Sarah Huckabee Sanders (AP/Susan Walsh)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders botched Civil War history, and an expert corrected her

Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the White House chief of staff, but a famous documentary filmmaker set her straight


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Jeremy Binckes
November 1, 2017 11:42AM (UTC)

The White House has been in overdrive over the last few days. In between the growing number of investigations over the Trump campaign's ties to Russia — that's starting to remind people of the Watergate controversy — the administration has been trying to get out of their own way when it comes to Civil War history.

On Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that "many historians" thought that a "failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War."

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But filmmaker Ken Burns, who directed a critically acclaimed documentary film about the war, disagreed. The Civil War was caused by slavery, he said.

Sanders was defending Chief of Staff John Kelly, who told Fox News host Laura Ingraham that Robert E. Lee was an "honorable man" and the war — started by the South, who wanted to keep slavery — was caused by a "lack of an ability to compromise."

As Salon noted Tuesday, slavery was pretty much the reason why the South seceded from the United States.

Slavery was incorporated into the Constitution through the three-fifths compromise (i.e., allowing slaves to be counted as three-fifths of human beings for taxation and representation purposes) and was continued, despite fierce opposition by abolitionists, through political compromises in 1820 and 1850, as well as with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

Finally, as historian David Blight makes clear in "Race and Reunion," the romanticized interpretation of the Lost Cause, as well as the proliferation of Civil War monuments honoring the Confederacy, were deliberate efforts by white America to increase its unity at the expense of people of color.


Jeremy Binckes

Jeremy Binckes is the senior news editor at Salon.com.

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