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John Kelly: 'The lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War'

  • White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Monday said, "the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War"
  • "I think we make a mistake ... when we take what is accepted as right and wrong, and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say, 'What Christopher Columbus did was wrong,'" Kelly said
  • The retired general's views echo those of his boss, President Donald Trump, who claimed in August that "both sides" were to blame after violence broke out during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia
Newly sworn-in White House Chief of Staff John Kelly looks on in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 31, 2017.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Newly sworn-in White House Chief of Staff John Kelly looks on in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on July 31, 2017.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Monday said, "the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War."

Speaking to Fox News, Kelly offered a view of history in which both sides of the Civil War — a pro-slavery Confederacy and the opposing Union — were made up of "men and women of good faith."

Kelly's views echoed those of his boss, President Donald Trump, who claimed that "both sides" were to blame after violence broke out during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that claimed the life of an anti-racism protester.

"There are certain things in history that were not so good, and other things that were very, very good," Kelly said. "I think we make a mistake as a society, and certainly as individuals, when we take what is accepted as right and wrong, and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say, 'What Christopher Columbus did was wrong.'"

"Five hundred years later, it's inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then. I just think it's very very dangerous. It shows you how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is," said Kelly, a retired Marine Corps General.

Kelly then explained his view of the Civil War: "[Confederate General] Robert E. Lee was an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state," Kelly said. "One hundred and fifty years ago, that was more important than country — it was always loyalty to state back in those days. Now it's different. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand."

Kelly did not elaborate about what compromise would have prevented a war fought over the future of slavery in the United States. Southern U.S. states began seceding from the Union in December 1860, following the election one month earlier of President Abraham Lincoln, whose Republican Party had strong anti-slavery sentiments. The economy of the mostly agricultural South was at that time dependent on massive-scale, slave labor.

CNBC reached out to the White House late Monday to clarify what compromises Kelly believes were lacking in the lead-up to to the Civil War, and will update this post with any response.

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Correction: This story has been updated to correct the wording in one of John Kelly's quotations.