Lincoln On Tariffs



As for sources for President Lincoln’s thoughts on collecting
tariff revenues, there are two sources from the time (April 1861)
that address the issue:

From the Baltimore Exchange, 23d ult. (i.e. April 23, 1861)
Interview between Messengers of Peace and Mr. Lincoln

The Baltimore Sun has the following in relation to the interview
between the President and a committee of the "Young Men’s
Christian Association of Baltimore," it says:

We learn that a delegation from five of the Young Men’s Christian
Associations of Baltimore, consisting of six members of each,
yesterday proceeded to Washington for an interview with the President,
the purpose being to intercede with him in behalf a peaceful policy,
and to entreat him not to pass troops through Baltimore or Maryland.
The Rev. Dr. Fuller, of the Baptist church, accompanied the party,
by invitation, as chairman, and the conversation was conducted
mainly between him and Mr. Lincoln, and was not heard entire by
all the members of the Convention.

Our informant, however, vouches for what we now write. He states
that upon the introduction, they were received very cordially
by Mr. Lincoln—a sort of rude familiarity of manner –
and the conversation opened by Dr. Fuller seeking to impress upon
Mr. Lincoln the vast responsibility of the position he occupied,
and that upon him depended the issues, of peace or war—on
one hand a terrible, fratricidal conflict, and on the other peace.
“But” said Mr. Lincoln, what am I to do?”

“Why, sir, let the country know that you are disposed to
recognize the independence of the Southern States. I say nothing
of secession; recognize the fact that they have formed a Government
of their own; that they will never be united again with the North,
and peace will instantly take the place of anxiety and suspense,
and war may he averted.” “AND WHAT SHALL BECOME OF
(Emphasis added, not in the original)

Dr. Fuller expressed the opinion that the Northern States would
constitute an imposing government and furnish revenue, but our
informant could not follow the exact terms of the remark.

(Reprinted in the Memphis Daily Avalanche May 8th 1861, pg.1,
col. 4.)

Second episode:

At an interview between Virginia Convention Delegate John B. Baldwin
and President Lincoln on April 4th, 1861, Baldwin suggested to
Lincoln that “in order to prevent the possibility of any
collision or clash of arms interfering with this effort at a pacific
settlement, I would declare the purpose (not in any admission
of want of right at all, but with a distinct protest of the right,
to place the forces of the United States wherever in her territory
you choose) to withdraw the forces from Sumter and Pickens, declaring
that it was done for the sake of peace, in the effort to settle
this thing; … He said something about the withdrawal of
the troops from Sumter on the ground of military necessity. Said
I, "that will never do under heaven. You have been President
a month to-day, and if you intended to hold that position you
ought to have strengthened it, so as to make it impregnable. To
hold it in the present condition of force there is an invitation
to assault. Go upon higher ground than that. The better ground
than that is to make a concession of an asserted right in the
interest of peace."-"Well," said he, "WHAT
(Emphasis added, not in the original)

Said I, "Sir, how much do you expect to collect in a year?"
Said he, "Fifty or sixty millions." "Why sir,"
said I, "four times sixty is two hundred and forty. Say $250,000,000
would be the revenue of your term of the presidency; what is that
but a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of such a war
as we are threatened with? Let it all go, if necessary; but I
do not believe that it will be necessary, because I believe that
you can settle it on the basis I suggest." He said something
or other about feeding the troops at Sumter. I told him that would
not do. Said I, "You know perfectly well that the people
of Charleston have been feeding them already. That is not what
they are at. They are asserting a right. They will feed the troops
and fight them while they are feeding them. They are after the
assertion of a right. Now, the only way that you can manage them
is to withdraw from them the means of making a blow until time
for reflection, time for influence which can be brought to bear,
can be gained, and settle the matter. If you do not take this
course, if there is a gun fired at Sumter-I do not care on which
side it is fired-the thing is gone." "Oh," said
he, "sir, that is impossible." Said I, "Sir, if
there is a gun fired at Sumter, as sure as there is a God in heaven
the thing is gone. Virginia herself, strong as the Union majority
is now, will be out in forty-eight hours."

(From testimony before the Reconstruction Committee of the US
Congress by Mr. Baldwin in 1866,

augusta/p3baldwininterview.html#baldwin” target=”_blank”>

Note the commonality between the two distinct episodes. In both
cases, in separate conversations in the month of April 1861, when
others suggested the withdrawal of the Federal forces from Sumter,
Abraham Lincoln expressed concern, first and foremost, that in
the event of such a withdrawal, the revenue could not be collected.
Sounds like collection of tariff revenues was pretty near the
top of the list of Lincoln’s concerns.


Jon White