Nikki Haley, asked about cause of U.S. Civil War, declines to mention slavery

By Gram Slattery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley declined on Wednesday night to say that slavery was one of the main causes of the U.S. Civil War, an omission she corrected on Thursday, but not before drawing rebukes from Democrats and some of her opponents.

Haley, who is vying to be her party’s nominee in the 2024 presidential election, was asked by an audience member at a town hall in northern New Hampshire what she believed to be the cause of the Civil War, according to an exchange captured by CNN and several other media outlets.

In response, Haley first paused, and said, “Well, don’t come at me with an easy question.”

She then added: “I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, what you could and couldn’t do, the freedoms in what people could and couldn’t do.”

After some back and forth, the man who asked the question responded: “In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word ‘slavery.'”

There is broad consensus among scholars that slavery was the main cause of the war, which occurred between 1861 and 1865. The Southern states, which seceded, opposed attempts by Northern states to limit the institution of slavery, particularly in western territories.

On Thursday morning, Haley sought to walk back her comments on The Pulse of NH, a radio show.

“Of course the Civil War was about slavery, that’s the easy part,” she said. “Yes, I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

Haley made similar comments pointing to slavery as the cause of the Civil War during a town hall in New Hampshire later on Thursday.


It is unclear whether the incident will have any impact on the race, but Haley’s opponents were quick to criticize her, and her original comments are unlikely to help in New Hampshire, whose residents fought against slavery.

Democratic President Joe Biden posted a video of Haley’s exchange on social media with the caption: “It was about slavery.”

The press secretary for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, another Republican presidential contender, pointed to critical comments by a number of DeSantis advisers on X.

“If Nikki Haley can’t answer this basic political 101 question and then it takes her over 12 hrs to sloppily attempt to clean it up, she just isn’t ready for the bright lights of the nomination process,” wrote senior DeSantis adviser David Polyansky.

A representative for former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, did not respond to a request for comment.

Haley, like many public officials from the U.S. South, has a history of defending aspects of the Confederacy, as the states that seceded are known. She served as governor of South Carolina, the first state to secede, from 2011 to 2017.

Haley said in 2010 that the state had a right to secede. In 2015, she signed a bill into law removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol following the murder of nine Black churchgoers by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

She was later criticized by some elected officials for describing that flag as a symbol of “heritage” for some Southerners.

Trump is winning the Republican presidential nominating contest with 61% support, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted earlier in December, while Haley and DeSantis are tied with 11%.

Haley is performing significantly better in New Hampshire, which is the second state after Iowa to select a preferred Republican nominee. She has about 25% support there, according to polling averages.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)