Ta-Nehisi Coates points out the many ways ‘lack of compromise’ wasn’t to blame for the Civil War

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Susan Walsh/Associated Press
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Condemnation is pouring in after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made an argument during a television interview Monday that the Civil War was caused by lack of compromise, rather than the issue of slavery.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has written extensively about slavery as well as the Civil War, is offering the Boston native a history lesson.

In a lengthy Twitter thread, Coates reminded Kelly that compromises could be found everywhere in the run-up to the conflict.


“I mean, like, it’s called the three fifths compromise for a reason. But it doesn’t stand alone,” Coates tweeted, referring to the clause in the Constitution that resulted from a compromise between northern and southern states on how to count the population of slaves.

Get Today in Politics in your inbox:
A digest of the top political stories from the Globe, sent to your inbox Monday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The Atlantic writer pointed out that President Lincoln’s platform during his presidential run in 1860 also represented a compromise. Rather than propose an end to slavery, he sought to stop its expansion, Coates wrote.

“During the Civil War, Lincoln repeatedly sought to compromise by paying reparations — to slavehloders — and shipping blacks out of the country,” he wrote.

But at the end of the day, as critics of Kelly’s comments have pointed out, the enslavement of human beings shouldn’t have been subject to compromise to begin with.

“You do have to get that these guys were the worst of America,” Coates writes. “They did not merely want to preserve the right to own people, they wanted to expand that right.”


Coates likened Kelly’s admiration of Lee to a child who thinks their absent father is really a secret agent.

Read the full thread.

Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.