Note to Nikki Haley, the answer is slavery

“Don’t come with an easy question,” Nikki Haley jokingly said, but there are few questions easier than this. That’s especially true for a former governor of South Carolina, and one who — to credit Haley — handled a political crisis over the Confederate flag with far more aplomb than we see here.

While in New Hampshire trying to push her #2 position into a real challenge to Donald Trump, Haley got asked a very simple question: “What was the cause of the United States Civil War?” It’s a one-word answer, which Haley botched even after the questioner handed it to her:

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run,” she responded. “The freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do. What do you think the cause of the Civil War was or argument?”

The questioner, who could not be easily heard off camera, was apparently unpersuaded by Haley’s response. When she asked him what he believed the cause of the war was, he replied that he wasn’t running for president.

“I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are,” Haley replied. “And I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people. Government doesn’t need to tell you how to live your life. 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. We need to have capitalism. We need to have economic freedom. We need to make sure that we do all things so that individuals have the liberties so that they can have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to do or be anything they want to be without government getting in the way.”

And if that was bad, this was worse.

When the questioner said it was “astonishing” to hear her respond “without mentioning the word slavery,” Haley replied: “What do you want me to say about slavery?” She then asked for the next question.

Ahem. How about “Slavery was bad,” at least? Or admitting that it was the cause of the Civil War? One does not have to go far to find this out, especially in South Carolina, the state that seceded first and triggered the war. When the state attempted to secede, it published its “Declaration of the Immediate Causes” to justify the act. And guess what makes it into the very first paragraph as an “immediate cause”?

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

The term “slave” is mentioned in one form or another eighteen times in the document. The specific complaints come in a single paragraph, all of which have to do with slavery and the non-cooperation of northern states in enforcing it on behalf of the southern states:

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

South Carolina made very clear why it wanted to leave the Union: to continue slavery on its own terms. That was the reason the other southern states joined the Confederacy as well. This didn’t happen in a vacuum either, but immediately after a bloody conflict in Kansas over the expansion of slavery and the refusal of northern states to allow it. In fact, the Kansas war ended  in 1859 — the year before South Carolina seceded — with an anti-slavery territorial government, and the southern states blocked Kansas’ entry into the Union until they seceded after the election of abolition-minded Abraham Lincoln the next year. That is why the nation fell into a Civil War, not the secondary or tertiary issues Haley trots out in this answer.

So yes, one question settled in the Civil War was “how the government was going to run” … in regard to slavery.

It was also about “the role of the government and what the rights of the people are” … in regard to slavery.

It’s also true that “government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people” … but “people” had to be defined in regard to slavery.

Most conservatives would agree that “government doesn’t need to tell you how to live your life,” and it largely didn’t at that time — except where state governments kept people in slavery.

And so on and so on.

The real question here is: why can’t Haley just say, “Slavery”? It really is an easy question and a one-word answer. And the reason is that conservatives have been pandering to the Lost Cause fantasy of the Confederacy for far too long, hoping to avoid alienating its adherents. Haley may be worried that South Carolina primary voters don’t want to hear a straightforward and honest answer, or perhaps more simply, that she doesn’t want to give those voters an excuse to flip back to Trump on this pretext. Not exactly a “Profiles in Courage” moment for Haley, or even a “Profiles in Reality” moment.

Some political commentators shrugged off any damage from this exchange to Haley. They may be right in terms of her electoral performance in South Carolina, but I’m not sure that will just get shrugged off similarly by voters in Iowa or New Hampshire. Haley didn’t have much chance of winning either state before this, and while this may not damage her, it certainly doesn’t help — especially for a candidate who’s been bragging about her five-inch combat heels for the last few months to sell herself as the toughest candidate on the ballot.

 And now, the Marion Barry Defense! Haley tried doing some damage control this morning by claiming she got set up by a “Democratic plant“:

“Well, two things on this track. I mean, of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that, that’s the easy part of it,” the former South Carolina governor told The Pulse of NH – News Talk Radio Network. “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. It was about individual freedom. It was about economic freedom. It was about individual rights. Our goal is to make sure, no, we never go back to the stain of slavery.”

She did not go further in addressing why she did not say as much on Wednesday evening when she appeared at a town hall event in Berlin, New Hampshire. Instead, she posited that she had been set up.

“It was definitely a Democrat plant,” said Haley. “That’s why I said, what does it mean to you? And if you notice, he didn’t answer anything. The same reason he didn’t tell the reporters what his name was.”

It’s curious that the ‘plant’ actually gave Haley the answer, and she still refused to engage on it. But even if this was a Democrat plant, a seasoned politician would expect that in a televised town-hall forum and handle it much better than this. All Haley had to do was say “Slavery,” and she couldn’t do it even when given the right answer.

Some of my readers will argue that the war was about “state’s rights,” but I’d advise them to read the South Carolina “declaration” again. It argues against states’ rights in the North by demanding that they abide by slavery laws in the South, and South Carolina argued that the federal government should force them to do so. The South also refused to admit Kansas after it rejected slavery, which is the exact opposite of “state’s rights.” The war was entirely about slavery.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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