Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s since-revised answer about the cause of the Civil War has been used as a bludgeon by political opponents and critics because she didn’t mention slavery. The curriculum in South Carolina, where Haley previously served as governor, leaves little doubt as to what caused the conflict.
Haley was asked by an audience member at a Wednesday town hall about the cause of the Civil War.“Well, don’t come with an easy question,” she began, “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.”On Thursday, she responded to criticism. “Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That’s the easy part of it,” she said on the local radio show “The Pulse of NH.”She continued: “I want to nip it in the bud. Yes, we know the Civil War was about slavery. But more than that, what’s the lesson in all this? That freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people. That’s the blessing of America. That was a stain on America when we had slavery. But what we want is [to] never relive it, never let anyone take those freedoms away again.”This is taking place amid a year-end push in New Hampshire, a state key to her presidential race.
Haley was the governor of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union more than 160 years ago. South Carolina makes available online its original declaration of secession, said Dawn Chitty, director of education at the African American Civil War Museum in Washington. Chitty — who grew up in Columbia, S.C. — said the fact that South Carolina seceded because of slavery is taught in the schools of the state that Haley once ran. “Teachers under her jurisdiction were teaching kids the reason why, so it’s tone-deaf,” Chitty told The Washington Post on Thursday.
Those looking to minimize the role of slavery as the economic driver for secession often replace the human rights atrocity with states’ rights as the reason. “States’ rights issue was tied to slavery,” Chitty said, “the right for a state to decide if they wanted to be a free state or a slaveholding state.” The tension was held over from the time of colonization because the country never figured out how to reckon with the nation’s original sin of slavery. “We’re not just boiled down to four years of the war,” Chitty said.
The South Carolina Department of Education posts instructional resources on its website:
A guide for eighth-graders from 2020 asks teachers to ensure students to understand that “during the Constitutional Convention, discussions also focused on the role of slavery in the distribution of political power. South Carolinians … were instrumental in the development of the Constitution and the Three-Fifths Compromise.”An example of a lesson is for the students to “analyze how cotton production impacted the southern argument for protecting the institution of slavery.”Students also must “evaluate South Carolinians’ struggle to create an understanding of their post-Civil War position within the state, the country, and the world.”One section of the guide includes a note: “Lost Cause mythology should be taught within its proper context as an effort by former Confederates to justify the protection of slavery and secession. It is the writers’ intent that the Lost Cause mythology should not be used as the basis of a historical argument because primary source documents and modern historiography refute such claims.” (For more, here’s a Washington Post perspective piece on five myths about the Lost Cause.)