Tariffs, Not slavery

by: Jack McMillan, Ph.D.

Contrary to what is now taught, slavery was not the primary issue.

Sorry, Julian, Jesse, and victims of public indoctrination everywhere,

but here are the inconvenient facts.

The American educational system continues perpetuating a myth regarding

the War for Southern Independence [often mistakenly called ‘The

Civil War,’ a misnomer.] Teachers using government-mandated, Northern-produced

texts inform students the conflict centered solely on slavery, with

Abraham Lincoln ‘The Great Emancipator’ sending Union troops to

‘make men free.’ Nothing could be more untrue. We realize the wisdom

in the adages that history-books are written by the victors and

that truth is war’s first casualty. Like other complex human activities,

wars often have a number of underlying causes. In this article,

I shall provide the reader with an overview of the primary causi

belli of the War for Southern Independence, the issue of tariffs.

Far from being a mundane topic, taxation has been at the heart

of the American political spirit. The original thirteen American

colonies formally dissolved ties with the British Empire due to

the issue of taxation without representation. Penned by that great

Virginian Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence stands

out as this nation’s first Article of Secession. In it, the colonies’

grievances are listed. Amongst the litany of injustices committed

by King George III, Jefferson mentions ‘For imposing Taxes upon

us without our Consent.’ This split over taxation is a recurring

theme in American history.

The precursor to Southern secession in fact occurred 30 years before

the hostilities of 1861-1865. In 1828 and again in 1832, Congress

passed tariffs legislation benefitting northern mercantile interests

but injuring the South’s agricultural economy. Heavy protectionist

tariffs gave northern manufacturers an advantage by decreasing foreign

competition, but forced the South to pay the bulk of federal taxes,

as the South was a net exporter of raw goods and a net importer

of manufactured products. These ‘Tariffs of Abominations’ led Senator

John C. Calhoun to declare the law unjust and a convention was held

in South Carolina to nullify the federal tariff law. President Andrew

Jackson threatened to send troops to enforce the tariff, but eventually

the Compromise of 1833 was reached and taxes were lowered over a

four-year period. As Professor Charles Adams states in his book

For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization,

"…the South paid about three-quarters of all federal taxes,

most of which were spent in the North."

The election of 1860 was perhaps the most contentious in American

history. The Democratic Party split, with the northern faction voting

for Stephen Douglass and the southern faction for John Breckinridge.

Additionally the Constitutional Unionist Party [the renamed Whig

Party] ran John Bell as a candidate and carried three states [Tennessee,

Kentucky, and Virginia.] Lincoln won with a mere 39% of the popular

and not a single electoral vote from the South. As Salomon DeRothschild,

a visitor to America at the time wrote, "This state of affairs

could have continued … if the two divisions, South and North,

of the Democratic party had not split at the last electoral convention.

Since each of them carried a different candidate, they surrendered

power to a third thief, Lincoln, the Republican choice."

The secession of Southern States began with South Carolina, where

tax issues had been at the forefront 30 years earlier. Contrary

to what is now taught, slavery was not the primary issue. While

it is unfortunate slavery existed, the blame cannot placed solely

on the South; slavery existed in the North as well [it is interesting

to note Delaware, a Northern slave state, refused to ratify the

13th Amendment abolishing the institution.] Further, New England

slavers from their homeports in Massachusetts and New York brought

slaves to America in the first place.

With the election of Lincoln, the South realized northern manufacturers

and bankers would have their puppet in the White House. Again Professor

Adams states, "…Lincoln was supported in his bid for the

presidency by the rich industrialists of the North. He was their

man and he had long been their lawyer… No sooner had Congress

assembled in 1861 than the high tariff was passed into law and signed

by Lincoln. The Morrill Tariff, as it was called, was the highest

tariff in U.S. history." Adams also notes, "Secession

by the South was a reaction against Lincoln’s high-tax policy. In

1861 the slave issue was not critical… The leaders of the South

believed secession would attract trade to Charleston, Savannah,

and new Orleans, replacing Boston, New York, and Philadelphia as

the chief trading ports of America, primarily because of low taxes."

Note the Confederacy lowered taxes! To the charge often leveled

that the newly formed Confederacy started the hostilities, Adams

correctly points out "…with the import taxes, he [Lincoln]

was threatening. Fort Sumter was at the entrance to the Charleston

Harbor, filled with federal troops to support U.S. Customs officers.

It wasn’t too difficult for angry South Carolinians to fire the

first shot." Again, Rothschild writing to his cousin in London

in 1861 notes, "I’ll come back later to the ‘slavery’ question,

which was the first pretext for secession, but which was just a

pretext and is now secondary. The true reason which impelled the

Southern states to secede is the question of tariffs."

Lincoln’s election guaranteed a return of past disastrous policies

and forced the Southern States to secede. Writers of the day confirm

this. In Great Britain, many intellectuals and political leaders

saw Lincoln’s War for exactly what it was – a dispute over taxation.

Charles Dickens writes, "The Northern onslaught upon slavery

was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal

its desire for economic control of the Southern States." Dickens

goes on to say "…Union means so many millions a year lost

to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the

North. The love of money is the root of this as of many other evils…

The quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely

a fiscal quarrel." Let us quote a passage from the Northern

British Review, Edinburgh, 1862, "…All Northern products

are now protected: and the Morrill Tariff is a very masterpiece

of folly and injustice. No wonder then that the citizens of the

seceding States should feel for half a century they have sacrificed

to enhance the powers and profits of the North; and should conclude,

after much futile remonstrance, that only in secession could they

hope to find redress."

I shall conclude this article with a passage written by John Reagan,

Postmaster General of the Confederacy. "You are not content

with the vast millions of tribute we pay you annually under the

operation of our revenue laws, our navigation laws, your fishing

bounties, and by making your people our manufacturers, our merchants,

our shippers. You are not satisfied with the vast tribute we pay

you to build up your great cities, your railroads, and your canals.

You are not satisfied with the millions of tribute we have been

paying you on account of the balance of exchange, which you hold

against us. You are not satisfied that we of the South are almost

reduced to the condition of overseers of northern capitalists. You

are not satisfied with all this; but you must wage a relentless

crusade against our rights."

© 2002 by Connie Ward, 180 Degrees True South 180dts@bellsouth.net