Haley Barbour Admits The Obvious: Slavery Was The Reason For Secession And The Civil War
Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor and likely 2012 Republican presidential aspirant, has recently made a series of missteps involving race and the Civil Rights Movement. He seemed unclear about basic historical points.
But he has now made a forthright declaration about the events swirling around what some Southerners still call the War of Northern Aggression. “Slavery was the primary, central, cause of secession,” Barbour told me Friday. “The Civil War was necessary to bring about the abolition of slavery,” he continued. “Abolishing slavery was morally imperative and necessary, and it’s regrettable that it took the Civil War to do it. But it did.”
Now, saying slavery was the cause of the South’s Lost Cause hardly qualifies as breaking news — it sounds more like “olds.” But for a Republican governor of Mississippi to say what most Americans consider obvious truth is news. Big news.
It’s significant for two reasons: First, it sounds like Barbour is indeed running for the GOP presidential nomination. Second, it suggests that Mississippi has changed considerably since the 1960s.
Additional evidence for the second point can be seen in the fact that, unlike 1961 when Mississippi celebrated secession even as the Civil Rights Movement brewed around the country, there is very little hagiography for what some southerners have called The Lost Cause:
A comparison of the centennial celebration of the state’s secession in 1961 with this year’s marking of the sesquicentennial is telling.
“Here in Mississippi,” the Biloxi Sun-Herald noted, “observances of milestones in Confederate history—if any have taken place—have escaped public notice.”
The exception that proves that rule is that the principal commemoration of Mississippi’s secession, held in January at the Old Capitol Museum, site in 1961 of the play glorifying the secession vote, began with the reenactment of a fiery speech by delegate John Wood — against secession.
Two historians followed with academic presentations, pointing out the fact, as stated in the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union,” that secession was motivated entirely by the desire to maintain slavery.
The few neo-Confederates in the audience maintained their silence throughout. In stark contrast to the commemoration 50 years ago, no major public officials or candidates for statewide office were in attendance.
“We are continuing to move away from the old myths of the Civil War,” former Mississippi Gov. William Winter told me recently, “the myth that it was not about slavery, that it was about states’ rights and control by the central government.”
“If we know anything about history,” the former governor continued, “if we read about the background of secession, we know that, of course, it was about slavery. The Southern states at that point would not have seceded but for the issue of slavery.”
If they can come to this realization in Mississippi, the birthplace of Jefferson Davis and the only state whose flag still contains a representation of the Confederate Battle Flag, then maybe it’s a sign that 150 years late, the South is finally getting over its romanticization of a horrible mistake.