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"Why was there the Civil War?"

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President Trump recently stumbled, in his usual word-salad way, into a subject to which I have given a good deal of thought over a period of decades (I once tried to write a book about it.)

On May 1, on Sirius XM radio, Trump said: "People don't realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?" Trump said in an interview with The Washington Examiner that also aired on Sirius XM radio. "People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?"

This much already is confusing. "People" in general "don't ask" that question? Sorry, but a lot of people do ask, and a lot of people, of varying levels of well-informed to ignoramus, have sought to answer it and have argued with one another's answers. I can only understand Trump here if he is saying, "People in my circles generally don't ask it, or haven't until quite recently, or I haven't paid attention...." Something like that. 

But Trump wasn't done. He was going to answer this question no one was asking.  It turned on Andrew Jackson, who if he had still been around "a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War."

"He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War." He said, 'There's no reason for this,'" 
Okay, let me try to sort that one out. 

In one sentence he acknowledged that Jackson was no longer around, in the next he seems to say that he WAS around, else how could it be that he "saw what was happening" and became angry? 

I suspect our president had recently encountered some explanation of the nullification controversy of the 1830s. Calhoun's theory that South Carolina could nullify federal laws with which it was unhappy was in fact a precursor to the secessions of 1860, and it did in fact make Jackson "really angry."

Was this a case of Jackson 'working something out,' as a negotiator? Well ... not really? A negotiator tries to bring the opposing parties together: Jackson simply staked out a middle position and demanded adherence to it.  He pressed for a lower tariff, but also got Congress to pass a Force Bill authorizing him to use the military against South Carolina. He was also against the central bank, which earned him some 'cred' in the Carolinas, where Biddle's bank was considered a Yankee trick at the expense of the south.  Thus, Jackson's  message to the Carolina's was, "I'm on your side against the northerners on a lot of subjects. But even when Webster and his ilk beat us on an issue, the federal law is something you must obey." And he made THAT stick on the issue of tariffs. The precedent created by the Force Bill, and the peaceful resolution of the crisis, has the consequence that the theoreticians of the plantation elite abandoned the notion of nullification after that. 

This of course left their fertile minds open to the idea of secession.

My guess is our President has heard something of this, and that his comments were an effort at expressing it.

Still, a lot happened in the intervening quarter century, and the conflation of the two crises serves no purpose for any real understanding of the latter, the crisis of 1859-61 that gave us civil war.



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