Even though the Hallelujah Chorus of VOTE HARDERER!!! Republicrats© is giving her hell for it, she ain’t wrong for once.
I’ve never run for office, but I can imagine that for a politician in the South — especially a conservative — questions about race relations and history sound like “gotcha” questions. That may have been what was on Nikki Haley’s mind at a town hall event in New Hampshire earlier this week when an attendee asked her a historical question.
A voter asked Haley, “What was the cause of the United States Civil War?” Granted, it’s an odd question, but Haley could have answered it quickly and moved on. Instead, she gave the strangest answer imaginable.
“Well, don’t come with an easy question,” she began with a quip. “I mean, 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.”
She then turned the tables on the man who asked the question and asked him what he thought caused the Civil War. That part of the exchange wasn’t audible on the video of the town hall, but it opened the door for Haley to dig her hole of bizarre answers a little deeper.
“I mean, I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are,” she continued. “And we — I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people.”
“Bizarre”…and perfectly correct, too. The “offense” Haley is being pilloried for, of course, is not making the obligatory genuflection towards the written-by-the-winners revisionist history which holds that the “cause” of Civil War I was blood-simple, that the North invaded and punitively subjugated the South over the “peculiar institution” of slavery.
Just one leeeetle problem with that belief: know who else didn’t think the War of Northern Aggression was all about slavery? Massa Abraham Lincoln, that’s who. Among other things, he said this:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.
Note also that the “Great Emancipator,” with his fabled Proclamation in 1863, freed not a single slave in any state wherein he actually had the power to do so; the Emancipation Proclamation was a purely political document whose two-fold purpose was to maintain the shaky entente back home between the radical contingent of so-called “fire eater” abolitionists and the moderates, as well as to gain military advantage for the Yankee invader over the Southern foe.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves in the U.S., contrary to a common misconception; it applied in the ten states that were still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, but it did not cover the nearly 500,000 slaves in the slaveholding border states (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware) or in parts of Virginia and Louisiana that were no longer in rebellion. Those slaves were freed by later separate state and federal actions.
The state of Tennessee had already mostly returned to Union control, under a recognized Union government, so it was not named and was exempted. Virginia was named, but exemptions were specified for the 48 counties then in the process of forming the new state of West Virginia, and seven additional counties and two cities in the Union-controlled Tidewater region of Virginia. Also specifically exempted were New Orleans and 13 named parishes of Louisiana, which were mostly under federal control at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. These exemptions left unemancipated an additional 300,000 slaves.
The Emancipation Proclamation has been ridiculed, notably by Richard Hofstadter, who wrote that it “had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading” and “declared free all slaves…precisely where its effect could not reach”. Disagreeing with Hofstadter, William W. Freehling wrote that Lincoln’s asserting his power as Commander-in-Chief to issue the proclamation “reads not like an entrepreneur’s bill for past services but like a warrior’s brandishing of a new weapon”.
Lincoln first discussed the proclamation with his cabinet in July 1862. He drafted his “preliminary proclamation” and read it to Secretary of State William Seward, and Secretary of Navy Gideon Welles, on July 13. Seward and Welles were at first speechless, then Seward referred to possible anarchy throughout the South and resulting foreign intervention; Welles apparently said nothing. On July 22, Lincoln presented it to his entire cabinet as something he had determined to do and he asked their opinion on wording. Although Secretary of War Edwin Stanton supported it, Seward advised Lincoln to issue the proclamation after a major Union victory, or else it would appear as if the Union was giving “its last shriek of retreat”. Walter Stahr, however, writes, “There are contemporary sources, however, that suggest others were involved in the decision to delay”, and Stahr quotes them.
In September 1862, the Battle of Antietam gave Lincoln the victory he needed to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. In the battle, though the Union suffered heavier losses than the Confederates and General McClellan allowed the escape of Robert E. Lee’s retreating troops, Union forces turned back a Confederate invasion of Maryland, eliminating more than a quarter of Lee’s army in the process.
On September 22, 1862, five days after Antietam, and while residing at the Soldier’s Home, Lincoln called his cabinet into session and issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. According to Civil War historian James M. McPherson, Lincoln told cabinet members, “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee was driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.” Lincoln had first shown an early draft of the proclamation to Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, an ardent abolitionist, who was more often kept in the dark on presidential decisions. The final proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. Although implicitly granted authority by Congress, Lincoln used his powers as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy to issue the proclamation “as a necessary war measure.” Therefore, it was not the equivalent of a statute enacted by Congress or a constitutional amendment, because Lincoln or a subsequent president could revoke it. One week after issuing the final Proclamation, Lincoln wrote to Major General John McClernand: “After the commencement of hostilities I struggled nearly a year and a half to get along without touching the ‘institution’; and when finally I conditionally determined to touch it, I gave a hundred days fair notice of my purpose, to all the States and people, within which time they could have turned it wholly aside, by simply again becoming good citizens of the United States. They chose to disregard it, and I made the peremptory proclamation on what appeared to me to be a military necessity. And being made, it must stand”. Lincoln continued, however, that the states included in the proclamation could “adopt systems of apprenticeship for the colored people, conforming substantially to the most approved plans of gradual emancipation; and…they may be nearly as well off, in this respect, as if the present trouble had not occurred”. He concluded by asking McClernand not to “make this letter public”.
Initially, the Emancipation Proclamation effectively freed only a small percentage of the slaves, namely those who were behind Union lines in areas not exempted. Most slaves were still behind Confederate lines or in exempted Union-occupied areas. Secretary of State William H. Seward commented, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.” Had any slave state ended its secession attempt before January 1, 1863, it could have kept slavery, at least temporarily.
And there you have it. Nota bene:
- Quite a few Northerners still owned slaves for some years after the war was over
- Northern general US Grant was as ambivalent about slavery as his boss Lincoln, at least initially:
To his father he wrote, “My inclination is to whip the rebellion into submission, preserving all Constitutional rights. If it cannot be whipped any other way than through a war against slavery, let it come to that legitimately. If it is necessary that slavery should fall that the Republic may continue its existence, let slavery go.”
More on all that here
- Legend has it that Grant’s wife retained ownership of her personal valet for several years after the end of the war; when asked about this apparent contradiction, Grant is said to have dismissed his interlocuter with a laconic “Because good help is so hard to find nowadays”
- At the end of the war, certain Northern states and/or cities barred Nee-grows from so much as setting foot within their boundaries, decrees often enforced via violence
And so it goes. As is usually the case, the first American Civil War is not reducible to simple, easily summed-up causes and effects; it just doesn’t work that way, however much we flawed hoomons might wish otherwise. History is rich and complex, with many strange twists and turns serving to make the topic all the more interesting for those of us who study it intently.
Loathe though I ordinarily am to sing the woman’s praises, sincerest kudos to Nikki Haley for truly getting the historical nuance here, and refusing to yield to pressure from the stupes and dupes who don’t to dumb it down for them.