The Atlantic

The Civil War Was Not a Mistake

John Kelly’s account of its causes reflects a widely shared—and incorrect—understanding of the conflict.
Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

When White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told the Fox News host Laura Ingraham that the Civil War was caused by the “lack of an ability to compromise,” that the war was fought by “men and women of good faith on both sides,” and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee “was an honorable man,” he was invoking a rosy view of the Confederacy echoing that of his boss.

Kelly was also reflecting a popular perception of the war that has persisted for decades, largely on the strength and influence of an that has been conducted for a century. While the is that the Civil War was about slavery, popular opinion has not entirely caught was so successful that perhaps the most widely seen piece of popular history related to the Civil War, Ken Burns’s 1990 PBS documentary of the same name, retains elements of its narrative.

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