The Missouri Compromise and General Kelly

Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff | CC by 2.0

In 1820, a law known as the Missouri Compromise was passed in the US Congress.  The law made Missouri a slave state and Maine a free state. In addition, the law prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line. The Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.  This act gave each new state the power to decide whether or not it would be a slave state via the popular vote.  In turn this decision created a situation where pro and anti-slavery forces would flood each new state in an effort to affect the vote. Three years later the Supreme Court declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional in the Dred Scott decision.  That decision ruled that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.  It is also perhaps best known for the phrase in the majority opinion that stated that blacks “blacks had no rights which whites had to recognize.”

As almost any US resident knows, the refusal by the US government to end slavery once and for all resulted in the Civil War.  No matter what anyone might argue, the reason the civil war was fought was because the slave owning states wanted to continue owning slaves.  It was not about any other freedom but the freedom to enslave other human beings and trade in their flesh.   Although the slavers attempted to frame their cause in moral terms, the fact is there is nothing moral about owning another human being.  This fact is lost on those who support the Confederacy.  That truth is immutable.

This is why there is a clamor to remove statues across the United States that honor the men who led the armies of the Confederacy.  The continued presence of those statues is not a reminder of a blighted history; such reminders can be made in museums and history books.  No, they are exactly what they seem to be: honorifics to men who killed and died for the right to own, buy, breed, and sell other human beings.  That war was fought to protect the monetary assets the slaves represented—their actual value, their potential value in offspring and their labor value.  The men represented by these statues are no more honorable than the men who organized the German Nazi Party, enslaved millions in concentration camps and ultimately murdered millions, most of them Jewish.  The only memory such humans deserve is as a reminder of a place humanity must never return.

The current attempts among various extremist elements to revive the ideology of the Nazis and of US slave-owners is testament to the need for white supremacy to be refuted.   The fact that this ideology is being defended by two of the most powerful men in Washington, DC is some cause for alarm.  Not only has Donald Trump tweeted out veiled support of the slavers’ heritage in his messages of support for Republican Ed Gillespie, Trump’s chief of staff, General Kelly recently told FoxNews reporter Laura Ingraham that the reason the US Civil War occurred was because there “was a lack of an ability to compromise.”   He continued, telling Ingraham that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.  To address the latter statement first, let me just say that even if Lee was an honorable man, the fact is that his cause—defending slavery and slavers—was not honorable in any definition of the world.  It isn’t honorable in hindsight and it wasn’t honorable then, a fact the growing numbers in the nineteenth century abolitionist movement makes clear.

As to Kelly’s claim that the reason for the war was an inability to compromise, I have a few questions.  Exactly what does the General consider a compromise in terms of human lives and freedom?  Should the anti-slavery forces have allowed more states to enslave Africans and their descendants?  Should the anti-slavery forces have agreed to allow slave breeding for sale in more states?  Should the anti-slavery forces insisted that all slaves be freed when they could no longer physically serve their masters?  Or perhaps the anti-slavery forces should have agreed to wait two, three, four or more decades for slavery to end, thereby allowing the slavers and their politician friends a chance to re-invest their ill-got holdings in livestock, gold or land?  Or maybe they should just have let the slavers decide how the issue would be resolved, just like they had been doing for decades already?

On a related matter, a recent poll of US military members acknowledged the presence of white supremacists in all branches of the military. Although this phenomenon is not new (I know from my years as a military dependent how prevalent racism is in the institution), it becomes easier to understand how such a phenomenon exists when men with views like General Kelly command an entire branch.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: