part, and the representative said she made no such statement. Research by independent media sources prove that Wilson never credited herself with getting money for the building in Miami.
Wilson and other Black female members of the CBC have called on Kelly to apologize for his error on Oct. 22 in a statement but he said on Oct. 31 on CNN.com that he “absolutely” will not.
Kelly remarks were in response to a question about the leaders of the historic Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., who decided to relocate plaques of the late former President George Washington and Confederate General Robert Lee.
Democratic National Committee Deputy Press Secretary Brian Gabriel said that Kelly made irresponsible comments.
“As Trump’s ‘both sides’ mentality rears its shameful head again, John Kelly’s comments prove once again that this administration lacks the moral courage to confront injustice and abandon its crutch of false equivalency,” Gabriel said in a statement.
“Facts are facts, no matter how ugly-the Confederacy fought to preserve an economy that ran on the bloodied backs of the shackled and enslaved. What sort of compromise is possible when men and women, made of the same flesh and blood as you, have their bodies and spirits broken for the sake of the wealthy?
“For an administration that insists on associating with winners, Kelly and his boss seem to be quite fond of digging up vile relics of history that lost out to the ‘better angels of our nature.'”