Nikki Haley was asked what caused the Civil War. She didn't mention slavery.

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WASHINGTON — Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley failed to mention slavery when asked what caused the Civil War in a town hall Wednesday, drawing backlash from both her Republican and Democratic rivals.

During the town hall in Berlin, New Hampshire, a voter asked Haley, “What was the cause of the United States Civil War?”

“Well don’t come with an easy question or anything," Haley responded. "I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how the government was going to run. The freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”

She then redirected the question to the voter, who said he wasn’t the one running for president and wanted to hear her answer. Haley continued that Americans need economic freedom and other liberties without government interference.

“Thank you,” the voter said. “In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you’d answer that question without mentioning the word slavery.”

Haley then asked the voter, “What do you want me to say about slavery?” to which the voter replied, “You’ve answered my question. Thank you.”

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley shakes hands with a supporter during a campaign stop at K & B Emporium on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Clear Lake, Ia.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley shakes hands with a supporter during a campaign stop at K & B Emporium on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023, in Clear Lake, Ia.

President Joe Biden quickly seized on the moment, sharing a video on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, of Haley’s exchange with the voter and adding “It was about slavery.”

Haley, who has been gaining momentum in the Granite State behind former President Donald Trump, also faced criticism from her Republican rivals.

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy shared on X, “I think she mistook him for a Super PAC donor.” And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign shared a clip of the exchange with the caption “Yikes” on X.

Asked about the exchange on Thursday, Haley said on The Pulse of NH, "Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's the easy part."

In 2015, during Haley's tenure as governor of South Carolina, she signed a bill to remove a Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse following a shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that left nine Black Americans dead. 

However, in 2019, Haley defended the Confederate flag in an interview with conservative radio host Glenn Beck, saying that South Carolinans saw it as “service, sacrifice and heritage” before the 2015 shooter “hijacked” it.

What caused the Civil War?

The Civil War began 1861, sparked largely by debates over slavery in the U.S. It was also fueled by connected tensions over westward expansion and the individual rights of states.

While manufacturing and industry was booming in the northern part of the country at the time, the American South mainly depended on agriculture and farming. The industries relied on enslaved Black Americans growing crops such as cotton and tobacco.

However, there was a growing opposition in the North over the expansion of slavery into new western territories.

After Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which enabled slavery in swaths of the country, pro and anti-slavery forces battled over the issue known as “Bleeding Kansas.”

After former President Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, seven states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. Four additional southern states followed suit.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nikki Haley failed to mention slavery when asked about the Civil War