John Kelly Pins Civil War on a ‘Lack of Ability to Compromise’

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On Tuesday, the White House did not back down. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, said there was “pretty strong consensus” among people from “the left, the right, the North and the South” that a failure to compromise contributed to the war.

That consensus, she said, holds that “if some of the individuals engaged had been willing to come to some compromises on different things then it might not have occurred.”

But the response on social media and from Democratic lawmakers suggested anything but consensus.

Other people referred disapprovingly to Mr. Kelly’s reputation as a voice of reason and discipline within the Trump administration: the “adult in the room”; the person keeping, or at least trying to keep, Mr. Trump under control.

And many pointed out that, in fact, many attempts were made to avert the Civil War through compromise — that is, by agreeing to allow slavery in some places.

The Missouri Compromise, in 1820, admitted Missouri to the union as a slave state; in exchange, it admitted Maine as a free state and barred slavery in most parts of the Louisiana Purchase territory north of a specified latitude. The Compromise of 1850 eliminated the slave trade from Washington, D.C., but also required citizens of free states to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which replaced the Missouri Compromise in 1854, let citizens of Kansas and Nebraska decide whether to allow slavery.

And, of course, there was the compromise that aided the very passage of the Constitution: the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of congressional districting.

“If John Kelly isn’t a complete idiot,” John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research organization, tweeted late Monday, “he’s at least 3/5ths of the way there.”

In a lengthy series of tweets, the author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that the “notion that Civil War resulted from a lack of compromise is belied by all the compromises made on enslavement from America’s founding.”

Correction: October 31, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated how many Trump associates were indicted on Monday. It was two, not three; the third associate had pleaded guilty weeks before.

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