The GOP presidential contender later amended her response to a question from an attendee at a campaign event.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has come under fire after failing to mention slavery when asked about the causes of the US Civil War, in which a coalition of pro-slavery southern states attempted to secede from the US.
At a campaign event on Wednesday evening, Haley was asked about the causes of the Civil War by an attendee. Democrats and political rivals slammed her response, which she has since amended.
“In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word ‘slavery’,” the attendee remarked on Wednesday after Haley gave an answer focused on “how government was going to run”.
The former South Carolina governor has since clarified her response.
“Of course, the Civil War was about slavery,” Haley said on Thursday in an effort to correct the omission.
Haley’s rivals pilloried her answer, with US President Joe Biden posting a video of her response on social media with a caption reading “It was about slavery.”
“If Nikki Haley can’t answer this basic political 101 question and then it takes her over 12 hrs to sloppily attempt to clean it up, she just isn’t ready for the bright lights of the nomination process,” wrote David Polyansky, an adviser to fellow GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis.
While a substantial consensus exists among historians that slavery was the primary driver of the US Civil War, which took place from 1861-1865, claims to the contrary remain popular among US conservatives, especially in the southern states.
Those divisions have emerged more clearly in recent years. As debates about the legacy of racism take place across the country, symbols of the Confederacy, for which the maintenance of slavery and white supremacy was a primary impulse, have become sites of contention.
Such symbols include monuments commemorating figures from the Confederacy, many of them erected during periods of anti-Black violence long after the end of the Civil War, and the flag of the Confederacy, which Haley was previously criticised for calling a sign of “heritage”.
In 2015, however, she signed a bill removing the Confederate battle flag from the site of the South Carolina state capitol, after a white supremacist named Dylann Roof gunned down nine Black churchgoers in a bloody attack.
Roof had posted photos waving the Confederate flag and visiting Confederate heritage sites. Haley said he had “hijacked” the flag, while others suggested that his racist attack was a faithful continuation of the ideals embodied in the Confederacy.