Haley Barbour Admits The Obvious: Slavery Was The Reason For Secession And The Civil War

Haley Barbour seems to finally be getting over the accusations of insensitivity to Mississippi’s history of racial tensions:

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.


FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    maybe it’s a sign that 150 years late, the South is finally getting over its romanticization of a horrible mistake.

    No. It’s Barbour doubling-down on a Presidential run – he’ll never get re-elected in the Deep South after saying something like that out loud.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I actually think this is pretty big, and as much as I think he’s just doing this for his presidential campaign and remains a good ‘ol boy, I’m still pleased.

    The racists have been pandered to quite openly by Limbaugh and others of his ilk, by Fox, and by pols like Haley Barbour. These kind of statements send a somewhat clear signal to the racist elements in the GOP that their ascent within the party may be coming to an end: crawl back under your rocks, boys.

    Let’s hope he doesn’t undercut that position in the next few days or weeks.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    Well said Gov. Barbour. Too bad most of your constituents still won’t acknowledge it.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    These kind of statements send a somewhat clear signal to the racist elements in the GOP that their ascent within the party may be coming to an end

    You know, its unfortunately not just racists who believe the drivel about “states’ rights.” Just a few months ago I got into a heated, very heated, argument with friends from Charleston. All of them were well educated, politically progressive, and socially liberal–the type of people who generally acknowledge that it was about slavery.

    Across the board all of them made the states’ rights argument. What was even more shocking–but explanatory–was that when I quoted the Declaration of Immediate Causes, and confederate VP’s ‘cornerstone’ speech, none of them had heard the full text before. In school they had all been taught about states rights, yet were never shown the actual historical documents that caused the secession.

    It would be like knowing about the Revolutionary war, but never having read, or even given a summation, of the Declaration of Independence.


  5. michael reynolds says:


    Yeah, the south has made a long and concerted effort to conceal the truth from kids in their schools. I took “Virginia History” as a kid in Newport News and got the party line. Of course that was a million years ago. Apparently not much has changed.

  6. TG Chicago says:

    Yeah, I grew up in the south and learned the “states’ rights” stuff. It wasn’t until I moved north of the Mason-Dixon line as an adult that I got the real scoop.

    I wasn’t willing to give Barbour any credit for belatedly saying he wouldn’t allow a Nathan Bedford Forrest license plate. He tried to dodge the issue, and when he finally came out with a statement, he didn’t utter a single criticism of Forrest.

    But this is different. I’m not even sure what the impetus was for him to make this comment (I mean, obviously he wants to improve his image before running for president, but why did the subject come up? Did he or his interviewer just mention it out of the blue?). But his statement was as clear and unequivocal as you could ask for. Can’t hate on a guy when he makes a clear statement of truth which (arguably) goes against his political interest.

  7. Jack says:

    I currently live in northern Mississippi (near where I grew up), and while things have changed, a lot of things are the same. There are several locally owned businesses (BBQ joints, stores, and such) that proudly fly the Confederate Battle Flag out front, and the flea market here is festooned with caps and T-shirts with the same Confederate emblem. I was tempted to ask the African-American attendees what they felt about that.

    Also, last week, I heard some moron blow his car horn, which played “Dixie”…