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Trump says Civil War could have been avoided

JONATHAN LEMIRE | 5/11/2017, 7:46 a.m.
The U.S. president recently attempted to tackle a historical question about America’s Civil War.
Vice President Mike Pence applauds as President Donald Trump arrives in the Kennedy Garden of the White House in Washington, May 1. Evan Vucci

The Civil War was decades in the making, stemming from disputes between the North and South about slavery and whether the union or the individual states had more power. The question over the expansion of slavery into new Western territories simmered for decades and Southern leaders threatened secession if anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860.

After Lincoln won without carrying a single Southern state, Southern leaders believed their rights were imperiled and seceded, forming the Confederate States of America. War erupted soon afterward as the North fought to keep the nation together. The conflict lasted four years.

The White House did not respond to requests for an explanation of Trump’s reasoning. His comments on the Civil War drew swift criticism from some civil rights groups and Democrats, including Rep. Barbara Lee of California who tweeted “President Trump doesn’t understand the Civil War. It’s because my ancestors and millions of others were enslaved.”

This is far from the first time that Trump expressed a muddled view on American history.

Trump, during an African American history month event, seemed to imply that the 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive. Trump said in February that Douglass “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”

While justifying his argument for a border wall with Mexico, Trump said last week that human trafficking is “a problem that’s probably worse than any time in the history of this world,” a claim that seemed to omit the African slave trade.

Trump, prompted by his chief strategist Steve Bannon, embraced the legacy of Jackson soon after his election.

The White House has eagerly drawn parallels between the two men, particularly between Trump’s success with working-class voters and how Jackson fashioned himself as a champion of the common man against a political system that favored the rich and powerful.