I've wondered for years why any decent, upstanding American would volunteer to climb upon the pyre of public service in such a bitterly partisan age. Gen. John Kelly is just the latest illustration of my puzzlement. Here is a respected Marine, former commander of the United States Southern Command, former Secretary of Homeland Security, and now White House Chief of Staff. A man of impeccable character, whom the far-left media, as part of their gradual slip into madness, has labeled a “racist” for both using the ancient term “empty barrel” (yeah I know, I don’t see it either) to accurately describe Frederica Wilson (D-FL) — an imbecilic woman who but for a collection of absurdly gaudy attention-seeking hats would have nothing about her head at all — and the crime of growing up Irish in Boston. You can’t make this up. In the mind’s eye I see the good general leaning over his sink as he shaves in the morning and asking his reflection “Do you really need this s**t, John?”
It only gets better. Now Gen. Kelly is being excoriated in the media for his accurate take on the Civil War. At least what used to be accurate before progressive schools stopped teaching U.S. History and instead began teaching U.S. Oppression. In an interview with Fox’s Laura Ingraham, Gen. Kelly made the off-hand remark :
I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it's different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.
The watchdog leftist Twittershere exploded in predictable canned outrage.
Ezra Klein’s tweet is one example. And this was tame by comparison. "@ezraklein: Last night, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that the Civil War was a product of our failure to "compromise" and praised Robert E. Lee. It was straight Lost Cause-ism, no chaser."
I’ll get to Lee in a moment, but the fact of the matter is Kelly is correct. The Civil War was absolutely brought about by a failure to compromise. What Kelly neglected to mention, as this was an interview about current events rather than a history symposium, was that the failure to compromise was on the part of the Southern Confederacy. It may come as a shock to those who were taught that U.S. History began with the assassination of JFK and ended when Obama left office, but the 1860 Republican Party platform, on which candidate Lincoln ran, did not include the abolition of slavery. Instead, it proposed that slavery should not be allowed to expand into the territories. This was, by definition, a compromise position. And as such, politically palatable to much of the North.
Northern attempts at compromise continued into 1861, after secession, but before shots were fired. Ohio Republican Congressman Tom Corwin proposed an amendment that shielded "domestic institutions" of the states (which then included slavery) from the constitutional amendment process and from abolition or interference by Congress. It was actually passed by the 36th Congress on March 2, 1861, and submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. Senator and future Lincoln cabinet secretary William Seward (R-NY) introduced the amendment in the Senate and Representative Tom Corwin (R-OH) introduced it in the House. Prior to the outbreak of war, it was one of several measures considered by Congress in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to attract the seceding states back into the Union and in an attempt to entice slave-holding border states to remain loyal to the Union.
Signed by outgoing president Buchanan, Lincoln endorsed the proposal in his First Inauguration Address. The South answered with the guns of Fort Sumter. No compromise.
It was the Southern states, citing slavery as vital to their existence, who refused to bend on the matter of slavery. They knew that no slavery in the territories, which would eventually become free states, would find them outnumbered in the Senate, as they already were in the House by the more populous North, and then it would be just a matter of time before the firebrand abolitionists got their way. In essence, there was no compromise when it came to slavery, which Mississippi declared in its articles of separation to be “the greatest material interest in the world.” There was only secession. And thus was Kelly right.
In fact, the history of addressing slavery in the U.S. is replete with compromise. The writing of the Declaration of Independence, where Jefferson’s first draft condemnation of the practice was struck down. The 3/5 Compromise of 1787, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the California Compromise of 1850. All of them temporarily alleviated civil strife. In 1860 and 1861, the North was willing to compromise on slavery to save the Union, at least in the beginning, as Lincoln’s oft-quoted letter to Greeley (penned as late as June 1862) wherein he states he would first save the Union with or without slavery, implies. Once the blood-letting began in earnest, however, the die was cast and, as Lincoln came to understand in a remarkably short period of time given the centuries-long history of slavery in North America, the war was really about “a new birth of freedom.”
Kelly’s view of Lee was more or less the accepted view of the Confederate general for at least five generations after the war, in the North as well as the South. Here was the Southern aristocrat, son of the Revolutionary War hero “Light Horse Harry” Lee, and gifted soldier who served his country honorably for 30 years before being unwillingly swept up in the tide of his beloved Virginia’s secession. Declaring secession to be treason, Lee nevertheless offered that he could not raise his sword against his state — which in 1860 demanded more loyalty than the nation at large. (Jefferson would refer to Virginia as “my country” even). After waging war with ferocity in the field, but humanness towards his enemies whom he never referred to as such but rather the euphemism “those people,” he surrendered to Grant and immediately offered up an example of acceptance of the defeat. In many ways the Civil War ended when it did because, following Lee’s example, the Southern soldiers, who were paroled rather than imprisoned by an equally humane Grant, simply went home.
The part of Lee that has been overlooked until recently, however, is that he was very much a benefactor of slavery, and, although testimonials vary, could be quite stern, perhaps even cruel (as if enslavement alone wasn’t cruel enough) with his charges at Arlington plantation. Also rarely discussed outside historical round tables is his army’s conduct during their brief foray north into Pennsylvania, which ended in the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. Although they comported themselves as well as a hostile invader could be expected — especially given the orgy of looting and destruction carried out by Union troops in Southern towns like Fredericksburg — they did partake in the chasing down of Blacks, free as well as escaped slaves, and sending them south into bondage. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 300 and 1,000 Pennsylvania Blacks were caught up in the Rebel dragnet. Although Lee never condoned this heinous practice, neither did he condemn it … the fact that he did forbid (even if he was largely ignored) such lesser offenses as tearing down civilian fences for firewood and insisting his men pay for anything they took with, albeit worthless, Confederate script shows that Lee was took an active interest in his army’s conduct and tried to control it. Fences were verboten. Taking human beings into captivity? He looked the other way.
So one can understand animosity toward Lee. Although I believe his contribution to reconstruction in the last five years of his life, and the peaceful and reconciliatory example he set, more than offset his crimes, of which many were guilty and some, wrongly, considered to be within the prevue of decency in that age.
Still, Kelly’s measured cautions over tearing down all rebel monuments at the whim of a p.c. lynch mob are rational. As I have written in previous articles on The Daily Wire, the Left is never satisfied with winning battles, only with fighting the next one. In the meantime, one can understand wishing to take down a monument to KKK founder and former slave-trader Nathan Forrest. But what about the humane and decent Rebel Gen. James Longstreet who, after the war ended, favored equal rights for Blacks, served in Grant’s administration, dared criticize Lee’s conduct at Gettysburg, and became a Republican … and as such was labeled a traitor to the memory of Confederacy?
The jumping on Kelly for his “compromise” observation as well as his thoughtful take on our complex history is utterly inane. Either that or it shows just how little understanding of our history the kids being dumped out of the progressive public school system today, one that demonizes Columbus while deifying Che Gueverra, really have. Many of these tenured captains of ignorance and one-sided anti-West nonsense are now ensconced in journalism and media, careers that seem to attract the progressive lot and thus the leftist revisionism feeds upon itself. Gen. Kelly is just their latest expression of a pervasive national cluelessness that has seeped into the very core of media, academia and entertainment today.
Quick lesson kids: Native Americans were slaughtering each other for centuries before they saw their first Conquistador; The Revolution wasn’t just advanced by “slave-holding white men”; World War II wasn’t just about the racism encountered by the Tuskegee Airmen and Japanese-American internment (there were places called Peleliu, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Bastogne, Leyte, Anzio, and Okinawa, and many others too numerous to mention that had something to do with it as well).
So learn it right. Teachers, teach it right. And leave the Marine alone. We need more people like him in government. Joust offending windmills elsewhere to demonstrate your morally superior bona fides. You can start with the Hollywood casting couch.