Haley and the Politics of Slavery [Updated with Video]
Why can't some of us handle the truth?
Via Politico: Haley declines to say slavery was cause of Civil War.
The former UN Ambassador and South Carolina governor, who has seen her star rise in the first-in-the-nation primary state, was appearing at a town hall event in Berlin, New Hampshire, when a voter asked her to identify the cause of the war.
“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?”
If I start by being charitable, it is true that conflicts are typically multicausal and not amenable to simple answers, at least if one is engaging in a full analysis (and, moreover, I suppose every single civil conflict is, to one degree or the other, about “how government [is] going to run”).
But let’s be clear: the American Civil War was fought, fundamentally, over the issue of slavery and it shouldn’t be hard for politicians to say that in 2023 nor should they avoid saying it because there is some substantial subsection of American voters who can’t stand to hear that simple truth. (See, also, my post from 2010, History 101: Tariffs, Secession and the General Politico-Economics of Slavery).
Allow me to share a passage from CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens, who was quite clear on this subject way back in 1861 (emphasis mine).
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
It was clear at the time what the cause of the conflict was. And, I would note, Stephens made this declaration in Savanah, Georgia, which is extremely close to the South Carolina border.
The fact that it is considered potentially problematic to simply state the obvious truth that the Civil War was fundamentally about slavery fits into my ongoing point about our inability, as a country, to fully reckon with our past.
All of this reminds me of the following posts from earlier this year:
- America’s “Family Secret” or Just Plain Denial?
- Thinking about the Past
- Still Thinking about the Past
All Haley is doing here is admitting, via her obfuscatory language, that too many of her potential voters harbor latent, if not overt, white supremacist sentiments that preclude a direct acknowledgment of the sins of slavery. And I think that that is because such admissions mean having to deal with the long-term consequences of slavery on the Black population. There is also the complicated acknowledgment that one’s ancestors really did fight to protect the rights of rich landowners to own other human beings.
Further, and I think this is a huge part of it as well, if we admit to ourselves, as a country, the deep truth of all of our history, then we really do have to re-evaluate huge swaths of the social structure, to include why inner city poverty is what it is, or why the Black Belt in Alabama is so underdeveloped. Or, beyond that, issues like mass incarceration of Black males or why public schools in Alabama and elsewhere are so deeply underfunded. Or police shootings of Black people.
It is, sadly, far too palatable for far too many to simply want to pretend like the past is just too complex to understand. Or, perhaps worse, that the past is really a simple thing and we solved all of that years ago and so current problems are because, well, those people just don’t know how to behave.
That last sentiment, by the way, is still that kind of thing I would hear at the ballfields of Montgomery, AL when I would overhear other parents talking about why Montgomery Public Schools were so bad. Or what I read in comment threads about crime in Montgomery to this day on social media (a phenomenon that I noted uptick considerably since the city elected its first Black mayor recently).
At its base, I think a lot of people are afraid that if we admit that there are problems that need to be solved then money will be needed, and therefore one’s taxes might go up (or, their behaviors in some way would have to change). Fear of having to help pay to solve problems leads many people to want to ignore that problem. I think, in simple terms at least, that is why a lot of people are climate change deniers. They don’t want to pay the costs (in taxes, prices, or behavioral changes) that might come with attempted solutions.
I mean, really, how hard is it to say that the main cause of the Civil War was slavery? And why would anyone object to that observation?
UPDATE: Here’s the video.
Update 2: An attempt to explain (and poorly so, IMHO).