Information

Morrill Tariff


In the years prior to the Civil War, the debate over what level of tariffs were best for the United States tended to pit the industrial northeast and midwest against the South. The secession of the South prompted many tariff opposing members of Congress to resign and created the opportunity for a higher Tariff.

The Morrill Tariff of 1861, named after its sponsor Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, was passed in the waning days of the administration of James Buchanan. Two additional increases were passed during the Civil War while Abraham Lincoln was president, with the stated purpose of raising needed funds for the Union`s military expenses. They remained in effect after the war, and tariffs remained high until the Underwood Tariff of 1913.


Primary Documents in American History

Sponsored by Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill, the Morrill Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862. Officially titled "An Act Donating Public Lands to the Several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts," the Morrill Act provided each state with 30,000 acres of Federal land for each member in their Congressional delegation. The land was then sold by the states and the proceeds used to fund public colleges that focused on agriculture and the mechanical arts. Sixty-nine colleges were funded by these land grants, including Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

  • The Senate passed the Morrill Act by a vote of 32 to 7 on June 10, 1862.
  • The House of Representatives passed this act by a vote of 90 to 25 on June 17, 1862. can be found the United States Statutes at Large, volume 12, page 503 (12 Stat. 503).

October 7, 1868

Cornell University welcomed its first students on October 7, 1868. Located near Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, New York, Cornell is one of 69 institutions founded with federal funds under the provision of the Morrill Act of 1862.


The Civil War: The Senate's Story

Long before the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, the U.S. Senate confronted the sectional conflicts that ultimately led to the Civil War, crafting legislative compromises that averted war for several decades. The Senate continued to influence national events throughout the war and its aftermath. This chronology highlights notable dates and events related to the Senate and the Civil War.

January 29, 1850: Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the Compromise of 1850, a set of resolutions aimed at diffusing the sectional crisis over the expansion of slavery into newly acquired territories following the Mexican-American War. The compromise was passed in September 1850.

May 30, 1854: The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law. Designed by Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the Act repealed the geographical boundaries set in place by the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide through &ldquopopular sovereignty&rdquo whether to permit or prohibit slavery.

May 22, 1856: Just days after delivering his inflammatory &ldquoCrime Against Kansas&rdquo speech in opposition to slavery in the Kansas Territory, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was attacked in the Senate Chamber by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who severely beat the senator with a cane.

January 4, 1859: The Senate moved to its new chamber in the newly expanded Capitol.

December 5, 1859: The Senate convened for the 36th Congress.

December 14, 1859: The Senate launched an investigation into the attack on Harper's Ferry.

November 6, 1860: Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States.

November 10, 1860: James Chesnut of South Carolina became the first Southern senator to withdraw from the Senate.

November 11, 1860: James Hammond of South Carolina withdrew from the Senate.

December 18, 1860: Kentucky senator John J. Crittenden introduced a compromise resolution aimed at averting war. The &ldquoCrittenden Compromise,&rdquo which was rejected, proposed several constitutional amendments, including one that would extend to the Pacific Ocean the line established by the 1820 Missouri Compromise.

January 12, 1861: Albert Brown of Mississippi withdrew from the Senate.

January 21, 1861: Jefferson Davis of Mississippi withdrew from the Senate. &ldquoThe states are sovereign,&rdquo he declared, bidding a final farewell to his colleagues. Four other Southerners withdrew from the Senate on this day, followed by ten others in the months ahead.

January 29, 1861: Kansas became the 34th state.

February 18, 1861: Former senator Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederacy.

March 2, 1861: The Senate passed the Morrill tariff bill, significantly increasing tariff rates in order to encourage industrial growth. Passage of this legislation had been held up by Southern senators, now absent, who supported low tariffs.

March 4, 1861: Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office in the shadow of the Capitol&rsquos unfinished cast-iron dome. &ldquoWe must not be enemies,&rdquo he pleaded to the people of the seven Southern states that had seceded and formed the Confederacy, &ldquothough passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.&rdquo

March 14, 1861: After heated debate, the Senate passed a resolution declaring the seats of six of their departed colleagues &ldquovacant&rdquo and authorizing the secretary of the Senate to strike their names from the Senate roll.

March 25, 1861: The Senate, meeting in special session, passed a resolution requesting that the new president, Abraham Lincoln, furnish the Senate with the dispatches of Major Robert Anderson, who was in command of Fort Sumter, one of only two forts remaining in Union possession within the seven states comprising the newly formed Confederacy. With supplies at the fort rapidly dwindling, Lincoln faced the imminent decision of reinforcing Anderson or evacuating the fort.

April 12, 1861: Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, near Charleston, South Carolina. Following the Union surrender of the fort, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling forth the state militias, to the sum of 75,000 troops, and summoned Congress to return for an extraordinary session on July 4, 1861.

April 14, 1861: Just two days after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, Illinois senator Stephen Douglas privately met for two hours with his long-time political rival and now president, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln showed Douglas a draft of his proclamation calling forth the state militias and summoning Congress to return for an extraordinary session on July 4. In a statement to the press after the meeting, Douglas indicated that he had assured Lincoln that &ldquohe was prepared to sustain the President in the exercise of all his constitutional functions to preserve the Union, and maintain the government, and defend the Federal Capital.&rdquo

April 15, 1861: On April 15, 1861, just three days after the attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling forth the state militias, to the sum of 75,000 troops, in order to suppress the rebellion.

April 19, 1861: The Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts arrived in Washington bloodied and exhausted after encountering angry mobs of Southern sympathizers in Baltimore. Joining troops already quartered in the Capitol, they made their camp in the Senate Chamber.

April 21, 1861: Construction began on several large brick ovens in the basement of the center section of the Capitol. Used to feed the growing number of troops in the city, the Capitol bakery remained in operation until October 1862.

May 15, 1861: The War Department called a halt to construction of the Capitol dome, but workers continued to build, fearing the cast iron could be lost or damaged.

June 8, 1861: Tennessee became the last state to secede from the Union.

July 4, 1861: The 37th Congress convened for an extraordinary session in accordance with President Lincoln&rsquos April 15 proclamation. The Senate had met in special session until March 28, and now returned again to meet the war-time emergency.

July 11, 1861: By a vote of 32 to 10, the Senate expelled 10 absent Southern members.

July 21, 1861: Members of Congress gathered about 30 miles outside of Washington, some with picnic lunches, to witness the Battle of Bull Run. In what became known as the &ldquoPicnic Battle,&rdquo civilian spectators expecting an easy Union victory were swept up by Union troops fleeing the battlefield in retreat.

July 29, 1861: Congress passed a bill to increase the size of the U.S. Army.

August 5, 1861: Congress passed a bill to organize the military.

August 6, 1861: The first Confiscation Act became law, allowing Union forces to seize all property&ndashincluding enslaved persons&ndashused to aid the Confederate cause. The extraordinary session of Congress ended.

October 21, 1861: Senator Edward D. Baker of Oregon died at the Battle of Ball&rsquos Bluff, the only United States senator ever to die in a military engagement.

November 8, 1861: Former senators James M. Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana were captured en route to England on the British mail steamer Trent, halting their diplomatic mission for the Confederacy and igniting an international controversy.

December 2, 1861: The Senate convened the 37th Congress after its brief extraordinary session.

December 4, 1861: The Senate expelled John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. Breckinridge had become a general in the Confederate army, despite the fact that Kentucky remained in the Union.

December 10, 1861: The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War began investigating the war effort. Chaired by Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, this congressional committee met 272 times over the next four years.

February 5, 1862: The Senate expelled Indiana senator Jesse Bright for disloyalty, the last senator expelled for support of the Confederacy.

February 18, 1862: The Confederate Congress convened in Richmond, Virginia. Among the members of the newly formed Confederate Senate were several former U.S. senators.

February 22, 1862: A joint session of Congress gathered in the House Chamber to commemorate the 130th anniversary of George Washington&rsquos birth by reading Washington&rsquos 1796 Farewell Address. The reading of this address later became an annual Senate tradition.

April 16, 1862: The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act became law. Originally sponsored by Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, the act freed slaves in the District of Columbia and compensated owners up to $300 for each freeperson.

May 15, 1862: The Senate passed the Homestead Act. Signed into law by President Lincoln on May 20, the act was intended to bolster western migration by offering settlers the chance to earn ownership by settling and farming federal land.

June 6, 1862: The Senate approved the Revenue Act of 1862, which became law on July 1. Senator William Pitt Fessenden of Maine was a principle architect of law, which provided the U.S. government with revenue to fund the war effort. The Revenue Act of 1862 was more effective than the orginial act passed the year before. It created an office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and adjusted the income tax to raise more money.

June 28, 1862: The Senate passed the second Confiscation Act, declaring free the slaves of anyone found guilty of engaging in the rebellion. The president signed the act into law on July 17, 1862.

July 1, 1862: The Pacific Railway Act became law after Congress agreed on a northern route to the Pacific, providing for the construction of the nation&rsquos first transcontinental rail line.

July 2, 1862: President Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act, which set aside federal lands to create colleges to &ldquobenefit the agricultural and mechanical arts.&rdquo

September 20, 1862: Following the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Capitol was briefly used as a hospital for thousands of wounded troops.

November 1862: Congressional elections were held across the United States.

January 1, 1863: Nearly nine months after Congress passed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring free &ldquoall persons held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States.&rdquo

February 25, 1863: Congress established a national banking system, creating a system of national banks and promoting the development of a uniform national currency.

March 3, 1863: The Conscription Act became law. Sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, the act established the first national draft system.

June 20, 1863: West Virginia was admitted as a state. When Virginia seceded in 1861, a majority of the delegates representing the northwestern counties of the state voted against secession. Meeting in Wheeling the following month, delegates from these counties voted to remain loyal to the Union and form a new state.

December 2, 1863: Thomas Crawford&rsquos Statue of Freedom was installed atop the newly completed cast-iron Capitol dome, a symbolic event signifying the enduring nation in a time of civil war.

December 7, 1863: The Senate convened for the 38th Congress.

January 25, 1864: The Senate adopted a rule requiring members to swear the so-called &ldquoIronclad Test Oath,&rdquo a pledge of future loyalty as well as an affirmation of past fidelity to the country. Senator James A. Bayard of Delaware resigned in protest four days later.

April 8, 1864: The Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment by a vote of 38 to 6.

July 2, 1864: Congress passed the Wade-Davis bill, Congress&rsquos plan for reconstruction of the South. It was pocket vetoed by President Lincoln two days later.

October 31, 1864: Nevada became the 36th state.

November 1864: Presidential and congressional elections were held across the United States.

January 31, 1865: The House of Representatives passed the Thirteenth Amendment by a vote of 119 to 56.

March 3, 1865: Congress established the Freedmen&rsquos Bureau to provide food, shelter, clothing, and land to displaced Southerners, including newly freed African Americans.

March 4, 1865: President Lincoln&rsquos second inauguration took place on the eastern portico of the Capitol. Beneath the newly completed dome, the President urged his countrymen to move forward, &ldquowith malice toward none. . . to bind up the nation&rsquos wounds.&rdquo

April 9, 1865: Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

April 14, 1865: President Lincoln was shot while attending a play at Ford&rsquos Theater in Washington, D.C. He died the morning of April 15.

April 15, 1865: Vice President Andrew Johnson was sworn in as president of the United States. As a Tennessee senator, Johnson had been the only Southern senator to remain loyal to the Union after his state seceded.

April 19-21, 1865: In the Capitol Rotunda the body of President Lincoln lay in state on a hastily constructed catafalque beneath the newly completed dome.

May 22, 1865: The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War issued its final report after four years of investigating various war-related issues, including corruption in military supply contracts, the mistreatment of Union prisoners by Confederate forces, the massacre of the Cheyenne Indians, and gunboat construction.

May 23-24, 1865: Washington&rsquos celebrations marking the end of the war culminated with the grand review of the Union armies. &ldquoAs far as the eye could see up Pennsylvania Avenue seemed like a river of life,&rdquo Senate doorkeeper Isaac Bassett recalled of the scene.

December 4, 1865: The Senate convened for the 39th Congress.

December 6, 1865: The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified by the states, abolishing slavery &ldquowithin the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.&rdquo

December 13, 1865: Congress established the Joint Committee on Reconstruction to investigate "the conditions of the States which formed the so-called confederate States of America" to determine whether they "are entitled to be represented in either House of Congress."

April 6, 1866: The Senate overrode President Andrew Johnson's veto of the Civil Rights Act, the first federal law to grant citizenship and equal rights to all persons born in the United States "without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude." Introduced in the Senate by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lyman Trumbull on January 5, 1866, the legislation passed by sizable majorities in the both the Senate and the House. The Act became law on April 9, 1866, when the House overrode the president's veto.

July 24, 1866: Following its ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, Tennessee became the first Southern state readmitted to representation in Congress.

March 2, 1867: The Reconstruction Act of 1867 became law after Congress overrode a presidential veto. The Act divided the former Confederate states, except for Tennessee, into five military districts and outlined the terms for readmission to representation in Congress.

December 2, 1867: The Senate convened for the 40th Congress.

March 5, 1868: The impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson began.

May 26, 1868: The impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson ended with Johnson's aquittal.

June 22, 1868: Arkansas became the first state readmitted to representation under the terms of the Reconstruction Act of 1867.

July 9, 1868: The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, granting citizenship to all persons "born or naturalized in the United States," including former slaves, and providing all citizens "equal protection under the laws," extending the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states.

December 6, 1869: The Senate convened for the 41st Congress.

February 3, 1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting states from disenfranchising voters "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

February 25, 1870: Hiram Revels of Mississippi was sworn into office, becoming the first African American senator.

March 4, 1875: Blanche K. Bruce became the second African American to serve in the Senate and the first to serve a full term. When his term ended in 1881, it would take another 86 years before another African American became a senator.

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    Some say the Morrill bill should not have been enacted. This is doubtless so, but yet we ought to take a comprehensive view of the whole trouble which the Confederate States are likely to give us. This we shall have to do sooner or later. Suppose then that Congress had rejected Mr. Morrill's bill, what would have been the result? Why, of course, says one, the old tariff, which gave us a good revenue, when trade was flourishing, and without trade a tariff is of no consequence. Foreign commerce would then, as now, have been monopolized almost by Northern ports, and the United States would have had no trouble to settle with the South, but the little question who should have the duties on the insignificant imports usually heretofore entered at the Cotton ports.

    But here is a serious mistake. The Confederate States did indeed suffer the old tariff of 1857 to remain in force, and postponed their proposed one to May, but why? Because they saw that the Morrill act would create an increase in the duties on imports sufficient for their purpose of comparison very advantageous to their own. Had our tariff not been enacted, they would doubtless have passed, instead of postponing, their much lower one. They suspended action upon it, and held it in reserve to be used against any measure that may be adopted by Congress, either at an extra or regular session. It may be that they placed it in abeyance, not only for the object just indicated, but also to indicate to foreign powers, that they might be willing to go so far at least, and perhaps still farther, toward free trade with the European Powers. Already the English have seen the flag of a low tariff, thus raised in the Cotton Confederacy at the very moment that another was elaborated with high duties, if not protection, emblazoned on its folds. It is generally conceded that such a contrast must operate to the serious disadvantage of the United States in the commercial nations, with which we have the most to do, who have or profess to have lately taken to their bosoms the liberal and popular doctrine of free trade. The inference is, that commerce will be largely diverted to the Southern cities, and Charleston and Savannah seem to imagine they are about to expand into New Yorks, Philadelphias or Bostons.

    The question is naturally asked, how they can import merchandize beyond the wants of the small community of the Montgomery government? To authorize their importation a vent must be found for it in their consumption. The answer is, they will be smuggled into the western and border states but this cannot be done to any extent, because agents will be appointed by the present Administration to prevent such frauds. This smuggling will therefore be stopped at the railroad depots, and at the large interior cities.

    If the prevention of smuggling should not be practicable, what is next to be done? Shut up the ports, it is replied. This, if carried into execution, will not only put a check on smuggling but also prevent the collection of duties by the Confederates on merchandize imported simply for their own proper consumption. These duties are now illegally taken by the cotton States and appropriated to their own use. The closing of the ports is probably the most effectual measure that can be adopted. The collection of the revenue outside the ports by vessels there stationed for the purpose has been proposed, but seems embarrassed by so many difficulties as to find little favor. Both of them will require the interposition of Congress, without whose authority the Executive can do nothing effectually. This blockade, it is conjectured, may be distasteful to foreign nations. Whether so or not, their right to interfere will not be admitted by the United States. A blockade, to be useful to the United States, must be complete. Such a blockade is recognized as legal by European powers. Beside, a blockade of our own ports, the government of which has been usurped by rebels, is a domestic matter with which European powers have nothing whatever to do. It is a quarrel among ourselves, and a long time must elapse before other nations can have any right or pretence to step in between us.

    The repeal of the Morrill tariff has been suggested in many quarters, and there is much in its favor, but also something in opposition to its policy, or rather to its success. We apprehend, that the Cotton States, especially the chief instigator of the present troubles&mdashSouth Carolina,&mdashhave all along for years been preparing the way for the adoption of the policy of free trade. In this, Great Britain and France will bestow their sympathy. Such being the case, should the tariff be repealed, and the former one take its place, the Confederates would have only to pass their new measure with duties ten per cent. below ours. Should we then, to counteract the effects of this reduction, adopt one just like it, would not the Cotton States enact another still lower, and even introduce free trade if necessary? What can the United States then gain in a war of tariffs? Tariffs can do nothing to help such a State as South Carolina, except to give her revenue. Such a war then must end only to the advantage of one who has little or nothing to lose.

    It is evident from what has been said, that the Executive can do nothing to carry out any of the measures necessary to change the course of events. He can promote the peace, or maintain the laws, but he can settle nothing with the rebellious States. He can make no treaty with them, least of all can he legally give up the public property, or surrender the legitimate jurisdiction of the United States secured by the Constitution. These acts, if done at all, must be done by Congress. And Congress can provide a remedy for the present evils, when a little time shall have revealed their nature and extent, as well as their most effectual remedy.


    Post-War Prosperity

    Justin Morrill’s house in Strafford, Ct.

    Historians argue whether the Morrill Tariff did or did not cause the Civil War. They are less interested in whether protective tariffs helped or hurt the U.S. economy.

    One historian notes the Civil War — and the Morrill Tariff — ‘was the forcing ground…of American industrial development.’

    “The increase in manufactured output was phenomenal,” wrote A.J. Youngson Brown in the American Economy 1860-1940. “The value of manufactured products increased from about $2,000 million in 1859 to about $13,000 million in 1899 … This stupendous increase has many significances most notably, from the international viewport, America by the 1890s had become the premier manufacturing nation of the world.”

    Morrill sponsored two higher tariffs during Abraham Lincoln‘s administration to raise money for the Civil War.

    Overall, tariffs didn’t fall until the Revenue Act of 1913, known as the Underwood tariff.

    From 1860 to World War II, every Republican presidential candidate supported protective tariffs, according to U.S. Trade Policy: History, Theory, and the WTO by William A. Lovett, Alfred E. Eckes, Jr. and Richard L. Brinkman.

    “They preached class harmony and warned that removal of the protective tariff would ‘bring widespread discontent’,” they wrote.

    President William McKinley said, “Free trade results in giving our money, our manufactures, and our markets to other nations.”

    Justin Morrill died in office on Dec. 28, 1899, at the age of 88. The Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vt., is a National Historic Landmark.


    How Taxes Caused The Civil War (Not Slavery)

    Taxes caused the Civil War: Although I’m no scholar of American history, there are a few seminal events that I’ve always felt confident in having a basic understanding of. One of those is the cause of the Civil War, which was slavery, of course. But then, I did some research, and I had to rethink everything.

    It seems that the root cause of the Civil War was not slavery, it was taxation. Over a century before anyone had even coined the term, “fake news,” our own government put a spin on the real cause of the Civil War which has been the accepted truth in history books and media to this day. Here’s how taxes caused the Civil War.

    The Tariff of 1828

    “If the shoe fits, wear it,
    If New York’s in debt, why should Virginia bear it?
    Uh… Our debts are paid, I’m afraid,
    Don’t tax the South cuz we got it made in the shade.
    In Virginia, we plant seeds in the ground,
    We create, you just wanna move our money around!”
    – Hamilton (Musical), Cabinet Battle #1

    The cause of the Civil War dates back to long before the first shots were fired by the South at Fort Sumter, South Carolina in 1861. In fact, economic disputes between the North and South existed even before the Revolutionary War (also fought over taxes!), and things got even worse with the Tariff of 1828.

    Called the, “Black Tariff” or “Tariff of Abomination,” (meaning, “the most evil thing ever,”) the tariff was created to repay the national debt (who does that?!) after the War of 1812. However, by 1832 the national debt was paid and there was no reason for such high taxes. The tariff had created a favorable situation for the North, who benefited greatly from such high taxes.

    The South produced and exported most of the goods in America, and under the tariff, that resulted in the South paying about 75% of all taxes in America.

    The tariff also prevented them from buying European imports because after taxes were collected they were too costly. This meant that the South’s only option was to buy from the North.

    It seemed that either way the South’s money was ending up in the North, and Southerners resented the arrangement. President Andrew Jackson was able to reduce some of the taxes on the South in the Great Compromise of 1833, but the same year the Force Bill was passed that allowed the government to collect federal tariffs from states by any means necessary, including by force. The seeds of the Civil War had been sown.

    Lincoln Did Not Campaign Against Slavery

    Abraham Lincoln enjoyed support of the rich Northern industrialists during his his run for the presidency in 1860. These industrialists were much more concerned with profiting from higher taxes in the South than the moral dilemma of slavery.

    Lincoln was morally opposed to slavery, stating years earlier that slavery was, “an unqualified evil to the negro, the white man, and the State,” but that view was not going to win him the presidency. During his campaign, Lincoln repeatedly stated that he had no intention to challenge slavery, but did champion a return to high import taxes which benefitted his constituency in the North.

    “I declare that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” – Abraham Lincoln 1860

    The Original 13th Amendment Protected Slavery

    After Lincoln was elected, he made further efforts to to placate the South and maintain the Union and the institution of slavery by giving his blessing to the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution. It went even further than the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857 which concluded that no black person (slave or non-slave) could claim U.S. citizenship. The Corwin Amendment stated,

    No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” – Corwin Amendment

    The Corwin Amendment not only protected the institution of slavery, but included language to make itself unamendable so that no future amendment to the Constitution could undo it. Essentially this first version of the 13th Amendment secured slavery as a permanent institution in America.

    The Corwin Amendment won the required two-thirds support in both the Senate and House and was then ratified by a number of states including Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois later that year. However, the outbreak of the Civil War, fortunately, interrupted its complete ratification as the final version of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Yes, that’s right. The original, and now forgotten 13th Amendment was one that protected slavery instead of abolishing it, as the later version of the amendment did in 1865. You won’t read that in most American history books, or hear about it in the movie, Lincoln.

    How Taxes Ignited the Civil War

    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.” – Charles Dickens

    As you can see, in early 1861 the institution of slavery was secure in America, and Abolitionists were still largely a far-left group of “crazy liberals,” so why go to war? Well, taxes of course. Just before Lincoln took office departing president Buchanan signed a tariff even worse than the Tariff of Abomination of 1832.

    The new tax in 1861 was called, the Morrill Tariff, and was the highest tariff in American history, taxing imports at over 45%, with iron products taxed at 50%! Victorious Republicans cheered the heavy taxes that benefitted the Northern industrialists who backed Lincoln.

    In Lincoln’s inaugural address he made no mention of ending slavery, but did promise to collect high taxes on imports in the South under all circumstances and without exception.

    In response the furious Southern states drafted a constitution of their own which included a ban on high import taxation. The South’s strategy was to offer low import taxes so that North American trade would migrate to the tax-friendly ports of the South that included Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans.

    The fuse had been lit on the American Civil War. While the North was willing to live with slavery in the South, there would be no such concession on taxes. The forts in Southern ports would be used to enforce tariffs and collect taxes, even if the South seceded.

    On April 12, 1961 frustrated Southerners fired on Ft. Sumter which was located at the entrance to Charleston Harbor and filled with federal troops enforcing the collection of taxes by U.S. customs officers. These were the first shots of the American Civil War, and were fired in anger over unfair taxation.

    The Civil War Begins (Still Not About Slavery!)

    “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.” – Abraham Lincoln, Aug. 22, 1862

    In response to the heated tax dispute, tensions between the North and South soon escalated to military conflict. However, slavery still wasn’t the main issue, and it would be two full years until Lincoln rallied Northerners with a more inspiring cause (people weren’t willing to die over taxes and preserving the Union?) starting with the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1863, President Lincoln said:

    “Things had gone from bad to worse until I felt we had reached the end of our rope on the plan we were pursuing that we had played our last card, and must change our tactics or lose the game. I now determined upon the adoption of the emancipation policy.”

    The real reason for the Civil War, based on economics and taxes was quickly losing its luster, and a new cause was needed to rally the Northern troops.

    It was at this point that Lincoln decided that human rights were a better cause than economics, so slavery was promoted as the new cause to fight for. (Has American politics always been about distracting people from the real issues?)

    So, you might call the Emancipation Proclamation the beginning of “plan B” in the North’s strategy for waging the Civil War. By freeing the slaves, President Lincoln gambled that Northerners would be more inspired to fight and that newly emboldened slaves would turn against their masters and help destabilize the South.

    The cause of slavery also gave the North moral high-ground in a war in which both sides were actually fighting for selfish economic reasons. The gamble paid off, and the tide turned in the war as 180,000 former slaves joined the fight on the Union lines.

    After the Civil War: Slavery, Vagrancy Laws, & Taxes

    Over 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, including 38,000 former slaves. After the war (a new version of) the 13th Amendment was drawn up that ended slavery. Or did it?

    The 13th Amendment itself included a glaring loophole in its language:

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…” – 13th Amendment

    Doh! Well, you don’t have to be a lawyer to realize that according to the 13th Amendment you could keep blacks enslaved simply by convicting them of a crime. Really all the South had to do was charge their slaves with a crime, convict them, and then they could be punished with “involuntary servitude.

    That’s exactly what happened, and the most common crime that blacks were charged with was,“vagrancy,” or simply being unemployed. Slavery was rebranded as “convict-leasing,” and remained prevalent through the South for decades.

    This practice became so common that in 1898 (over 30 years after the supposed end of slavery) over 70% of revenue in the State of Alabama came from the labor of these men labeled as “convicts.”

    While the North may have won an economic victory in the Civil War (affirming their right to heavily tax the South) their win didn’t improve the lives of most slaves, especially during the subsequent Reconstruction and Jim Crow periods.

    In fact, it would be another 99 years after the end of the Civil War until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed which finally outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, or gender. So, if the North won the Civil War, how should we define “victory?

    Conclusion: The Civil War Was Not About Slavery (nor Civil!)

    Dictionary definition of civil:

    Relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military matters

    Hmmm… after my research, I think that “death and taxes” would have been a more appropriate name for the Civil War. But then again, that would have been a tough sell for politicians. It’s amazing what effective marketing can make us believe! (like, Lucky Strike’s smoking is healthy campaign)

    Clearly Lincoln was an incredibly difficult situation after being elected to lead a country that was being torn apart, and many argue that he was our nation’s greatest president. However, neither history nor news should not be clouded by “alternative facts” that benefit certain interests.

    History is written by the victors.” – Winston Churchill

    The myth that slavery was the cause of the Civil War pervades to this day, while historical evidence shows us that the actual cause of the war was clearly taxes.

    History also tells us to be skeptical of any imperial power that wages war for a “moral” or humanitarian cause. (Um, Iraqi Freedom?!) There’s likely an alternate reason for these conflicts, usually involving taxes!

    *Related: What Does the Rosetta Stone Say? (It’s Mostly About Taxes!)

    *If you want to read a great book about how taxes have shaped human history, check out, “For Good and Evil, the Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization” by Charles Adams


    The Morrill Tariff Northern Provocation to Southern Secession

    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.

    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

    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

    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.”

    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 the North’s] 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.

    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.


    AMERICAN QUESTIONS ABROAD. THE MORRILL TARIFF.

    At any rate for the present, the great American Union is effectually divided into two rival Confederacies -- the Southern tainted with the blight of Slavery, stained with past and by no means free from the imputation of future filibustering expeditions, and called into existence, it would seem, by a course of deliberate and deep-laid treason on the part of the high officers of the Government of Washington. In the Northern Confederacy, on the contrary, Slavery, if not wholly extinguished, assumes a temporary and provisional character. No treachery has been at work to produce the disruption, and the principles avowed are such as to command the sympathies of every free and enlightened people. Such are the widely different auspices under which the two rival Republics start into existence. But mankind will not ultimately judge these things by sympathies and antipathies they will be greatly swayed by their own interest, and the two Republics must be weighed, not by their professions or their previous history, but by the conduct they pursue and the position they maintain among the Powers of the earth. Their internal institutions are their own affair their financial and political arrangements are emphatically ours. Brazil is a Slave-holding Empire, but by its good faith and good conduct it has contrived to establish for itself a place in the hierarchy of nations far superior to that of many Powers which are free from this domestic contamination. If the Northern Confederacy of America evinces a determination to act in a narrow, exclusive, and unsocial spirit, while its Southern competitor extends the hand of good fellowship to all mankind, with the exception of its own bondsmen, we must not be suprised to see the North, in spite of the goodness of its cause and the great negative merit of the absence of Slavery, sink into a secondary position, and lose the sympathy and regard of mankind.

    We may be said to be already in possession of the first fruits of the American disruption. The secession of so many men of the two Houses of Congress has conferred upon the North an undisputed majority for the first time. They have not been slow to avail themselves to the utmost of this advantage. They have, indeed, done nothing appreciable towards healing the wounds of their distracted country. They have taken no decided measure either of conciliation or coercion. The South has been allowed to mature its preparations, to seize the Federal arsenals and forts, and to organize a new Government, without even an intelligent protest from the Legislature at Washington. There was much excuse for this. The period between the election of the new President and the surrender of office by the old, is a sort of interregnum, in which it may be said all legislative and executive activity is paralyzed. But, though unable to do anything for the cause of the Union, the Senate and the Congress have employed the interregnum to strike a second blow at the commerce, the finance, and the general prosperity of the country, infinitely more fatal than any abstraction of territory or diminution of population. They employed the last weeks of probably the last session of the last Congress of the United States of America in undoing all the progress that has been made in the direction of Free-trade, and in manacling their country once more in the fetters of a protection amounting to prohibition. We fear that the bill has already received the assent of the President, and that at the present moment the twenty millions of exports which England sent last year to the United States have, as far as laws and regulations can effect it, been virtually excluded. If Americans wish to know with what feelings this measure has been regarded in England, they have only to turn to the Trade Reports of the Times, and their curiosity will be gratified. Thus, we find from Birmingham that a hardware and cutlery trade off 3,800,000 is looked upon as worthless. South Staffordshire is in dismay. "The conduct of Congress on the Tariff bill has much changed the tone of public feeling with reference to the Secessionists, and none here, even those whose sympathies are with the Northern States, attempt to justify the course which the Protectionists in Congress have pursued." In Manchester the proposed increase of duties on cotton goods in the United States is causing great attention. In Newcastle it is considered that it will be impossible to do business with the United States on the terms set out in the tariff, while the business with the Southern States is described as satisfactory. In Sheffield considerable apprehension is felt as to the effect of the new tariff on the steel trade. In Wolverhampton the anticipation that the tariff has become law darkens the already gloomy prospects of the iron trade. When it is remembered that all this ill-will and disruption of international ties and sympathies, which were becoming closer every day, and which America never needed more than now, is to be effected for no better object than that of protracting the sickly existence of an artificial manufacturing system, raised and natured at the expense of the shipping and trade of the country, and by levying an odious tribute from all classes not concerned in manufactures, we cannot but wonder at the madness of democracy and its utter inability to apprehend and retain the most obvious principles of economical science. Protection was quite as much a cause of the disruption of the Union as Slavery. In that respect it has done its worst, but it is destined, if we mistake not, to be the fruitful mother of other disruptions. What interest have the great agricultural Western States, for instance, in being made tributaries to the ironmasters of Pennsylvania or the cotton-spinners of Lowell? They will desire, as the South have desired, a direct trade with England, and the peculiar position of Canada, with its facilities of communication by lake, river and railway, will show them the readiest means of obtaining a direct trade by a fresh separation -- possibly by an amalgamation with our own colonies.

    These topics are so obvious that we forbear to insist upon them, but we beg to point out, for the comfort of our own countrymen and the warning of the Government of the United States, that in attempting to exclude at one blow twenty millions of exports from their territory, they have undertaken a task quite beyond their power. They may, indeed, destroy their own Customs' revenue they may give additional strength to those vested interests which claim a prescriptive light to live on the vitals of the community they may ruin the shipping and cripple the commerce of the towns on the Atlantic seaboard, but they cannot prevent English manufactures from permeating the United States from one end to the other. A glance at the map is sufficient to show this. The Southern Confederacy will, of course, desire no better than to make Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New-Orleans, depots of English manufactures, to be smuggled across the long and imperceptible frontier which separates them from the United States. Nay, it is quite possible that the great City of New-York may prefer to declare itself a free port, and to become the depot of an enormous illicit traffic, rather than see its wharfs rotting, its streets deserted, and its harbor empty, because a suicidal folly has driven commerce to the inferior harbors of the South. The indented coasts of the Northern States give ample opportunity for smuggling, and, what is still more important, the frontier between Canada and the Union is virtually traced by the stream of the St. Lawrence and the centre of the great Lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron. It is a region which might have been created for the express purpose of punishing the presumptuous folly of seeking to meet the barrier of Prohibition between nations which have long enjoyed the mutual benefits of commercial intercourse. The smuggler will redress the errors of the statesman, as he has so often done before. The change may occasion delay, loss and inconvenience but the stream is too mighty to be choked, and no sooner will the old channel have been stopped than a new one will be forced.

    From the London Shipping Gazette.

    We have thus glanced at the leading features of a measure which we believe to be wholly uncalled for, since not only are the people of the United States in a condition of great prosperity, but even what are called the "exigencies" of the State do not really require so vast an experiment as this -- for experiment we must call it -- to secure an adequate revenue to meet certain outgoings. It may be all very well for the Legislature of the States to pass laws to suit particular interests but it remains to be seen how the people -- the tax-paying community -- will receive a measure which imposes upon them heavy additional duties -- viz., from 10 to 20 and even 30 per cent. it remains to be seen whether they will purchase, or be in a condition to purchase, their usual supplies of foreign produce and manufactures, and whether consumption generally will not fall off to a most serious extent. On the latter point we have no doubt whatever, because it is but reasonable to suppose that high prices must compel the usual dealers to operate with extreme caution, to the great discouragement of trade. Another feature is evident -- viz, that the large importing and all other houses will be compelled to increase their capital, in the event of their having large stocks on hand, in order to meet the claims of the Custom-house authorities. Again, if consumption should rapidly fall off -- and no doubt it will -- at least two-thirds of the importers at New-York will, we apprehend, abandon their business altogether, and the result will be that the great American inward trade will decline to that of a third-rate Power, at least so far as the North is concerned. The secession movement, however, may, to some extent, counteract the evil effects of this ill-advised bill. Of course, in the present unsettled state of affairs in the Union, it would be impossible to predict with anything like accuracy in what position the South may hereafter find itself but, composed as it is chiefly of the free-trade class, it is fair to presume that, if left to itself, the South will pass a liberal Tariff, and that our great falling off in the shipments to the North may, in some measure, be made good by increased exports to other quarters. Nevertheless, view this measure in any light we please, it is obvious that a serious and most unnecessary blow has been aimed at England's commerce. For many years the States have done an enormous and very profitable trade with this country. In periods of scarcity, like the present, they have supplied us with immense quantities of many kinds of food, and for which there has almost invariably, been found a good and profitable market. We have, of course, equally profited by the system of a free interchage of commodities but shall we continue to do so except at periods of scarcity? America must understaud that, if she should succeed in crippling the trade of any country, by means of high duties, the demand for foreign produce is sure to decline in an equal ratio hence, it follows that the commercial operations of both countries will suffer. This measure, however, will not only affect English interests materially, but it threatens to destroy the export trade in silk and numerous articles from France, between which and the States a most important business has sprung up of late years. At the present time, literally nothing is doing in France on account of American houses, and we do not see how so wretched a state of things is to be improved, under a law which is both anti-national and subversive of the best interests of commerce. Even Germany will suffer nearly in an equal ratio with France. Her trade has gone on prospering but here we had it almost annihilated by the bill in question. The wise legislators of the United States, prior to giving their vote in favor of these restrictive duties, should have borne in mind that the American people have, for many years past, been living in what are termed "cheap times" -- in other words, that they have enjoyed the full benefit of comparative freedom of action. The astonishing results of a liberalized Tariff in the States, the rapidity with which the original public debt was nearly cleared off, and the great increase in the inward and outward trade, induced, we have no hesitation in saying, our legislators to agree to measures imposing low duties upon many imported articles, and the total abandonment of some upon raw produce, to the great benefit of our internal and external trade. We have, with great liberality, opened our ports to America we have continued to take from the States a large, very large, portion of their surplus produce and yet the Legislature treats our liberality on a basis which is a disgrace to the age we live in.

    From the London Daily News.

    Some of us have been precipitate in our judgment of what we called "the North," that is, the nation quitted by the Secessionists. We have only to bear in mind that since the election in November (a promising act in itself) the nation generally has been inevitably mute and passive. Its representatives in Congress were chosen before the occasion arose, and are no representatives of a people so circumstanced. The whole course of the Tariff question shows how inadequate the assemblage at Washington is to the time. No one will undertake to say that the constituencies will show themselves wise and well grounded in liberty. We must wait to see. The present fact is that the movers and speakers on all sides since the election of Mr. LINCOLN have not been the people, nor in the interest of the people at large. They have been faction leaders, traitors, alarmists, agitators, self-made dictators, or negotiators for compromise -- anything rather than citizens appointed by public confidence to work regeneration out of revolution. The American people must not be judged by these, but by their own bearing when the scene opens for action. We must see what there is to recognize in the South, before we talk of recognition and we must learn what the national purpose is before we judge the yet unexpressed mind of the people at large.

    We earnestly hope that the good sense of the majority of the American people will triumph over the misguided few whose selfishness has made them either blind or indifferent to the general interests of the nation. At this moment the inauguration of an augmented tariff by the Northern States would be an error productive of peculiarly disastrous consequences. The new Southern Confederacy will unquestionably make free trade the basis of its commercial policy in fact, the injury which the Southern States have sustained from the high tariff upheld by the North has had no small share in bringing about their secession. Let the North lower its duties on foreign manufactures, and it may still retain a large share of the transport of European goods to Southern markets but if it adopts a contrary line of action an important proportion of the carrying trade will inevitably pass into other hands. In either case the ultimate result will be the same the downfall of protection may be deferred, but it must come at last. But our warm interest in the welfare of our Transatlantic brethren would induce us to rejoice sincerely at the prevention of the evils which will inevitably spring from its further maintenance and meanwhile, it is curious to watch a struggle which is so precise a reproduction of that which took place in our own land within the memory of the present generation.


    Reconstruction Era

    Tariffs remained fairly high after the Civil War in order to protect Northern manufacturers. Most of the nation eventually accepted the high tariffs as a way to generate revenue, plus U.S. manufacturing and imports were starting to boom. Tariff levels averaged between 38 to 52 percent from 1865 to 1913.

    The 16th amendment was ratified, which permanently legalized the income tax. Tariffs were then lowered with the Underwood Tariff since income tax was now the main source of generating revenue for the government.

    The Tariff Act of 1930, also known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, was a protectionist policy that raised tariffs to a near historic high and resulted in reciprocal tariffs from most trading partners. Consensus view is that the tariffs actually exacerbated the effects of the 1929 stock market crash, rather than aid in recovery. Imports and exports during the Great Depression dropped by more than half. The average tariff rate on dutiable imports rose from 40.1 percent in 1929 to 59.1 percent in 1932.

    The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was signed by 23 nations in Geneva following World War II to promote international trade by reducing or eliminating tariffs and quotas. This remained in place until a larger agreement was signed in 1995.

    The Trade Act of 1974 was passed to create fast track authority for the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove, but cannot amend or filibuster. The Act was meant to help the U.S. become more competitive and give the president tariff negotiating authority.

    Protectionist policies had largely been dropped during the Reagan and Bush administrations in favor of minimal economic barriers to global trade. In 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified to ease trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada

    The World Trade Organization (WTO) was formed in January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement and was signed by 123 nations, replacing GATT. It is the largest international economic organization in the world and deals with regulation of trade between participating countries. The WTO also has a dispute resolution process and prohibits discrimination between trading partners, although does provide some exceptions.

    President Donald Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, after earlier in the year announcing a tariff on imported solar panels and washing machines. Nearly a year after imposition, the U.S., Canada and Mexico reached a deal to remove the tariffs in May 2019.


    Understanding The Morrill Tariff

    Most Americans believe the U. S. “Civil War” was over slavery. They have to an enormous degree been miseducated. The means and timing of handling the slavery question were at issue, although not in the overly simplified moral sense that lives in postwar and modern propaganda. But had there been no Morrill Tariff there might never have been a war. The conflict that cost of the lives of 650,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and perhaps as many as 50,000 Southern civilians and impoverished many millions for generations might never have been.

    A smoldering issue of unjust taxation that enriched Northern manufacturing states and exploited the agricultural South was fanned to a furious blaze in 1860. It was the Morrill Tariff that stirred the smoldering embers of regional mistrust and ignited the fires of Secession in the South. This precipitated a Northern reaction and call to arms that would engulf the nation in the flames of war for four years.

    Prior to the U. S. “Civil War” there was no U. S. income tax. In 1860, approximately 95% of U. S. government revenue was raised by a tariff on imported goods. A tariff is a tax on selected imports, most commonly finished or manufactured products. A high tariff is usually legislated not only to raise revenue, but also to protect domestic industry form foreign competition. By placing such a high, protective tariff on imported goods it makes them more expensive to buy than the same domestic goods. This allows domestic industries to charge higher prices and make more money on sales that might otherwise be lost to foreign competition because of cheaper prices (without the tariff) or better quality. This, of course, causes domestic consumers to pay higher prices and have a lower standard of living. Tariffs on some industrial products also hurt other domestic industries that must pay higher prices for goods they need to make their products. Because the nature and products of regional economies can vary widely, high tariffs are sometimes good for one section of the country, but damaging to another section of the country. High tariffs are particularly hard on exporters since they must cope with higher domestic costs and retaliatory foreign tariffs that put them at a pricing disadvantage. This has a depressing effect on both export volume and profit margins. High tariffs have been a frequent cause of economic disruption, strife and war.

    Prior to 1824 the average tariff level in the U. S. had been in the 15 to 20 % range. This was thought sufficient to meet federal revenue needs and not excessively burdensome to any section of the country. The increase of the tariff to a 20% average in 1816 was ostensibly to help pay for the War of 1812. It also represented a 26% net profit increase to Northern manufacturers.

    In 1824 Northern manufacturing states and the Whig Party under the leadership of Henry Clay began to push for high, protective tariffs. These were strongly opposed by the South. The Southern economy was largely agricultural and geared to exporting a large portion of its cotton and tobacco crops to Europe. In the 1850’s the South accounted for anywhere from 72 to 82% of U. S. exports. They were largely dependent, however, on Europe or the North for the manufactured goods needed for both agricultural production and consumer needs. Northern states received about 20% of the South’s agricultural production. The vast majority of export volume went to Europe. A protective tariff was then a substantial benefit to Northern manufacturing states, but meant considerable economic hardship for the agricultural South

    Northern political dominance enabled Clay and his allies in Congress to pass a tariff averaging 35% late in 1824. This was the cause of economic boom in the North, but economic hardship and political agitation in the South. South Carolina was especially hard hit, the State’s exports falling 25% over the next two years. In 1828 in a demonstration of unabashed partisanship and unashamed greed the Northern dominated Congress raised the average tariff level to 50%. Despite strong Southern agitation for lower tariffs the Tariff of 1832 only nominally reduced the effective tariff rate and brought no relief to the South. These last two tariffs are usually termed in history as the Tariffs of Abomination.

    This led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832 when South Carolina called a state convention and “nullified” the 1828 and 1832 tariffs as unjust and unconstitutional. The resulting constitutional crisis came very near provoking armed conflict at that time. Through the efforts of former U. S. Vice President and U. S. Senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun, a compromise was effected in 1833 which over a few years reduced the tariff back to a normal level of about 15%. Henry Clay and the Whigs were not happy, however, to have been forced into a compromise by Calhoun and South Carolina’s Nullification threat. The tariff, however, remained at a level near 15% until 1860. A lesson in economics, regional sensitivities, and simple fairness should have been learned from this confrontation, but if it was learned, it was ignored by ambitious political and business factions and personalities that would come on the scene of American history in the late 1850’s.

    High protective tariffs were always the policy of the old Whig Party and had become the policy of the new Republican Party that replaced it. A recession beginning around 1857 gave the cause of protectionism an additional political boost in the Northern industrial states.

    In May of 1860 the U. S. Congress passed the Morrill Tariff Bill (named for Republican Congressman and steel manufacturer, Justin S. Morrill of Vermont) raising the average tariff from about 15% to 37% with increases to 47% within three years. Although this was remarkably reminiscent of the Tariffs of Abomination which had led in 1832 to a constitutional crisis and threats of secession and armed force, the U. S. House of Representatives passed the Bill 105 to 64. Out of 40 Southern Congressmen only one Tennessee Congressman voted for it.

    U. S. tariff revenues already fell disproportionately on the South, accounting for 87% of the total even before the Morrill Tariff. While the tariff protected Northern industrial interests, it raised the cost of living and commerce in the South substantially. It also reduced the trade value of their agricultural exports to Europe. These combined to place a severe economic hardship on many Southern states. Even more galling was that 80% or more of these tax revenues were expended on Northern public works and industrial subsidies, thus further enriching the North at the expense of the South.

    In the 1860 election, Lincoln, a former Whig and great admirer of Henry Clay, campaigned for the high protective tariff provisions of the Morrill Tariff, which had also been incorporated into the Republican Party Platform. Thaddeus Stevens, the most powerful Republican in Congress and one of the co-sponsors of the Morrill Tariff, told an audience in New York City on September 27, 1860, that the two most important issues of the Presidential campaign were preventing the extension of slavery to new states and an increase in the tariff, but that the most important of the two was increasing the tariff. Stevens, a Pennsylvania iron manufacturer, was also one of the most radical abolitionists in Congress. He told the New York audience that the tariff would enrich the northeastern states and impoverish the southern and western states, but that it was essential for advancing national greatness and the prosperity of industrial workers. Stevens, who would become virtually the “boss’ of America after the assassination of Lincoln, advised the crowd that if Southern leaders objected, they would be rounded up and hanged.

    Two days before Lincoln’s election in November of 1860, an editorial in the Charleston Mercury summed up the feeling of South Carolina on the impending national crisis:

    “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.”

    With the election of Lincoln and strengthened Northern dominance in Congress, Southern leaders in South Carolina and the Gulf states began to call for Secession. Lincoln endorsed the Morrill Tariff in his inaugural speech and promised to enforce it even on seceding Southern states. He signed the Act into law a few days after taking office in March of 1861. The South was filled with righteous indignation.

    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.”

    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.”

    Northern industrialists became nervous, however, when they realized a tariff dependent North would be competing against a free-trade South. They feared not only loss of tax revenue, but considerable loss of trade. Newspaper editorials began to reflect this nervousness. Events in April would engulf the nation in cataclysmic war.

    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 decisive response was,

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

    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. 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 would erupt into a terrible and costly war for four years.

    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.”

    The Union Army’s lack of success early in the war, the need to keep anti-slavery England from coming into the war on the side of the South, and Lincoln’s need to appease the radical abolitionists in the North led to increasing promotion of freeing the slaves as a noble cause to justify what was really a dispute over fair taxation and States Rights.

    Writing in December of 1861 in a London weekly publication, the famous English author, Charles Dickens, who was a strong opponent of slavery, said these things about the war going on in America:

    “The Northern onslaught upon slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug disguised to conceal its desire for economic control of the United States.”

    Karl Marx, like most European socialists of the time favored the North. In an 1861 article published in England, he articulated very well what the major British newspapers, the Times, the Economist, and Saturday Review, had been 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.”

    The Tariff question and the States Rights question were therefore strongly linked. Both are linked to the broader issues of limited government and a strong Constitution. The Morrill Tariff dealt the South a flagrant political injustice and impending economic hardship and crisis. It therefore made Secession a very compelling alternative to an exploited and unequal union with the North.

    How to handle the slavery question was an underlying tension between North and South, but one of many tensions. It cannot be said to be the cause of the war. Fully understanding the slavery question and its relations to those tensions is beyond the scope of this article, but numerous historical facts demolish the propagandistic morality play that a virtuous North invaded the evil South to free the slaves. Five years after the end of the War, prominent Northern abolitionist, attorney and legal scholar, Lysander Spooner, put it this way:

    “All these cries of having ‘abolished slavery,’ of having ‘saved the country,’ of having ‘preserved the Union,’ of establishing a ‘government of consent,’ and of ‘maintaining the national honor’ are all gross, shameless, transparent cheats—so transparent that they ought to deceive no one.”

    Yet apparently many today are still deceived and even prefer to be deceived.

    The Southern states had seen that continued union with the North would jeopardize their liberties and economic wellbeing. Through the proper constitutional means of state conventions and referendums they sought to withdraw from the Union and establish their independence just as the American Colonies had sought their independence from Great Britain in 1776 and for very similar reasons. The Northern industrialists, however, were not willing to give up their Southern Colonies.

    In addition to the devastating loss of life and leadership during the War, the South suffered considerable damage to property, livestock, and crops. The policies of “Reconstruction” and “carpetbagger” state governments further exploited and robbed the South, considerably retarding economic recovery. Further, high tariffs and discriminatory railroad shipping taxes continued to favor Northern economic interests and impoverish the South for generations after the war. It is only in relatively recent history that the political and economic fortunes of the South have begun to rise.

    Unjust taxation has been the cause of many tensions and much bloodshed throughout history. The Morrill Tariff was certainly a powerful factor predisposing the South to seek its independence and determine its own destiny. As outrageous and unjust as the Morrill Tariff was, its importance has been largely ignored and even purposely obscured. It does not fit the politically correct images and myths of popular American history. Truth, however, is always the high ground. It will have the inevitable victory

    Had it not been for the Morrill Tariff there would have been no rush to Secession by Southern states and very probably no war. The Morrill Tariff of 1860, so unabashed and unashamed in its short-sighted, partisan greed, stands as an astonishing monument to the self-centered depravity of man and to its consequences. No wonder most Americans would like to see it forgotten and covered over with a more morally satisfying but largely false version of the causes of the Uncivil War.


    Why is the Morrill Act important to Texas A&M today?

    More than 150 years later, the Morrill Act has proven to be a transformative piece of legislation not just for Texas A&M, but for the other universities that were founded under the original 1862 act and the 1890 act, which founded many historically black colleges and universities (HBCU).

    The act is such an integral part of Texas A&M’s DNA that even though the Texas Legislature changed the name of the university from the Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1965, the ‘A’ and ‘M’ in Texas A&M are a symbolic homage to the university’s land-grant roots.

    The land-grant designation laid the foundation for Texas A&M to become one of the first land-, sea- and space-grant universities by 1989 – a distinction it shares with only 16 other schools.


    Watch the video: TARIFFS and TAXES: The REAL Cause of the CIVIL WAR?! (January 2022).