The Trump administration hasn’t yet learned that saying “both sides” were at fault for a national calamity involving racial tension (as with Charlottesville) tends not to go over well. Yet Ta-Nehisi Coates showed up on Twitter to set the score straight after White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly used the “both sides” term in reference to the Civil War. Kelly also called Confederate General Robert E. Lee “an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state.” Kelly told Fox News, “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.”
Coates, The Atlantic‘s national correspondent and author of Between the World and Me, happens to be a self-described Civil War buff who has spent the better part of the past decade taking his family on trips to Civil War battlegrounds and reading and writing extensively on the subject in an effort to better understand the war. So when he tweeted early this morning that “it’s worth pointing out a few things” in response to “John Kelly’s creationist theorizing on Lee and the Civil War,” you knew it was on.
Coates kicked things off by listing a number of bargains made between the Union and pro-slavery states, some with the word “compromise” right in the name. He continued:
“I mean, like, it’s called The three fifths compromise for a reason. But it doesn’t stand alone. Missouri Compromise. Kansas-Nebraska Act. Lincoln’s own platform was a compromise. Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He proposed to limit slavery’s expansion, not end it … [The ] compromise continued long after Lincoln’s death. Compromise of 1877 led to explicit White Supremacist rule in the South for a century.”
But that wasn’t the only clapback that Coates had for Kelly. He condemned the former General’s stance as ignorant, writing that it is “shocking that someone charged with defending their country, in some profound way, does not comprehend the country they claim to defend.”
Coates went on to point out that these facts are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Civil War research. “This is really basic stuff — easily accessible, not tucked away in archives somewhere,” Coates tweeted. “You do not have to sit in a Harvard history colloquium to understand the Civil War.” Coates included several excerpts from primary tests and history books that note Robert E. Lee’s personal participation in the punishment and torture of slaves, the capture of free blacks to sell back into slavery, and Lincoln’s imperfect solution of repatriation, i.e. sending blacks back to Africa.
Finally, Coates turned back to Kelly to sum up the real issue with Kelly’s premise. “When the ‘adult in the room’ believes a war for slavery was honorable, believes that the torturer of humans, vendor of people, who led that war was honorable,” he wrote. “You really do see the effect of white supremacy.”