John Kelly's Civil War comment draws fire: 'It's irresponsible and dangerous'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's comment that the U.S. Civil War was sparked by a lack of "compromise" drew criticism and reignited a debate over Confederate monuments and the role of slavery.

In an interview on Monday night with Fox News, Kelly was asked whether a Virginia church should have removed plaques honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee and President George Washington, both Virginians. Kelly said figures of the past could not be viewed through the lens of current moral values.

"I think it's just very, very dangerous and it shows you ... how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is," Kelly said. "I will tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man."

Click through to see social media reactions to Kelly's comment:

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Social media reacts to John Kelly's Civil War comment
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Social media reacts to John Kelly's Civil War comment
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's comment that a lack of "compromise" led to the Civil War has sparked a serious backlash...
Notion that Civil War resulted from a lack of compromise is belied by all the compromises made on enslavement from America's founding.
"Compromise" continued long after Lincoln's death. Compromise of 1877 led to explicit White Supremacist rule in the South for a century.
Shocking that someone charged with defending their country, in some profound way, does not comprehend the country they claim to defend.
It’s irresponsible & dangerous, especially when white supremacists feel emboldened, to make fighting to maintain sl… https://t.co/Hsbtwltcy7
Dear John Kelly: The United States of America exists because President Lincoln did not compromise. https://t.co/ciEienHASx
John Kelly let Trump ignore the death of a black soldier for 12 days, lied about a black congresswoman, and defended a racist traitor.
We are sick and tired of an America where John Kelly and Stephen Miller can collect WH salaries for emboldening hate groups .
That does it. There’s NO honorable person left in the Trump White House. John Kelly can go f*ck himself. https://t.co/UddtfvQo1B
Well, we now know @JohnKelly is a racist. Don't know why I thought he was righting the ship, but it's clear this ship is iceberg bound.
No need to get in the weeds with John Kelly. He holds a racist view of the civil war and works with a racist by telling lies about blacks.
John Kelly: "The lack of ability to compromise caused the Civil War.” You are not a honorable man & now your racism is in full display!
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"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 added.

The comment sparked an immediate backlash, with critics noting that the United States had made a number of compromises on slavery before tensions eventually erupted into the war between the North and the South in 1861.

"Notion that Civil War resulted from a lack of compromise is belied by all the compromises made on enslavement from America's founding," Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American writer, wrote on Twitter.

Others accused Kelly of encouraging white supremacists by saying Lee was honorable.

"It's irresponsible & dangerous, especially when white supremacists feel emboldened, to make fighting to maintain slavery sound courageous," Bernice King, the daughter of American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., wrote in a Twitter post.

President Donald Trump has said Confederate monuments, many of which have been removed in recent years, should remain in place to preserve the country's heritage.

RELATED: John Kelly in his White House role

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John Kelly in his White House role
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John Kelly in his White House role
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks on his phone in a hallway outside the room where U.S. President Donald Trump was meeting with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly delivers speech at the Secretary of Interior Building in Mexico City, Mexico, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) before a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in a hangar at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks about immigration reform at a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner look on as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks before meeting with Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his delegation at the White House in Washington, U.S. September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testifies before a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks about border security during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly delivers a statement accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mexico City, Mexico February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) and First Lady Melania Trump (lower right) listen as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (R) shows the time to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (L) as they attend a session on reforming the United Nations at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (C) stands in an adjacent cabin as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters in the press cabin aboard Air Force One on his way to Washington after viewing damage from Hurricane Irma in Florida, U.S. September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks to reporters before meeting with a bipartisan group of members of Congress at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (L) and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway (R) attend Kuwait's Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and U.S. President Donald Trump's news conference after their meetings at the White House in Washington, U.S. September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stands before a Medal of Honor ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (R) arrives with fellow staff to board Air Force One with U.S. President Trump for travel to New Jersey from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. August 4, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly looks down at his phone as he boards Air Force One in Hagerstown, Maryland, U.S., hours after it was announced that Trump Senior Adviser Steve Bannon left the administration August 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly looks on as he listens to Mexico's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong (not pictured) delivering a joint message at the Secretary of Interior Building in Mexico City, Mexico, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly arrives to Secretary of Interior Building before addressing the media, in Mexico City, Mexico, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly takes questions from the media while addressing the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly leans on the Resolute Desk during a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaks during a daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
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He stirred tensions after a deadly rally by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, by insisting that counterprotesters were also to blame, drawing condemnation from some Republican leaders and praise from white supremacists.

Kelly had a distinguished military career and led the Department of Homeland Security before Trump tapped him to be chief of staff.

Kelly is viewed by some as a moderating influence in the turbulent White House, but has also stepped into controversy. Earlier this month, he attacked a Florida congresswoman who had characterized a call between Trump and a military widow who lost her husband in Niger as disrespectful.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis)

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