Historian: Give Trump Credit for Dispelling Myth of ‘Inevitable’ Civil War
Fury over president's unpolished remarks ignores the fact many scholars agree with him
President Trump sparked outrage on Monday after making comments regarding President Andrew Jackson and the Civil War during an interview broadcast on satellite radio.
Trump’s remarks, while not exactly polished, suggested Jackson might have been able to stop the Civil War and that the seventh President foresaw the nation’s imminent sundering. He also implied the great and terrible fraternal tragedy never needed to have occurred in the first place — a point many historians agree with.
“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” the President said. “He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw with regard to the Civil War, he continued, ‘There’s no reason for this.'”
“Jackson was draining the swamp in his day, which I suspect is why Trump admires him.”
“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” Trump said.
The negative reaction was swift and fierce. Some organizations intentionally took Trump’s words out of context in order to make it appear as if Trump did not know that Andrew Jackson died before the Civil War. “Note to President Trump: Andrew Jackson wasn’t alive for the Civil War,” read a headline from USA Today.
What Trump likely did have in mind was the Nullification Crisis — and Jackson’s swift response to South Carolina’s defiance of federal power — when he said Jackson could have prevented the Civil War.
“Jackson may have smacked South Carolina around when it seceded on December 20, 1860, which Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri may have applauded,” said Dr. Marshall DeRosa, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University and expert on American constitutional law and the Confederate constitution.
However, much of the uproar appeared to be in response to Trump’s effective suggestion that the war could and should have been avoided. “Trump: Why could the Civil War not have ‘been worked out?'” read CNN’s headline. Angry liberals were ready and willing to provide an answer.
“1 word answer: Slavery. Longer: When Andrew Jackson died in 1845 (16 yrs before the Civil War began), he owned 150 men, women and children,” Chelsea Clinton wrote on Twitter.
“UMMM… SLAVERY,” tweeted Simone Sanders, former campaign spokesperson for Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). “The thing southern states were most concerned about in 1861 was the right to perpetuate slavery,” she wrote.
But many historians also dispute that the issue of slavery made war inevitable and point to a widespread belief on both sides that there could be a peaceful resolution.
“I will give President Trump credit dressing down the … myth that the war was inevitable,” DeRosa said. “The Confederacy was more than willing to negotiate a settlement, even to the point of re-entering the Union.”
Moreover, “the probability that President Jackson, a Democrat, would be more amenable to negotiate with the Democratic Confederacy is highly probable,” DeRosa added, returning for a moment to Trump’s claim that Jackson could have prevented the war.
But Trump’s historically mainstream suggestion the Civil War could have been avoided was not only ignorant, according to the media elite — it was also sinister.
“Historians see a dark underside to Trump’s Civil War riff,” proclaimed a Politico headline.
“The president’s comments on Monday struck some historians as darker than a history goof, with the president seeming to minimize the painful history of slavery in the United States and to talk up Jackson’s role as a strongman leader who proudly owned many slaves,” the Politico article read. The key word here is, of course, “some.”
“The media’s reaction was to be expected,” said DeRosa.
“It’s important for your readers to understand that slavery was a necessary but not a sufficient cause of the war,” DeRosa told LifeZette. “It was about plundering the South, e. g., tariffs and internal improvements such as the Transcontinental Railroad,” he explained. “Lincoln’s rise to political prominence stemmed from his successful career as a lobbyist for railroad companies, what today we refer to as crony capitalism,” DeRosa continued.
Jackson, however, “was a man of the people,” said DeRosa. “His battle against the Second Bank of the United States is evidence,” he said. “Jackson was draining the swamp in his day, which I suspect is why Trump admires him.”