Donald Trump doesn't understand why the Civil War couldn't have been worked out

A passing familiarity with Abraham Lincoln would have answered Trump's question

By Matthew Rozsa
Published May 1, 2017 5:56PM (UTC)
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Andrew Jackson; Donald Trump (Wikimedia/Getty/Chip Somodevilla/Salon)

President Donald Trump has a well-known affinity for Andrew Jackson, but if he was a tad more familiar with Abraham Lincoln, he may have been able to avoid his latest gaffe.

"I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War," Trump told Sirius XM News & Issues. "He was a very tough person but he had a big heart, and he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said there's no reason for this."

Jackson died in 1845 and the Civil War broke out in 1861.

"People don't realize that the Civil War — if you think about it, why?," Trump asked. "People don't ask that question. But why was there the Civil War? Why could that one have not been worked out?"

Given Jackson's history of racism and imperialism, it is likely that millions of people (particularly men and women of color) would have vehemently disagreed with Trump's characterization of Jackson as a man with "a big heart." As for Trump's other big historical gaffe: Although the causes of the Civil War were quite complex, its main catalyst was the issue of slavery. After Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, much of the slave-owning South was certain (perhaps incorrectly) that the Republican Party's policies would gradually lead to the end of slavery in this country. This convinced them that it was necessary to secede from the Union to preserve their so-called "peculiar institution."

Incidentally, Lincoln himself broke down why the Civil War was inevitable in his famous 1858 "House Divided" speech.

"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free," Lincoln argued. "I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South."



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Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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