Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV
Her name is Nikki Haley, and she has been featured in the news of late for the answer she gave at a political town hall in New Hampshire to this question: “What was the cause of the Civil War?”
Just listen to the way the former governor of South Carolina began her response: “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.”
This alleged candidate for the Republican presidential nomination comes from the state of South Carolina, in which the first shot of the Civil War was fired on a United States Army installation, Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. But that ignominious fact does not capture the depth of shame South Carolina bears for the war that took more than 600,000 American lives.
South Carolina was the first state to declare its secession from the United States on December 20, 1860. As a former governor of the state, Nikki Haley should have these figures on her fingertips. In 1860, South Carolina had the largest percentage of enslaved people in the entire country, 58 percent Black slaves to 42 percent free Whites. Which raises the question, who was doing the work in the state of South Carolina?
South Carolina’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” spelled out the answer fairly succinctly: slaves. White slave owners were protecting, in the words of Nikki Haley, what they “could and couldn’t do” with their slaves. Here are a few choice lines from that hugely disgraceful 1860 document:
“Those [non-slave holding] States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.”
Isn’t that something? Way back in 1860, states in the South were all a-titter about “books and pictures” that were “inciting” people and giving them terrible, threatening ideas.
What happened before the Civil War was the secession of the southern slave-holding states from the United States of America. Each of those states whined and complained about the man who was president, Abraham Lincoln, whined and complained that states in the north had refused to return people who had escaped slavery and had attained freedom and were thus, in the words of South Carolina and other southern states, “fugitives.”
After choking out an admission on a radio show today that “of course the Civil War was about slavery,” Nikki Haley went on with her new explanation of the Civil War: “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.”
Yep, it was, Nikki, you put your finger right on it. All those escaped slaves who belonged to slave owners in South Carolina had been awarded freedom and individual rights and had achieved economic freedom, and your state, and the rest of the Confederacy was angry enough about what the escaped slaves had done to secede from the United States and start a war over it.
The awful truth about this whole thing is that Nikki Haley’s state and the other states of the former Confederacy have been teaching the garbage that came out of her mouth for 158 years, that the Civil War was about states rights and individual freedom and economic freedom and what the government can tell you that you could and couldn’t do.
It’s a good thing that someone stood up at the town hall and asked her that question, because the answer she gave tells us what this election is really about. Listen to Nikki Haley and to Donald Trump and to every other Republican. Listen to what they say and what they leave out. We don’t count. They do. It’s about their freedom, and their individual rights, and their economic freedom. They mean it.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.