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Donald Trump Praises Slave-Owning President, Misunderstands America Civil War

'Maybe back away from supporting notoriously murderous people.'

02/05/2017 08:49 BST | Updated 02/05/2017 08:50 BST

Donald Trump has confounded anyone with even a basic grasp of history by asking why the American Civil War could “not have been worked out?

He also declared that President Andrew Jackson was angry about “what was happening” with regard to the conflict, claiming he had said ‘there’s no reason for this’.”

Jackson died in 1845. The Civil War began in 1861.

And it didn’t stop there - Trump, who has a portrait of Jackson hanging in the Oval Office and visited his grave in Tennessee in March, went on to describe him as a “swashbuckler” with a “big heart”.

Pool via Getty Images
Trump speaking beneath a portrait of populist President Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office in February.

Jackson was a slave-holding plantation owner and also played a central role in the forced removal of Native Americans from their land in what became known as the “trail of tears” which caused the deaths of thousands.

Some historians do credit him with preserving the full Union when South Carolina threatened to secede in the 1830s over an individual state’s ability to void federal tariffs.

But that controversy, known as the “Nullification Crisis,” was not about slavery, and the eventual compromise that preserved states’ rights did little to alter the nation’s path to the War Between the States.

Speaking to The Washington Examiner’s reporter Salena Zito, Trump then went on to assert that no one ever asks “why was there the Civil War?”

In fact, the causes of the conflict are frequently discussed, from middle school classrooms to university lecture halls and in countless books.

Immigrants seeking to become naturalised are sometimes asked to name a cause of the war in their citizenship tests.

Trump later doubled down on his claim with a tweet emphasising that he did in fact know when Jackson died. 

Eric Foner, a Columbia University history professor and a leading expert on the war, said: “Even Andrew Jackson, were he alive, could not have solved the problem, reports the Associated Press

“The situation in 1861 was far more dire than in the 1830s during the Nullification Crisis.”

The Civil War was decades in the making, stemming from disputes between the North and South about slavery and whether the union or the individual states had more power.

The question over the expansion of slavery into new Western territories simmered for decades and Southern leaders threatened secession if anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860.

After Lincoln won without carrying a single Southern state, Southern leaders believed their rights were imperilled and seceded, forming the Confederate States of America. War erupted soon afterward as the North fought to keep the nation together. The conflict lasted four years and claimed the lives of 600,000 Americans. 

Trump’s comments prompted the hashtag #TrumpTeachesHistory to trend on Twitter in the US. 

The White House did not respond to requests for an explanation of Trump’s reasoning. His comments on the Civil War drew swift criticism from some civil rights groups and Democrats, including Rep. Barbara Lee of California who tweeted “President Trump doesn’t understand the Civil War. It’s because my ancestors and millions of others were enslaved.”

This is far from the first time that Trump expressed a muddled view on American history.

Trump, during an African-American history month event, seemed to imply that the 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive. Trump said in February that Douglass “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognised more and more, I notice.”

While justifying his argument for a border wall with Mexico, Trump said last week that human trafficking is “a problem that’s probably worse than any time in the history of this world,” a claim that seemed to omit the African slave trade.

Trump, prompted by his chief strategist Steve Bannon, embraced the legacy of Jackson soon after his election.

The White House has eagerly drawn parallels between the two men, particularly between Trump’s success with working-class voters and how Jackson fashioned himself as a champion of the common man against a political system that favored the rich and powerful. Trump paid tribute to Jackson, known as “Old Hickory,” by visiting Jackson’s grave in Tennessee in March.