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The Morrill Tariff Northern Provocation to Southern Secession

posted Jul 14, 2015 18:37:11 by Consfearacynewz
Most Americans believe that the U.S. “Civil War” was just about slavery. They have to an enormous degree been miseducated. Since the early 1960s, powerful academic and political interests have been straining every nerve to sustain the myth that the war was a glorious moral crusade against slavery. How to handle the multi-faceted problem of slavery was often a divisive issue but not in the overly-simplified moral sense that lives in postwar and modern propaganda. But had there been no Morrill Tariff, the major cotton-exporting states would not have been so strongly compelled to secede, and there might never have been a war. The conflict that cost the lives of over 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and at least 50,000 Southern civilians and impoverished many millions for generations might never have been.1
The Morrill Tariff, named for Justin Morrill, Vermont Republican and steel manufacturer, was a shamelessly partisan protectionist tax bill submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee during the 35th Congress in 1858. The object of its astonishing 67 percent increase2 in import tariff burdens was to allow protected U.S. industries to raise their prices and enjoy the resulting benefit of substantially increased profits without significant price competition from abroad. This tariff was so unjust in its impact on consumers, agricultural interests, exporters, and especially the Southern cotton-producing states, that it became a major provocation and economic incentive to Southern secession, when it finally passed the House on May 10, 1860.
In 1860, there was no Federal income tax in the United States. Approximately 95 percent of all Federal government revenues came from tariffs on imported goods.3 Land sales accounted for most of the rest. Tariffs, collected at entry ports, had the advantage of being easier to collect than individual income or property taxes. Their disadvantage to cost-effective government, however, was that they were an invisible tax burden on a largely unwary electorate.


The Morrill Tariff raised the average dutiable ad valorem tax on imports from just under 20 percent in 1860, regulated by the low-tariff 1857 Act, to an average of over 36 percent in 1862, with dutiable rates scheduled to go to 47 percent within three years. Because some import items are needed by protected industries, they are often exempted or non-dutiable, so the overall average tariff in 1860 was less than 16 percent, but the Morrill Tariff increased it by 67 percent to an average overall rate of over 26 percent by 1862.4
In 1860, the South accounted for almost 82 percent of U.S. export business.5 Over 58 percent was from cotton alone.6 The South was largely dependent, however, on Europe or the North for the manufactured goods needed for both agricultural production and consumers. U.S. tariff revenues already fell disproportionately on the South, accounting for over 83 percent of the total, even before the Morrill Tariff. Furthermore, the population of the South was less than half that of the North. Still more galling was that 75 to 80 percent of these tax revenues were expended on Northern public works and industrial subsidies, thus further enriching the North at the expense of the South.7
Although it was remarkably reminiscent of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, which had led in 1832 to a Constitutional crisis over South Carolina’s nullification of both the 1828 and 1832 tariff laws, accompanied by South Carolina threats of secession and Andrew Jackson’s threats of Federal armed force, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill 105 to 64. Only one of 40 Southern representatives voted for it. It did not come before the Senate until February 20, 1861, after Lincoln’s election. It passed 25 to 14, with no Southern or Border State votes. Lincoln and the Republican Party had made passing the Morrill Tariff their primary campaign issue, and Republican Congressmen voted for it 89 to 2 in the House and 24 to zero in the Senate8. Excluding slavery from new territories and states (not the emancipation of slaves) was a subordinate priority to high tariffs. President Buchanan, a Pennsylvania Democrat, signed it into law two days before Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861.
There is little continuity between the political philosophies of the Democratic and Republican parties of the mid to late 19th Century with their modern counterparts. Democrat and “conservative” were virtual synonyms in that era. Republicans favored
high protectionist import taxes, corporate subsidies, and monetary policies that many modern Republicans would strongly disavow.
John Spence, a British political analyst writing in 1862, was appalled at “the outrageous duties imposed on articles of prime importance, at a time, when all other civilized countries were reducing duties and removing impediments to trade.” His censure was bare-knuckled:

“It would be difficult to contrive more ingenious machinery for dealing injustice, restricting commerce, perplexing merchants, creating disputes, inviting chicanery, or driving officers of the customs to despair.”9

While protectionist tariffs benefit selected industries or commercial interests, they punish everybody else. The higher prices charged by protected business interests are passed on to consumers whose purchasing power and standard of living are thus lowered. Their reduced purchasing power reduces demand for consumer products and negatively impacts employment demand. Businesses that must use the higher-priced protected goods also experience increased costs of production and services.
Protectionism is particularly hard on exporters. Besides their direct effect on the cost of doing business, tariffs negatively impact the exchange rate at which exports can be exchanged for products burdened with increased tariffs. In effect, not only are the exporters’ costs at home increased, but they are also likely to get less for their product on exchange. Furthermore, exporters often face retaliatory tariffs that result in lost business. The Morrill Tariff jeopardized the South’s cotton market in Europe, because the British and other European textile manufacturers could develop alternative sources of raw cotton in Brazil and India. The Confederate Constitution outlawed protective tariffs, and the Confederate Congress set a free-trade course using the more favorable 1857 U.S Tariff law as a guideline. Most dutiable rates were set at 15 percent or less.
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Consfearacynewz said Jul 14, 2015 18:37:35
Two days before Lincoln’s election in November of 1860, the Charleston Mercury editorialized:

“The real causes of dissatisfaction in the South with the North, are in the unjust taxation and expenditure of the taxes by the Government of the United States, and in the revolution the North has effected in this government, from a confederated republic, to a national sectional despotism.”10

Writing from London in 1861, a political analyst favoring the Northern cause summarized what the major British newspapers were saying:

“The war between the North and South is a tariff war. The war, is further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of slavery, and in fact turns on the Northern lust for power.”11

Many apologists for the Union invasion and war against the South have dismissed the Morrill Tariff as a provocation to war because many Southern States had already seceded before it was passed by the Senate and signed by President Buchanan. However, John Spence, addressing the issue in 1862, wrote:

“The cotton States had indeed seceded previously; but why? Because, as we have seen, political power had passed into the hands of the North, and they anticipated from the change, an utter disregard of their interests, and a course of policy opposed to the spirit of the Constitution, and to their rights under it. Was it possible to offer to the world more prompt or convincing proof than this tariff affords, that their apprehensions were well founded.”12

As John C. Calhoun of South Carolina frequently pointed out, any tax measure that has a disparate and damaging effect on different regional or commercial interests is inherently unconstitutional. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides that:

“…all duties, imports, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

Article 5, Section 9 ordains that:

“No tax, or duty, shall be laid upon articles exported from any State. No preference shall be given, by any regulation of commerce or revenue, to the ports of one State, over those of another.”

The clearly manifest spirit of these Constitutional provisions is not that duties should be uniform in rate, but that they should be uniform in effect. The intent of these measures is to prohibit any legislation that gives preference to special commercial interests, geographic regions, states, or ports. Surely, it prohibits any tariff that damages other commercial interests or geographic regions for the benefit of another. The Confederate Constitution, recognizing the injustice and turmoil caused by much of the tariff legislation of the past 40 years, allowed for low rate revenue tariffs but prohibited protective tariffs.
The furious national debate between free trade and protectionism did not arrive at the House Ways and Means Committee in 1858. It dates all the way back to 1789, and by 1824 it had become a heated sectional division between North and South. Protectionism was a key policy plank in the newly formed Republican Party in 1856. It had been a key plank of Henry Clay’s “American System” that called for high protective tariffs, “internal improvements,” and a national bank. These were also the central policies of Clay’s Whig Party formed in the 1830s as an anti-Jackson alternative. Clay’s American System policies were essentially those of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists. The Whigs, however, collapsed after the 1852 election, when the Exclusionist faction (advocating exclusion of slaves from the territories) prevented the nomination of their own incumbent, Millard Fillmore, and nominated General Winfield Scott, who was trounced in the general election by Democrat Franklin Pierce. Most Whigs, including Abraham Lincoln, then abandoned the party. Most Northern Whigs joined the new Republican Party in 1855-56. They were joined by refugees from the defunct Free Soil Party that wanted to exclude non-whites altogether from new territories and the American Party (nick-named the No-Nothing Party) that was opposed to non-British and non-Protestant immigration.
Clay’s protectionist tariffs, “internal improvements,” and national banking policies, as well as the exclusion of slavery from new territories continued as main planks in the Republican Platforms of 1856 and 1860. Lincoln, an enthusiastic admirer of Henry Clay, strongly supported all of them. “Internal improvements” meant government subsidies to private industry and often devolved into “crony” capitalism and corporate welfare. They turned out to be the source of considerable corruption. Central banking, unfortunately, allowed the government to print “greenbacks” unsupported by gold or silver reserves. This also turned out to be an inflationary and corruption-prone policy. It should also be strongly emphasized that the exclusionist policy of the Republican Party was not a policy to abolish slavery, but only to keep slavery out of the new territories. Its intent, however, was not only to protect labor in the new territories from competition by slave labor. Probably a majority of Republicans, wanted to exclude blacks altogether from these territories and reserve them for “free white labor,” as both David Wilmot and Abraham Lincoln had suggested.13 The state laws of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Oregon, and several other states effectively accomplished just that and thereby set the example for future “black laws” or ”Jim Crowe” laws that they would subsequently denounce when enacted by several Southern states following Reconstruction.14
Nineteenth Century Democrats, North and South, emphasized limited Constitutional government, and most of them believed in free trade as opposed to protectionism. The Republican Party from its birth was essentially a big-business-big-government party that, in addition to its protectionist trade policies, was often willing to sacrifice the Constitution to progress and national greatness. They often gave lip-service to the Constitution but seldom let it get in the way of centralizing and enlarging government power and Northern economic and political dominance. Many within the Republican ranks identified themselves as conservatives. At the other end of the spectrum were the self-identified Radical Republicans, who were ideological statists. The “moderates” were in the middle and most numerous, but they were in the middle of a political party whose policies were based on Alexander Hamilton’s pursuit of economic growth and national greatness through centralized government power and intervention. The Democratic Party of today is almost an ideological opposite of the conservative Democratic Party of the 19th Century. The modern Republican Party has in general drifted closer to the Constitutional and free enterprise moorings of 19th Century Jeffersonian Democrats, especially during the term of Ronald Reagan, whose influential legacy still persists.
The economic policies of Henry Clay and the Whig Party and its offspring, the Republican Party of 1856, were closer to British mercantilism than free enterprise and classical economic freedom. As Britain and other Colonial powers exploited their colonies and concentrated their profits at home, 19th Century Republican economics exploited Southern states just as if they were mere U.S. colonies. During the Reconstruction era, the radical wing of the Republican Party gained dominance and established an unenviable record of injustice, exploitation, unbridled greed, and punitive government that held back Southern recovery and African-American progress for generations. Reconstruction was no Marshall Plan. It was vicious and unconscionable plunder and political tyranny. Protective tariff policies prevailed until the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912. Tariffs were then reduced under the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act of 1913.
Protective tariff policies, import quotas, and corporate subsidies are political behavior that economists call “rent-seeking.” It is the practice of establishing economic advantage by government regulation rather than successful free market competition. In rent-seeking economies, lobbyists seek special privileges and exemptions to establish monopolies, protection from foreign or domestic competition, government subsidies, and government contracts. They often seek government regulations that would crush competitors. While lip-service is paid to economic freedoms, the reality of more and more legislative control and regulation of the economy makes new business starts-ups more difficult and continuously hinders the ability of small and mid-size firms to prosper. This departure from classical economic competition has produced a new breed of “political entrepreneurs” who succeed primarily by influencing government to enact favorable legislation or to establish regulations that reduce competition.
Lincoln campaigned hard for higher tariff rates before and during the Republican Convention and during the general election of 1860. Pro-tariff Pennsylvania was vitally important to winning the Republican nomination and, as a swing state, vitally important to winning the general election. In addition, New York and New Jersey were crucial industrial swing states that could be won by an appeal for higher tariffs. Increased tariff levels also ranked high among the objectives of the 1856 and 1860 Republican platforms. The evidence is strong that Lincoln made high tariffs his primary campaign message and the highest priority for the Lincoln Administration.
This is made perfectly clear by Pennsylvania Republican Thaddeus Stevens, a sponsor of the Morrill Tariff and as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of nine men who wrote the bill. On September 27, 1860, Stevens addressed a Republican rally in New York City in the Cooper Union Hall for the Advancement of Science and Art. He told them that there were two main issues in the presidential campaign: excluding slavery from the national territories and raising Federal import taxes. Of these two, he told the crowd, raising Federal import taxes was the most important. He emphasized that Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party strongly supported raising Federal import taxes much higher. But the other four candidates—Breckenridge, Douglas, Everett, and Bell—favored keeping them the same or even lowering them to nearly
free-trade levels.15
Stevens acknowledged that a dramatic increase in the tariff would cause people in the South and West to suffer and remain poor, while people living in the Northeast would gain wealth through increased industrial production and the higher prices manufacturers would be able to charge for goods. He warned that the Southern States would never develop manufacturing and commerce as long as their state governments permitted African slavery. To be prosperous, the South would somehow have to do away with African slavery.16

Stevens, who also owned an iron works facility, was the floor leader for the tariff bill and would later become Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He became the leader of the Radical Republicans in the House, and after Lincoln’s death, many referred to him as “the Boss of America.” He was also a radical abolitionist who authored much of the oppressive anti-Southern legislation of Reconstruction. Stevens was not a cordial person, and he had a ruthless and dictatorial style of leadership. However, he was an intense and persuasive speaker. Many Democrats thought him a perfect demagogue and not averse to exaggeration and emotional appeal:

“Let us now see which of the candidates are in favor of a policy of low import taxes which depresses the price of agricultural produce, destroys our manufacturing enterprises, breaks down our iron works, throws laborers out of employment, and brings suffering, if not starvation, on their families.”i

In truth, all the social and economic ills he describes would more likely fall on the Southern victims of protective tariffs. He was particularly hard on the Northern and Southern Democratic parties, describing them as evil and detestable. Stevens’ political punch line intending to alarm his audience was that:

“Both the northern states Democratic Party and the southern states Democratic Party have adopted a platform plank that declare in favor of progressive free trade throughout the world.“18

In closing, he discounted the possibility of Southern secession but promised that if they did secede, he would “lead an invasion to hang everyone involved.”19

Lincoln strongly endorsed the newly passed Morrill Tariff during his inaugural speech, and though most of his speech was conciliatory on slavery, he promised to enforce collection of the tariff whether or not the Southern States remained in the Union. After promising that his objective was only to defend and maintain the Union, he added:

“In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it is forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no use of force against or among the people anywhere…” (Italic emphasis added.).20

In other words, there would be no Federal violence against Southern states except to collect the tariff and to secure control of the places where it might be collected, for example, Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. It is obvious from his inaugural speech that Lincoln’s conciliatory words on slavery contrasted with his hard line on tariffs. Raising the tariff was by far his most important objective.

Lincoln met secretly on April 4, 1861, with Colonel John Baldwin, a delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention. Baldwin, like a majority of that convention, would have preferred to keep Virginia in the Union. But Baldwin learned at that meeting that Lincoln was already committed to taking some military action at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. He desperately tried to persuade Lincoln that military action against South Carolina would mean war and also result in Virginia’s secession. Baldwin tried to persuade Lincoln that if the Gulf States were allowed to secede peacefully, historical and economic ties would eventually persuade them to reunite with the North. Lincoln’s emphatic response was:

“And open Charleston, etc. as ports of entry with their ten percent tariff? What then, would become of my tariff?”21a

Despite Colonel Baldwin’s advice, on April 12, 1861, Lincoln manipulated the South into firing on the tariff collection facility of Fort Sumter in volatile South Carolina. (For a thorough account of this, see John S. Tilley’s 1941 book, Lincoln Takes Command.)21b This achieved an important Lincoln objective. Northern opinion was now enflamed against the South for “firing on the flag.” Three days later Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the Southern “rebellion.” This caused the Border States to secede along with the Gulf States. Lincoln undoubtedly calculated that the mere threat of force backed by a now more unified Northern public opinion would quickly put down secession. His gambit, however, failed spectacularly and erupted into a terrible and costly war.
Shortly after Lincoln’s call to put down the “rebellion,” a prominent Northern politician wrote to Colonel Baldwin to enquire what Union men in Virginia would do now. His response was:

“There are now no Union men in Virginia. But those who were Union men will stand to their arms, and make a fight which shall go down in history as an illustration of what a brave people can do in defense of their liberties, after having exhausted every means of pacification.”22

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Consfearacynewz said Jul 14, 2015 18:37:54
To appreciate the intensity and bitterness over the Morrill Tariff it is necessary to revisit the history of tariffs in the United States.
The Tariff of 1789, signed by George Washington on July 4, 1789, was primarily a revenue tariff that provided some protection for emerging manufacturing industries. Tariffs supported 100 percent of Federal expenditures in 1792. Between 1789 and 1815 tariffs were raised or lowered as funding needs changed, but the average of all tariff rates, including duty free (zero tariff), ranged from 6.5 to 15.1 percent.23
The War of 1812 began with an American Declaration of War on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, and officially lasted until the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. But due to communications delays, it extended to January 8, 1815, when American forces under Major General Andrew Jackson defeated British forces attempting to seize New Orleans. Trade tensions were a major cause of the war. Britain was at war with France and in 1807 began to tighten its illegal trade restrictions on the United States in order to prevent any economic benefit to France. The British also feared that the growth of American trade with Europe threatened their Atlantic trade dominance. The U.S. reacted through a series of Congressional bills the same year by banning British imports (the Embargo Act) and then American exports to Britain. Because these acts against Britain were an economic disaster to the American economy—50 percent of American exports and 80 percent of cotton exports went to Britain—they were largely voided by the end of 1809. Tensions, however, continued with the British Navy impressing over 10,000 naturalized American sailors of British origin and confiscating many American ships and cargos. Unable to bear these insults any longer, the American Congress voted a declaration of war against Britain, passing 79 to 49 in the House and 19 to 13 in the Senate. The British responded with a blockade.24
Not a single member of the Federalist Party (formed by supporters of Alexander Hamilton in1794) voted for war. The Federalists, concentrated in New England and the larger cities, favored a more cooperative relationship with Britain and had the most to lose from an interruption in British trade. In fact, the New England states threatened secession in 1807 because of a loss of trade caused by the Embargo Act and other U.S. legislation restricting trade with Britain. In 1814, at the Hartford Convention, they again threatened secession because of the war with Britain. However, the Federalists still retained their belief in Hamilton’s protectionist import policies. This was inherited by the Whigs following the demise of Federalist political power in 1816 and finally by the new nationalist Republican Party in 1856. Ironically, the New England states threatened secession four times, the other two being in 1803 because the Louisiana Purchase threatened their national political dominance and in 1845 because the annexation of Texas diluted their national dominance.25
The British blockade of American ports from 1812 to1815 forced Americans to do their own manufacturing. This began with home manufacturing and became profitable. Most were in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The Southern economy remained agriculturally based. By the end of the war, 20 percent of the Northern workforce was engaged in manufacturing, compared to only 8 percent for the South.26
This was the beginning of two sectional interests: one manufacturing and the other agriculture. At the end of the war, the resumption of a flood of lower-priced British manufactured inventory threatened the continued existence of the North’s budding manufacturing economy.
The Tariff of 1816 (or Davis Tariff, named for Treasury Secretary Alexander J. Davis) sought to pay for the war of 1812 and protect America’s emerging manufacturing industry from European, especially British, competition. A tariff of 25 percent was placed on manufactured cotton and woolen imports, with a maximum rate of 30 percent on some goods. Overall, the percentage of Federal revenues from tariffs increased from 46 to 84 percent, and the average tariff on all imports increased from about 6.5 percent to 20.2 percent by 1820. This was strongly opposed by many in the South who realized that they would incur higher production and living costs and risk disastrous tariff retaliation on raw cotton by the British. It was also unpopular in Massachusetts because they feared the same loss of trade with Britain that they experienced during the war years.27
However, many prominent Southerners and New Englanders felt that they would benefit enough from the nation’s overall growth from increased industrialization to compensate for their immediate disadvantage. Even James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John C. Calhoun approved of the compromise. This compromise however, bore the seeds of Northern addiction to protectionist tariffs. First advocated by Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist Party, high tariffs reduced foreign competition and allowed American manufacturers to raise their prices. The resulting increases in profitability (at consumer expense) raised their appetite for still more. In less than a decade, the continuous Northern cry for protectionist policies would give birth to Kentucky Representative Henry Clay’s “American System,” which, like Hamilton, favored protective tariffs, industrial subsidies, and a centralized national bank. These policies were later adopted by Clay’s Whig Party and then the new Republican Party in 1856. This also led to the growth of legislative logrolling (I’ll help you roll your log if you help me roll my log.). Logrolling increased legislative support for bills by expanding them to include mutual agreements beyond their central purpose. In the end, the 1816 Tariff had some legislative support in every state except North Carolina and Delaware. Of course, the moral problem with all this is that it amounts to ganging up to pass legislation that will benefit the most powerful interest groups at the expense of the overall national interest and less powerful commercial or regional interests. As a rule of thumb for the era, tariffs of 15 to 20 percent were seen as tolerable revenue tariffs, while tariffs of 20 percent or more were seen as protectionism that led to big profits for some and economic harm to others.
The 1816 Tariff turned out to be immensely profitable to protected industries. They were also conveniently blind to the consequent suffering of other regions and commercial interests. Rather than being satisfied with their profitable windfall, however, they began to lobby for more. When hard economic times came, they looked to government legislation and regulation rather than innovation to sustain their prosperity.
On March 30, 1824, Henry Clay, recently elected Speaker of the House, stood before his colleagues, seeking support for a new tariff.
“Are we doomed to behold our industry languish and decay yet more and more? But there is a remedy, and that remedy consists in modifying our foreign policy and in adopting a genuine American System… the only means which the wisdom of nations has yet discovered to be effectual: by adequate protection against the otherwise overwhelming influence of foreigners.”28
The Tariff of 1824 was clearly protectionist legislation, substantially increasing tariff rates to an average dutiable rate of about 35 percent to maximize Northern-manufacturing profits regardless of its damaging economic impact on Southern states. The impact on Western states was less damaging, and many Western Congressmen were won over by logrolling provisions. Its emphasis included higher tariffs on iron products, wool and cotton textiles, and some agricultural goods. The legislation was essentially a political contest between Henry Clay’s high-tariff “American System” and low-tariff Southern free trade. Southern prosperity depended on low cost imports from Britain and open foreign markets for its cotton produce.29
Clay’s 1824 Tariff carried the U.S. house by 107 to 102 votes, with a narrow margin of only five votes of 209 cast. Only three of 67 Southern representatives voted for it. It carried by a vote of 25 to 21 in the Senate, with the support of only two of 16 Southern Senators. The South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia state legislatures condemned the Act as unconstitutional. The South Carolina Legislature also condemned Clay’s “American System” and called it “a system of robbery and plunder” that “made one section tributary to another.”30 Thus began 37 years of heated political conflict between North and South that would eventually provoke the seven major cotton-producing states to secede. It was a strong signal to Southern leaders that Northern political dominance meant Southern impoverishment and exploitation. Furthermore, Southern leaders observed a growing Northern tendency to ignore the Constitution and Southern rights whenever it was to Northern economic and political advantage. The South began to see the North as driven by insatiable sectional greed and blind disregard for Constitutional limits and economic injuries suffered by the South. Now seeing the extravagant abuse of protective tariffs and their destructive impact on the Southern economy, South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun became a strong spokesman for tariff reform and Southern rights.

Spence laments the triumph of protectionism in the sectionalist 1824 tariff with a precise statement of its moral deformity:

“The idea of a moderate system, generally beneficial to the industry of the country, without grievous hardship to any particular class, became altered into the reality of corrupt political bargains between special interests, to impose heavy taxation on all others for their own profit.”31

English Puritan Thomas Manton (1620-1677) articulated the nature of this terrible numbing of the conscience and stealthy advance of greed:

“There is not a vice which more effectually contracts and deadens the feelings, which more completely makes a man’s affections center in himself, and excludes all others from partaking in them, than the desire of accumulating possessions. When the desire has once gotten hold of the heart, it shuts out all other considerations but such as may promote its views. In its zeal for the attainment of its end, it is not delicate in the choice of means. As it closes the heart, so also it clouds the understanding. It cannot discern between right and wrong; it takes evil for good; it calls darkness light, and light darkness. Beware then of the beginnings of covetousness for you know not where it will end.”32

In the case of the unjust tariff laws stretching from 1824 to 1861, it led to Southern secession, Northern aggression to prevent that secession, and calamitous war.

In 1828, another tariff bill was passed, which was so overbearing and unjust that it is known in history as the Tariff of Abominations. The average dutiable rate was raised to an average of approximately 50 percent, the highest in history to that point. The original impetus was that Northern textile manufacturers believed they needed greater protection, but the bill became a comprehensive bribery scheme to win the votes of Middle and Western states for the party of John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election. Duties on many raw materials were added, which had a mixed effect on New England, since they imported many raw materials for their industries. Hemp from Kentucky and lead from Missouri were also added. The hemp addition was undoubtedly due to Henry Clay’s powerful influence, but both the Kentucky and Missouri additions were necessary logrolling deals to grease passage through the House. In addition to extensive logrolling, another questionable device for passage was that many tariffs were a mixture of both specific and ad valorem rates, disguising what in effect were very high rates. In general, the 1828 tariff was both higher and broader.

South Carolina Representative George McDuffie made some memorable and prophetic remarks to the House during the 1828 debate:

“If the Union of these states shall ever be severed, and their liberties subverted, the historian who records those disasters will have to ascribe them to measures of this description. I do sincerely believe that neither this government, nor any free government, can exist for a quarter of a century under such a system of legislation. Its inevitable tendency is to corrupt, not only the public functionaries, but all those portions of the Union, and classes of society, who have an interest, real or imaginary, in the bounties it provides, by taxing other nations and other classes. It brings ambition, and avarice, and wealth, into a combination it is fearful to contemplate, because it is impossible to resist.”33

Yet the 1828 Tariff of Abominations passed the House 105 to 94. It’s greatest region of resistance was the deep South, where the vote was 50 to 3 against it. Logrolling promises on sugarcane imports probably influenced the three favorable votes. New England representatives voted against it 23 to 16, but the combined Mid-Atlantic and Western states plus Kentucky and Tennessee supported it by a vote of 86 to 21. The bill finally passed the Senate 26 to 21, with the only Southern votes being two from Kentucky, one from Tennessee, and one from Louisiana.34
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Consfearacynewz said Jul 14, 2015 18:38:10

Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri explained the injustice felt by Southerners: “The South believed itself impoverished to enrich the North.” Benton further pointed out the appalling burden the Federal Government had placed on Southern States: “…its double action of levying revenue upon the industry of one section of the Union and expending it in another.”35
Tariff historian Frank W. Taussig, writing in 1888, described passage of the 1828 Tariff in censorious terms:

“The whole scheme was a characteristic product of the politicians who were then becoming prominent as leaders of the Democracy, men of a type very different from the statesmen of the preceding generation. 36

Its passage, however, resulted in the defeat of John Quincy Adams in the 1828 presidential election by Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, who opposed the Tariff. His Vice President was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a brilliant intellectual, elegant speaker, and consummate political organizer. Calhoun was one of the strongest advocates for States Rights and one of the most vehement opponents of protective tariffs in the antebellum era. Jackson, a fellow Southerner, had similar views but was not as committed to expeditious correction of the evils thereof. Understandably, Jackson believed that materials important to military defense should be protected. But he also believed that the tariff should not be reduced until the national debt was paid off. This thinking must have alarmed Calhoun, since Southern States paid most of the tariff revenues while the Northern States received a disproportionate share of the benefits to spend on Northern “internal improvements.” This meant that the South would be called upon to pay off most of a national debt caused by over expenditures on mostly Northern internal improvements—an outrageous injustice. U.S. tariff policy debates—arguing free trade and low tariffs versus protectionism and high tariffs—remained heated.

A generation later, Henry C. Carey, the chief economist for Abraham Lincoln, described the 1828 Tariff as “admirable” and ascribed to it the supposed prosperity of the years of its enforcement. However, as Taussig cautioned in his 1888 book, The Tariff History of the United States, it is difficult to measure the economic impact of tariffs in operation less than four years. There are many other causes of economic movement and inventory changes going on in any given year besides tariffs. These may mask the impact of tariff changes. No one can really trace the impact of the 1828 Tariff. However, South Carolina export values were over 30 percent lower during the eight high-tariff years between 1825 and 1833, before they resumed an upward climb during years of lower tariff rates. In any case, the Tariff of Abominations was regarded with indignation throughout the South, but especially in hard-hit South Carolina.37

Carey, who was State Chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party during the 1860 election, promoted the “American System” of developmental capitalism and government intervention and was an important contributor in drafting the Morrill Tariff, which reached the House Ways and Means Committee in 1858. In a series of letters to Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax published in March 1865, he advocated the continuance of Lincoln’s Greenbacks policy of issuing debt-free, government-issued money as a way of freeing the U.S. economy from British influence and dominance. This inflationary policy of fiat currency had to be reversed by the Coinage Act of 1873, which put America on the gold standard. He also recommended raising the reserve requirement for private banks to 50 percent in order to promote national banking. Most stupendous of all, he wrote the Speaker that:

“To British Free-trade it is, as I have shown, that we stand indebted for the present Civil War.”38

To Carey’s credit, he at least did not characterize the war as a moral crusade to end slavery. That demagogic myth had not yet been fully developed. A more astute and honest admission, however, would have been that the “American System” of protectionist tariffs, and especially the Morrill Tariff—a product of his own hand and influence—had brought forth one of the greatest calamities of American history.

In December 1828, Calhoun began an anonymous dissertation entitled “South Carolina Exposition and Protest,” addressing the States Rights issues raised by sectionalism and protective tariffs. This 35,000-word exposition focused on Constitutional remedies. One of his main points was that in a constitutional republic, power must not be allowed to define its own limits, otherwise growing tyranny is inevitable. Calhoun thought and wrote in terms of tough-minded realism:

“Universal experience, in all ages and countries, however, teaches that power can only be restrained by power, and not by reason and justice; and that all restrictions on authority, unsustained by an equal antagonistic power, must for ever prove wholly inefficient in practice.”39

A strong system of States Rights is thus a considerably more reliable bulwark against despotism than the mere separation of Federal executive, judicial, and legislative powers. In addition, decentralization of governing powers is in itself a substantial obstacle to would-be tyrants.

There are historical and Christian traditions and precedents going back to the English Magna Carta in 1215 that call for the “interposition” of civil magistrates against unlawful decrees and usurpations by rulers. In fact, these traditions provided much of the rationale for the American Revolution. Moreover, the War for Southern Independence was fought for very similar reasons. Unjust taxes and mercantilist trade abuses were strong factors in both cases.

The application of the doctrine of interposition was first called “nullification” by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 as a response to President John Adams’ despotic Alien and Sedition Acts. Briefly formulated, nullification means that state magistrates have the right and duty to intervene against the Federal Government to protect their people from unlawful or unconstitutional acts or intervention. It is closely tied to the concept of States Rights. Following the passage of the 1832 Tariff, Calhoun’s remedy of nullification was widely published. While the ultimate right of secession is strongly implied (and protected) by the Tenth Amendment, Calhoun meant nullification to be a first-step mechanism by which the states could hold the Federal Government accountable to the Constitution.

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson, through Senator Benton of Missouri, arranged for an elaborate Democratic Party dinner to celebrate on April 13 the birthday of Thomas Jefferson and the Jeffersonian principles of the new Democratic Party. This was held at Brown’s Indian Queen Hotel in Washington. Political tension was increasing because of the effects of the substantial and controversial tariff increases that had been passed in 1828.

As Vice President, Calhoun had continued to be one of the leading spokesmen against the “Tariff of Abominations.” He, along with many Southern leaders, believed that the tariff of 1828 was unconstitutional because it subsidized one branch of industry, manufacturing, at the expense of commerce and agriculture. Calhoun maintained that a tariff should not tax one section of the economy or one region of the country for the benefit of another. He also believed that a tax on all the people should not be levied for the exclusive enrichment of only a part of the people. There was already talk in the South Carolina legislature of nullification—refusing to comply with such an unconstitutional, unfair, and damaging law. There was even talk of secession.
Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina was to be the speaker that evening. After his remarks would come both voluntary and special toasts. Besides unifying the Party, Jackson looked upon the toasts as an opportunity for him to promote national and Democratic Party unity and to indicate his displeasure with any talk of nullification.

Senator Hayne spoke, denouncing the tariff but avoiding any mention of nullification. But when the voluntary toasts began, they took on an increasingly anti-tariff tenor, and the Pennsylvania delegation walked out.

When it came time for the special toasts, the tension was high. President Jackson rose, holding his glass before him. Rather than sweeping his eyes across the audience, he stared sternly at Calhoun alone and said,

“Our Union, it must be preserved.”

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Consfearacynewz said Jul 14, 2015 18:38:15
The Vice President was next to give his toast. The room was deadly quiet, the tension building even higher. Slowly Calhoun stood, lifted his glass, and in a firm voice directly addressed the President:

“The Union, next to our liberty, most dear.”

He paused for a moment, and then to make his point unmistakably clear, he continued,

“May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the states and by distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union.”40

We may draw a lesson from this famous drama. Union, or unity, is a beneficial condition of like-minded men, but it is not a condition so beneficial that it outweighs every other condition, principle, or virtue. Unity by no means outweighs considerations of liberty, truth, honor, justice, high moral principle, or spiritual fidelity. It cannot outweigh essential human dignities and unalienable rights. If unity does not serve mutual benefit, virtue, and principle, its value is nullified. Furthermore, real unity cannot be coerced. Union forced at the point of a bayonet is tyranny and the enemy of liberty and all its virtues and blessings.

In 1832, another tariff bill was introduced, supposedly to correct some of the injustices of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations and to give some relief to the South. The 1828 Tariff had also produced a surplus of government income that many wanted to correct. However, the Northern beneficiaries of high tariffs succeeded in a bill that did not diminish their profit margins. Some of the abominations of the 1828 Tariff were relieved, notably the troubling “minimum” provisions, which caused unjust aberrations in the duties and invited fraud. The average dutiable rate was about 33 percent. The net relief to the South, however, was negligible, and many Southern Congressmen felt they had been betrayed and exploited by Northern political interests again.41

South Carolina expressed the greatest grievance over continuing economic injustice. Senator Hayne appealed to the protectionist majority, but to no avail:

“I call upon gentlemen on the other side of the House to meet us in the true spirit of conciliation and concession. Remove, I earnestly beseech you, from among us, this never-failing source of contention. Dry up, at its source, this fountain of the waters of bitterness. Restore the harmony, which has been disturbed, that mutual affection
and confidence which has been impaired. And it is in your power to do it this day, by doing equal justice to all.”42

Passage of the 1832 Tariff was viewed by Calhoun, South Carolina, and the cotton-producing Gulf States as an unequivocal message that Southern suffering and Southern rights were of no concern to most Northern political leaders. Protectionist tariffs were political bargains in which powerful political and commercial interests united to enrich themselves at the expense of less powerful regions and commercial interests. Given no relief, the growth of Northern population and political power would mean that outrageous tax burdens would be continually laid upon the South to enrich the North.

President Jackson signed the 1832 Tariff on July 14, 1832, and Calhoun made plans to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Robert Hayne, who was running for Governor of South Carolina. Meanwhile, he was engaged in the movement in South Carolina to nullify the 1828 and 1832 Tariffs. Calhoun officially resigned as Vice President on December 28, 1832, to fill the Senate seat to which the South Carolina Legislature had elected him on December 12.

In South Carolina, agitation over the 1828 Tariff began in the summer after its signing. State Representative Robert Barnwell Rhett called on the Governor to convene the State Legislature. Appealing to both honor and justice, he called for South Carolina’s leaders to have the courage to resist Federal protectionist tariffs and other unconstitutional acts:

“But if you are so doubtful of yourselves—if you are not prepared to follow up your principles wherever they may lead, to their very last consequence—if you love life better than honor; prefer ease to perilous liberty, awake not! Stir not! —Impotent resistance will add vengeance to your ruin. Live in smiling peace with your insatiable Oppressors, and die with the noble consolation that your submissive patience will survive triumphant your beggary and despair.”43

By the winter of 1831 and spring of 1832, South Carolina’s Governor James Hamilton was conducting rallies and meetings around the state in support of nullification. Calhoun’s Exposition, especially the concept of nullification, created considerable debate, most of it favorable in South Carolina. The state elections of 1832 confirmed that a substantial majority of South Carolina voters favored nullification, and on October 20, 1832, Governor Hamilton called the legislature to a special session to consider and authorize a Nullification Convention. On November 24, the Nullification Convention met and passed an ordinance declaring that the1828 and 1832 tariffs were unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The Convention cited Calhoun’s view that imposing unequal tax burdens for the benefit of special regional or commercial interests was unconstitutional. In the name of the people of South Carolina assembled in convention, the Ordinance of Nullification ordained and declared that the 1828 and 1832 tariff acts:

“…are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers or citizens;…and all judicial proceedings which shall be hereafter had in affirmance thereof, are and shall be held utterly null and void…That it shall not be lawful for any of the constituted authorities, whether of this state or of the United States, to enforce the payment of duties imposed by the said acts within the limits of this State from and after the 1st day of February next…”44

President Jackson’s rhetoric made it clear that he intended to prevent Nullification by force of arms, telling a visitor from South Carolina that:

“…if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hands on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.”45

On December 10, Jackson issued a Proclamation to the People of South Carolina stating:

“I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.”46

Robert Hayne, who had resigned from the United States Senate on his election to the office of Governor of South Carolina in December 1832 and who had been a member of the Nullification Convention, gave an answer to the people of South Carolina and to President Jackson in his inaugural address:

“If the sacred soil of Carolina should be polluted by the footsteps of an invader, or be stained with the blood of her citizens, shed in defense, I trust in Almighty God that no son of hers…who has been nourished at her bosom…will be found raising a parricidal arm against our common mother. And even should she stand alone in this great struggle for constitutional liberty…that there will not be found, in the wider limits of the state, one recreant son who will not fly to the rescue, and be ready to lay down his life in her defense.”47

Reacting to the threat to their sovereignty, South Carolina mobilized 27,000 men ready to defend their territory and rights in the event of military attack.48

On January 16, Jackson requested that Congress pass a Force Bill to authorize military intervention against South Carolina. However, others, including former supporters of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, Clay and Van Buren, saw that the only way to avoid the impending clash of arms was compromise and began working on a compromise tariff bill to replace the 1832 Act with terms more amenable to South Carolina and other Southern states. Fortunately, Calhoun was back in the Senate to assist. The Force Bill was tabled by a vote of 30 to 15 in the Senate, and the House Judiciary Committee voted 4 to 3 against it while both the House and Senate worked franticly to come up with what would become the compromise Tariff Act of 1833. Meanwhile, South Carolina had postponed enforcement of Nullification to avoid unnecessary conflict. General terms for the compromise were reached after a private meeting between Clay and Calhoun.

Jackson’s Force bill was passed only after the compromise Tariff had passed by votes of 119 to 85 in the House and 29 to 16 in the Senate, making the Force Bill effectively moot. The 1833 Tariff Act authorized tariff rates to be gradually rolled back by 1842 to the levels of 1816, with dutiable ad valorem rates averaging about 20 percent—this is approximately the level of tariffs before the Morrill Tariff was passed in 1861.49

Many had opposed the concept of nullification, but the fact is that it forced a rethinking of the unbearable tariff injuries being imposed on the South and resulted in intelligent compromise, just as it was intended to do in the conception of Calhoun. What is shocking is that the lessons of the Nullification Crisis of 1832—with its narrowly avoided threat of secession and armed conflict—were forgotten by 1860 when the more populous North again tried to impose unbearable taxes and extreme economic disadvantages on the South for the sake of Northern industrial growth and prosperity.

Whig leaders in congress were again able to pass protectionist legislation in the Tariff of 1842, also known as the Black Tariff. This tariff primarily benefited the iron industry, nearly doubling the rates for both raw and manufactured iron goods. It also raised the percentage of dutiable items from about 50 percent to over 85 percent of all imported items. By 1843, imports had dropped by half, thus actually reducing total tariff revenues. Exports dropped approximately 20 percent. This was replaced by the 1846 Walker Tariff that lowered tariff rates to pre-1842 levels after the Whigs lost the presidency and Congress in the 1844 elections.50

The 1857 “Free-Trade” Tariff was passed by a nonpartisan coalition dominated by conservative Southern Democrats and reduced tariff rates to almost free-trade levels. This was strongly opposed by Northern industry and Northern industrial workers. When a financial panic caused by loose banking practices resulted in a Northern recession in 1857, the Republicans blamed it on free trade and the 1857 Tariff Law. By 1858, the Republicans had submitted new tariff legislation, the Morrill Tariff, to the House Ways and Means Committee.51

Like many modern legislative attempts to conceal the purposes, costs, and political and economic benefits and injuries of a bad bill, the title of the Morrill Tariff commences with deceptive obfuscation:

“An Act, to provide for the payment of outstanding treasury notes to authorize a loan…”52

Tying legislation to urgently needed treasury needs or some alleged crisis is a common method for rushing bad bills through Congress. Sometimes bad bills are held back so they can be rushed through Congress under the cover of urgency and confusion. No one, of course, wants to be responsible for halting the wheels of government and causing injury to the public, whether the alleged damaging consequences are probable or the improbable fiction of demagogues. Many bills are filled with pages of unrelated pork-barreling to enhance their passage through Congress. The Morrill Tariff and other protectionist legislation during the 19th Century made extensive use of logrolling to entice bargains made between various special interests, but these bargains inflicted injury and injustice on the South.

On November 13, 1860, U.S. Senator Robert Toombs addressed the Georgia Legislature to explain the nature and urgency of the national situation. They were in the process of deciding whether to call a state convention to consider secession. Toombs spoke at some length about the Morrill Tariff, which had already passed the U.S. House. Beginning with an analogy comparing the protectionist coalition in Congress with the avaricious craftsmen of Ephesus crying out in their materialistic idolatry, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19: 28), he pointed to the cooperation of the Radical Republicans and the radical abolitionists in passing the Morrill Tariff. (Actually, most of the Radical Republicans were also radical abolitionists.). He called this coalition a union of “cupidity and fanaticism.”53

He went on to say of this political logrolling bargain that:

“The result of this coalition was the infamous Morrill bill—the robber and the incendiary struck hands, and united in joint raid against the South…Thus stands the account between the North and the South. Under its ordinary and most favorable action, bounties and protection to every interest and every pursuit in the North, to the extent of at least fifty millions per annum, besides the expenditure of at least sixty millions out of every seventy of the public expenditure among them, thus making the treasury a perpetual fertilizing stream to them and their industry, and a suction-pump to drain away our substance and parch up our lands.”54

The whole history of protectionist legislation, especially the 1828 and 1832 tariffs, should have alerted all Americans to the danger that the Morrill Tariff posed to the nation. Its ideological predecessors had caused a crisis in 1832 that brought the nation to within days of secession and military conflict that could easily have expanded. Yet sectional prejudices, self-interest, and greed blinded the dominant Northern political and economic interests to that danger in 1860 and 1861. The Morrill Tariff was so damaging to the interests of the Southern cotton-producing states that it essentially forced them out of the Union. The hardened and unrelenting prejudice of the dominant political and economic interests of the North toward the South left little hope for justice or reasonable compromise. Secession was felt to be the only honorable choice.

The secession alternative, moreover, offered considerable economic opportunities to the South. Unjust taxation and the self-serving revenue expenditures of the Northern dominated Congress were certainly strong motives for secession. In that sense the war was a tariff war, as British newspapers were saying. But it was also a war between free trade and protectionism. Lincoln expressed it in his conversation with Colonel Baldwin. If Charleston, New Orleans, Mobile, Wilmington, and Savannah were free market ports with tariff rates of 10 to 15 percent or lower, what would happen to Boston, New York, and Philadelphia with Lincoln’s high tariff? The answer is that commercial shipping and the prosperity that it brings would shift to low-tariff Southern ports. The Northern states would lose their main source of tax revenues, and their industries would have to compete with British imports. Such an adjustment was correctly seen as economically and politically disastrous in the short run. A secession movement even arose in New York City whose Democratic Mayor, Fernando Woods, hoped to make it an independent free port.55

At first Northern public opinion as reflected in Northern newspapers of both parties recognized the right of the Southern States to secede and favored peaceful separation.
A November 21, 1860, editorial in the Cincinnati Daily Press said this:

“We believe that the right of any member of this Confederacy to dissolve its political relations with the others and assume an independent position is absolute.”56

The New York Times, on March 21, 1861, reflecting the great majority of editorial opinion in the North summarized in an editorial:

“There is a growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go.”57

However, Northern industrialists became nervous when they realized a tariff dependent North would be competing against a free-trade South. They feared not only loss of tax revenue but also considerable loss of trade. Newspaper editorials began to reflect this nervousness.

On December 10, 1860, the Daily Chicago Times reflected on the ruin and bankruptcy that Southern free trade might bring upon the North:

“Let the South adopt the free-trade system [and] commerce must be reduced to less than half what it is now…Our labor could not compete…with the labor of Europe [and] a large portion of our shipping interest would pass into the hands of the South.”58

On March 12, 1861, the staunchly Republican New York Evening Post advocated that the U.S. Navy “abolish all ports of entry” into the South. It seemed to them to be cheaper than the administrative expense of collecting the tariff.59

The Newark Daily Advertiser, on April 2, 1861, editorialized that Southern free trade “must operate to the serious disadvantage of the North,” and should be stopped by military force.60

The Boston Transcript, on March 18, 1861, warned:

“The mask has been thrown off, and it is apparent that the people of the principal seceding states are now for commercial independence. They dream that the centers of traffic can be changed from Northern to Southern ports. The merchants of New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah are possessed of the idea that New York, Boston, and Philadelphia may be shorn, in the future, of their mercantile greatness, by a revenue system verging on free trade…The government would be false to its obligations if this state of things were not provided against.”61

Thus we can see an important cause of the war that has been suppressed by its apologists. The Morrill Tariff was the last and ultimate injury and insult in a chain of 30 years of protectionist Northern abuse of the South. Southern secession and the free-trade policies made indelible in the Confederate Constitution would wreak economic havoc on Northern shipping and industry, demolish the North’s South-exploiting tax revenue base, and frustrate their plans for attaining national greatness.
A few things more should be said about protectionist tariffs as a general menace to economic prosperity. Near the beginning of the Great Depression, the highest tariff bill in U.S. history, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, was passed on June 17, 1930 by Congress and signed by Republican President Herbert Hoover, who had strongly opposed the bill. Its purpose was to protect suffering American workers, farmers, and businesses from foreign competition. Up until then, exporters were faring well and remained one of the relative strengths in the economy. The House passed the bill 264 to 147, with 244 Republicans and 20 Democrats voting for it. The Senate passed it 44 to 42, with 39 Republicans and 5 Democrats voting for it. As could have been predicted by historical experience, exports soon suffered, dropping 61 percent with even Canada introducing a retaliatory tariff against U.S. goods. Unemployment was at 7.8 percent when Smoot-Hawley passed and jumped to 16.3 percent in 1931 and peaked at 25.1 percent in 1933.62

Mark Thornton and Robert B. Ekelund Jr. in their 2004 book on the economics of the Civil War, summarize some of their general economic conclusions. Protective tariffs benefit some commercial or regional interests in the short to intermediate term, but they do more harm than good to the overall economy. Obviously, some interests are injured. Tariffs are essentially a redistribution of wealth through political means. Protected economic interests often become non-innovative drags on the economy and taxpayers.63

In 1862, Spence summarized Southern grievances in regard to the Morrill Tariff with penetrating brevity:

“They hold that, under a Constitution that prescribes perfect equality, and forbids ‘preference,’ they ought not be compelled to pay enormous duties on all they require for their industry from abroad, while all that is required for its industry by the North, is obtained by it duty free. They have protested against this for thirty years in vain. They now see that, under the irresistible growth of population in the North, political power has passed from its original tenure and is gone without hope of return. They feel the bitterness of the gnawing agitation long carried on by the Abolitionists, in plain violation of the spirit of the Constitution. They ask if it be expedient to remain under a bond which no longer suits the other parties to fulfill…In the opinion of the people of the South, it has been made to provide for the welfare of the North at their expense…Looking to its continuance, they see themselves consigned to a perpetual minority, in hopeless subserviency…”64

Many modern academic apologists for Lincoln’s war against the South have recently taken up the cry that because the published declarations of four states arguing the reasons for their secession contain many textual references to slavery, that the war was really just about slavery after all. There was naturally continued discussion about the impact of excluding slavery from new territories and states. This was primarily important as a political numbers game. As a sectional minority, the South needed every favorable U.S Senate and House seat it could get to defend all of its interests against being trampled by a Northern majority almost exclusively dedicated to its own aggrandizement. Southerners also held up Northern violations of the fugitive slave laws as examples of their disregard for the Constitution and Southern rights, but fugitive slaves were not a paramount issue. The much larger underlying issue was that the South, as a conscious regional minority, depended on strict adherence to the Constitution and States Rights for their economic and political welfare.

No serious historian believes that the Union Army marched south to free slaves. Southern leaders had no ambitions for Northern conquest or any reasonable hope for national political dominance. The myth of the “Slave Power” was a wacko-conspiracy theory used for Northern political campaigns. Union military action was to prevent Southern secession. The cause of the war was Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to invade Southern states. The invasion triggered secessions and attempted secessions in the upper South and several Border States.

Counting the number of times slavery was mentioned in secession conventions outside of any consideration for their literary, economic, political, and constitutional contexts would seem to be a form of academic malpractice. The larger context indicates that under Northern dominance, the Union government had become oppressive and dedicated to its own narrow sectionalist interests. For the South, States Rights afforded the primary protection against these sectionalist abuses. What the secession declarations really prove is that Southerners had strong reasons to believe that their political rights and economic welfare were unsafe under Northern political dominance.

A thirty-year chain of economic abuses through unjust tariff laws had shattered any confidence or hope that Northern leaders could be trusted to give the South fair treatment. The Morrill Tariff was one of the last straws to break that trust—the ultimate chapter in an outrageously unfair tax system by which the North benefited immensely for decades while the South suffered. The terms for the Morrill Tariff were so unjust that the cotton-producing states—South Carolina and the Gulf States—could hardly remain in the Union without sacrificing their honor and their economic and political future.
To the North, Southern secession meant a loss of over 80 percent of their tax base.65 More ominous to Lincoln and Northern industrial and commercial interests, an independent South would be a free-trade South competing with the protective tariff dependent North. It would have meant many years of economic devastation for the North—until they could shake their addiction to politically popular but fallacious economic theories and abandon the misguided mercantilist policies of the so-called “American System.”

Few people know about the Morrill Tariff today. Its place in history is continually suppressed. It does not fit with the politically correct whitewash of the Northern cause. Many who do acknowledge it want the rest of us to believe that it was a minor and essentially insignificant factor in the causes for secession and war. To the contrary, the North prospered, and the South suffered because of previous protective tariffs, and the Morrill Tariff promised to make Southern suffering unbearable. The Morrill Tariff is a powerful and astonishing example of shortsighted partisan greed and its catastrophic consequences. No wonder many Americans would like to see it forgotten and covered over with a more morally satisfying but largely false version of the causes of Southern secession and Northern aggression. But wisdom is found only in truth.

ENDNOTES.

The nature of an article on tariffs, with its statistics on imports and exports and the corresponding percentages that illustrate their impact on North and South, requires a few more endnotes. This is especially true when historical data is hard to find, difficult to judge in accuracy, and sometimes perplexing when comparing sources. In several cases, I have used several sources and made an educated judgment as to accuracy, sometimes giving a range of accuracy. However, on the main questions, I believe it is undeniable that the disproportionate tax burden on the South, created by the tariff system and made far worse by the Morrill Tariff, was an enormous injustice demanding strong reaction.
It is also undeniable, even on a per capita basis, that revenue expenditures disproportionately favored the North. It is more difficult to estimate with precision the burden placed on exporters, but it is safe to say that this additional burden caused significant economic suffering for Southern business and the Southern people.
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