More Trouble for the Lincoln Cartel

by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

The majority of academic
historians have as their first and foremost goal remaining
a member in good standing of their profession. This means
never seriously challenging the template of ideas that is
closely guarded by the gatekeepers of the profession –
the "senior scholars" who edit the journals, make
recommendations for jobs and research grants, sit on editorial
boards of university presses, review books in the New York
Times and other prominent newspapers, and even appear frequently
on cable television documentaries. These are people who have
built reputations and careers on perpetuating their view of
history, and they do all they can to protect their "human
capital." "Academic freedom" is not all that
it’s cracked up to be.

Consequently, some of the most interesting and worthwhile
works of history increasingly come from outside of academe,
where researchers and writers are much more free to pursue
the truth as they see it without having to kowtow to the
petty academic "gatekeepers." The work of Paul
Johnson would be a good example, or Gore Vidal, John Steele
Gordon, and others. Indeed, when Charles Adams proposed
to his former publisher, Simon and Schuster, that he turn
the chapter on the "Civil War" from his book,
For Good and Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of
Civilization into a book, the publisher loved the idea but
told him that the "gatekeepers" would not give
it a fair hearing, and so they declined. (The book was subsequently
published as When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing
the Case for Southern Secession, by Rowman and Littlefield).

Nowhere are the "gatekeepers" more zealous than
in guarding the Official View of Abraham Lincoln and the
War to Prevent Southern Independence. For the Lincoln Myth
is the cornerstone of the ideology of the American state,
from which flows a steady stream of pelf and perks to the
gatekeepers in their role as court historians. That is why
they must be especially troubled that yet another "outsider"
– this time a New York Times editorialist no less
(!) – has written a book that challenges some of the
gatekeepers’ Lincoln mythology.

The book is The Great Tax Wars: Lincoln to Wilson –
The Fierce Battles Over Money and Power That Transformed the
Nation, by Steven R. Weisman. Weisman covered politics, economics,
and international affairs for the New York Times for more
than 30 years, and is currently one of the paper’s editorial
writers. The book is a general (popular) history of the income
tax in America beginning in the 1860s, but there are several
passages that really stand out with regard to the Lincoln
regime. In particular, in discussing southern secession Weisman
writes (p. 22):

South Carolina went first. The state’s grievances
had been long-standing and not simply focused on slavery.
Its major complaint went to the heart of the nation’s
finances – tariffs. A generation earlier, South Carolina
had provoked a states’ rights crisis over its doctrine
that states could "nullify" or override, the national
tariff system. The nullification fight in 1832 was actually
a tax revolt. It pitted the state’s spokesman, Vice
President John C. Calhoun, against President Andrew Jackson.
Because tariffs rewarded manufacturers but punished farmers
with higher prices on everything they needed – clothing,
farm equipment and even essential food products like salt
and meats – Calhoun argued that the tariff system
was discriminatory and unconstitutional. Calhoun’s
antitariff battle was a rebellion against a system seen
throughout the South as protecting the producers of the
North (emphasis added).

It is clear to Weisman, and to anyone else who briefly
studies the antebellum, North-South tariff battles, that
tariff exploitation was just as important to South Carolina
(and the rest of the South) in 1860 as it was twenty-eight
years earlier (See Mark Thornton and Robert B. Ekelund,
Jr., Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of
the Civil War). After the sharp recession of 1857, the Republican
Party gained enough political momentum to have the U.S.
House of Representatives pass the Morrill Tariff, which
more than doubled the average tariff rate, during the 1859–60
session, before Lincoln’s election and before any
southern state had seceded. It was signed into law two days
before Lincoln’s inauguration by President Buchanan,
a staunch Pennsylvania protectionist. (Lincoln lobbied vigorously
for the bill, telling a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania audience
a few weeks before his inauguration that it was the most
important issue facing their congressional representatives,
bar none).

To the South the tariff was all cost and no benefit; its
manufacturers did not significantly benefit from it, whereas
it caused Southern consumers to pay more for hundreds of
items. Worse yet, they could not pass on the higher cost
of living caused by the tariff to their customers, since
they sold some three-fourths of what they produced on fiercely
competitive international markets. To add insult to injury,
protectionist tariffs that restricted trade left America’s
trading partners with less money with which to purchase
American exports, especially the cotton and tobacco that
was grown in the South. Thus, protectionist tariffs imposed
a triple dose of harm to the South, but benefited the North
in two ways: it protected Northern manufacturers from competition,
allowing them to raise their prices; and most of the money
raised by the tariff was being spent in the North. To the
South, protectionist tariffs were an unconstitutional instrument
of plunder, just as Calhoun argued; to the North they were
a convenient instrument with which they could plunder their
fellow citizens in the southern states.

Weisman is undoubtedly familiar with the reasons that Jefferson
Davis gave for secession in his first inaugural address.
The word slavery does not appear in the address, which instead
emphasized economic exploitation of the South by the Northern
special-interest groups that had become so powerful in Congress.

There can be no cause to doubt that the courage and patriotism
of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal
to any measure of defence which may be required for their
security. Devoted to agricultural pursuits, their chief
interest is the export of a commodity required in every
manufacturing country [cotton]. Our policy is peace, and
the freest trade our necessities will permit. It is alike
our interest, and that of all those to whom we would sell
and from whom we would buy, that there should be the fewest
practicable restrictions upon the interchange of commodities.

The typical approach of academic historians (and many others)
is to smear, denigrate, and demonize Jefferson Davis, good
little court historians that they are. But Weisman paints
a more accurate portrait of Davis, whom he describes as
a hero of the Mexican War, former Secretary of War, a U.S.
Senator, and "a vigorous exponent of the view that
the war was, at its core, not a fight to preserve slavery
but a struggle to overthrow an exploitative economic system
headquartered in the North" (p. 52).

Moreover, writes Weisman, "There was a great deal
of evidence to support Davis’s view of the South as
the nation’s stepchild" (p. 52). "The South
had to import two-thirds of its clothing and manufactured
goods from outside the region, and southerners paid artificially
high prices because of the high tariffs…. The South even
had to import food…." The North’s economy
was based on "a kind of state capitalism of trade barriers,
government-sponsored railroads" and "public investment
in canals, roads and other infrastructures," paid for
in large part with Southern taxes. "Southern resentment
of the tariff system propelled the Democratic Party to define
itself as the main challenger" to this corrupt, mercantilist
system, writes Weisman (p. 53).

This system of "state capitalism" was also called
"The American System" by Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln’s
political idol. Lincoln devoted his entire involvement in
politics prior to becoming president to pursuing this agenda
first as a Whig, then as a Republican. He became the Republican
Party nominee precisely because of his long record as a
"state capitalist" or mercantilist, just as Jefferson
Davis was chosen to lead the South because of his opposition
to the same policies.

Some court historians, such as Harry Jaffa and his followers
(MacKubin Thomas Owens, Ken Masugi, and Thomas Krannawitter,
for example) wrongly state that the statement of this fact
– that Northern interest groups were using the apparatus
of the state to plunder their fellow citizens – is
somehow "Marxist analysis" and should therefore
be dismissed. But the Jaffa-ites are ignorant of the long
history of the classical liberal or libertarian "class"
analysis. Unlike Marxian class analysis, which claims that
the working class is exploited by the capitalist class,
libertarian class analysis merely recognizes that in any
democracy there will inevitably be a collection of interests,
which may change in its composition from time to time, that
will be the "tax consumers" or net beneficiaries
of government intervention, who benefit at the expense of
net taxpayers. It has nothing to do with Marx’s bogus
class analysis, but focuses instead on the reality of interest-group
politics in democracies that has been studied for literally
hundreds of years, even before the time of Adam Smith. Indeed,
Adam Smith’s Magnus Opus, The Wealth of Nations, was
a critique of mercantilist exploitation in the England of
his time (1776) and includes a good bit of libertarian class
analysis. Nothing could be further from the doctrines of
Karl Marx than the writings of Adam Smith, but the Jaffa-ites
are completely ignorant of this difference.

The Northern political regime was clearly fearful of the free-trade
doctrines of Adam Smith in 1860, so fearful that some Northern
newspapers that were affiliated with the Republican Party
advocated the bombing of southern ports before Fort Sumter
because of their understanding that the new Confederate Constitution
had outlawed protectionist tariffs altogether. With a 33%–50%
tariff in the U.S. and a modest 10% tariff rate in the Confederacy,
much of the trade of the world would have been diverted to
the Southern ports, and this was not to be tolerated.
The Newark [N.J.] Daily Advertiser, which was a Republican
Party mouthpiece, warned on April 2, 1861, that the "free-trade
doctrines of Adam Smith" were dangerously popular in
the South as southerners had "taken to their bosoms the
liberal and popular doctrine of free trade" and that
they "might be willing to go . . . toward free trade
with the European powers." This "must operate to
the serious disadvantage of the North," as "commerce
will be largely diverted to the Southern cities." And,
"We apprehend that the chief instigator of the present
troubles – South Carolina – have all along for
years been preparing the way for the adoption of free trade."
This must be stopped, the New Jersey paper editorialized,
by "the closing of the [Southern] ports" by military
force (see Howard C. Perkins, Northern Editorials on Secession,
p. 601). This of course is exactly what Lincoln set out do
to, two weeks after Fort Sumter, in announcing a naval blockade
of the South. In doing so he offered the nation one reason
and one reason only for the blockade: tariff collection.

Copyright © 2004