Presidential hopeful Nikki Haley did not cite slavery as a cause of the American Civil War on Wednesday night when a town hall attendee asked her what she thought led to the bloody conflict.
The former governor of South Carolina — the first state to secede from the Union in 1860 — instead said at the event in Berlin, New Hampshire, that the catalysts were “basically how the government was going to run” and “freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”
The Republican candidate then turned the question around on the person who posed it.
“What do you think the cause of the Civil War was?” she asked. The questioner responded by saying, “I’m not running for president.”
Haley then continued to explain her answer.
“I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are. And we will always stand by the fact that I think the government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people,” Haley said. “It was never meant to be all things to all people. Government doesn’t need to tell you how to live your life. They don’t need to tell you what you can and can’t do. They don’t need to be a part of your life. They need to make sure that you have freedom.”
The questioner told Haley they thought it was “astonishing” she gave an answer that did not mention slavery.
“What do you want me to say about slavery?” she responded before pivoting and asking for the next question.
While several political and economic factors ultimately contributed to the start of the American Civil War, slavery was at the center of the nation’s tension.
South Carolina’s 1860 Declaration of Secession listed Northern states’ refusal to enforce federal fugitive slave laws and President Abraham Lincoln’s “policies that attack the institution of slavery” at the crux of their consternation.
As the governor of South Carolina, Haley supported legislation in 2015 to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds following the deadly hate crime attack on Charleston’s Mother Emmanuel AME Church, a historic black church.