President Donald Trump’s Thursday morning tweets about how the removal of Confederate monuments is ripping apart the “culture of our great country” were just his latest in a growing list of curious Civil War statements and beliefs.
Trump has prodded at the Civil War in ways recent past presidents haven’t dared to come close to, whether it’s through his staunch defence of the monuments, his asking why the Civil War even took place, or his apparent belief that he could’ve made a deal to avoid the outbreak of war between the Union and the Confederacy.
That prodding was at a high point during an interview with the journalist Salena Zito earlier this year.
It was in that Sirius XM interview that Trump asked why the war even took place.
“People don’t realise, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?” Trump said. “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”
Those comments came after Trump went on a lengthy riff about former President Andrew Jackson, to whom the current president has often compared himself.
“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” Trump said of the slave-owning president. “He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said there’s no reason for this.”
Jackson, who was president from 1829 to 1837, died in 1845, 16 years before the Civil War started.
The Civil War was the result of years of tensions between the Northern and Southern states, namely over the issues of slavery and whether Western territories being added to the union would enter as “slave” or “free” states, which had a significant effect on the makeup of Congress.
In total, 11 Southern states seceded from the US and formed the Confederate States of America. The war between the Confederacy and the Union was, to this day, the bloodiest in US history. It eventually led to the abolition of slavery in the US, freeing millions of slaves in the South.
The morning after Trump’s comments were made public, famed presidential historian Jon Meacham told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Trump told him during the presidential campaign “that he could’ve done a deal to avert the war.”
But perhaps the most head-scratching connection between Trump and the Civil War involves his Sterling, Virginia golf club.
Between the 14th and 15th holes on one of the club’s two courses, Trump installed a plaque that designated that segment of the Potomac River as “The River of Blood,” The New York Times reported in 2015.
“Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot,” the plaque read. “The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.'”
It concludes by stating, “It is my great honour to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!”
There was one problem: Multiple local historians told The Times that “nothing like that ever happened there.”
“How would they know that?” Trump asked when the Times presented him with the quotes from the historians. “Were they there?”
Trump told the Times repeatedly that “numerous historians” said the site was known as ‘The River of Blood.'” He was unable to provide the Times with the names of the historians.
Much later in the campaign, as his battle with then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was reaching its final days, Trump decided to hold his closing pitch to voters in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — offering up his own “Gettysburg Address” in the same spot where President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech following the Civil War’s most famous battle more than 150 years earlier.
“It’s my privilege to be here in Gettysburg, hallowed ground where so many lives were given,” Trump said as he presented his “Contract With the American Voter.”
He made sure to draw a parallel between the state of the nation in the present day and the country Lincoln addressed in 1863 at the height of the war.
“President Lincoln served at a time of division like we’ve never seen before,” he said. “It is my hope that we can look at his example to heal the divisions we are living through right now.”
Nearly a year later, Trump, now president, found himself putting the likes of Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in the same breath as Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
During his Tuesday press conference at Trump Tower, as Trump defended the “very fine people” who were among the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump presented a slippery slope argument. He speculated that once statues of Lee and Jackson are removed, statues Washington and Jefferson could be next.
“So this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
“You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name,” he continued.
When a reporter said that Lee and Washington “are not the same,” Trump drew comparisons.
“George Washington was a slave owner,” he said. “Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down … statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? … Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So you know what, it’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”
That led to his three-tweet defence of the monuments Thursday morning.
Trump said he was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” he continued. “Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
Interestingly, the apparent oldest Civil War-related comment on Trump’s Twitter feed also involved Lee, but it had nothing to do with statues.
As news broke in late August 2013 that President Barack Obama was preparing to conduct a limited air strike in Syria, Trump asked what certain “great generals” would have thought of the “stupid broadcasting of an attack.”
“I wonder what the great generals like Patton, the big M, or Robert E. LEE would have thought about our stupid broadcasting of an attack?” he wrote.
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