Last night at a political rally in Ohio President Donald Trump veered off into another one of his confusing tangents in American history, specifically the Civil War. The man could easily do an episode of Drunk History on the history of the American Civil War without consuming a single drink. Included in his commentary was praise of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. His choice of words hearkened back to his comments about Lee following the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.
We would do well to remember that Trump is not the first president to reference and even praise Robert E. Lee in a public address. In fact, a quick swing through the twentieth century shows that American presidents – regardless of political affiliation – have heaped praise on the man.
Those of you teaching the Civil War and/or Civil War memory might find it helpful to place Trump’s comments about Robert E. Lee alongside other presidents in the modern era.
- Franklin Roosevelt at the unveiling of the Robert E. Lee Memorial, Dallas, Texas, June 12, 1936.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, remarks at Stratford Hall, May 4, 1958.
- John F. Kennedy, remarks at Raleigh North Carolina, September 17, 1960.
- Lyndon B. Johnson, remarks at fundraising dinner, New Orleans, October 9, 1964.
- Gerald R. Ford, remarks upon signing of a bill restoring rights of citizenship to Lee, August 5, 1975.
- Jimmy Carter, remarks upon the signing of a bill restoring rights of citizenship to Jefferson Davis, October 17, 1978.
- Ronald Reagan, remarks at the annual convention of the Texas State Bar Association, July 6, 1984.
- Barack Obama, remarks at the Alfalfa Dinner, 2009.
Trump is in good company alongside presidents who have long embraced Lee and the memory of the Confederacy for political purposes.