White House chief of staff John Kelly, in a recent TV interview, called Robert E. Lee “an honorable man” who sided with his state because “it was always loyalty to state first back in those days.”
In that interview, he also said “the lack of an ability to compromise” led to the Civil War. He is wrong on both assertions.
In actuality, Lee served a rebellion whose main foundation was the preservation of slavery, as the leaders of that insurgency proclaimed. His decision to side with Virginia, because that was his home state, is nothing more than a disgraceful excuse.
Virginians, such as General Winfield Scott, George Henry Thomas (the “Rock of Chickamauga”) and Naval Commander Samuel Phillips Lee (Robert Lee’s cousin) stayed loyal to the Union.
As for Kelly’s claim about “the lack of an ability to compromise” leading to the war, the compromise he is talking about would have been the North’s guarantee of slavery in perpetuity, or to agree that states have a right to secede from the Union.
Would Kelly have supported either of these propositions had he lived in 1860? I certainly hope not. General Kelly may know a lot about military strategy and how to fight wars, but his knowledge of American Civil War history is clearly deficient.
Martin H. Levinson