The Tariff and Secession:
Statements on the Tariff as a Major Factor
in Sectional Strife and Southern Secession
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
The pre-war quotes on the tariff presented below come from newspapers, Congressional records, and secession documents. Terms like “duties and imposts” and “taxation” refer to the tariff. In the 1800s, nearly all federal revenue came from the tariff. The terms “protection,” “protectionist,” “protectionism,” etc., involve the tariff dispute. One of the main complaints against the tariff was that it “protected” some industries, especially Northern manufacturing, at the expense of others.
Following the pre-war statements, we will look at what some modern scholars have to say about the tariff as a factor in sectional strife and/or Southern secession.
Before we begin to read the statements on the tariff, it might be helpful to briefly review the history of the pre-war disputes over this issue, with special emphasis on the Morrill Tariff.
Northern and Southern leaders began arguing over the tariff almost as soon as the federal government was formed. This is not to say that all Northern politicians were protectionists and that all Southern politicians were free traders. In a few states and areas, some politicians sometimes broke with their party’s stand on the tariff. But, generally speaking, Northern leaders tended to support high tariff rates and strong protection, while Southern leaders tended to support low tariff rates and either no protection or limited/modest protection. Most high-tariff politicians belonged to the Whig Party and then to the Republican Party after the Whig Party collapsed in 1854. Most low-tariff politicians belonged to the Democratic Party.
There were sharp debates over the tariff in 1816, 1820, 1824, 1828, 1832,
1833, 1842, 1846, 1857, and from 1857 to 1861. The debates over the 1828 and 1832
tariffs were especially heated.
Southern leaders were outraged by the 1828 tariff, which they nick-named
the “Tariff of Abominations.”
In response to the Tariff of 1832, which only modestly reduced the 1828
rates, the state of
As the tenth year of the 1833 tariff approached, Northern industrial interests and the Whig Party began lobbying for a return to higher tariff rates and stronger protection. Over fierce Southern opposition, they succeeded in passing the protectionist Tariff of 1842, also known as the “Black Tariff.”
In 1844, James K. Polk, a Democrat from
With the passage of the 1846 tariff bill, the tariff ceased to be a major point of contention for a good 10 years. The Whigs barely mentioned the issue in their 1848, 1852, and 1856 platforms. The South was largely satisfied with the tariff, although many Southern representatives believed that rates could and should be lower.
Southern leaders, with the support of some Northern and Western
representatives, succeeded in lowering tariff rates again in 1857. The passage of the Tariff of 1857 marked
A few months after the 1857 tariff was enacted into law, the Panic of 1857 occurred. Although the two events were not connected, protectionists wrongly claimed that the tariff reduction had caused the downturn, and they began pushing for higher tariff rates. The push for a new, higher tariff led to the passage of the Morrill Tariff in 1861.
The Morrill Tariff was a major point of contention between the North and
the South for nearly two years before the Southern states began to leave the
The Morrill Tariff played a key role in
When Southern senators began to leave the Senate in January and February
1861, Senate Republicans took advantage of their departure and passed
Morrill’s bill on February 20, and President Buchanan signed it a few
The passage of the Morrill Tariff not only enraged many Southern leaders, but it angered the British as well. British newspapers strongly attacked the Morrill Tariff, and Southern newspapers reprinted many of those editorials as part of their criticism of the new tariff.
The Morrill Tariff imposed huge rate increases. It imposed increases of 24% to 32% on a wide range of common items, such as maps, charts, blank books, gunpowder, bolts, wooden and straw baskets, boards, school books, bracelets, boots, bricks, brooms, caps, gloves, hammers, ink, metal pens, gold and silver bells, bridles, socks, stockings, and other items. On some items the Morrill Tariff imposed even larger increases, such as ammunition (100% increase), muskets (100% increase), ammoniac (100% increase), printed books (87% increase), magazines (87% increase), and newspapers (87% increase). (For a complete listing of the Morrill Tariff rates and a comparison between them and the 1857 and 1846 rates, see The United States Tariff of 1861, New York: Merchants Magazine: Root, Anthony, and Company, 1861. The book is available on Google Books.)
Defenders of the Morrill Tariff claim that it merely returned tariff rates
to their 1846 levels. But
businesses were not paying the 1846 rates when the Morrill bill was signed;
they were paying the 1857 rates, and in many cases the Morrill rates, as shown
above, imposed huge increases over the 1857 rates. Furthermore, in some cases the Morrill
rates were considerably higher than the 1846 rates. Dr. Philip Magness,
a professor of history at
Morrill’s abandonment of the ad valorem schedule in favor of speciﬁc duties provided a pretext for raising the tariff on several items well above their 1846 levels. ("Morrill and the Missing Industries," Journal of the Early Republic, Summer 2009, p. 327, emphasis added)
Economist Frank Taussig:
Indeed, Mr. Morrill and the other supporters of the act of 1861 declared that their intention was simply to restore the rates of 1846. The important change which they proposed to make from the provisions of the tariff of 1846 was to substitute specific for ad-valorem duties. Such a change from ad-valorem to specific duties is in itself by no means objectionable; but it has usually been made a pretext on the part of protectionists for a considerable increase in the actual duties paid. When protectionists make a change of this kind, they almost invariably make the specific duties higher than the ad-valorem duties for which they are supposed to be an equivalent—a circumstance which has given rise to the common notion, of course unfounded, that there is some essential connection between free trade and ad-valorem duties on the one hand, and between protection and specific duties on the other hand. The Morrill tariff formed no exception to the usual course of things in this respect. The specific duties which it established were in many cases considerably above the ad-valorem duties of 1846. (The Tariff History of the United States, New York: G. P. Puntam’s Sons, p. 99, emphasis added, ).
Pre-War Statements on the Tariff
We will begin our look at pre-war statements on the tariff by examining secession
documents and pro-secession speeches from late 1860 to mid-1861. After that, we will examine newspaper
articles and Congressional debates on the tariff that date from early 1861 back
to 1842. (Note: The newspaper
articles can be found on the Library of Congress website Chronicling
They [the Northern states] have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.
The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the North began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests. Even the owners of fishing smacks sought and obtained bounties [government subsidies] for pursuing their own business (which yet continue), and $500,000 [about $8.5 million in today’s dollars] is now paid them annually out of the Treasury. The navigating interests begged for protection [via the tariff] against foreign shipbuilders and against competition in the coasting trade. Congress granted both requests, and by prohibitory acts gave an absolute monopoly of this business to each of their interests, which they enjoy without diminution to this day.
And so with the Southern States, towards the Northern States, in the vital matter of taxation. They are in a minority in Congress. Their representation in Congress is useless to protect them against unjust taxation; and they are taxed by the people of the North for their benefit, exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in the British parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years, the taxes laid by the Congress of the United States have been laid with a view of subserving the interests of the North. The people of the South have been taxed by duties on imports, not for revenue, but for an object inconsistent with revenue–to promote, by prohibitions, Northern interests in the productions of their mines and manufactures.
There is another evil, in the
condition of the Southern toward the Northern States, which our ancestors
refused to bear toward
When Senator Robert Toombs, a
instant the government was organized, at the very first Congress, the Northern
States evinced a general desire and purpose to use it for their own benefit,
and to pervert its powers for sectional advantage, and they have steadily
pursued that policy to this day. They demanded a monopoly of the business of
ship-building, and got a prohibition against the sale of foreign ships to
citizens of the
They demanded a monopoly of the coasting trade, in order to get higher freights than they could get in open competition with the carriers of the world. Congress gave it to them, and they yet hold this monopoly. And now, to-day, if a foreign vessel in Savannah offers to take your rice, cotton, grain or lumber to New York, or any other American port, for nothing, your laws prohibit it, in order that Northern ship-owners may get enhanced prices for doing your carrying. This same shipping interest, with cormorant rapacity [insatiable greed], have steadily burrowed their way through your legislative halls, until they have saddled the agricultural classes with a large portion of the legitimate expenses of their own business. We pay a million of dollars per annum for the lights which guide them into and out of your ports. We built and kept up, at the cost of at least another million a year, hospitals for their sick and disabled seamen when they wear them out and cast them ashore. We pay half a million per annum to support and bring home those they cast away in foreign lands. They demand, and have received, millions of the public money to increase the safety of harbors, and lessen the danger of navigating our rivers. All of which expenses legitimately fall upon their business, and should come out of their own pockets, instead of a common treasury.
the fishermen of
Let us now turn our attention to various pre-war newspaper articles and Congressional debates on the tariff. These sources date from mid-1861 back to 1842. We will begin with the Morrill Tariff and go backward from there.
British newspapers were harshly critical of the Morrill Tariff and had much to say about the South’s long-standing opposition to high protectionist tariffs. Not surprisingly, Southern newspapers reprinted many of these British editorials.
Our first example comes from the famous nineteenth-century writer Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol. Dickens’ weekly journal All the Year Round was frequently reprinted in a number of American newspapers. Dickens was an avid student of American politics. In the December 28, 1861, edition of his journal, Dickens included a long article on the Morrill Tariff. He noted the South’s repeated complaints against a protective tariff, severely criticized the Morrill Tariff, suggested that the refusal to allow the South to leave in peace violated the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and expressed the view that money was the main reason the South seceded and the main reason the North rejected peaceful separation:
If it be not in slavery, where lies the partition of the interests that has led at last to actual separation of the Southern from the Northern States? In the original constitution of the Union it was provided that "all duties, imposts, and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States;" also 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 war with this country [
The protected interests clamored for more and more assurance of the comfort of monopoly; and as political morality also declined, the moderate protective system decayed into corrupt political bargains between special interests, to impose for their own profit heavy taxes upon other interests. In the year 'twenty-three a large increase to many existing duties was proposed for the benefit of the manufacturers. The South felt then, that it was called on to pay tribute for the benefit of the North, and resisted the proposal. It was carried against them by a peculiar sort of political jobbery that secured a majority of five in the House of Representatives and four in the Senate. In 'twenty-eight  there was another struggle of the same sort, in which the State of Pennsylvania took the lead, and on behalf chiefly of the textile fabrics of the North, a general bounty [subsidy] was, in fact, to be paid by the agricultural interest. . . .
In 'thirty-two , the tariff came again under revision. Excessive duties had produced surplus of income; reductions were, therefore, to be made, and the manufacturing interest strove that there should be no reduction of the bounties upon manufactures. The agriculturists fought then for a fair share of the relief to be accorded, but without success. In vain had Mr. Hayes, of South Carolina, exclaimed in debate, "Remove, I earnestly beseech you, from among us, this never-failing source of contention. Dry up at its course this fountain of the waters of bitterness. It is in your power to do it this day, by doing equal justice to all. And be assured that he to whom the country shall be indebted for this blessing, will be considered as the second founder of the republic."
The injustice of the North caused the assemblage of a Convention, called by the people of South Carolina, which proceeded to declare the tariff null and void, on the ground that "Congress had exceeded its just powers under the constitution, which confers on it no authority to afford such protection, and had violated the true meaning and intent of the constitution, which provides for equality in imposing the burdens of taxation upon the several States". . . . Then Mr. Clay interposed as a mediator; and a measure of his, satisfactory to South Carolina, which provided for a large but gradual reduction of the duties upon manufactures—a reduction spread over ten years—was pushed through the house with unprecedented rapidity, by an evasion of the rules. At the end of the ten years, government expenses had so largely increased that the settlement was repudiated, and from that day to this, protection has enriched Northern manufacturers at the expense of the Southern agriculturists. Disguised often under the name of revenue, all American tariffs since the year 'sixteen have been protective, and the immense excess of this protection has been in favor of the manufacturing interest of the North. It is true that here and there a Southern interest has taken advantage on its own behalf of a system that it was found impossible to overthrow. The duty on sugar, for example, has been higher than it would have been but for consideration of the interests of Louisiana. But the profit of a few districts bears little or no relation to the loss of the whole South by a system that compelled it to pay a heavy fine into the pockets of the Northern manufacturers as the price of its equal participation in the privileges of the constitution. . . .
The last grievance of the South
was the Morrill tariff, passed as an election bribe to the State of
"The outrageous amount of the duties imposed on articles of prime importance, at a time when all other civilized countries are reducing duties and removing impediments to trade, will not excite more surprise than the blunders, the petty favoritism, the absence of all rule or system, the want of all legislative capacity, which it displays. 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.
"A specific duty has the advantage of being definite, simple, and free from risk of fraud; but as prices fluctuate, it may become much more light or onerous, in relation to the cost of the article, than it was designed to be. An ad valorem duty escapes this evil, but is without those advantages. To attach to one article two duties, one on the specific, and the other on the ad valorem principle, is a contrivance by which to obtain the evils of both, with the advantages of neither. It is incredible that any one reflecting on the subject could fail to see the impolicy [bad policy] of imposing the two on the same article; yet the Morrill tariff does this, not in a few instances, but generally throughout the range of manufactured goods."
If a measure like this were passed by collusion of interests—which the American legislator familiarly recognizes as "log-rolling"—"You help to roll my log, and I'll help to roll yours"—if it were so passed and its doubtful fate secured by delay, lobbying, and a final rush, so much the more was it disgraceful to the Union, so much the more might it disgust those to whom it was the crowning injury in a long course of injurious legislation. Congress has met again and added to the measure, making it more, not less, protective and restrictive. That it disgusts the best half of the North we heartily hope; we see also that it has severed the last threads which bound the North and South together. The severance, already far advanced, needed but one little stroke more along the whole line of division.
In each year since 1837, the
North has taken at least eight million of pounds [about $32 million dollars],
for the avowed purpose of protecting its own manufactures and shipping. Every
year, for some years back, this or that Southern state has declared that it
would submit to this extortion only while it had not strength for resistance.
When the day of resistance came, the dishonest compromise attributed to Mr.
Seward is a suggestion to the Southerners of Mexico and
Each state has been the country
of its citizens, a country not seldom larger in itself
A March 8, 1861, editorial in The London Times, after alluding to the
Morrill Tariff, noted that the Southern states had “never ceased to rebel
against the tariff.” The editorial
was reprinted in the April 5, 1861, edition of The Abbeville Press of
It is useless to disguise the fact that so long as the Washington Congress adheres and even adds new restrictions to a protective policy [i.e., the Morrill Tariff], they give their enemies the best excuse for hostility, and cut themselves off from the sympathy of their friends. . . .
Circumstances have almost insensibly taught the Southern States of America a lesson. . . . and they have never ceased to rebel against the tariff by which their products and imports are taxed, ostensibly for the benefit of the Union, but, as they believe, to gratify the blind selfishness of the North. (The London Times, March 8, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)
But the tendencies of trade are inexorable, and our manufacturers will infallibly find their way to the best market with the regularity of mechanical law. Hitherto our exports have chiefly been consigned to Northern merchants, while our imports, greatly exceeding them [the exports] in value, have been principally supplied from the South. It may be that the Southern population will now become our best customers. (The London Times, March 8, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)
We cannot fail to see—and
it is our duty to point out—the tendency of a retrograde commercial
policy in the North to divide European trade from
A feeling akin to consternation
pervaded the iron trade on Change on
A businessman from Manchester wrote an open letter to Southern citizens and leaders in Charleston in April 1861 advising them that the “moderate” Confederate tariff would cause many British manufacturing interests to cease doing business with the North and instead to do business with the South, as soon as British shipping could sail to the South without risk of seizure. His letter appeared in The Abbeville Press, among other newspapers:
When matters become really settled with you, so that shipments of British manufacturers could be sent to your port without risk of seizure, write me, as many houses here will cease their agency at the North, and establish them at the South—on what time can goods be sold in your city and is their capital there sufficient for the trade, which will certainly largely increase under the influence of your moderate tariff. (Manchester, March 9, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)
A British businessman in Liverpool wrote to Southern citizens in
March 1861 to say that there was growing support there for the Confederacy
because the Northern tariff, i.e., the Morrill Tariff, had alienated the entire
mercantile community on that side of the
The feeling here in favor of your Southern Confederacy is gathering strength. The scale of duties which is laid down in the Northern Tariff has completely alienated the sympathies of the entire mercantile community this side of the Atlantic and all are now wishing success to the seceding states, whose policy is announced as likely to be “free trade with all the world.” (Liverpool, March 9, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)
Another British citizen, also writing from Liverpool, deemed the Morrill Tariff to be “almost prohibitory” and an attempt to make the whole country “contribute to the manufacturing region,” i.e., the North:
I conceive the Northern Tariff almost prohibitory; it is an attempt to make the whole country contribute to the manufacturing region, and I cannot see how the other Southern states can consent to live under such a dishonest tax. (Liverpool, March 9, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)
A British citizen from
The high tariff of the Washington Republican Party is much condemned as a serious blow to the trade of the country. The slavery question does not now enter into the discussion, except as one of proximity. (Liverpool, March 6, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)
British attorney John W. Cowell wrote several letters on secession. One was published in The London Examiner on January 26, 1861, and was reprinted in Southern newspapers in March 1861, including The Memphis Daily Appeal. Another letter was written to Captain M. T. Maury of the Confederate Navy in December 1861. Cowell spent time in America from 1837 to 1839 and apparently followed American affairs rather closely after he returned to England. Cowell believed that the North had long been economically exploiting the South and that the North’s high-tariff, protectionist trade policy was the main reason for the split between the North and the South. Let’s start with Cowell’s letter to Captain Maury, written in December 1861:
Some years ago I was placed in a
very peculiar relation to American affairs; and, in the performance of what at
that time was my duty, I became obliged to ascertain the nature and the
character of the productive energies of the Union, and to consider in what
manner they influenced its interior and exterior relations politically as well
as commercially. This examination convinced me that the spoliation which the
North was systematically practicing on the South, through the Protective
System, could not fail, if it should be much longer persevered in, to bring
about a disruption of the Union. The patience of the South was, even at that
time, almost exhausted — the burden it had to bear was becoming
insupportable — already had it taken up arms, and been only quieted at
the moment by a compromise which proved delusive — it still found itself,
as before, robbed by the Northern monopolists of many millions sterling every
year — it was still cut off by them from all direct commercial and
financial intercourse with its customers and natural friends in Europe. . . .
(“A Letter Addressed to Captain M. T. Maury, Confederate Navy, on His
Letter to Admiral Fitzroy,” December 30, 1861, in Letters on Southern Secession,
In the interests of
The condition of interchange of products between England and the South is such that their crop is almost entirely paid for by England in anticipation of its shipment We took from them last year considerably more than 2,000,000 bales of cotton, and returned to them, chiefly in articles of our own manufacture, to the value of more than 20,000,000 pounds sterling. This enormous interchange between them and us ought to be effected directly, and not circuitously; but owing to the Federal Union, and to the injurious operation of its Tariff upon the South, it is artificially and unnaturally managed through the intrusive agency of New York and of the Northern States. Their intervention is wholly unnecessary, and it is quite as detrimental to us as to the Southern States. . . .
As the Tariff lies at the root of the disruption, and is, indeed, its determining cause, it is desirable to set this point in its true light, and for this purpose we must bear in mind that the single object and business of the South is to grow its cotton for England and that the natural action of England is to send its ships to bring the cotton to our shores loaded with our own manufactures to pay for it.
It is not the existence of
Slavery in the South which lies at the root of this contest. That did not
become an element in the dispute until after we in England had abolished
slavery in our own colonies — not yet thirty years ago — at which
date the South had already revolted in arms against the oppressive monopoly of
the North, and was only prevented from then seceding by a well-known compromise
of the Tariff, The North has agitated the Slavery question since then, rather
with a view of intimidating the South, hoping thereby to obtain a continuance
of its acquiescence in the Tariff, than from other motives. The North, by
introducing this sad reproach, has envenomed the quarrel, and hence to us on this
side of the Atlantic, slavery appears to occupy the foreground of it. Slavery,
however, has nothing to do either with its origin or continuance. The causa causans
[real, effective cause] from the beginning, and throughout, has been the
Tariff, and this it is necessary to make clear. (“Letter from John W. Cowell: From the
In a March 1861 editorial seeking
to persuade Virginians to support secession, a
The North, on the other hand, have obtained unlimited control of the old government and is
free to carry out its own principles of government. It has made haste to signalize its
victory and to give instance of its intentions by enacting a tariff law
odiously protective, odiously in conflict with the political teachings and
principles of Virginia. . . . (“
This editorial was written about a week after the Confederate Provisional Congress passed the first Confederate tariff and two weeks after the Provisional Congress made it clear that the Confederacy would be following a trade policy in harmony with free-trade principles.
The Daily Dispatch went on to point out that William Seward’s unofficial spokesman, Thurlow Weed, had recently warned that the Confederate tariff would cause European shipping to choose Southern ports over Northern ports, so much so that “the whole trade of the cities of the Northern seaboard” would be diverted to the South:
That astute politician and indefatigable wire-worker, Thurlow Weed, admits the irrepressible conflict between the two tariffs, the impossibility of collecting the revenue, and the deadlock to which the government is reduced. “The executive arm,” he says, “is paralyzed. There are no laws at all adequate to existing exigencies. In the present condition of the country, its embarrassments have been aggravated by a complicated tariff”. . . .
Such is the humiliating
confession of the imbecility of the Republican government, made by organ of the
chief member of the cabinet. The
duties on foreign goods, he says, will be all collected at the South, and the
whole trade of the cities of the Northern seaboard will be
“diverted” there. (“
The Daily Dispatch
further noted that Weed’s newspaper the Evening Journal had warned that under the Confederate tariff
“the rates of duty” would be “much lower” in the
By the time fixed for the new
tariff to go into operation, nearly two millions of dollars, says the Journal,
will have passed into the hands of those who have thrown off their allegiance
The Daily Dispatch said that the fleet of warships that the federal government was mustering was intended to enforce the Northern tariff law at Southern ports and said that this fleet would be harmless if France and England recognized the Confederacy:
The formidable home squadron of
ships of war, which the abolition government at
It must strike the world with amazement that Virginia, which has been so long contending for those very constructions of the Federal Constitution which have been engrafted upon it at Montgomery [i.e., the Confederate constitution drafted at Montgomery], should hesitate a moment in accepting an instrument modeled and framed precisely in accordance with all her own wise and patriotic teachings in the past. The Federal Constitution, interpreted according to the ideas and principles of the North, as always been her abhorrence and abomination. . . .
In another appeal to the citizens
The secession of the Southern
states has produced two tariffs, which, if
The withdrawal of Virginia from
that section [the North]—the separation which will be effected between
the two sections by the irrespective tariffs (and nothing marks the boundary
lines between countries more effectually than the douane
[custom house, where tariffs are collected])—will at once release her
from her present commercial vassalage to the North, at the same time that it
will place her in the relation of chief factor and commercial agent for the
Southern Confederacy. (“
The Morrill Tariff bill, oppressive and unpopular as it is likely to prove at the North, is not less objectionable upon that account, than for the feeling its passage manifests towards the South, and the separation of interests between the sections which it widens. It is an aggravation also of past bad faith and violated compromises. . . .
That just adopted, under the name of the Morrill Tariff, is hostile to revenue, wide in its discriminations, false in principle, and oppressive in detail. (The Banner of Liberty, March 13, 1861, p. 1)
Now, however, the moment the
Morrill Tariff bill goes into operation, there is an inducement to the foreign
trader to ship his goods to
By the adoption of the old and somewhat equitable tariff of the United States [the first Confederate tariff duplicated the general rates of the 1857 tariff], the South has gained an immense advantage over the North, as many articles of foreign merchandise will be excluded from our ports by the exorbitant and in some cases prohibitory duties imposed by the Morrill tariff; and thus, while importations will fall away in the Northern cities, they will increase .and are even now increasing in the ports of Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, and Charleston. At the same time that foreign nations are seeking more friendly ports with their goods, the products and manufactures of the Northern States will be subjected to an equal duty with foreign manufactures on the Southern measure which will prove protective of Southern industry and enterprise, as well as productive of considerable revenue to the South.
The adoption of the old
In its March 25, 1861, edition, The New Orleans Daily Crescent
published a long article, titled “The Two Confederacies,” that
commented on a March 19 article from The
New York Herald that warned that the “excessive” Morrill Tariff
would mean that the Confederate tariff would cause the eventual decimation of
Northern commerce and trade. The Daily Crescent agreed with this
assessment. Here is a small segment
The New York Herald of the 19th publishes the tariff bill of the North and that of the South side by side, in order that the contrast may be the more striking. And it thus notes the difference between them:
“The tariff of the Washington Congress is the most ignorant, useless, blundering, and pernicious that ever was concocted. . . . On the contrary [i.e., conversely], the tariff of the Montgomery Congress is a sound, practical, and intelligible measure. . . .”
That is strong language, but it is the truth. The Herald proceeds to show, what we ourselves showed a week or two ago, that the effect of the two tariffs will be the injury of the North and the corresponding benefit of the South.
The combined effects of these two tariffs must be to desolate the entire North, to stop its importations, cripple its commerce, and turn its capital into another channel. . . . [resumes quoting from the Herald article]:
“The tariff of the South opens its ports upon fair and equitable terms to the manufacturers of foreign countries, which it were folly to suppose will not be eagerly availed of, while the stupid and suicidal tariff just adopted by the Northern Congress imposes excessive and almost prohibitory duties upon the same articles.” (The New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 25, 1861, p. 4)
Representative John Reagan of
You are not content with the vast millions of tribute we pay you annually under the operation of our revenue laws, our navigation laws, your fishing bounties, and by making your people our manufacturers, our merchants, our shippers. You are not satisfied with the vast tribute we pay to build up your great cities, your railroads, and your canals. You are not satisfied with the millions of tribute we have been paying you on account of the balance of exchange, which you hold against us. You are not satisfied that we of the South are almost reduced to the condition of overseers of northern capitalists. You are not satisfied with all this; but you must wage a relentless crusade against our rights and institutions. . . .
We do not intend that you shall reduce us to such a condition. But I can tell you what your folly and injustice will compel us to do. It will compel us to be free from your domination, and more self-reliant than we have been. It will compel us to assert and maintain our separate independence. It will compel us to manufacture for ourselves, to build up our own commerce, our own great cities, our own railroad and canals; and to use the tribute money we now pay you for these things for the support of a government which will be friendly to all our interests, hostile to none of them. (Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, January 15, 1861, p. 391)
In an article about a book on John A. Quitman, an ardent Southern secessionist and filibusterer, the Republican newspaper The National Republican said the secession movement had been partly fueled by the belief that secession would bring the Cotton States “great pecuniary gain” (“pecuniary” is another word for “monetary” or “financial”). The article went on to note that the secession advocates gave two reasons for the South’s inferior development, the one being anti-slavery sentiment and the other being “the alleged inequality of taxes produced by the tariff system”:
It seems now well established, and is believed, both by our citizens and by observing foreigners, that the secession of the Gulf States is but the execution of a conspiracy which has been ripening for years. This movement has been occasioned partly by the belief, real or assumed, that great pecuniary gain would result to the Cotton States by forming a separate government, and partly by the pertinacious plotting of hungry demagogues, anxious for spoils and honors which they say were avoiding their grasp in the Federal Union. . . .
The whole blame of the comparative failure of the South to keep pace with the North in the race of improvement was laid upon the anti-slavery sentiment, which retarded the growth of slave labor in the natural way of importation, and prevented or embarrassed the acquisition of more territory, and upon the alleged inequality of taxes produced by the tariff system. (“Biography of a Secessionist,” The National Republican, April 16, 1861, p. 1)
Two days before the attack on Fort Sumter, The Dallas Herald said the passage of the Morrill Tariff was reckless, noted that it had been unfavorably received in England, and stated that it was passed to cater to Northern business interests:
The passage of this act, in the
midst of the secession of the states, evinces an utter disregard and
recklessness on the part of the Old Government that are truly astonishing. While the government was tottering to
ruin and crumbling around their heads, they [the Republicans] were scrambling
for a high protective tariff instead of trying to save the government. Northern manufactures must be protected
and Northern interest receive the benefit of legislation to the exclusion of
everything else, and instead of saving the country, they went to work for a
section that could not live without the fostering care of patronage.
(“The Morrill Tariff,” The
The political chit-chat of the
day is nothing but tariff, secession, and
The Star of the North,
a pro-protection Democratic newspaper published in
Whenever a public man enters
During Congressional debates on the Morrill Tariff bill in May 1860, Representative G. S. Houston of Alabama voiced some of the objections that the South had to the Morrill Tariff, and he made it clear that he viewed this issue as being as important as the issue of slavery, if not more so. Representative Houston:
The question is an important one. The taxing power of the Government, and its duty growing out of the exercise of that power, in view of the constitutional grant, present questions which, in my judgment, are not surpassed in importance by any ever agitated in an American Congress. I at once acknowledge the vast magnitude and importance of the questions growing out of African slavery. I am satisfied that upon its adjustment and final settlement the fate of the Government depends, and properly depends. Yet no question connected with the Government can be of more interest or importance than those growing out of the bill under consideration [the Morrill Tariff bill].
I was pleased to hear the
The pretext presented by those who want protection is, that we are not receiving, under the existing law, sufficient revenue to meet the just and proper demands of the Government. That is a mere pretext, as I propose to show. In 1857 our receipts, under the [tariff] law of 1846, were said to be too large. I was then satisfied they were too large. I have not changed that opinion; and while the present law, passed in that year , did not suit me in some of its provisions, yet I voted for it as the best I could get. It was a reduction of the receipts into the Treasury, as well as a reduction of the taxes upon the people. An effort is now being made to increase the duties to a point much higher than they were under the law of 1846, upon the alleged ground that our receipts into the Treasury are too small. . . .
If they are, if our receipts are not sufficient to meet the just demands of the Government, what is the proper remedy? . . . They should, if practicable, curtail the expenses of the Government, and in that way bring its expenditures to a point where they could be met by its income. Let us adopt that course. Let us cease to waste the money of the Government. Let us dispense with unnecessary and extravagant appropriations and see if in that way we cannot avoid an increase of taxation. . . .
The difficulty, Mr. Chairman, is not that the law does not produce revenue enough, but that Congress unnecessarily expends and wastes the money. Let us correct that abuse, and we will have ample means, not only to meet current expenses, but to pay the public debt in a few years. (Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, May 8, 1860, p. 449)
Another Southern member of the
House of Representatives, Sydenham Moore of
Regarding the tariff bill now under consideration as the most important measure, so far as the interests of my constituents are concerned, of any which has been introduced into Congress since I have had the honor of a seat on this floor, I cannot in silence permit it to become a law. . . . I feel impelled by a sense of duty to enter my most emphatic and indignant protest against the passage of this bill. . . . From the examination I have been able to give this bill, I consider it highly objectionable; and if, unfortunately, it should become a law, my opinion is that it will prove scarcely less oppressive than did the memorable tariff act of 1828, known throughout the South as the bill of abominations.
Mr. Chairman, any material change in our revenue laws affects, in some degree, the interests of every individual. . . . It is for this reason that the question of the tariff has always been justly regarded as one of the greatest importance. . . . The public mind has of late been, and is now, absorbed by another question of more perilous import [slavery]; but let none think that this of the tariff has been overlooked or forgotten by the protectionists. . . .
Who introduces it here and now, and, as it seems to me, so unnecessarily and unseasonably? Not those upon whom the taxes are most heavily imposed by the tariff laws, and who might be expected to be weary of bearing their endless burden, but the manufacturers themselves, for whose support and profits nearly every individual and industrial interest in the country is now compelled to contribute. . . .
Mr. Chairman, the honorable
The Bedford Gazette, published in Bedford, Pennsylvania, in discussing why the Morrill Tariff had been stalled in the Senate for the current session, complained that the Republicans purposely made the Morrill Tariff unfair and unacceptable to “three-fourths of the states” so that Senate passage would be impossible and so that they could make the bill a subject for “agitation” during the upcoming campaign:
The Morrill Tariff bill has been postponed by the Senate for the present session. The Democrats of Pennsylvania, headed by our gallant Foster, fought hard to have this bill passed, though their efforts were hopeless from the beginning, for the reason that the bill was purposely so shaped by the Black Republicans of the House as to make its adoption by the Senate impossible. The object of the Black Republicans in so framing the bill as to make it obnoxious to three-fourths of the states of the Union is so obvious that it is scarcely necessary here to bring it to the reader’s mind: It is to keep open the tariff question for agitation in the coming campaign, for the purpose of making political capital. Let this be borne in mind.
Had the Morrill bill been fair
to other sections of the country, and had it not been kept from the Senate
until towards the close of the session, when it was impossible to act on it
Mr. Hale [James T. Hale, a Republican in the House of Representatives] made a speech of a very remarkable character, and one which should teach Pennsylvanians and others interested in the success of the new tariff bill, that Democratic senators alone are not to be held responsible for its defeat. He stigmatized the new tariff bill as a partial one, and ridiculed Senator Bigler and his efforts to procure its passage. . . . But it must be remembered hereafter that no party is entitled to the credit of having sought to achieve its success, and no party responsible altogether for its rejection by the Senate. The Evening Post, one of the ablest papers in the country, and an unswerving supporter of the Republican side of politics, has, since the introduction of the Morrill bill in the House of Representatives, denounced the bill in the most unmeasured terms as partial, unjust, oppressive, and made to advance the interests of a few engaged in particular branches of manufacture at the expense of everyone else in the country. (“The Fate of the Tariff,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted in The Bedford Gazette, June 22, 1860, p. 2)
Curtin won a decisive victory with a majority of 32,000, largely due, James G. Blaine says: “to his able and persuasive presentation of the tariff question and to his effective appeals to the laboring men in the coal and iron section of the state. Governor Curtin gave a far greater proportion of his time to the tariff and financial issues than to all others combined because a majority of her [the state’s] voters believed that the Democratic Party tended to free-trade and that the Republican Party would espouse and maintain the cause of protection.” (I. F. Boughter, Western Pennsylvania and the Morrill Tariff, A. M. thesis, University of Pittsburgh, 1922, available at https://journals.psu.edu/wph/article/download/1319/1167)
Voters, all we have to say is, if you are in favor of Protection of American labor, vote only for Lincoln for president, and Curtin for governor, because they are the representatives of the only Protective Tariff party in existence. See the National Platform. (The Jeffersonian, September 27, 1860, p. 1)
In early 1859, Representative Lucius Lamar of
And what right have these manufacturers, through their representatives, to demand of this government over the grain growers of the West or the cotton planters of the South, or the merchants and the mechanics and the farmers of the whole country, who suffer equally with them from a decline of prices? He [Representative Stanton] seems to think that the government is bound to tax all other classes for the benefit of the manufacturers, and that that system of taxation shall be so fixed as to be heaviest when those other classes are least able to bear it. . . .
Now, Sir, suppose the policy reversed. Suppose the agriculturalists of my state, when cotton falls from 14 to 8 cents, and the wheat and wool growers of the West, when their productions fall in like proportion, should claim from the other classes, and especially from the manufacturing class, a bounty sufficient to make up the deficit. What a yell and howl of rage would we hear coming from that quarter now so clamorous for plunder. . . .
In defending the Constitution of the country and the rights of the people against the rapacious [greedy] demands of the mercenary capitalists from the manufacturing states, he [Representative Muscoe Garnett from Virginia] is but carrying out principles embodied in the platform of the national Democracy [the Democratic Party], a platform which forbids the general government to foster one branch of industry to the detriment of any other, and makes it the duty of every branch of government to enforce and practice the most rigid economy in conducting our public affairs. (Congressional Globe, 35th Congress, February 21, 1859, pp. 199, 201, 203)
In a speech in the House of
Representatives in February 1859, Representative Jabez
The receipts from the ordinary sources of income do not meet our expenses. Two questions of no ordinary import are presented: Shall we increase our taxes to obtain revenue adequate to the present standard of expenditures, or shall we diminish [reduce] those expenditures? On the joint solution of these questions hang issues of momentous consequence affecting the prosperity and political standing, if not the liberties, of this people. . . . Throw over it whatever disguise you may, the question is between retrenchment [spending reduction] and economy on the one hand, and onerous taxes on the other. . . .
A proper reduction will supersede the necessity of increased taxation. It is incumbent on those who urge a revision and increase of the tariff, not simply to assert, but to prove, that the expenditures cannot be so curtailed as to come within the estimated means. . . .
I fear, Mr. Chairman, there is with some an ulterior reason for this zealous advocacy of increase of duties, and that is a desire for increased protection. Large appropriations may be made to create the necessity for increased taxes. It might be going too far to ascribe such a purpose to a majority on this floor, but one might naturally infer—from the eagerness with which, by agricultural college and homestead bills, the public lands have been surrendered—that there was a covert purpose to render it impossible for the present tariff to furnish sufficient revenue. It is a contradiction in terms, an impossibility, for a high-tariff man to practice government economy and oppose extravagance. (Congressional Globe, 35th Congress, February 24, 1859, p. 268)
After arguing that higher tariff
rates meant higher prices for consumers, The
Dallas Herald said that
So importunate have been the
On August 25, 1859, The Independent Press, a
It will be recollected that Mr.
Polk had written his celebrated “Kane Letter” to
With this view, we went over the tariff of 1833 and 1842, and compared them together, provision by provision. . . . Suffice it to say that specifics and minimums, the bases of all protection, per se, were to be abolished, and the ad valorem principle introduced in any measure to be adopted. . . .
I remained at Mr. Polk’s house two nights and a day, and was thoroughly satisfied that he was with us on the great principles of a free trade tariff in all its leading features. (The Independent Press, August 26, 1859, p. 1)
But in 1816 (one year after the tremendous rise in cotton) our mode of taxation was changed so as to derive the bulk of the revenue from imports alone, and the policy of the North ever since has been to impose the whole burden of taxation on imports. They have uniformly endeavored to give away either to the states or to settlers to attract European white laborers and voters to get political power for controlling the honors and emoluments of the government, as well as to impose a high tariff for the protection of Northern manufactures.
It has been their sleepless policy, not only to protect Northern manufactures by as high a tariff as possible, but to have as much revenue as possible with which to erect Northern light houses, improve Northern harbors, lakes, and rivers, and to give away the public lands (equivalent to money from Treasury) to build Northern railroads and cut Northern canals to promote facilities for Northern manufactures and commerce. (The Edgefield Advertiser, April 13, 1859, p. 1)
In a February 26, 1859,
editorial, The Feliciana Democrat, a
A caucus of Democrats, invited by those opposed alike to an increased tariff, an increased debt, and specific duties, was held on the 5th [February 5, 1859], and adopted resolutions in accordance with these views. After canvassing all propositions, they came to the conclusions that means ought to be provided for the payment of the outstanding treasury notes, and that the deficiencies of the treasury [i.e., the budget deficit] should be met by reduced expenditures of the government. . . . Various items were pointed out, which might be reduced without serious detriment to public interests. . . . All seemed to agree that a return to a strictly economical point was equally necessary to the public welfare and to the continued prosperity of the Democratic party. None proposed a medication of the tariff, and a return to specific duties was not even suggested.
Here [the Pennsylvania delegation’s pro-protective tariff resolutions] appears to be an infringement of Democratic usage, a bolting from a regular Democratic body, and direct antagonism of views upon a vital and time-honored principle, more cherished by our party than almost any other. The party that permanently sustains a protective tariff ceases to be Democratic. . . .
They cannot pretend that the issue is an unimportant one. A strictly revenue tariff is a fundamental tenet in our doctrine. It is a question which comes home to every man, woman, and child in the Republic. No bounties for Yankee wares or iron manufactures can be taken from the public treasury in any shape or by any process, without making the tax-paying millions contribute for the benefit of the owners of mills, shops, and forges. (“The Two Caucusses,” The Feliciana Democrat, February 26, 1859, p. 3)
The Daily Dispatch reported that on January 31, 1859, Democratic senators held a caucus to discuss the issue of the tariff. During the caucus, Senator Douglas of Illinois thought it was a good time to reassert the “traditional Democratic doctrine” in favor of ad valorem duties instead of specific duties because specific duties were protectionist. The caucus adopted a resolution that said the current tariff was sufficient and that it was the duty of “the Executive” (the president) to look to “retrenchment,” i.e., reducing spending, rather than raising the tariff:
In the caucus, Mr. Iverson of
In December 1858, The Memphis Daily Appeal reprinted the Secretary of the Treasury’s report on the state of the nation’s finances, which included a detailed reply to protectionist arguments, especially to protectionist attacks on the 1857 tariff bill. Here are just a few brief quotations from the article:
If these principles are sound,
it is obvious that no tariff strictly for revenue has ever yet been enacted in
The objects which originally led to our system of duties have long since been attained. But under that system, large interests have grown up which have always claimed and received such consideration from Congress as to prevent the abandonment of the idea of protection. . . .
But it is taxing our credulity
to be told that exports of a large class of articles will go on from year to
year, while the manufacturers are unable to compete at home with importer,
though protected by 24 or even 19 percent. (“Report of the Secretary of
the Treasure on the State of the Finances,” The
In an 1858 speech, Senator James
The tariff of 1828 levied average duties of more than forty percent on all our imports. By the tariff of 1857 the average duties were reduced below twenty percent. . . . It cannot be denied that this is a great success. I think the duties should be reduced still lower, and particularly that the discriminations against the agricultural interests should be abolished. But it is supposed that there will be a demand for their increase at the next session [the next session of Congress]. If so, it will of course be resisted, and I trust successfully. Free trade is the test, the touch stone of free government, as monopoly is of despotism. I have no hesitation in saying that the plantation states should discard any government that made a protective tariff its policy. They should not submit to pay tribute for the support of any other industrial system than their own. (Keowee Courier, November 13, 1858, p. 1)
During debates on the Tariff of
1857, Senator George Pugh, a Democrat from
I do not like the principles on which this revision of the tariff has been undertaken. I am not in favor of an extensive free list. I desire to approximate equality in taxation. I believe that the government has no rightful authority to take one dollar from the pocket of any citizen, except for its legitimate and necessary expenses, and that those expenses ought to be reduce within very narrow bounds. I wish to see this be a government of small income—one which shall be compelled to husband its resources throughout each fiscal year, lest the public expenditure should exceed the public revenue. Then, sir, we will have economy in the government, and with a prosperous people and honest public servants. . . .
Beginning with the tariff act of April 27, 1816, and proceeding thence to the act of May 22, 1824, and finally to the “bill of abominations,” so called, on the 19th of May 1828, this government pursued a mad career of compelling the people at large to pay tribute to the manufacturers. The, also, it became necessary to limit the revenues of the government; and an act was passed July 14, 1832, by which the duties on wines and the appliances of luxury were reduced, while dyestuffs and other articles requisite [necessary] for manufacturing purposes were placed on the free list. The duties on manufactured goods, however, remained without substantial alteration. The result of such a policy will be recalled by all. It drove more than one-third of the states to poverty and the states of Georgia and South Carolina to the verge of secession. (Congressional Globe, 34th Congress, February 26, 1857, p. 341)
Senator Toombs also spoke during the debates on the 1857 tariff. He argued for an “equality of burdens” and said that tariff revenue should be no more than required to economically run the government:
I would be content with a reduction on the tariff of 1846 as it is, though I did not approve of that act altogether. I thought that in some of its details it was wrong. I believed then that it would raise too much money. . . . I should be content to scale it down on its own principles, and make it nothing but a naked reduction—not that I think that best, but reduction with me is the main object, and it ought to override all other questions. . . .
My great object is to get the largest reduction I can consistent equality of burdens. If I cannot get that, I will take the greatest reduction I can, no matter what particular interest it crushes, because protection being a bounty and not a matter of right in principle, I will benefit [help] the great mass of my countrymen, from Maine to Texas, as is my duty. . . .
If I had to frame a tariff, I would levy no more revenue than was necessary to the economical wants of the government, but I would discriminate moderately and wisely in favor of the industry of my own country. . . . That would be my rule. But the paramount obligation is to raise no more revenue than is necessary, and if, in the conflict of interests, I am to suffer taxation for the benefit of those classes that have grown up under protection, and not for the country, I will resist them to every extent. They shall not put their burdens on the community. They shall not tax the people for their benefit. They shall not obstruct the reduction of the public burdens by any help from me. When they seek that, protection becomes an object, not an incident. (Congressional Globe, 34th Congress, February 26, 1857, p. 348)
Senator Andrew Butler, a Democrat
I know that my state expects me
to take part in this debate, because I believe there is no state in the Union
that has made as many issues on free trade as
We have $70,000,000 of revenue. Who pays it? I believe that $35,000,000 would be enough. . . . The persons who pay these taxes are the consumers—the humble milkmaid who pays for her calico, the humble mechanic who pays for the coat in which he works, the humble farmer who pays for the plow he uses 20 percent, more than he ought to pay. If you could bring to the mind of the people that these classes are paying more than they are bound to pay, they would resist; but as long as you delude with this disguised form of taxation, you make this a government more irresponsible, in my opinion, than any, as far as I have read history—I say the most irresponsible government on earth, so far as regards to collection and disbursement of revenue. . . .
I desire to be understood that your taxation comes out of delusive and fraudulent legislation in some respects, and unwise legislation in all respects. . . . I know one thing, however: As long as this Treasury is here for distraction and contention, it is the element, not only of dissension, but it is the element of strife for spoils. If we had no money here [i.e., surplus revenue], do you think we should be contending to the extent that we have been? No, sir.
With regard to this money [the surplus revenue], I am willing to let it go into circulation, and the best way to put it into circulation is to let the people use the money as they think proper; but let not the government assume the guardianship over the money and the disposition of other people’s fortunes. What right have I to build up the iron interest, the woolen interest, or any other interest, through the money contributed to this Treasury for the common objects of government? . . .
I believe the time will come, and I think it is not very far distant, when the nations of the earth will be brought so near to each other that I would as lief [as gladly] deal with a merchant in Liverpool as I would with a merchant in New York. If I can buy a broadcloth coat in Liverpool 10 dollars cheaper than in New York, I see no reason why I should be compelled to pay 30 dollars for it in the one place and not be allowed to get it for 20 dollars in the other. That is the result of your [the protectionists’] discrimination.
I shall vote for the amendment of the committee, and will take the best scheme I can get, but for myself I want no tariff. I would obliterate the whole concern. (Congressional Globe, 34th Congress, February 26, 1857, p. 350)
When the Panic of 1857 occurred, protectionists blamed it on the Tariff of 1857, even though that tariff was passed just a few months before the downturn began. On October 26, 1857, The Memphis Daily Appeal printed an editorial that argued against the idea that a high protective tariff was needed:
Some recommend a high protective tariff as a remedy. They say these financial disturbances are caused by excessive importations, and that commerce should be shackled by high taxation so as to diminish importations and create a balance of trade in our favor.
A conclusive answer to this position is the fact that for the commercial year just ended, the balance of trade, as exhibited by the tables, even now is over two millions of dollars in our favor, and yet we had a general suspension of banks.
But even if this were an effectual remedy, it would be worse even than the disease. It is better to have disasters and fluctuations in commercial affairs than to have no commerce at all. (The Memphis Daily Appeal, October 26, 1857, p. 2)
In 1850, just 11 years before the
Civil War began, Senator John Calhoun of
The next is the system of revenue and disbursements which has been adopted by the government. It is well known that the government has derived its revenue mainly from duties on imports. I shall not undertake to show that such duties must necessarily fall mainly on the exporting States, and that the South, as the great exporting portion of the Union, has in reality paid vastly more than her due proportion of the revenue; because I deem it unnecessary, as the subject has on so many occasions been fully discussed. Nor shall I, for the same reason, undertake to show that a far greater portion of the revenue has been disbursed in the North, than its due share; and that the joint effect of these causes has been to transfer a vast amount from South to North, which, under an equal system of revenue and disbursements, would not have been lost to her. If to this be added that many of the duties were imposed, not for revenue but for protection--that is, intended to put money, not in the Treasury, but directly into the pocket of the manufacturers--some conception may be formed of the immense amount which in the long course of sixty years has been transferred from South to North. . . . Under the most moderate estimate, it [the amount of wealth transferred from the South to the North by the tariff] would be sufficient to add greatly to the wealth of the North, and thus greatly increase her population by attracting emigration from all quarters to that section. (Abridgement of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856, volume 16, New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1861, p. 406)
When the Tariff of 1846 was being
debated in the Senate, Senator William Haywood, a Democrat from North Carolina,
resigned his seat on July 27, 1846, because he did not want to vote for the
bill, even though he agreed that the Tariff of 1842 was unfair—even
“extreme”—and needed to be modified. In trying to explain his course of
action to his fellow North Carolinians, Haywood said that the tariff issue was
one of “deep importance,” and that to admit that a fair tariff
could not be achieved was to admit that the
The subject of the tariff and
the system of laws by which taxes are imposed and collected for the use of the
general government throughout the
The Democratic senators in
particular, concurring as we did then, and do now, with a few exceptions at the
North, in a sentiment of opposition to the tariff of 1842, desired to see it
changed. That act was believed to
be extreme in its protective character, and therefore unequal and
unsatisfactory to large sections of the Union. . . . (“To the People of
Representative Thomas Perry, a Maryland Democrat who steered a middle course on the tariff issue, was troubled by some of the provisions of the 1846 tariff bill, but he made it clear that he recognized the problems with the 1842 tariff. He began his remarks by noting the intense sectional divide over “this most important subject”:
With the one side is found Pennsylvania, a state occupying an enviable position in the Democratic party, with high tariff principles; with the other side, Virginia and her doctrines of free trade “without discrimination for protection”—each with zeal and ability advocating their respective creeds. . . ; the one contending that our domestic policy should be sustained, desiring permanency in the legislation of the country [i.e., that the 1842 tariff should remain in force], and insisting that the government has in effect pledged itself to continue to protection of our manfactures [manufacturing] against competition from abroad—that having made investments confiding in the doctrine of protection, they trusted that Congress will not now be vacillating on their enactments upon this most important subject; the other, equally urgent, insist that the duties imposed under the act of 1842 are oppressive, and that the nation has pledged itself, in the election of the present Executive [President James Polk, who had campaigned for the repeal of the 1842 tariff], to make the change contemplated in the bill now under discussion. . . .
I have no desire that the tariff of 1842 should continue to be the law of the land. I consider it possessed of provisions opposed to the interest of a large portion of the community, and to none more than the farmer. (Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, July 1, 1846, pp. 1070-1072)
In 1842, a tariff bill, so framed as to perpetuate Mr. Clay’s land distribution bill, was vetoed by the President [John Tyler]. After the land feature had been stricken out, it passed again, and this time was signed. This was in 1842. It was more protective than any that had ever been passed, save that of 1828. (“Henry Clay,” The Daily Dispatch, April 12, 1860, p. 1)
During the debates on the strongly protectionist Tariff of 1842, Senator Calhoun pointed out that the bill would be unfair to the cotton-producing states and that the bill’s provisions favored certain Northern manufacturing processes and punished Southern ones, such as cotton-bagging:
He would now ask, why should such high duties be laid on the articles used in packing and bailing the cotton. He could see no good reason for it. On the contrary, it seemed to him that, on sound principle and according to analogy, they ought to be either duty free, or subject to a very light one, or at least entitled to drawback on the shipment of the cotton abroad. . . . Viewed in that light they came fairly under the drawback principle, as applied in the case of refined sugar from imported brown sugar, or rum from imported molasses, and the like, which, on shipment abroad, are allowed a drawback for the duty on the articles used in their manufacture. The reason in this case is as strong as the other. The only difference is that in one case the process is carried on in one portion of the Union, and on the other in another. (Congressional Globe, 27th Congress, July 28, 1842, p. 620)
British trade policy toward the American colonies was mercantilistic. The mother country expected to gain materially from all colonial trade. The Navigation Acts, as noted earlier, generally required that all colonial trade be conducted on British ships manned by British sailors. Also, certain goods had to be shipped to Great Britain first before they could be sent to their final destination. The country’s mercantilist policies were a major burden on the colonies. In that way, British protectionism was a significant cause of the Revolution.
Having achieved independence, however, many Americans advocated protectionist policies similar to those they had earlier condemned. Alexander Hamilton, the principal advocate of import restrictions, based his proposals on the alleged needs of infant industries. . . .
Although Congress adopted the first tariff in 1789, its principal purpose was to raise revenue. Rates went from 5 percent to 15 percent, with an average of about 8.5 percent. However, in 1816 Congress adopted an explicitly protectionist tariff, with a 25 percent rate on most textiles and rates as high as 30 percent on various manufactured goods. In 1824, protection was extended to goods manufactured from wool, iron, hemp, lead, and glass. Tariff rates on other products were raised as well.
That first wave of protectionism peaked in 1828 with the so-called Tariff of Abominations. Average tariff rates rose to nearly 49 percent. As early as 1832 Congress began to scale back tariffs with further reductions enacted the following year. In 1842, tariffs were again raised; but by 1846 they were moving downward, and further lowered in 1857. Following the 1857 act, tariffs averaged 20 percent.
Economist Frank Taussig, in a thorough examination of those tariffs, found
that they did nothing to promote domestic industry. “Little, if anything,
was gained by the protection which the United States maintained” in the
first part of the 19th century, he concluded. That finding considerably
questioned the validity of the infant industry argument. “The intrinsic
soundness of the argument for protection to young industries therefore may not
be touched by the conclusions drawn from the history of its trial in the
Thus, the early experience of
The War of 1812 was officially concluded with the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815. And with the advent of peace, Americans were once again eager to purchase those goods they had to be without during the war, especially British textiles. British exporters were similarly anxious to sell their accumulated stocks, and total imports jumped from $12,965,000 in the fiscal year of 1814 to $113,000,000 in 1815 and $147,000,000 in 1816. Domestic manufacturers that had enjoyed practically no foreign competition during the war suddenly saw their profits eroded by their superior British competitors. Households that had increased textile manufacturing during the war suspended their work as imports resumed, but the new textile factories could not adapt as easily for they had invested capital at stake.
When Congress met to discuss the
requests for a new tariff measure in March of 1816, the key debate expectedly
took place upon cotton tariffs. For with the exception of the Boston
Manufacturing Company, all American cotton manufacturers, which were still
using handlooms at the time, could not compete with British manufacturers that
had already been using power looms and producing cloths at roughly twenty five
cents a yard. But an even bigger problem was facing the industry, as not even
the Boston Manufacturing Company with its power looms could compete with
Mr. Francis C. Lowell of the
Boston Manufacturing Company thus proposed the adoption of a
“minimum” clause, taxing all cotton goods entering the
Given the great hostility expressed by the Southern states toward subsequent Tariff Acts, it is only prudent that we investigate the causes of Southern tolerance toward the Tariff of 1816. Southern resentment against the protective tariff, which primarily served the manufacturing interests of the northern states, had been brewing long before South Carolina eventually decided to nullify the tariffs of 1828 and 1832. Indeed since the first Congress met in 1789 to enact the first ever tariff, delegates from the Southern states immediately began their opposition against the protectionist flavor of the so-called “revenue tariff”. In a speech that extended for over two days, Mr. Tucker of South Carolina, after attacking what he considered to be excessively high duties for fear of smuggling, argued: “The other reason for which I am opposed to high duties on enumerated articles is, because it tends to the oppression of a certain description of citizens and particular States, in order to promote the advantage of other States and other citizens”. . . .
As an exporter of raw cotton and
an importer of cotton goods, the South had every reason to attack the Tariff of
1816, which contained relatively high textile duties (as they did against
future tariff acts of similar character). It has been argued that much of their
support for the tariff was built upon two reasons: first, they agreed on the need
to raise revenue to pay for the federal debt incurred during the war, and
second, they shared the fear of a new war with Great Britain. John C. Calhoun,
who later sided with his state of
It is important to note that although many Southerners eventually voted for the Tariff of 1816, they tried their hardest to keep the tariff rates as low as possible. This fact seems to indicate that Southern patriotism at the time could be characterized more appropriately as an act of charity rather than anything else. . . .
The Tariff of 1820, which partly sought to increase cotton and woolen duties from 25 to 33 percent, was bitterly fought among sectional lines. It received the greatest support from the Middle Atlantic States while receiving unanimous opposition from the Southern states. With the threat of a new war now gone, the South renewed its hostility against protectionism, arguing that high tariffs would injure their interests not only by increasing the cost of living, but also by inviting British retaliation against their agricultural exports. The Bill passed in the House but failed in the Senate by only one vote.
Despite the failure of the
protectionists in 1820, Henry Clay of
This was the first part of Henry Clay’s ambitious economic plan that he proudly called “the American System”. The rest required Congress to fund internal improvement projects such as roads and canals to facilitate commerce, and the continuing operation of the Second Bank of the United States to provide a stable currency and credit. Southerners, smelling that such a feat could only be accomplished at their expense as an importer of manufactured goods, remained hostile to Mr. Clay’s nationalist central plan.
During the debate for the Tariff
of 1824, some delegates from the Southern states began to openly challenge the
constitutionality of a protective tariff, arguing that the power of Congress to
impose duties was strictly granted to raise revenue. Mr. Hayne of
“It must be permitted while on this topic to declare that, however this bill may be modified, still the system is one against which we feel constrained, in behalf of those we represent, to enter our most solemn protest. Considering this scheme of promoting certain employments at the expense of others as unequal, oppressive, and unjust, viewing prohibition as the means and destruction of all foreign commerce the end of this policy, I take this occasion to declare that we shall feel ourselves justified in embracing the very first opportunity of repealing all such laws as may be passed for the promotion of these objects. Whatever interests may grow up under this bill, and whatever capital may be invested, I wish it to be distinctly understood that we will not hold ourselves bound to maintain the system; and if capitalists will, in the face of our protests and in defiance of our solemn warnings, invest their fortunes in pursuits made profitable at our expense, on their own heads be the consequences of their folly!”. . . .
By January 1st, 1856, the
various banks of the
In April 1860, Mr. Morrill of
The only other episode of
sustained reduction in
Tariffs were never a more divisive or sectional issue in American politics than during the antebellum period, and yet the political dynamics that led to their rise and fall over this period are not well understood. . . .
Before the Compromise of 1833,
tariff policy was closely linked to the issue of internal improvements. As the
epigram to this paper suggests, import duties raised the revenue that could be
spent on such improvements, and the desire to have such improvements justified
having high tariffs. In the 1820s, members of Congress from the North and the
West formed a logrolling coalition that traded votes on high tariffs and
internal improvement spending, the so-called American System championed by
Henry Clay. President Andrew Jackson’s veto of internal improvement bills
in 1830 broke the link between the two issues and effectively destroyed this
coalition. At the same time,
Although Congress could not commit future legislators to adhere to the terms of the compromise, the political bargain held for most of the pre-Civil War period. The reason it held is that the West’s farm-based constituents were increasingly tied to export markets, due to reductions in transportation costs from railroads. As a result, their Congressional representatives began supporting low tariffs along with the South. The antebellum [pre-war] period stands out as one in which sectional interests dominated national politics. At the risk of oversimplification, the United States during this period consisted of three regions – the North, the South, and the West. Each region had strikingly different preferences over tariff policy, which was one of the most controversial political issues of the day, perhaps second only to slavery.
These policy preferences are fairly straightforward to describe: in general, the North favored high protectionist tariffs, the South favored low revenue tariffs, and the West – at least initially – had less clearly defined interests regarding trade policy. . . .
The North was the location of
nascent manufacturing industries, such as the cotton textile factories of
The South produced the leading
exports of the
The great failure of American System advocates was their inability to produce and enact a comprehensive plan for either internal improvements or the encouragement of manufactures (Larson 2001, Minicucci 2004). In 1824, Congress passed the General Survey Act which authorized the preparation of detailed plans for national internal improvement projects. Despite the support of President John Quincy Adams, no systematic program emerged from the surveys. Rather, internal improvements proceeded in a piecemeal fashion, in which politicians got to pick and choose which canal or road projects to support. The result was an ad hoc political process whereby Congress set about “advancing pet projects with increasingly dubious claims of national significance and indulging in ever more bitter attacks on each other” (Larson 2001, pp. 165-66).
Meanwhile, the South bitterly
opposed both high tariffs and spending on internal improvements. The South did
not see how it stood to gain from the American System. High tariffs were
directly counter to its economic interests because it exported most of its
produce, and the South was not geographically positioned to benefit from
federal spending on internal improvements. (“Antebellum Tariff Politics:
Coalition Formation and Shifting Regional Interests,”
In contrast, the behavior of political actors in the period before the Civil War can be explained on the basis of traditional interests. For the South, concerned mainly with trade in primary commodities, tariffs were anathema [abhorrent, hated] because they meant higher prices for secondary products. Similarly, Northern commercial interests opposed tariffs, arguing that they were a disincentive for trade. Not surprisingly, manufacturers supported high tariffs. . . .
The politics of tariff policy changed after midcentury [the middle of the 1800s]. While southern Democrats continued to favor low tariffs, the new Republican party organized around the banner of “free labor” and the commercial policy that was believed to maximize the interests of non-slave workers. In the mid-nineteenth century, economic experts agreed on a proposition we now know to be false, that is, that protectionism assures higher wages than does free or modified free trade. The belief that protectionism would bolster the interests of free labor explains the Republican affinity to commercial closure. Rather than merely reflecting the old Whig economic program and constituency, the party platform reflected a particular causal association between government policies and economic outcomes. Once protection was adopted, the Republican party elevated it to a place on the national political agenda, thereby ending flexible tariff rates and moving the tariff floor substantially upward. . . .
By the 1820s, participants in tariff debates commonly cited the writings of [Adam] Smith and [David] Ricardo to defend low tariffs. This emphasis contributed to an increasing sophistication in tariff discussions. Proponents on both sides displayed knowledge not only of Adam Smith but of a host of other economic writers. . . .
As in 1816, debate in these years turned on differing opinions on both state goals and what role commercial policy could and should play in meeting such goals. . . . The main argument put forth by advocates of low tariffs was the economic closure [protectionism] would keep the United States from benefiting from the international division of labor. As Lewis Williams (D-N.C.) observed: “With the labor of ten days, I can buy a piece of cloth manufactured in England; whereas, the same sort of cloth, manufactured in the United States, would cost me twelve or thirteen days labor, or a value equivalent to that.” Free traders argued that market forces could better judge how resources should be allocated than the government. (Ideas, Interests, and American Trade Policy, Cornell University Press, 1994, pp. 24, 49)
The Panic of 1857 and produced a
Just as upset about the sudden magnitude of the tariff issue and the divisions over it were the southern Democrats. Southern newspaper reporters wrote of the “heretical Democracy” of Pennsylvania [i.e., the Democratic Party of Pennsylvania] that threatened to aid the opposition if a new tariff was not adopted. . . . Southerners brought out their theories of states’ rights and complained of the injustice perpetrated by high tariffs upon their section. The standard rejection of protectionist claims did not mean that southerners misunderstood the motivations of Pennsylvanians. Caucus meetings received wide coverage in the southern press, and the actions of the Pennsylvania were known to all. Moreover, reports sufficient explained why Pennsylvania wanted a higher tariff: “The iron interest of Pennsylvania and New Jersey controls the party politics of those states. At the President’s election in 1856, that interest was with Mr. Buchanan. In the last fall elections it was against him. It will be against the Democratic candidate in 1860, unless it now be conciliated by a specific duty on iron”. . . .
The action of the [Democratic] Pennsylvanians [according to Virginia newspaper editor Roger Pryor] was disgraceful; they now threatened the party by declaring that “no man shall be nominated at Charleston [the site of the Democratic convention in 1860] who refused to acquiesce in [submit to] their demand; and unless the Democracy [the Democratic Party] agree to give them protection, Pennsylvania will apostatize to the opposition in 1860.” Pryor wrote heatedly that the states’ rights Democracy would “repel” this threat “with contempt.” Admitting that Pennsylvania had been of service to the Democracy in the past, he insisted that the principle meant too much. For years Democrats allowed Pennsylvanians to profess openly their “heresy,” but “now the demand is insufferable.”
The southern animosity toward
During the week that the Democratic caucuses tried to solve the nation’s financial woes, the Congress commenced debates upon whether they should or should not revise import duties. Largely the debates rehashed positions taken since Henry Clay first proposed the American System. Proponents of high tariffs used the home market ideal, whereas free traders stressed allowing people from whomever they wished. The one focal point dominating discussion, however, was that the nation’s coffers were empty. Protectionists increasingly argued that the Panic of 1857 and the depression that followed it proved that the tariff of 1857 could never generate sufficient income to meet the needs of the government. Those who endorsed low tariffs typically responded by saying that the tariff of 1857 produced enough funds for an economical government but not an extravagant one; therefore, expenses had to be slashed. (The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War, LSU Press, 1987, pp. 170-171, 175)
The South was basically an agrarian economy. This input-producing region’s major crops were tobacco, rice, and cotton, with much of the latter intended for export or for the textile mills of the North. Southerners had to earn their revenue to buy finished goods from the North and from abroad through the export of raw materials. Since tariffs on finished goods, such as textiles and luxuries, and on capital goods, such as machinery, raised the prices paid by Southerners, they believed correctly that the “terms of trade” were set against them by high protectionist tariffs. Thus, from the earliest days of the nation, the tariff issue was paramount to Southerners. . . .
Generally speaking, therefore, the South supported balanced tariffs and land sales to finance a small federal government. On the other side, Northern interests supported high protective tariffs and federal land giveaways. . . . Democrats tended to support more of a balance between a revenue tariff and the selling of public lands to finance the federal government. The Whig Party and later the Republican Party advocated a high protective tariff to finance the federal government and “free land” for settlers. The Republicans also promoted high tariff rates as a means of redistributing income from the producers of exports, such as cotton, to the producers of goods protected by high tariffs, such as iron and manufactured items. . . .
The antebellum tariff structure is important to an understanding of the timing and onset of the Civil War. . . . Protection, along with federal revenue considerations, was always a part of the issue. . . . As suggested in the Civil War Timeline, a period of relatively free trade ensued between 1816 and 1824, but in 1825 the first overtly protective tariff passed the federal legislature. As Frank Taussig argued and as verified in more recent research, the Tariff of 1824 and its companion passed in 1828 (the so-called Tariff of Abominations) were pivotal in solidifying economic interests in North and South. These economic interests and the uncertainty that attended them throughout the antebellum period, we argue, were a major factor in the coming of the Civil War. (Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War, Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2004, pp. 16, 18-19)
Passage of the Walker Tariff in 1846 was a significant event in antebellum trade policy. Drawn up by the administration of James K. Polk and navigated through Congress by Democratic majorities, the new legislation was designed to lower tariffs and open domestic markets, particularly to British manufactured goods. Of greater significance, the Walker Tariff was the political child of a coalition of Southern planters and Western grain growers, a coalition-long sought, yet hitherto elusive-committed to the promotion of export agriculture. The Walker Tariff reversed the protectionist principles embodied in the "black tariff" of 1842 and inaugurated a decade and a half of freer trade, a period that also witnessed the conclusion of the Canadian Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 and the further liberalization of the tariff in 1857. This "triumph of free trade principles" was reversed only with the passage of the Morrill Tariff in 1861 and the advent of civil war.
There was little doubt about where the great Northern and Southern sections of the country stood on the tariff issue in the 1840s. Poised in a tense political balance, each articulated an alternative vision of America's economic development. The future of American trade policy, as it had for decades, turned on the preferences of Western farming interests. The North, advocating protection for its rapidly expanding urban-industrial markets, sought to convince grain growers in the West that an essentially autarkic trade policy would best provide a large and dynamic market for their produce.
The South, on the other hand,
argued for free trade, integration into the international division of labor,
and the production of foodstuffs and raw materials for world markets.
(“The Second Face of Hegemony:
plank, sympathetic to higher import rates, particularly pleased
The Morrill Tariff that became law in 1861 was the product of almost three years of legislative maneuvering amidst the influence of extensive industry lobbying. While this tariff revision attended to the government’s revenue obligations, it also gave many manufacturing interests the opportunity to seek and obtain favorable rates.
By early 1860 Morrill’s tariff revision had been in the works for over a year. Its author saw the bill as a reaction to the 1857 Tariff Act, which he vigorously opposed, and the Panic. He began work during the1858-59 winter session stalemate on Ways and Means, aligning with fellow Republicans William A. Howard of Michigan and Henry Winter Davis of Maryland. According to Morrill, they agreed on ‘‘altering the schedules and producing an orderly protective tariff”. . . .
Tariff legislation in the
nineteenth century instigated strong sectional and ideological division in any
normal year, let alone the tense political climate of 1860. As the election
approached, according to Reinhardt Luthin,
‘‘protectionist sentiment mounted to a fever heat in
[Protectionist economist Henry]
Carey’s lobbying intensiﬁed as the bill
advanced and the election drew closer. Securing a tariff revision, he told
The ‘‘Missing Industry’’ claim aside, Morrill’s correspondence contains plenty evidence of the same type of manufacturer collusion he denied. Industry pressure began to form in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts—the primary manufacturing states—in the fall of 1858. Tariff supporters identiﬁed Morrill as a potential ally well before he emerged as the tariff’s primary author. . . .
With the wool situation defused,
the Morrill Tariff easily passed the House with support from both manufacturing
and sheep-farming states on May 10, but came to a grinding halt in early June
when Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, Chairman of the Finance
Committee, successfully postponed Senate consideration until December. Though heralded
as a victory for ‘‘free trade’’ at the time,
Hunter’s motion only ensured the tariff’s placement as an issue in
the approaching presidential campaign. Nationally, Morrill’s bill was
dangerous political terrain, yet regionally it took center stage. Protectionism
had a strong following in the pivotal states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey,
and the Republicans set out to court it. In July, Abraham Lincoln dispatched
several representatives to Pennsylvania, seeking to shore up his protectionist
credentials with the help of Senator Simon Cameron and Representative Thaddeus
Stephens. Carey and Harvey rallied the
Historians have long debated the
Morrill tariff’s exact role in the 1860 election, but this much is
certain: Abraham Lincoln received a total
of 31 electoral votes from
These characteristics [the kind and level of rates it imposed] suggest that the Morrill Tariff was neither only mildly protectionist, nor simply an attempt to restore the 1846 schedule. As both Taussig and Ratner contended, Morrill’s abandonment of the ad valorem schedule in favor of speciﬁc duties provided a pretext for raising the tariff on several items well above their 1846 levels. (“Morrill and the Missing Industries,” Journal of the Early Republic, Summer 2009, pp. 292-293, 296, 297, 299, 319-320, 327, emphasis added, https://www.academia.edu/345403/Morrill_and_the_Missing_Industries_Strategic_Lobbying_Behavior_and_the_Tariff_1858-1861)
As the 1860 presidential election
approached, the tariff became an important issue – especially in the
swing state of
In 1860, Republicans desperately
needed to attract Know-Nothings and pro-tariff Democrats if they were to have a
chance at winning
The Morrill legislation failed in the Senate, however, where Virginia Senator Robert M. T. Hunter had the bill tabled – effectively assuring that Republicans would be able to take political advantage of Democratic opposition, centered in the South, to the legislation’s passage. Historian Stanton Ling Davis noted: “Pennsylvania Republicans studied closely the line up of votes upon this issue [in the House]. A test vote taken upon a motion of Justin S. Morrill to suspend the rules, showed 105 yeas to 69 nays. The negatives votes were all Democratic, 15 of them from northern states. While it was true that the Pennsylvania Democrats had voted in the affirmative, Republicans pertinently asked, ‘What hope of protectionism exists in the Democratic party as a whole?’”.. . . .
Republicans desperately needed to win
A protective tariff was endorsed
by the Republican platform [when the party held its convention in
All these Republican efforts to promote tariff legislation as an issue paid off. Historian Coy F. Cross noted that Ohio Congressman William McKinley later contended “that without the tariff issue Republicans would have lost Pennsylvania and the 1860 election.” (“Abraham Lincoln and Tariff,” The Lincoln Institute: Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom, emphasis added, http://abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-the-tariff/)
The tariff was a source of sectional strife for decades, and it was a
major reason that the Southern states decided to secede from the
About the Author: Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree
in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in
Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a
Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two
Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air
Force. He also holds an Advanced
Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from