History Lesson On The American Founding, Slavery and the Civil War

Born out of the differing interpretations of the Civil War and slavery between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Democrat Senator Tim Kaine comes a very well written and accurate history lesson by Dan McLaughlin at National Review. It’s also a welcome relief from a bizarre story appearing in the New Yorker a week ago that is a partisan revision of history done for the purpose of attacking John Kelly and accusing him of historical revision.

You may remember from your high school days, that is if you were in high school back in olden times when American history was still taught, that a series of compromises between slave and free states occurred from the beginning of the new Constitution in 1789 right up to the secession crisis in 1861. These included the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 [before the Constitution], the clause in the Constitution itself that the slave trade would not be outlawed for 20 years (until 1808), the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Compromise of 1850, The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, to name the most important and well-know ones. The Dred Scott decision, while not a compromise between states, was itself an effort to end the slave controversy albeit in favor of the slave states. As we now know, it had just the opposite effect.

According to the New Yorker story last week by Jelani Cobb, John Kelly’s Bizarre Mythology of the Civil War, these series of compromises were not genuine compromises between people engaged in bitter feuding on the morality of slavery. According to Cobb, they, “were part of the reason that black people, who made up more than forty per cent of the Southern population in 1860, had existed in slavery or indenture for two hundred and forty-one years in North America.”

Cobb offers that in reaction to Kelly’s view of the Civil War, that it broke out because of, “a lack of ability on both sides to compromise.” This is what he calls Kelly’s bizarre mythology.

Cobb is entitled to his opinion but he’s incorrect. His slant is, I think, part of the reason so many of today’s college students erroneously believe the American colonists invented slavery. In fact, slavery at the time of the American founding was still a world-wide institution that had existed in one form or another on every continent since the beginning of human civilization on earth.

Cobb is very wrong, but John Kelly is a little bit wrong also. Another struggle broke out in the last few days between Kelly and Democrat Senator Tim Kaine, who told Laura Ingraham on Fox News:

The Civil War wasn’t because of a lack of compromise. The Civil War was because of an immoral compromise. [The war was about] a nation that put a Constitution in place that enshrined the institution of slavery and said that a slave is equal to three-fifths of a person. [Emphasis added.]

Senator Kaine is not only wrong and partisan in his wrong headedness, he’s even more wrong than Jelani Cobb. To sort out the intellectual failures and historical revisions on both sides of this debate comes Dan McLaughlin of National Review with an insightful and readable and generally excellent piece of history writing, Kelly and Tim Kaine’s Civil War & American Slavery Debate. The subtitle is: Tim Kaine is Wrong About America and Slavery.

McLaughlin doesn’t just show how Tim Kaine is very wrong, he gives us a complete short history of slavery in America from the Declaration of Independence to the firing on Fort Sumpter. Read this and you’ll have most of what you probably didn’t get but should have learned in high school. If you love history, especially accurate history, you will love Dan McLaughlin’s fine article. I found it to be just about the easiest to read and informative short piece of the history of America’s central conflict that raged on and off for 80 years. I’ve bookmarked it and printed it out to file away for future reference. Thank you Dan!

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