The Slatest

Jeff Sessions Just Said Slavery Caused the Civil War. That’s an Outrageous White Supre—Oh, Wait, That’s Actually Right

Jeff Sessions speaks in Washington on Monday.
Jeff Sessions speaks in Washington on Monday.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Jeff Sessions, who is named indirectly for Confederate president Jefferson Davis, has some interesting opinions about U.S. history and race. He once implied that monuments to the Confederacy were something all Americans should be proud of; he issued a fond statement about segregationist George Wallace when Wallace died. He’s praised a eugenics-based 1924 immigration law that restricted the entrance of various nonwhite individuals into the U.S. and allegedly once joked affectionately about the KKK. On Monday morning, even, he made a remark about English common law that seemed to suggest sympathy with the ’50s-era “states’ rights” case against the civil rights movement. And other members of the administration Sessions is a part of have, of course, done their part to promote interpretations of history favored by literal white supremacists.

One could thus be forgiven for approaching the news that Sessions had been booked to speak about Abraham Lincoln at an event held by something called the Union League with some trepidation. As it turns out, though, Sessions kept things on the straight and narrow as far as Honest Abe and the Civil War are concerned:

Though many Southerners try to say otherwise—and I love my people—slavery was the cause of the war. It was not states’ rights or tariffs or agrarian versus industrial economies. Those issues were all solvable and would have been solved. The cloud, the stain of human bondage—the buying and selling of human beings—was the unsolvable problem and was omnipresent from the beginning of the country.

There’s surely material in the rest of Sessions’ speech—particularly regarding DACA and “sanctuary cities”—that his critics will find risible. But really, by current standards, it probably counts as a major victory for intellectual responsibility and national self-awareness that the attorney general admitted that slavery was bad. Great job, everyone!

Via Yoni Appelbaum