Yesterday, there was a great deal of mockery over Trump’s statement that the Civil War was preventable.  He figured that maybe Andrew Jackson could’ve stopped it.  Was this another goof?

I don’t think so.

That is to say, I don’t think the Civil War had to happen or even that it was inevitable.  My reading of Civil War history has always indicated that it came about because both sides of the issue became increasingly more polarized and the leadership in Congress lost the ability to forge any of the compromises that had prevented crises before.

Which, unfortunately, is how we are now.

Slavery was the cause of the Civil War, there’s no question about that.  Not to me anyhow. But was it absolutely necessary to fight the Civil War to abolish it?  Debatable, but I say no.  See, the blame for the Civil War has to lay 100% on the South.  Not only did they start it, they had no good reason to start it.

In 1861 the Constitution, Congress, and the Supreme Court all protected slavery.  Lincoln had even vowed not to interfere with slavery wherever it existed, though he clearly didn’t want it to spread any further into “free” territories.  The entire federal government was content to allow slavery to continue, but it just wasn’t good enough for the South.  They looked at Lincoln and saw a president had won the election with a small share of the vote, who was inexperienced, and utterly hostile to everything they believed in. There was a perception on the part of much of the country that the president was a controversial lightning rod of division and not in any way up to the job.

Which, unfortunately, is how we are now.

For the South to secede under the circumstances that it did was insane.  If anything, the North should have been threatening to secede over the Fugitive Slave Act, if it felt that slavery was worth going to war over.  After the Dred Scott decision, it probably felt like a serious bummer of a low point for abolitionists.

Would the war have been prevented if Jackson or someone very much like him had been in office?  Yeah, probably.  I think almost anybody seen as less anti-slavery than Lincoln (who wasn’t really that abolitionist) would have been able to convince the South not to secede had he won the 1860 election.

To Jackson’s credit, he did defuse the Nullification Crisis and head off South Carolina’s first attempt to secede with a combination of diplomacy and typically not-very-subtle threats, thanks to the Congress backing him up.  That crisis was sort of the Revenge of the Sith to Fort Sumter’s A New Hope.  A prequel.

The lesson was that a credible president who was willing to compromise but seen as believable in the use of force (and Jackson was fucking terrifying) and backed by Congress could defuse a secession crisis over a divisive issue.  Unfortunately, it remained to be seen that Lincoln was a really tough guy in his own right who could be fair.  Again, I blame the South for needlessly pulling the trigger but it didn’t have to play out that way.

Slavery ended in lots of other countries without a civil war.  The last one to eliminate slavery in the West was Brazil sometime in the late 1880’s.  Is it really likely that the US would have kept slavery around longer than Brazil if we hadn’t fought a giant war over it?  I give our forebearers more credit than that.

Slavery was already becoming economically unviable thanks to industrialization.  Abolition was inevitable.  Civil war wasn’t.

So, all that said, I don’t see where Trump really went wrong with his interpretation of history.  The Civil War happened because the great compromisers and big damn heroes who could have prevented it–and were willing to–were gone.  I see that as Trump’s key takeaway and can’t find fault with it.

Where do you land on this?  Am I going too easy on Trump again?  Also, are we also past the point of being able to compromise our way out of our current division?  Or was slavery the only issue that could possibly have caused a civil war at any time in American history?

13 comments

  1. Yeah, this is yet another very stupid and sad sort of revisionist bullshit statement by trump.

    By no means am I a scholar of the civil war. If we were to debate the merits of it in a factual way you’ll smoke me one on one. However, I doubt trump could even cite five important facts or names in the civil war. He’s an idiot and this is yet another flub on his part.

    What should be discussed here isn’t if what he said is truthful because you can say that about anything. Of course the civil war COULD HAVE been prevented in any number of hypothetical ways. Yes, in any number of variables America might have oeacefully ended slavery similar to say, how the U.K. was able to resolve the humanitarian crisis with diplomacy.

    Let’s just be honest here about what this dumb fuck INTENDED to say with his statement. In a true New York carpet salesman manner, he was implying that Lincoln was a eunuch that didn’t have jackson’s brass balls and since trump envisions himself as a tough guy (like Jackson) we would have avoided civil war because the south would’ve just taken one look at Jackson to realize “woah, we got a badass here!”

    If you unravel it and try to separate the idiot’s narcissism from the statement… well, surely there is a kernel of truth to any broad brush remark made in this vein. Let’s see, if Trump were president during world war 1 he would’ve dragged us into it solely because ivanka would’ve seen animals die from gassing “because that’s, like totally wrong to see god’s creatures die and stuff!” If we eliminate Pearl Harbor we’d have just kept on our merry path of Hitler praise and selling arms to everyone. Maybe if Andrew Jackson would’ve been president at that point in history the Japanese would’ve cowered in the presence of his enormous trump-sized penis and decided they had too much of a bad ass on their hands to possibly fuck with.

    Trump, once again sees himself as a total badass like ole hickory and decides to make completely insulting historical dumbfuckery. It’s an insult to the thirty years of actual failures of diplomacy that Les to the civil war, and a disservice to children who are learning it, to say that only a bad ass like himself could prevent a monumental shift in history because he’s totally willing to press the button on a Moab or tomahawk.

  2. See, I think that characterization of what Trump was trying to say about the necessity for tough leadership in times of crisis is correct. It’s also correct that he was saying that he has that same Jacksonian quality.

    He’s definitely not a Civil War scholar either, but this doesn’t make what he said “a flub”. In fact, I appreciate the fact that he seems to understand that if he fails at his job, disaster will ensue. It’s good to know he’s taking it seriously.

  3. Sorry. I don’t see it this way at all. Let’s set aside how invalid the Jackson argument is in this specific scenario (Jackson owned slaves and I doubt, personally, he’d have had any interest placing a line in the sand about abolition at all) and just discuss the idea of how dangerous bad asses truly are in the political arena.

    Trump has expressed his disdain for the beauracracy that stands in his way on many occasions. Like a true “mom and pop” shop that his company is, he just wants to wave his scepter and have things done at his whim. Sadly, it has been the exact “deep state” that everyone has been bitching about on the right that has actually averted disaster so far. Now that trump’s eyes have been opened to what a psychotic old drunk bannon is he’s been collared but without those other pesky branches of government trump might’ve just let bannon author executive orders like Muslim bans 1.0 and 2.0 unfettered and god knows what else.

    Of course, now he realizes that bannon is an older version of Adam Lanza sent back in time but tough guys like trump that “don’t take no shit” might’ve just shrugged off anyone wanting to pump their brakes around bannon as “haters” a few weeks ago. It’s those annoying checks and balances that he’s trying to parallel with how Jackson scoffed at that really are saving himself (and us) from himself.

  4. Let’s set aside how invalid the Jackson argument is in this specific scenario (Jackson owned slaves and I doubt, personally, he’d have had any interest placing a line in the sand about abolition at all

    Yes, I know. I mentioned in the post that ANYBODY perceived as less abolitionist than Lincoln probably wouldn’t have triggered the South to blunder into secession.

    Trump has expressed his disdain for the beauracracy that stands in his way on many occasions. Like a true “mom and pop” shop that his company is, he just wants to wave his scepter and have things done at his whim.

    True. If he’s ever going to get anywhere, he’s going to have to learn that the presidency isn’t anywhere near as powerful as he thinks it is.

    Sadly, it has been the exact “deep state” that everyone has been bitching about on the right that has actually averted disaster so far.

    Not true. Whatever you want to call “the Deep State”, it is either incompetent or malicious. The professional bureaucrat class has a long list of failures and has certainly done its part to worsen the situation in multiple areas of the world. I don’t think it’s conspiratorial nuttery at all to say that they’re actively pushing steps that could lead to war, for whatever ends.

    It’s those annoying checks and balances that he’s trying to parallel with how Jackson scoffed at that really are saving himself (and us) from himself.

    Well, Jackson had the same checks and balances. The difference is that he was popular and there wasn’t anything that could stop him. Trump is restrained by his low popularity more than anything.

  5. Yes I know you mentioned Jackson not being seen as an abolitionist in the post but I’m sorry, that view might’ve led the south to avoid secession but only because jackson would’ve simply tolerated slavery. I don’t buy the line that slavery being economically untenable would’ve unraveled it on its own. The south had two motivations for the preservation of slavery 1.) how VITAL slave labor was economically to the south and 2.) slaves co sidered free men would’ve thrown the popular vote in the south unfavorably in favor of black people (or simply would’ve given an unpopular voice to black people.)

    The economic reasoning was worth seceding and fighting for to the south so unsustainability was not a factor at the time. Before you can say it should’ve been given more time, that is bullshit too because it took until the latter part of the 20th century to get black people equal civil rights, and that was after the south had been beaten, burned to the ground and told at gun point to free slaves. This is only after the south had revived slavery by another name with share cropping and land ownership schemes.

    To put it bluntly it was lincoln’s political resolve that made the case for freeing slaves and made it something even worth fighting for to the American public that we aren’t the shame of the world behind Brazil and South Africa to this day.

    Sure it’s impressive and funny to read that hypothetically an argument about slavery in congress during jackson’s presidency might’ve ended with Jackson inviting you outside to shoot a motherfucker but the lack of nuance as to how Jackson might’ve approached ending slavery, as if he’d have done it at all is frankly an insult.

    As for beauracracy standing in trump’s way, bullshit. It’s the moderate republicans, who now even trumpalos hate that are going back to their town halls and seeing just how removed trump is from popular opinion that are selfishly saving the party if only to keep themselves rom getting kicked out on their ass in 2018. Trump is no Jackson with his popularity already in the mid-forties, and left to his own devices he’d be in the twenties after repealing Obamacare because he’s the billionaire honey badger and he don’t give a fuck. His only purpose in the executive is to run the table and make the house rules that benefit him personally. He isn’t doing one ducking thing for the good of this nation and that is a distinction I might at least extend to Jackson (having a purpose beyond himself).

  6. Slave labor was economically valuable to the South, but also came with costs. It wasn’t a terribly productive system…which is exactly why almost every other country during that period abandoned it without civil war. There was nothing special about the American experience.

    In any event, the South didn’t have to keep the blacks after emancipation if they had voluntarily given them up. They could have deported them back to Africa which was an option Lincoln favored himself until late in the war.

    And I’m not sure where you read into what Trump said that Jackson would have ended slavery. That wasn’t the argument in 1860. The argument was over whether or not slavery should keep expanding into free territories, not whether it was time to end it.

    I maintain that if a compromise had been reached on expansion of slavery, it could have prevented a war until it was eventually ended as it was everywhere else.

    As for sharecropping, yeah, the South still had a need for cheap and exploitable labor. That still goes on, you know. Where would California and other agriculture-heavy states be without millions of illegal immigrants to work for slave wages? But all of that occurs independently of slavery.

    Other countries that peacefully eliminated slavery also relied upon immigrant workforces for cheap labor. Why couldn’t the South do any different?

    Lincoln didn’t have a great resolve for freeing the slaves. He recognized that it was a process. He fought the war over secession at the outset. Jackson would have waged the exact same fight. It’s conceivable that we could have fought the Civil War and still had slavery in place, had there been a pro-Union but pro-slavery president.

    The ideas that we had to fight the Civil War to end slavery or that Trump implied that Jackson would have ended slavery are both wrong. Trump made the point that the war was caused by a failure of leadership. He’s not wrong. FWIW: it was Buchanan’s fuckup, not Lincoln’s.

    And yes, the bureaucracy is standing in Trump’s way and he’s very much out to get them. The bureaucracy frequently works to thwart presidents. There’s nothing new about it in Trump’s case.

    His only purpose in the executive is to run the table and make the house rules that benefit him personally. He isn’t doing one ducking thing for the good of this nation and that is a distinction I might at least extend to Jackson (having a purpose beyond himself).

    I disagree with that. He’d be a billionaire whether or not he’s president. I think he really does just have delusions of grandeur and thinks that he can do it all on his own. He has a Caesar sized ego.

    Given everything I’ve looked at with him, I do think he wants to do the best he can for the country. I just don’t think he knows how or even what to do.

  7. The Irish were also used as slaves to some degree, so it wasn’t just the Africans that were exploited. Native American tribes also kept slaves.
    I don’t know that the war wasn’t inevitable-it might have actually happened earlier if not for the Compromises that punted the issue until 1860. There were enough cultural differences between North and South so that something might have happened, but those differences might have lessened with trade and growth as the country expanded West. By the time the war began there had already been violent political arguments over slavery, and actual conflict with the “Bleeding Kansas” era. Also, during most of the 19th century people saw themselves as citizens of their state and being American only in a general, patriotic sense (this was at a time when the idea of nationalism itself didn’t really exist and loyalties were religious or regional.)
    The Founding Fathers certainly knew what a can of worms slavery was. John Adams was openly against slavery; Jefferson had what could charitably be described as a “nuanced” view on the subject. Lincoln can be blamed for many mistakes he made during the war. But he did end slavery, and with the end of the war came a truly United States, in law at least. And we haven’t had another civil war since then, which is more than can be said for many other countries.

  8. IF, Jackson, had survived, or simply was born later with all the same ego, experiences, and life, could he had made a difference and prevented a war between the states? Yes of course, he could have. there is no reason to assume that a man of his caliber and experiences, even with his liabilities, could have made different decisions that would have averted the war.
    Now, would he be inclined to maybe. Given his pro salver status he would not be inclined to side with the north as so much, to outright end slaver, but to prevent a war, which he would know would be disastrous for all involved.
    This is just a game of playing Alt-history/ What if style sci fi. A subject that has been bounced about sci fi novels for decades and about usenet bulletin boards, and forums. Hotly debated arguments lasting hundreds of pages, spawning novels novela, fan fiction ectta ecrta….been there seen that…

    the problem here is not what was said, but who said it.

  9. Slavery started in the south when the landed elite could not keep Indians and poor English on the farms to harvest rice in the early days. in desperation someone hit on the idea of using the labor of Africans whom, to them were adapted to the heat, of the Carolinas and could be forced into such labor.
    By the time of the war, slavery was at a dead end, the high cost of slaves with the inefficiency and cost of the system were spinning out of control. The attempt to industrialized the south was being met by resistance from the north, imposing taxes tariffs on the import of English manufacturing goods. the anti slavery groups and the industrial protectionists of the north had a common cause. As the screws got turned tighter the south squirmed and panicked…. and in that climate the angriest voices got their way.
    the southern leadership and elite, did not want to loose their powers, they saw the end of the line coming and chose to jump the tracks.

  10. as for Trump, when he got in this race, i assumed he was a stalking horse for Clinton, there for one purpose, draw off votes of people angry at the establishment republicans, and secure Hillary her coronation.
    Then he got the nomination, i knew he wasnt a conservative, or a republican. Just a populist loud mouth that would drift to what ever position worked for him.
    On winning, and seeing his reaction to the results i became convinced that he really didnt think he was gonna win…..and now he in over his head in many ways,and finds he cant bull his way through the bureaucracy.

    i just shrug my shoulders and hope that hes not as big of a egoistical asshole as the media portrays him, and he sticks to his promises on the supreme court and taxes….

  11. Ok, well I guess we need to decide whether this is some sort of nuanced and ingenious seed planting or a fucking moron reality tv star who assumes he’s got an edit button coming to him. I insist he’s a dipshit and this just poured out of his mouth like every other stupid thing he says.

    There is literally no contextual relationship of who could’ve managed/avoided civil war over slavery without, you know, discussing slavery. Right? Otherwise why not just make a comparison to the war of 1812? The dipshit not only referenced one of the most pivotal moments in American history, and the mother of all American wars that ended slavery with “yeah, Jackson woulda ended this war before it started cuz he don’t take no shit!”

    It has none of the argument that you’ve baked into it.

    And no this has absolutely no parallel to immigrant labor. Mexicans in California aren’t Americans nor are they enslaved here. That’s kind of a distinction.

    Sure, why couldn’t freed men just simply walk right out of the south into the north? Seems totally legit except for the fact that they were illiterate, poor, had no marketable skill other than field slaving and house negroing on their cotton resumes, and the south was PULLING THE RUG from underneath them at every fucking turn with things like the formation of the klan, and creating outright slavey-racisty laws couched in “state’s rights” ordinances.

    Other than THOSE small bumps in the road they could’ve left and many did for Texas, California, Chicago, anywhere was better than the armpit of the nation.

    Just because trump has a couple of Jackson comics dropped on his desk from pence doesn’t entitle him to butcher history and make a mockery of probably the most pivotal political rift in our nation’s history.

    And seriously you have to take the blinders off. Trump is just a self serving peckerhead that is doing nothing but making himself richer at YOUR expense. Here’s just one example: notice how every diplomatic event needs to happen in mar-a-lago? Well that’s your tax dollars, the ones he said he was going to be frugal with going right into that blob’s personal coffers every. Time.

    No wonder he scoffed at taking the president’s salary. He had schnooks in the Midwest lapping up that bait while he’s passively made quadruple that amount, for himself, in a month with every trucker hat wearing schnook’s tax money in his pocket. Like a true New York carpet salesman he’s got a scam.

  12. The Civil War was our bloodiest war. More Americans died in that war than every one since combined. So yeah, I do think it’s perfectly acceptable to muse about whether it could have been prevented.

    If you refuse to try and understand what he was talking about by doing this simply because you think he’s a dipshit, then you might as well just say so and leave it at that. Obviously nothing I said in my post that tried to provide some context is going to matter.

    And yes, there is a direct parallel to immigrant labor. It’s all about CHEAP labor. You used the example of the South relying first on slaves and then sharecroppers as evidence that the Civil War was inevitable. I pointed out that they were making use of what cheap labor they had available. This is exactly what happens now with immigrant labor.

    And yes, I think Trump is an amoral sleaze. I’ve said so plenty. However, I’m going to judge him fairly and objectively. In this case, I think the furor over his comment about the Civil War is stupid. There is an argument to be made for what he said and I’m saying that as a lifelong Civil War buff, not a Trump supporter.

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