There was an episode on a TV show (I forget which one) in which an immigrant is being asked to answer what the cause of the civil war was and he launches into a dissertation on the various factors until the examiner cuts him off. “Just answer slavery.”
The official citizenship exam answer key lists “slavery, economic reasons” and “states’ rights” while admitting that there may be other answers, but just use these.
But we’re back to this nonsense with the controversy over Nikki Haley being asked what the cause of the civil war was.
Of all the questions you ask a presidential candidate, this isn’t one of them. I’m no fan of her, but she’s probably right that this was a plant. And her answer was a Kamala-esque word salad when she should have just ignored it and moved on.
The media is making a big thing out of it, as did the questioner, by insisting that the right answer is slavery. It’s not.
The Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery, except among the fringes on both sides. To the extent that it was fought over slavery, it was fought over the political and economic consequences of slavery. (I wonder if there would have ever been a civil war at all if the South hadn’t insisted on counting slaves for the purposes of political representation.) But we tend to forget how divided America was at the time, and how the industrial revolution and the changing economy was creating winners and losers.
Railroads vs steamboats was not much of a competition. Masses of immigrants arriving in Northern cities to work in factories and to settle the West, all but doomed the South. Some slavery advocates offered an alternative vision of expanding through Texas and down to Latin America with chains of plantations and an economy reliant on the traditional resource harvesting and exports.
That vision had lots of problems with it.
The Civil War was in some ways the final showdown between Jefferson and Hamilton over what kind of economy we would have.
Hamilton’s vision of industrialization and tariffs over lots of cheap exports to industrial powers like the UK won out. The Civil War was just the concluding act of the drama in which a lot of Southerners decided to go out on their feet rather than on their knees.
And what was the alternative except becoming the North with urbanization and immigration?
Nikki Haley, ironically enough, is the product of just such a process. She’s certainly not the old South or anything it would even recognize. She’s a technocrat and the product of immigration. And there is a certain absurdity in her inability to cope with the question.