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Nikki Haley Blasted for Trying to Avoid Saying Slavery Was Cause of Civil War

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run,” Haley said.

Former UN ambassador and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley speaks during a Town Hall event in Agency, Iowa, on December 19, 2023.

Nikki Haley — a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of South Carolina who is running in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries — failed to acknowledge slavery as the root cause of the U.S. Civil War during a town hall event on Wednesday.

Haley, who has at various points in her political career defended Confederate symbols, is rising in the polls in the GOP nominating contest, especially in the Granite State. According to an average of data from RealClearPolitics, Haley garners 24.8 percent of support in the New Hampshire primary, well behind former President Donald Trump, who gets 46.3 percent support, but with more than twice the support of the next highest contender, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who receives 10.5 percent support.

Winning in New Hampshire — or at least securing a commanding second-place finish behind Trump — could give Haley momentum to mount a more serious challenge against the former president in other primary races.

But gaffes and missteps could disrupt her recent gains.

At a recent town hall event in Berlin, New Hampshire, an audience member asked Haley what she believed the cause of the Civil War was.

In her response, Haley failed to mention that Confederate states were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery.

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run — the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do,” Haley said.

Haley’s comments whitewashed the U.S.’s history of enslaving Black people, reducing the cause of the war to an ideological argument over the role of government in people’s lives. Haley’s comments also included a defense of capitalism, an economic system that continues to rely on exploited labor, including the legal slavery that remains in the U.S. in the form of incarcerated labor.

“Government doesn’t need to tell you how to live your life,” Haley elaborated. “They don’t need to tell you what you can and can’t do. They don’t need to be a part of your life. They need to make sure that you have freedom.”

The person who asked Haley the question said it was “astonishing” to hear her respond “without mentioning the word ‘slavery’” — an observation Haley appeared befuddled by.

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Haley said, before abruptly announcing she was moving on to another question.

Polling shows that most Americans understand that slavery was the cause of the Civil War, with 56 percent of respondents in a YouGov poll from this summer saying so. Republicans were less likely to say slavery was the cause, with 53 percent saying so and 36 percent saying a more general support for “states’ rights” caused the war. Among Democrats, meanwhile, 62 percent said slavery led to the war, with only a quarter of Democrats (26 percent) saying it was “states’ rights.”

A day later, after several commentators ridiculed her response, Haley sought to do damage control.

“Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that,” Haley said. “That’s the easy part of it. What I was saying was what does it mean to us today? What it means to us today is about freedom. That’s what that was all about.”

Political observers condemned Haley for failing to mention slavery initially, noting that she was likely attempting to appease a far right, white nationalist bloc of voters within the Republican Party.

“Nikki Haley is acting as if ‘what was the cause of the Civil War?’ is a difficult gotcha question. It’s one of the easiest questions to answer!” said HuffPost journalist Yashar Ali.

“This is astounding. Nikki Haley thinks ‘what caused the Civil War? is a gotcha because she’s afraid to talk about slavery and alienate her own voters,” said Public Notice journalist Aaron Rupar.

“From Nikki Haley pretending slavery wasn’t the cause of the civil war to Ron DeSantis pushing a curriculum highlighting the ‘valuable skills’ slaves gained, I’m just shocked they’re not calling for the repeal of the 13th Amendment,” said ex-Republican strategist and Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson.

President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee for president in 2024, also weighed in on the matter. “It was about slavery,” he said in a single-sentence post on X.

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