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President Trump: “People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?”

President Trump Marks 100 Days In Office With Rally In Pennsylvania (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

President Donald Trump is a bit confused about the causes of the American Civil War.

In an interview with Sirius XM’s Salena Zito, which aired on Monday morning, Trump compared himself to President Andrew Jackson — a populist known to history for his championing of the interests of white men and his role in ethnically cleansing the southeastern United States of American Indians. Trump expressed admiration for Jackson, which he has done before, but then went out into left field.

“People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?” the president asked. “Why could that one not have been worked out?"

Here’s the full exchange:

Four things to say about this:

  1. The Civil War was about slavery. The North elected an anti-slavery president, Abraham Lincoln, and the South opted to secede rather than peacefully litigate their differences. If you want more evidence, check out these 37 maps that explain the Civil War (particularly the section “yes, the Civil War was about slavery”).
  2. This fact is well-known and uncontroversial among actual scholars — it’s arguably the most examined and most settled question in American history.
  3. People who continue to deny that the Civil War was about slavery tend to insist that it was about “states’ rights”; their goal is typically to whitewash the Confederacy and justify its rehabilitation. Insisting the causes of the Civil War aren’t known is a kind of denial of the role white supremacy has played in American history. That an American president would give succor to these ideas, in 2017, is really striking.
  4. There’s a special kind of irony in Trump saying that Jackson — a slave owner — might have stopped the Civil War had he lived longer. As president, Jackson ordered the Post Office to block the distribution of abolitionist pamphlets in the South. When I spoke to J.M. Opal, a historian and author of a new and well-reviewed history of Jackson’s influence on America, he told me that Jackson was “the first president to have no qualms whatsoever about slavery.” In essence, Trump is claiming that an avowed pro-slavery president would have somehow stopped a war caused by growing opposition to owning human beings.

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