Haley Clarifies Comments on Civil War After Criticism

Haley Clarifies Comments on Civil War After Criticism


Ms. Haley faced criticism for not mentioning slavery when asked at New Hampshire town hall about the cause of the Civil War.

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Dec. 28 clarified comments she made about the Civil War that had attracted criticism.

“Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That’s the easy part of it,” Ms. Haley told a New Hampshire radio show. “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.”

During a town hall in New Hampshire on Thursday, Ms. Haley again said that slavery was what led to the war between the Union and the Confederacy.

“Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That’s unquestioned, always the case, we know the Civil War was about slavery,” she said.

Ms. Haley went on to reiterate that the battle was about whether the government had a role to play when it came to slavery versus freedom and that the latter should not be taken away by the government.

“We always want to remember the lesson of what it means to be a free individual, and that everyone deserves to be a free individual,” she said. “So we stand by that. I say that as a Southerner, I say that as a Southern governor who removed the Confederate flag off the Statehouse grounds, and I say that as a proud American.”

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The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and South Carolina governor faced scrutiny after a New Hampshire voter posed a direct question about the cause of the Civil War during a town hall on Dec. 27.

In her response, Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, omitted mentioning slavery as a primary catalyst, opting instead to focus on the role of government and individual freedoms. This response prompted Democrats to weigh in on her remarks.

The controversy unfolded when a voter posed the question, “What was the cause of the United States Civil War?”

Ms. Haley’s response appeared to sidestep that slavery played a central role in triggering the conflict.

“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,” Ms. Haley said to begin her response, before asking the voter what he thought the cause of the war was.

Pressing Ms. Haley for a response, the voter said he wasn’t running for president.

Elaborating on her response, Ms. Haley emphasized the role of government and individual freedoms.

“It always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are,” Ms. Haley said. “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.”

Throughout her response, Ms. Haley advocated for limited government interference, capitalism, and economic freedom. She stressed the need for a society where individuals have the freedom to express themselves, practice their religion, and pursue their aspirations without government intervention.

“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,” Ms. Haley declared.

In the aftermath, the voter who posed the question said that it was “astonishing” that Ms. Haley gave her answer “without mentioning the word slavery.” When pressed on the omission, Ms. Haley responded, “What do you want me to say about slavery?” The voter said she’d answered his question, and then Ms. Haley asked for the next question.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) seized on the controversy, with DNC chair Jaime Harrison issuing a statement that emphasized the importance of condemning slavery.

“This isn’t hard: condemning slavery is the baseline for anyone who wants to be president of the United States,” Mr. Harrison said.

President Joe Biden’s account on X, formerly Twitter, also responded to the remarks, posting late Wednesday night that the Civil War “was about slavery.”

Ms. Haley has mentioned slavery throughout her campaign when discussing the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol in 2015 in her stump speeches. The flag was removed following the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

She has previously described the aftermath of the shooting as the most emotionally challenging period during her time as governor.

Fifty percent of “South Carolinians saw the Confederate flag as heritage and tradition; the other 50 percent of South Carolinians saw it as slavery and hate,” the White House hopeful said during a town hall in Iowa earlier this month.

“My job wasn’t to judge either side,” she added. “My job was to get them to see the best of themselves and go forward.”

“We were able to bring that Confederate flag down,” Ms. Haley said in Spirit Lake, Iowa. “We didn’t have riots; we had vigils. We didn’t have protests; we had hugs. And South Carolinians showed the world what strength and grace look like. That’s how you do it.”

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