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 South Carolina, invoking the doctrine of nullification, refused to comply with the bill.  For a time it looked as though South Carolina and the federal government might go to war over the tariff, but calmer heads prevailed and Congress passed the Tariff of 1833, also known as the “Compromise Tariff,” to defuse the situation.  The 1833 tariff gradually reduced rates over a 10-year period.

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 Tennessee, was elected president on a platform that included a clear anti-protectionist plank.  Soon after he was elected, Polk declared that repealing the Tariff of 1842 would be a top priority, that it would be the first of the “four great measures” that would define his administration.  As a result, Congress repealed the 1842 rates and passed the Tariff of 1846, also known as the “Walker Tariff.”  Many Southern leaders expressed reservations about the Walker Tariff because they wanted deeper rate reductions, but nearly all of them ended up supporting it because they viewed it as the best deal they could get and as a substantial step forward compared to the 1842 tariff.

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 the high point for the free trade camp.  The 1857 tariff did not lower rates to the degree that some free traders wanted, but its rates were substantially lower than those of the 1846 tariff and most Southern leaders viewed it as a significant achievement.

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 Union.  Most Southern politicians strongly objected to repealing the 1857 tariff, whereas the majority of Northern politicians wanted a new tariff bill that would raise tariff rates.  Representative Justin Morrill, a Republican from Vermont, led the charge to raise tariff rates.  Morrill’s bill passed the House in May 1860 but was blocked in the Senate one month later.  The Republicans made the Morrill Tariff a key campaign issue in the 1860 election, second only to the issue of the extension of slavery in the territories.  In fact, in some areas in the North the tariff was the dominant issue.

The Morrill Tariff played a key role in Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election.  Lincoln won the Republican Party’s nomination at the party’s convention in Chicago largely because of his strongly protectionist record, and he won the general election because he won the two key protectionist swing states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which had gone Democratic in the two previous elections.  Since Lincoln only received 39.9% of the popular vote, his wins in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were crucial—without them, he would not have won.

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 days before Lincoln took office.

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 George Mason University:

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 America at  Nearly all the Congressional debates can be found at the Library of Congress website A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation at

The Texas secession declaration complained that unfair federal legislation was enriching the North at the expense of the Southern states—this was an undeniable allusion to the tariff:

They [the Northern states] have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

The Georgia secession declaration complained about federal protectionism and subsidies for Northern business interests:

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.

The South Carolina secession convention issued an address to all the slave-holding states to attempt to persuade them to secede.  The address, titled “The Address of the People of South Carolina Assembled in Convention to the People of the Slaveholding States of the United States,” included several paragraphs on the tariff and other economic issues.  Here are two of those paragraphs:

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 Great Britain. Our ancestors not only taxed themselves, but all the taxes collected from them, were expended among them. Had they submitted to the pretensions of the British Government, the taxes collected from them, would have been expended in other parts of the British Empire. They were fully aware of the effect of such a policy in impoverishing the people from whom taxes are collected, and in enriching those who receive the benefit of their expenditure. To prevent the evils of such a policy, was one of the motives which drove them on to Revolution. Yet this British policy has been fully realized towards the Southern States by the Northern States. The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected, three-fourths of them are expended at the North. This cause, with others, connected with the operation of the General Government, has made the cities of the South provincial. Their growth is paralyzed; they are mere suburbs of Northern cities. The agricultural productions of the South are the basis of the foreign commerce of the United States; yet Southern cities do not carry it on. Our foreign trade is almost annihilated. (“The Address of the People of South Carolina Assembled in Convention to the People of the Slaveholding States of the United States,” December 25, 1860, emphasis added)

When Senator Robert Toombs, a Democrat from Georgia, addressed the Georgia legislature in November 1860 in an effort to persuade them to convene a state convention to consider secession, he spent about half his time presenting economic complaints, including the tariff.  He took special aim at the Morrill Tariff, which was tabled in the Senate at that time, and which Toombs called a “raid against the South”:

The 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 United States, which exists to this day.

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.

Even the fishermen of Massachusetts and New England demand and receive from the public treasury about half a million of dollars per annum as a pure bounty on their business of catching codfish. The North, at the very first Congress, demanded and received bounties under the name of protection, for every trade, craft, and calling which they pursue, and there is not an artisan in brass, or iron, or wood, or weaver, or spinner in wool or cotton, or a calicomaker, or iron-master, or a coal-owner, in all of the Northern or Middle States, who has not received what he calls the protection of his government on his industry to the extent of from fifteen to two hundred per cent from the year 1791 to this day. They will not strike a blow, or stretch a muscle, without bounties from the government. No wonder they cry aloud for the glorious Union; they have the same reason for praising it, that craftsmen of Ephesus had for shouting, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians," whom all Asia and the world worshipped. By it they got their wealth; by it they levy tribute on honest labor. It is true that this policy has been largely sustained by the South; it is true that the present tariff was sustained by an almost unanimous vote of the South; but it was a reduction -- a reduction necessary from the plethora [abundance] of the revenue; but the policy of the North soon made it inadequate to meet the public expenditure, by an enormous and profligate increase of the public expenditure; and at the last session of Congress they brought in and passed through the House the most atrocious tariff bill that ever was enacted, raising the present duties from twenty to two hundred and fifty per cent above the existing rates of duty. That bill now lies on the table of the Senate. It was a master stroke of abolition policy; it united cupidity to fanaticism, and thereby made a combination which has swept the country. There were thousands of protectionists in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and in New England, who were not abolitionists. There were thousands of abolitionists who were free traders. The mongers brought them together upon a mutual surrender of their principles. The free-trade abolitionists became protectionists; the non-abolition protectionists became abolitionists. The result of this coalition was the infamous Morrill bill -- the robber and the incendiary struck hands, and united in joint raid against the South. (Robert Toombs’ speech to the Georgia legislature, November 13, 1860)

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 [England] in eighteen-thirteen prevented the import of manufactures [i.e., the import of manufactured items to America].  An extension of manufacturing enterprise within the states themselves was the result, and in this the North not only took the lead by virtue of its climate, coal, free labor, water power, and, above all, its energetic and laborious spirit of enterprise, but its lead was so complete as to be virtually a monopoly. Thus, to the other points of contrast between North and South, it was added that one became manufacturing, the other remained agricultural. After the war manufactures were poured in from abroad, the young home trade suffered, protection was then an undetected fallacy, the very prosperity of English trade was commonly ascribed to it. . . .

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 [1828] 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 [1832], 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 Pennsylvania, imposing, among other things, a duty of no less than fifty percent on the importation of pig iron, in which that State is especially interested. As the freight of Glasgow iron to New York itself adds another fifty per cent, to its price in America, the protection is no less than a hundred percent in favor of the Pennsylvanians. Protection in its most extravagant form is the characteristic of this tariff. On the same article there will be both a specific and an ad valorem duty. We will illustrate by a few sentences from Mr. Spence’s account of the Morrill tariff the ridiculous complexity arising from the selfishness of this impediment to trade:

"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 Cuba for themselves, and Canada for the North. The secession, for six mouths after it was complete, was unresisted by the North, and the departure of South Carolina from the compact was not as the departure of an English county from its loyalty, but of a sovereign state with its own legislature, laws and law courts, its own civil and military organizations. Whether secession be a constitutional right it is not worth while to discuss by refinements of interpretation. The whole argument turns on a nice distinction between fact and law. What question is this where every feeling and interest of one side calls for political partition, and every pocket interest calls on the other side for union, with violence enough to breed a civil war, horrible almost beyond precedent? The conflict is between semi-independent communities, differing in many cases as widely as possible in manners, laws, and interests, and all jealous of their freedom.

Each state has been the country of its citizens, a country not seldom larger in itself than France or Germany. Of all these countries, over a vast region, the people declare the Union is no longer advantageous to them. And all this, as the Oxford professor of international law has well observed, "in a country which has treasured the right of revolt as the charter of its own freedom, and regarded the exercise of it as restrained only by motives of prudence, and needing no public justification except out of 'a decent respect for the opinions of mankind;' a country—the only one in the world—which has made the theory of a social compact the basis of its institutions; which was the first to promulgate formally the doctrine that 'all just governments derive their power from the consent of the governed,' and has never ceased to applaud every application of that doctrine abroad, nor to teach and proclaim it at home." [The two statements quoted by the Oxford professor are from the Declaration of Independence.]  So the case stands, and under all the passion of parties and the cries of battle lie the two chief moving causes of the struggle. Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this as of many, many other evils. (“The Morrill Tariff,” All the Year Round, December 28, 1861, volume 6, pp. 328-330, Note: I have changed British spelling to American spelling, e.g., “favour” to “favor.”  There is some question as to whether Dickens or his staff writer wrote the editorial. However, most scholars agree that even if Dickens did not write the editorial, it was published with his approval and reflected his views on the matter.)

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 Abbeville, South Carolina:

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)

The London Times went on to opine that the Southern population could become England’s best customers:

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)

The next day The London Times warned that the North’s “retrograde” commercial policies would drive British merchants to the South:

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 Boston and New York to Charleston and New Orleans.  These are matters of business, and the warmest friends of the Union cannot expect our merchants to celebrate its obsequies by self-immolation. (The London Times, March 9, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)

The Manchester Examiner said that among the iron trade in Change on Wolverhampton there was a feeling “akin to consternation” over the news that the Morrill Tariff would become law:

A feeling akin to consternation pervaded the iron trade on Change on Wolverhampton yesterday at the intelligence that Morrill Tariff would, in all probability, become a law. (The Manchester Examiner, March 7, 1861, reprinted in The Abbeville Press, April 5, 1861, p. 2)

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 Atlantic:

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 Manchester, England, wrote that Republican Party’s tariff was regarded as a “serious blow” to trade, and he added that “the slavery question” was no longer part of the discussion “except as one of proximity”:

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, Harvard College Library, 1866, pp. 1-2)

In January 1861, Cowell wrote the following in The London Examiner, and his comments were reprinted in The Memphis Daily Appeal a couple months later:

In the interests of England, as well of the Southern American States, I rejoice without reserve that they are separating themselves from the Northern States. Their union with those States has been of the greatest possible political and commercial disadvantage to them throughout, and scarcely of less disadvantage to England. . . . 

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 London Examiner, January 25, 1861,” The Memphis Daily Appeal, March 27, 1861, p. 1)

In a March 1861 editorial seeking to persuade Virginians to support secession, a Virginia newspaper titled The Daily Dispatch cited the new Northern tariff law, i.e., the Morrill Tariff, as a reason to secede:

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. . . . (“Virginia Estopped from Rejecting the Southern Constitution,” The Daily Dispatch, March 25, 1861, p. 2)

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. (“Virginia Estopped from Rejecting the Southern Constitution,” The Daily Dispatch, March 25, 1861, p. 2)

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 Gulf States’ ports than elsewhere, and that “the entire Northwest” would start buying their imported good from New Orleans instead of New York:

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 to the Union.  Nor is this all.  “After the 1st of May the rates of duty will be much lower at the Gulf State ports than elsewhere.  The difference will be so great that the entire Northwest world will find it to their advantage to purchase their imported goods at New Orleans rather than at New York.”  (“Virginia Estopped from Rejecting the Southern Constitution,” The Daily Dispatch, March 25, 1861, p. 2)

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 Washington is mustering for the purpose of enforcing in Southern ports the Northern tariff law, will be harmless from mischief when France and Great Britain have recognized the independence of the new Confederacy. (“Virginia Estopped from Rejecting the Southern Constitution,” The Daily Dispatch, March 25, 1861, p. 2)

The Daily Dispatch, incidentally, began its appeal for Virginia’s secession by noting the state’s long-standing objection to the North’s loose, expansive reading of the Constitution:

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. . . .

Her [Virginia’s] opposition to the Federal Constitution, on account of its susceptibility to latitudinous constructions, was manifested before its ratification by the States. . . . It is certain that a majority of the body [the Virginia convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution] did vote against the ratification at one time, and that not until a clause was inserted in the ordinance of ratification, protesting that Virginia would resume the powers granted when they should be perverted to her injury and oppression, was the small vote obtained in its favor, of 89 to 79.  (“Virginia Estopped from Rejecting the Southern Constitution,” The Daily Dispatch, March 25, 1861, p. 2)

In another appeal to the citizens of Virginia for secession, The Daily Dispatch noted the economic benefits that the state would realize by joining the Confederacy because of the “high Northern tariff” and because the state would be free from the monopoly that the North currently held on its trade:

The secession of the Southern states has produced two tariffs, which, if Virginia became part of the Southern Confederacy, cuts her aloof from the North and throws open to her manufactures and products of all kinds, duty free, the markets of those states.  At the same time that all of these markets are opened free to all of her export products . . . giving her a preference over the Northern and Western states for these articles, and a first profit equal to the duty on the articles, she will be separated from the North by a high Northern tariff [i.e., the Morrill Tariff] that will put an end to the monopoly which that section now holds upon her trade.  At present, New York is the grand funnel through which the whole trade of the South, of Virginia especially, is made to pass—is the grand maelstrom which swallows up and engulfs the profits and wealth of the South. 

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. (“Virginia as the Mistress of Southern Commerce,” The Daily Dispatch, April 2, 1861, p. 2)

The Banner of Liberty, a newspaper published in Middletown, New York, called the Morrill Tariff “oppressive” and argued that it would open up old wounds with the South over the tariff:

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)

The Banner of Liberty went on to complain that when the Morrill Tariff took effect, foreign merchants would be induced to ship their goods to Southern ports like Charleston and New Orleans:

Now, however, the moment the Morrill Tariff bill goes into operation, there is an inducement to the foreign trader to ship his goods to Charleston, to Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans, and to receive his outgoing cargoes at the same ports. (The Banner of Liberty, March 13, 1861, p. 1)

The Banner of Liberty expanded on this point several pages later:

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 United States tariff by the Southern confederacy strikes a heavy blow at the foreign commerce of New York and the other Northern cities. The Morrill Tariff of the Northern government imposes nearly double the duties on some articles of merchandise which the Southern tariff imposes, and in many cases the rates amount to an absolute prohibition. The result of this must necessarily be to drive importations from this city and send them into the ports of the South. . . . The object of the Morrill Tariff is to benefit the manufacturers of the North by a protective impost on foreign goods; but the actual consequence of it will be such a reduction of the revenue as will render additional loans necessary to carry on the government. It will utterly destroy the commerce of the Northern cities. (The Banner of Liberty, March 13, 1861, p. 1)

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 of the Daily Crescent article:

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:

“It is impossible to deny to the Southern tariff an exemplification of statesmanship, enlightenment, and wisdom. . . .

“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 Texas spoke about unfair economic policies that hurt the South in a speech that he gave in the House of Representatives on January 15, 1861.  Reagan addressed the remarks below mainly to Republicans:

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 tariff act of the late U.S. Congress, called the Morrill Tariff, is received very unfavorably in England, being looked upon there as tantamount to a prohibition of English goods.

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 Dallas Herald, April 10, 1861, p. 2)

The Newbern Weekly Progress, published in Newbern, North Carolina, said in April 1861 that the talk of the day was all about the tariff, secession, and Fort Sumter:

The political chit-chat of the day is nothing but tariff, secession, and Sumter. . . .  Under the existing laws the trade will find its way speedily to the Confederate ports. (The Newbern Weekly Progress, April 2, 1861, p. 2)

The Star of the North, a pro-protection Democratic newspaper published in Pennsylvania, wondered if Pennsylvanians had been deceived about Lincoln’s support for a protective tariff.  After Lincoln won the election, he stopped in Pittsburgh in February 1861 on his way to Washington, D.C., and spoke about the tariff.  Some scholars have questioned how candid Lincoln was being about his views on the tariff in that speech.  Among other things, Lincoln made the curious—and unlikely—claim that he did not have “a thoroughly matured judgment upon this subject.”  He also said he did not understand the “precise provisions” of the Morrill Tariff bill, yet the bill had been widely discussed in newspapers for nearly two years.  Lincoln did speak in favor of protection for Pennsylvania’s coal and iron interests, but he did so in language that was not strong enough to satisfy some protectionists.  In response to Lincoln’s Pittsburgh speech, The Star of the North opined that even though Lincoln had been elected “because of his supposed devotion to the principle of a protective tariff,” his remarks suggested that he was not as sound on the tariff as Pennsylvania voters had been led to believe he was.  Of course, the newspaper’s concerns turned out to be groundless.  Lincoln proved to be an ardent protectionist once in the White House.  However, the newspaper’s reaction to Lincoln’s Pittsburgh speech is interesting reading because it indicates how important the tariff was as a political issue:

Whenever a public man enters Pennsylvania, says the Patriot and Union, he feels bound to say something about the tariff.  Mr. Lincoln made several speeches without alluding to the subject of protection, until he arrived at Pittsburgh, where he undertook to give his views on the tariff—and a beautiful mess he made of it.  Only think of it!  Here is a man who was represented to the people of Pennsylvania as a devoted friend of protection to their industrial interests, whose record, while a member of Congress, was triumphantly referred to as evidence that he was a tariff man from conviction—whose election was urged and insisted upon as the only means of securing protection for this state—who was, in fact, elected because he was supposed to be sound on this question—this man, on his way to Washington to take possession of the executive department of the government, embraces the first opportunity, upon entering Pennsylvania, to confess that he does not understand the subject, but promises to give it his closest attention and endeavor to comprehend it fully.  This is the sort of man who was elected because of his supposed devotion to the principle of a protective tariff. (“Lincoln on the Tariff,” The Star of the North, March 6, 1861, p. 1)

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 gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Sherman) admit so fully and distinctly that a duty levied upon imports is a tax upon those who consume such imports. . . . I am pleased that the protectionists are now disposed to deal more frankly and candidly with the subject, and admit that the taxes proposed in this bill--exorbitant and unjust as I know them to be--are to be paid (if the bill shall become law) by the consumers of this country for the benefit (as I am sure will be admitted by candid debaters) of the manufacturers. That is a correct statement of the case, and presents to our constituents the true and precise question, whether they are willing to be thus taxed in their necessary consumption, not because the Government needs the money, but to prosper and enrich the manufacturing interests.

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 [1857], 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 Alabama, likewise expressed strong opposition to the Morrill Tariff bill. He noted, in a speech given in the House in April 1860, that the burden of a tariff increase would fall mainly on the South, and that, on the other hand, it would benefit the manufacturers in the North. And Moore made it clear the tariff issue was a crucial topic:

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 gentleman from Vermont (Mr. Morrill), and all who have thus far spoken in favor of this bill, openly advocate protection for the sake of protection. It seems, indeed, strange that at this enlightened day the principles of protection should find any advocates here. I can only account for it from the fact, admitted by the honorable gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Florence) the other day, that the tariff question was no longer a financial question, but a sectional question. The gentleman well knows that while the chief burdens will fall on the South, his constituents will be benefited by a high protective tariff. (Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, April 30, 1860, pp. 272-273)

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 understandingly, Pennsylvania would have received all she asked.  Senator Bigler exerted himself to his utmost to obtain the passage of a Pennsylvania tariff, while such “Republican” senators as Hale and Fessenden grinned and leered like drunken sailors, full of satisfaction that no such tariff could be made at present.  The hypocrisy of Black Republicanism on this tariff question smells to heaven, and the rottenness of its designs can attract none but the buzzards that feed on the carrion of politics. (“The Tariff Bill Postponed: Who Is to Blame?,The Bedford Gazette, June 22, 1860, p. 2)

The Philadelphia Inquirer agreed that the Republicans deserved much of the blame for the stalling of the Morrill Tariff because the bill was so unjust and oppressive:

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)

In the 1860 race for governor in the key state of Pennsylvania, the tariff was the biggest issue of the campaign, in which Republican Andrew Curtin defeated Democrat Henry Foster:

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

The Jeffersonian of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, urged voters to be aware that the only “Protective Tariff party” was the Republican Party:

Remember, voters, that the only party in favor of Protection to American Labor is the Republican Party. . . .

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 Mississippi called the issue of the tariff “a question of vital importance” and argued that protective tariffs enriched the “manufacturing states,” i.e., the Northern states, at the expense of the Southern and Western states.  He was responding to a proposal by Republican Representative Benjamin Stanton of Ohio to repeal the 1857 tariff and to replace it with a higher tariff:

A question of vital importance and practical legislation is upon us, growing every day in the imperious urgency of its demand for solution. . . .

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 Curry of Alabama spoke against raising the tariff and argued that the government needed to curb needless spending rather than raise taxes. He called the solution to the tariff debate an issue of “momentous consequence” that could affect the liberties of the people:

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 New England manufacturers had repeatedly lobbied Congress for tariffs that benefited their interests:

So importunate have been the manufacturers of New England, and they have so incessantly knocked at the doors of Congress, that tariff after tariff has been passed for their benefit. (The Dallas Herald, November 2, 1859)

On August 25, 1859, The Independent Press, a South Carolina newspaper, published a long letter from Francis Pickens written to correct what he regarded as errors in a book written by Thomas Benton.  At the time Pickens was the U.S. Minister to Russia and would become the state’s governor in 1860.  Before going to Russia to be the U.S. Minister, Pickens had served in the U.S. Congress and in the South Carolina legislature.  Pickens took issue with some of Benton’s statements regarding the tariff issue.  Among other things, he noted that there was “great uneasiness in the public mind” in the South when it appeared that President James Polk (1845-1849) supported a protective tariff, and he called the Tariff of 1842 “odious and unjust”:

It will be recollected that Mr. Polk had written his celebrated “Kane Letter” to Pennsylvania, which looked like adhering to a tariff for protection per se, unless construed strictly by his former votes and speeches in Congress. This letter had created great uneasiness in the public mind throughout the South.  My object in having an interview with Mr. Polk, before I spoke at any convention, was to have a thorough understanding as to the true meaning of that letter, and to know, in detail, what would be the policy of his administration as to a tariff and the repeal of the odious and unjust tariff of 1842.

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)

The Edgefield Advertiser, published in Edgefield, South Carolina, complained in an 1859 editorial that the North used federal tariff policy to enrich Northern interests:

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 Louisiana newspaper, criticized Pennsylvania’s Democratic members of Congress for supporting a protectionist revision of the tariff.  The editorial made it clear that opposition to a protective tariff and support for a revenue-only tariff was a “cherished” principle of the Democratic Party and a “fundamental tenet” of the party’s doctrine.  Although the editorial went on to say that Pennsylvania Democrats did not deserve to be persecuted for supporting a protective tariff, it did not hesitate to point out that their position violated a “vital and time-honored principle” of the party.  The editorial began by noting that a caucus of Congressional Democrats who met to discuss the tariff and government spending had concluded that the budget deficit should be eliminated by reducing spending, not by raising tariff rates:

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.

But the Pennsylvania delegation kept aloof from this caucus and held a meeting of their own. . . .

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 Georgia said he was not unfavorable to a change in the tariff. Messrs. Toombs or Georgia and Benjamin of Louisiana were not averse to specific duties, as recommended by the President, but each expressed a willingness to cooperate with those they had been acting with.  Mr. Douglas of Illinois thought it a fitting occasion to reassert the traditional Democratic doctrine in favor of ad valorem duties. He said specific duties meant a protective tariff, and he thought Democrats ought to protect against them. He believed the present tariff sufficient, if economy was practiced by the Executive. He was for approximating as near as possible to free trade. Mr. Slidell of Louisiana offered a resolution "that it is the duty of the Executive to look rather to the retrenchment than an increase of duties," which was adopted. (The Daily Dispatch, January 31, 1859, page 2)

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 United States.  The early legislation of the country contemplated other objects, such as fostering our then-infant manufacturing and encouraging the production of indispensable articles, so as to render our country independent of foreign governments in case of war. 

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 Memphis Daily Appeal, December 15, 1858, p. 2)

In an 1858 speech, Senator James Hammond of South Carolina said the 1857 tariff was a success but that the rates should be reduced even further.  He added that the Southern states should “discard any government that made a protective tariff its policy.”  One of the newspapers that reprinted Hammond’s speech was the Keowee Courier, published in South Carolina:

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 Ohio, argued against protecting one industry at the expense of others.  He argued that the tariff should be only for revenue, and he described the conflict that previous protective tariffs had caused:

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 from South Carolina, spoke in defense of pure free trade during the debates on the 1857 tariff.  Among other things, he said that he felt the government could operate on half the revenue it was receiving and that tariff revenue that went beyond what was needed to run the government caused “strife for spoils”:

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 South Carolina.  As to the theory which she entertains and has promulgated, I may say, without any vanity as far as I can speak of her doctrines, that she has not spoken in vain, although she was threatened with the sword for speaking [i.e., the Nullification Crisis of 1832-1833 when South Carolina and the federal government almost went to war over the tariff].  I might be considered as going very far if I were to say that I should be perfectly willing to have no custom houses at all.  That is my opinion, but I know I cannot have that. . . .  I have no idea now of being able to reduce the tariff to anything like the level to which the South Carolina doctrine would reduce it. 

Sir, for myself, I want no tariff. . . .  I am perfectly willing to be placed in the original position of constituencies to pay for carrying on this government. . . .

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 South Carolina gave a famous speech in the Senate in which he identified the tariff as a major cause of strife between the North and the South:

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 Union could not be preserved:

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 Union is one of deep importance, but of much intricacy and great difficulty in its judicious arrangement.  Soon after taking my seat in the Senate of the United States (in December 1843), I, for one, felt what any man when he first goes into Congress directly from private life will be apt to experience. . . .  I immediately gave my whole mind to the study and consideration of this tariff system, well knowing that upon it depended, in a good degree, the chief operations in commerce, agriculture, and manufactures, in other states as well as ours.  During the first session of the last Congress . . . I hoped I had made myself qualified, and my political associates believed me fit, to be consulted and counseled with in our united efforts to arrange a tariff with justice to all sections and with entire safety to the business, prosperity, harmony, peace, and independence of the Union.  To admit that this could not be done was to declare that the Union cannot be preserved and the cause of free government had failed.

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 North Carolina,” The North-Carolina Standard, August 26, 1846, p. 1)

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. . . .

No one can doubt that the arrangements of duties on imports have been a subject of much embarrassment, and have at all times exerted a fatal influence upon politicians of both parties. . . .

I am in favor of a modification of the tariff of 1842, yet I do not like 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)

The Daily Dispatch, in an article on Henry Clay, a famous protectionist, in April 1860, called the 1842 tariff bill the most protectionist since the 1828 bill:

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:

Mr. Calhoun said the duty proposed by this bill on cotton-bagging was heavy and would act oppressively on those he represented, and the whole cotton-producing states. . . .

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)

Scholars Speak

The first statement comes from Bruce Bartlett, a historian and a former official in the Department of the Treasury, from his article “The Truth about Trade in History”:

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 United States, which shows only that the intentional protection of the tariffs of 1816, 1824, and 1828 had little effect,” Taussig said.

Thus, the early experience of the United States confirms the weakness of the idea that protection can aid infant industries. In practice, so-called infant industries never grow competitive behind trade barriers, but, instead, remain perpetually underdeveloped, thus requiring protection to be extended indefinitely. (“The Truth about Trade in History,” The Cato Institute, July 1998,

Dr. Leo Adrianus, from his book Tariff, Wars, and the Economics of Protection:

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.

With the influx of imports returning to American ports, desperate cries from the North’s troubled manufacturers began to spread throughout the country. . . .

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 India’s cheap cloths at nine cents a yard.

Mr. Francis C. Lowell of the Boston Manufacturing Company thus proposed the adoption of a “minimum” clause, taxing all cotton goods entering the United States that cost less than 25 cents per square yard as if they were 25 cents per square yard (i.e., India’s nine cent cloth). After much debate, Congress adopted the “minimum” clause and set the duties for cotton goods at 25 percent for the first three years and 20 percent thereafter. Although the bill passed with relatively little resistance compared to future tariff acts, it is nevertheless interesting to note that the strongest opposition came from Mr. Lowell’s own state of Massachusetts, where merchants feared that high tariffs would injure their commercial interest.

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”. . . .

In light of the impending conflicts, it is important to note that these spirited debates took place over a tariff bill that had an average rate of a mere five percent.

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 South Carolina against Andrew Jackson in the Nullification Crisis, declared in anticipation of a new war and in favor of a protective tariff that America was must not again be so poorly able to defend herself as she had been during the War of 1812. . . .

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 Kentucky, who was then Speaker of the House, remained convinced of the benefits that protection would bring to the American economy. Mr. Clay attributed all the existing evils to the absence of protection to the manufacturers. He pointed out that the country was prosperous during the war, with agricultural goods in quick demand and shipping in full employment. Peace brought along with it depression, and he argued that if a new war would break out, prosperity would at once be restored. Thus Congress should facilitate the development of a strong home market, and impose to the country in times of peace what her enemy had done in times of war. Once American manufacturers grew stronger under protection, foreign competition could be reintroduced and Americans would enjoy cheap goods thereafter, while simultaneously having important industries at home.

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 South Carolina gave the following prophetic warning to the protectionists:

“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 United States had issued notes amounting to $195,747,950, while holding only $59,719,301 in specie. The tremendous extension of credit and the resulting recklessness in investment led to another economic crisis as the banks began credit contraction in 1857. Just as the previous Panics of 1819 and 1837, the Panic of 1857 brought the two sides of the tariff debate back into conflict. The manufacturing interests cried for higher tariffs to alleviate their distress, while Southerners refused to suffer higher prices when their own incomes were depressed. The fall in income was also reflected in the fall of imports, which dropped from $348,428,342 in 1856 to just $263,338,654 in the following year.  The need to increase government revenue finally gave the edge to the protectionist Republican Party, which culminated in the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

In April 1860, Mr. Morrill of Vermont proposed a bill that would increase tariff rates back to 1846 levels, with additional increases for iron and wool. This was arguably done to attract the iron makers of Pennsylvania and wool growers of the West into the Republican Party. Although the bill passed in the House without much difficulty, it was postponed in the Senate by a vote of 25 to 23 due to a motion made by Mr. Hunter of Virginia, who argued that the situation did not demand an increase in taxation since the country was recovering from a crisis, and that imports would rise soon enough to bring back revenue. As in the tradition of Southern speeches against the protective tariff, Mr. Hunter further elaborated his opposition to the principles of the bill. When Congress reassembled in December 1860, South Carolina had seceded from the Union, and the rest of the Deep South soon followed. (Tariffs, Wars, and the Economics of Protection, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2009, pp. 5-7, 11-12, 20-21,

Dr. Douglas Irwin, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, from his paper “Antebellum Tariff Politics”:

The only other episode of sustained reduction in U.S. tariffs occurred in the quarter century prior to the Civil War. As Figure 1 shows, the average U.S. tariff on dutiable imports rose steadily through the 1820s and reached more than 60 percent by the end of the decade, their highest level in U.S. history, even higher than under the Hawley-Smoot tariff of 1930. Manufacturing industries in the North succeeded in pressing for high protective tariffs against the implacable opposition of the South, where the export-dependent crops of cotton and tobacco were produced. In 1832, South Carolina sparked a major crisis by refusing to enforce the tariff law, claiming the right to “nullify” any objectionable Federal legislation and even threatening to secede from the Union. The Compromise Tariff of 1833 defused the crisis and set out a timetable for staged reductions in import duties that put tariffs on a downward path until 1860.

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, South Carolina dramatically raised the stakes by attempting to “nullify” the existing tariffs, creating the necessity for a compromise measure in 1833 that planned to phase out protectionist tariffs over nine years and then keep the tariffs low.

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 Massachusetts and the iron works of Pennsylvania. These industries faced import competition from British producers, and thus members of Congress from the region tended to support high tariffs. In the 1820s, however, such support was not always uniform. While representatives from the mid-Atlantic states, particularly Pennsylvania and New Jersey, were strong supporters of protective tariffs, those from New England and New York were more mixed. New England shipping interests and New York mercantile interests gave constituents in those areas a stake in open and flourishing trade, not high tariffs. However, at least in New England, the strength of these pro-trade interests gradually lost ground to the more protectionist interests of cotton and woolen manufacturers, who feared foreign competition. The shift in position of Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, who opposed commercial restrictions in the early 1820s but came to defend high tariffs by the end of the decade, best illustrates the flexibility of politicians in adjusting to the changing interests of their constituents.

The South produced the leading exports of the United States. Cotton, tobacco, and rice accounted for about two-thirds of U.S. exports in 1830 and these crops were produced almost exclusively in states such as North and South Carolina and Virginia. A large share of domestic production was exported; in the case of cotton, about three quarters of the crop was sent to foreign markets. Thus, the major economic interests in the South had a strong export-orientation and hence Southern politicians, representing their plantation-owner constituents, passionately opposed high tariffs. As with the North, there were some exceptions to this rule: legislators from Louisiana often voted in favor of high tariffs to ensure that duties on imported sugar would protect those farmers in their state. But most Southern politicians denounced tariffs as a sectional tax that hit the region twice, first as an indirect tax on their exports and then as a direct tax on the manufactured goods they consumed. These politicians advocated a low, uniform tariff on imports designed only to raise revenue, not to protect domestic industries, and limits on government spending to minimize the need for tariff revenue. . . .

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,” Dartmouth College, March 27, 2006, pp. 1-5, 8-9,

Dr. Judith Goldstein, a professor of political science at Stanford University, from her book Ideas, Interests, and American Trade:

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)

Dr. James L. Huston, a professor of history at Oklahoma State University, from his book The Panic of 1857 and the Coming of the Civil War:

The Panic of 1857 and produced a depression in Pennsylvania that left numerous citizens of the state pleading for a higher tariff.  The southern Democrats in caucus had decisively vetoed any attempt of the party to readjust the tariff.  Pennsylvania voters therefore would continue to look unfavorably upon the Democratic party.  [Senator William] Bigler was told by one correspondent that “something must be done or we, as a party, will be hopelessly in a minority in this state for years.”  But in his letters Bigler must have detected a troublesome note, for his confidants blamed the South for the troubles in Pennsylvania, and their attitudes became not unlike those of the Republicans. . . .

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 Pennsylvania’s pro-tariff sentiment concealed one important fact: the rest of the northern Democracy tended to agree with their southern brethren.  Most northern Democrats did not favor readjusting the tariff and were especially adamant against inaugurating specific duties. . . .

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)

Economists Mark Thornton and Robert Ekelund, from their book Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War:

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)

Scott James and David Lake, from their article “The Second Face of Hegemony: Britain's Repeal of the Corn Laws and the American Walker Tariff of 1846”:

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: Britain's Repeal of the Corn Laws and the American Walker Tariff of 1846,” International Organization, Winter 1989, pp. 1-2,

Michael Lind, a political and economic historian and founder of the New America Foundation, from his book What Lincoln Believed:

In 1860 Lincoln’s future adviser Henry C. Carey, the preeminent theorist of the American School of economic nationalism [i.e., protectionism], identified the Republican presidential candidate Lincoln as “a man who has been all his life a protectionist.”  Lincoln’s record confirms the observation of Joseph J. Lewis, a supporter in 1860, that “Mr. Lincoln has been a consistent and earnest tariff man from the first hour of his entering public life.”  “I was an old Henry-Clay-Tariff Whig,” Lincoln wrote a correspondent on October 11, 1859.  “In old times I made more speeches on that subject than any other.  I have not since changed my views.”

Lincoln sought to promote Clay’s American System both as a state legislator and a member of the U.S. Congress.  Lincoln’s campaign manifesto of 1832 announced his dedication to Clay’s American System: “My politics are short and sweet. . . .  I am in favor of a national bank . . . in favor of the internal improvements system and a high protective tariff.”  Lincoln studied the American School economist Francis Wayland. . . .

Many of Lincoln’s speeches in support of high protective tariffs have not survived.  The ones that have are not impressive.  Notes on protectionism that he wrote in December 1847 show that his grasp of the arguments for infant-industry tariffs was that of an amateur.  Like other Whig and Republican protectionists, Lincoln argued that the manufacturer and importer, not the consumer, paid the costs of the tariff.  While this argument was widespread, it was false; most economists agree that the costs of tariffs are passed on to consumers. (What Lincoln Believed, New York: Doubleday, 2005, pp. 92-93)

Dr. Reinhard Luthin, who was a professor of history at Columbia University, from his book The Real Abraham Lincoln: 

Lincoln learned how wisely, from the standpoint of victory, the platform makers at Chicago had drafted the Republican party platform. . . .

The tariff plank, sympathetic to higher import rates, particularly pleased Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey.  Philadelphia’s main Republican mouthpiece, the North American and United States Gazette, printed only six editorials relating to slavery between early September and national election day in November, whereas it ran sixteen lengthy editorials lauding [praising] the party’s tariff-protectionist plank between September 3 and October 11.  On October 2, Lincoln privately answered one query about his tariff views by pointing to his acceptance of the party platform.  To the correspondent of the Philadelphia North American, James E. Harvey, Lincoln sent “private and confidential” word: “In 1844 I was on the Clay electoral ticket in this state (i.e., Illinois) and, to the best of my ability, sustained, together, the tariff of 1842 and the tariff plank of the Clay platform.” (The Real Abraham Lincoln: A Complete One Volume History of His Life and Times, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1960, p. 231)

Dr. Phillip Magness, from his article “Morrill and the Missing Industries,” published in The Journal of the Early Republic in 2009:

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.

The Morrill Tariff originated shortly after the Panic of 1857, which accompanied a series of price drops at the conclusion of the Crimean War. . . .

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 Pennsylvania”. . . .

[Protectionist economist Henry] Carey’s lobbying intensified as the bill advanced and the election drew closer. Securing a tariff revision, he told Sherman, was ‘‘more important as regards the future of the opposition party than any other [issue] that could be presented’’. . . .

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 Philadelphia press behind Lincoln, whom they characterized as the ‘‘old Henry Clay tariff Whig.’’ In September, the Republican National Committee dispatched Morrill and Sherman on a Pennsylvania campaign tour, noting that their ‘‘tariff record will help us.’’

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 Pennsylvania and a divided New Jersey, and with them his margin of victory. . . .

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,

From the Lincoln Institute’s article “Abraham Lincoln and the Tariff”:

As the 1860 presidential election approached, the tariff became an important issue – especially in the swing state of Pennsylvania, which in 1856 had been easily carried by Keystone State native James Buchanan [a Democrat]. Republican candidate John C. Frémont had received only 33 percent of the vote there in the first presidential election in which the Republican Party participated. Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron declared that the trade tariff “is the great question of the day.” Philadelphia editor John W. Forney, a supporter of Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, wrote: “Our specialty here is the Tariff question. For many years, indeed as long as I can remember, Pennsylvania has been agitated by the discussion of this question, and the delays of Congress in affording such protection to our interests as they deserve. . . .

In 1860, Republicans desperately needed to attract Know-Nothings and pro-tariff Democrats if they were to have a chance at winning Pennsylvania. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: “Essential to Lincoln’s victory were the Fillmore supporters of 1856, especially Pennsylvania, New York, and the Midwest….The Fillmoreites, who had shied away from the Republicans in 1856 because of the party’s radicalism on slavery and race, regarded Lincoln’s antislavery views as acceptably moderate. They also favored protectionism and other economic measures endorsed by the Chicago Convention, and they appreciated the Republicans’ willingness to enact nativist legislation in several states and to share patronage plums with Know-Nothings”. . . .

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 Pennsylvania to win the presidency. Reinhard H. Luthin declared that “the Republicans could not win the president in 1860 without the electoral vote of Pennsylvania.” In October, 1859, the Chicago Press and Tribune editor became interested in Lincoln as presidential timber; he preached that Lincoln ‘was an old Clay Whig, is right on the Tariff and he is exactly right on all other issues. Is there any man who could suit Pennsylvania better?””. . . .

A protective tariff was endorsed by the Republican platform [when the party held its convention in Chicago], but the plank was not quite as strong as the New Jersey and Pennsylvania delegations would have liked. Historian David M. Potter wrote: “It seemed significant that while the whole platform was received with uproarious enthusiasm, no part of it was greeted with louder cheers than the tariff plank, which Pennsylvania, especially, into ‘spasms of joy…her whole delegation rising and swinging hats and canes.’” Pennsylvania was key to Lincoln’s nomination and the tariff was key to Pennsylvania’s backing of Lincoln. Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote that “Lincoln received the support of almost the entire Pennsylvania delegation – partly through the efforts of doctrinaire protectionists such as Morton McMichael, Henry C. Carey’s friend and publisher of Philadelphia’s Bible of protectionism, the North American, who was a delegate at Chicago”. . . .

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,


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 Union.


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 Carroll College.  He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  In addition, he has completed an Advanced Hebrew program at Haifa University in Israel.  He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.

Mike Griffith’s Civil War website