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Trump Appears to Question Necessity of Civil War

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Trump Appears to Question Necessity of Civil War

Trump: ‘He had a very, very mean and nasty campaign. Because they said this was the meanest and the nastiest.’

President Trump is correct that the 1828 race between Andrew Jackson and the incumbent, John Quincy Adams, was hard-fought and often descended into ad hominem attacks on both sides. The insults leveled at Jackson’s wife, Rachel, were particularly vicious — she was accused of marrying Jackson before her divorce from her first husband, Lewis Robards, was final.

Trump: ‘His wife died. They destroyed his wife, and she died.’

The campaign took a notable toll on Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson. She died suddenly, shortly before Christmas in 1828.

“There’s no question that Jackson believed that the campaign had killed his wife,” Mr. Meacham said. “That’s basically right.”

Trump: ‘I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. 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 died in 1845. The Civil War broke out in 1861.

Mr. Meacham said he thought that Mr. Trump may have been referring to the nullification crisis, which did occur during Jackson’s lifetime.

The crisis, which began in 1832, was a conflict between the federal government and South Carolina, a Southern state that would later be instrumental in the movement for secession.

During the crisis, President Jackson “took a firm stand on the side of the union,” Mr. Meacham said, adding, “There are two stray Trumpian ideas that collided into each other when he talked.”

Trump: ‘People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?’

Mr. Trump has questioned the necessity of the Civil War before, in an interview with Mr. Meacham before the election. At the time, President Trump said that he had “always felt that the South overplayed their hand,” he told Mr. Meacham.

Had Jackson been alive at the start of the Civil War, Mr. Meacham said, it would be difficult to predict his reaction. It would have brought his commitment to the Union into conflict with his identity as an unapologetic slave owner. Mr. Jackson was from Tennessee, which fought for the Confederacy. Mr. Trump visited his tomb there this year.

But any president would have had to contend with the South’s attempt to expand the institution of slavery into territory newly acquired by the United States. It’s what Mr. Meacham called the unavoidable historical question.

“The expansion of slavery caused the Civil War,” he said. “And you can’t get around that. So what does Trump mean? Would he have let slavery exist but not expand? That’s the counterfactual question you have to ask.”

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