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 firstname.lastname@example.org