Debunking the Civil War Tariff Myth


Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

The outbreak of the American Civil War is now more than 150 years past. All the while, the question of what caused the conflict continues to spark disagreement, this despite a longstanding consensus among specialists that slavery – a cultural, political, ideological, and economic institution that permeated (and divided) mid-19th-century American society – was the primary cause of the war. One of the most egregious of the so-called Lost Cause narratives instead suggests that it was not slavery, but a protective tariff that sparked the Civil War.

On 2 March 1861, the Morrill Tariff was signed into law by outgoing Democratic President James Buchanan to protect northern infant industries. A pernicious lie quickly formed around the tariff’s passage, a lie suggesting that somehow this tariff had caused the US Civil War. By ignoring slavery’s central role in precipitating secession and Civil War, this tariff myth has survived in the United States for more than a century and a half – and needs to be debunked once and for all.

In trying to make their case but lacking adequate evidence for the 1860-61 period, “Lost Cause” advocates instead commonly hark back to the previously important role that another protective tariff had played in the 1832 Nullification Crisis. They then (mistakenly) assume the political scenario to have been the same three decades later – that southern secession from 1860-61 was but a replay of the divisive tariff politics of some thirty years before. From this faulty leap of logic, the argument then follows that the Republican Party’s legislative efforts on behalf of the Morrill Tariff from 1860 until its March 1861 passage became the primary reason for southern secession – and thus for causing the Civil War.

Because of the unfortunate timing of the Morrill Tariff’s passage – coinciding closely as it did with the secession of various southern states – this has remained perhaps the most tenacious myth surrounding the Civil War’s onset, and one that blatantly ignores the decidedly divisive role of slavery in mid-century American politics and society. Accordingly, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War has  witnessed a slew of ahistorical tariff-centered explanations for the conflict’s causation, articles like “Protective Tariffs: The Primary Cause of the Civil War,” which appeared in Forbes Magazine in June 2013. Although the article was quickly pulled from the Forbes website following a rapid response from historians on Twitter (#twitterstorians), this particular piece of tariff fiction still exists on the author’s website as well as in a local Virginia newspaper, the Daily Progress.[1]

Similar tariff-driven arguments for the war’s causation continue to be given voice in American news outlets, in viral Youtube videos, and even on a recent Daily Show episode: No, not by host Jon Stewart, but by that evening’s guest, Judge Andrew Napolitano, a FOX news analyst and NYC law professor. In response to Stewart’s question “Why did Abraham Lincoln start the Civil War?”, Napolitano answered: “Because he needed the tariffs from the southern states.”[2]

The Civil War’s tariff myth has somehow survived for more than a century and a half in the United States. Let’s put an end to it.

In debunking the tariff myth, two key points quickly illustrate how the tariff issue was far from a cause of the Civil War:

1. The tariff issue, on those rare occasions in which it was even mentioned at all, was utterly overwhelmed by the issue of slavery within the South’s own secession conventions.

2. Precisely because southern states began seceding from December 1860 onwards, a number of southern senators had resigned that could otherwise have voted against the tariff bill. Had they not resigned, they would have had enough votes in the Senate to successfully block the tariff’s congressional passage.

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In other words, far from causing the Civil War or secession, the Morrill Tariff of March 1861 became law as a result of southern secession.

The Tariff Myth’s Transatlantic Origins

Okay. So the Morrill Tariff clearly did not cause either secession or the Civil War. Then how and why did the myth arise?

As I have recently explored in the New York Times (“The Great Civil War Lie”) and at greater length in the Journal of the Civil War Era, the Civil War tariff myth first arose on the eve of the bill’s March 1861 passage. But the myth did not originate in the United States – it first took root in Free Trade England.

Southern congressmen had opposed the protectionist legislation, which is why it passed so easily after several southern states seceded in December 1860 and the first months of 1861. However, this coincidence of timing fed a mistaken inversion of causation among the British public, with many initially speculating that it was an underlying cause of secession, or at least that it impeded any chance of reunion.

The tariff thus played an integral role in confounding British opinion about the causes of southern secession, and in enhancing the possibility of British recognition of the Confederacy. And thus “across the pond” the myth was born that the the Morrill Tariff had caused the Civil War.

Nor was the tariff myth’s transatlantic conception immaculate. As I’ve previously noted, it was crafted by canny Southern agents in the hopes of confounding British public opinion so as to obtain British recognition of the Confederacy:

Pro-Southern business interests and journalists fed the myth that the war was over trade, not slavery – the better to win over people who might be appalled at siding with slave owners against the forces of abolition. On March 12, 1861, just 10 days after the Morrill Tariff had become law, The London Times gave editorial voice to the tariff lie. The newspaper pronounced that “Protection was quite as much a cause of the disruption of the Union as Slavery,” and remarked upon how the Morrill Tariff had “much changed the tone of public feeling” in favor of “the Secessionists.”

The pro-North magazine Fraser’s made the more accurate observation that the new Northern tariff had handily given the Confederacy “an ex post facto justification” for secession, but British newspapers would continue to give voice to the Morrill myth for many months to come.

Why was England so susceptible to this fiction? For one thing, the Union did not immediately declare itself on a crusade for abolition at the war’s outset. Instead, Northern politicians cited vague notions of “union” – which could easily sound like an effort to put a noble gloss on a crass commercial dispute.

It also helped that commerce was anything but crass in Britain. On the question of free trade, the British “are unanimous and fanatical,” as the abolitionist and laissez-faire advocate Richard Cobden pointed out in December 1861. The Morrill Tariff was pejoratively nicknamed the “Immoral” tariff by British wags. It was easy for them to see the South as a kindred oppressed spirit.[3]

As a result, over the course of the first two years of the Civil War, the tariff myth grew in proportion and in popularity across the Atlantic, propagated by pro-South sympathizers and by the Confederate State Department.

Debunking the Tariff Myth

It would take the concerted efforts of abolitionists like John Stuart Mill, alongside Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to debunk the Civil War tariff myth in Britain:

The Union soon obtained some much needed trans-Atlantic help from none other than the English liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill. By the beginning of 1862, the tariff myth had gained enough public traction to earn Mill’s intellectual ire, and he proved quite effective at voicing his opinion concerning slavery’s centrality to the conflict. He sought to refute this “theory in England, believed by some, half believed by many more … that, on the side of the North, the question is not one of slavery at all.”

Assuming this to be true, Mill asked, then “what are the Southern chiefs fighting about? Their apologists in England say that it is about tariffs, and similar trumpery.” Yet, Mill noted, the Southerners themselves “say nothing of the kind. They tell the world … that the object of the fight was slavery. … Slavery alone was thought of, alone talked of … the South separated on slavery, and proclaimed slavery as the one cause of separation.”

Mill concluded with a prediction that the Civil War would soon placate the abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic. That, as the war progressed, “the contest would become distinctly an anti-slavery one,” and the tariff fable finally forgotten.

Mill’s prescient antislavery vision eventually begin to take hold in Britain, but only after Abraham Lincoln himself got involved in the trans-Atlantic fight for British hearts and minds when he put forth his Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.

By February, Cobden happily observed how Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had aroused “our old anti-slavery feeling … and it has been gathering strength ever since.” […] And so, two years after the Morrill Tariff’s March 1861 passage, Northern antislavery advocates had finally exploded the transatlantic tariff myth.[4]

It only took the British public about two years to see through the tariff myth, and to recognize the centrality of slavery. In contrast – and tragically – for more than 150 years afterwards the same tariff myth has somehow continued to survive in the United States.

Dr. Marc-William Palen is a historian at the University of Exeter. He is the author of “The Great Civil War Lie,” New York Times, 5 June 2013; “The Civil War’s Forgotten Transatlantic Tariff Debate and the Confederacy’s Free Trade Diplomacy,” Journal of the Civil War Era (March 2013); and The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).


[1] “Protective Tariffs: Primary Cause of the Civil War,” Daily Progress, 23 June 2013. See, also, Mark Cheatham’s critical response to the Forbes piece, “Were Tariffs the Cause of the Civil War?“, showing how slavery overwhelmingly dominated state secessionist conventions; Phil Magness’s dismantling of both extreme ends of the debate in “Before You Start Claiming that Tariffs Caused the Civil War…” and “Did Tariffs Really Cause the Civil War? The Morrill Act at 150“; and Andy Hall, “Walter E. Williams Polishes the Turd on Tariffs.” You can read the secessionist ordinances in full here.

[2] (If you must), see, et al., “Tariffs, not Slavery, Precipitated the Civil War,” Baltimore Sun, 6 July 2013; “Understanding the Causes of the Uncivil War: A Brief Explanation of the Impact of the Morrill Tariff,” Asheville Tribune; The True Cause of the Civil War,” Soda Head, 4 October 2010; “The Morrill Tariff Sparked War Between the States,” Madison Journal Today, 10 March 2014; “Real Causes of ‘The Civil War,’Youtube; “Economic Reasons for the War,” TV Ad, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

[3] “The Great Civil War Lie,” New York Times, 5 June 2013.

[4] “The Great Civil War Lie,” New York Times, 5 June 2013.

161 thoughts on “Debunking the Civil War Tariff Myth

  1. It is interesting to read the comments about the tariff issue. Of course, the individual who made it clear that the war was about tariffs and revenue collection was none other than “The Original Gorilla” himself, old Abe Lincoln:
    • In his March 4, 1861 First Inaugural Address, Lincoln told the world that the only reason for invasion would be to “collect duties and imposts.”
    • On April 4, 1861, just after 9:00 A.M., Lincoln told Colonel John Baldwin of Staunton, Virginia that he could not let the South go because of the disparity between a 10% average duty (Confederate Constitution) and a 47.56% average duty (the Morrill Tariff) [From Baldwin’s 1866 testimony printed in the Staunton Speculator, found at
    • On April 12, 1861, Lincoln told A.H.H. Stuart, George W. Randolph, and William B. Preston that he could not let the South go because of the tariff, telling them “If I do that, what will become of my revenue? I might as well shut up housekeeping at once.”
    • On April 22, 1861, Dr. Richard Fuller of Baltimore, Maryland along with five of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of Baltimore met with Lincoln in an attempt to talk him out of the war. He told Fuller, “But what am I to do?…what shall become of the revenue? I shall have no government? No resources?” [From the April 23, 1861, Edition of the Baltimore Exchange and later the May 8, 1861 Edition of the Memphis Daily Avalanche, p. 1, col. 4]
    • Lyon Gardner Tyler, son of President John Tyler, noted in The Gray Book that the tipping point for Lincoln and the corporatist/corporate welfare & banking interests he represented was the sectional tariff.
    • In the first paragraph of April 19, 1861, Blockade Proclamation, Lincoln referenced the collection of tariff revenue.
    • English writer and Southern supporter Charles Dickens wrote extensively about the struggle being “a fiscal quarrel” and not a slavery issue.
    • Extreme abolitionist Lysander Spooner, from Athol, Massachusetts, supported the South. He said the war was not about slavery but instead about centralizing power in the hands of the corporations and the banks.

    I devoted an entire chapter to the tariff issue in my book, Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation. (

    I believe the individuals who spoke face-to-face with Lincoln and simply repeated Lincoln’s own words. I certainly do not believe these modern “historians” – especially the court historians like McPherson, Guelzo, Holzer, Gallagher, etc., who are either propagandists or simply hate the South and its people.

    J.M. Taylor

  2. I question the narrative about slavery from another angle. The North was rapidly becoming an industrial behemoth and power and profits were accruing at a great rate to those at the top, as they still do today, and the North was gaining dominance economically, politically, and in terms of total population.

    While this was happening, and what allowed this to happen in the North, was both the economy of industrial processes, but also the abundance of desperate people . . . allowing for horrible, under-supportive and protective working conditions, and low pay. The conditions of labor in those factories was no better, perhaps worse, than the conditions of some slaves.

    Sure industrial workers had the right to go home after a long day of hard labor, but to what? Some derelict tenements that were ugly, unsanitary and known to be areas of disease. The plantation becomes the city itself in this situation with little freedom of movement for impoverished laborers.

    People were not free to chose nice homes, nice environments, in which to live and women and children were particularly exploited. Northern laborers were hardly free . . . and while the conditions for most of labor is decidedly better for many today, some, particularly blacks, and other ethnic minorities still live with horrible conditions and low income and low opportunity . . . and hardly any working class people have much access to power, or authority, over their work, the conditions of their work, or a relative proportional reward from profits made or taxes paid from profits . . . the government working in ever-more collusion with the affluent and corporations while either undermining or eliminating social goods (opinions understandably vary on that and kind of an aside).

    Cheap labor was certainly a factor for both the North and the South in the 19th century. Undoubtedly some Southerners wanted to maintain their cheap labor supply. Just as likely, many industrialists in the North were probably gleeful at the prospect of many millions of slaves being “liberated” to work in the dehumanizing sweatshops of Northern industrial factories, thus preserving both their control and profit from the industries they managed via a broadening supply of cheap labor . . . they were hardly moral heroes against slavery, they just embraced a new form which some have historically called wage slavery.

    The whole civil war slavery story makes for a lovely, moral narrative for people who identify with the North, liberal traditions, etc. But I think it denies the reality of a power/dominance struggle between North and South, a labor agenda on both sides . . . and what those on both sides considered their rights and needs, their freedoms . . . and a mutual willingness on both sides to engage in exploitation.

    The attitudes many of the South still have, and many in the North also have, are being played out once again under the Trump administration in some ways, though it is not strictly regional in terms of North and South. From his supporters, it is the idea of liberal elites (many would read into that Northern liberal elites) dominating the agenda, the moral base from their perspective, while still hypocritically manifesting racism, white advantage, subjugation of labor, etc., within their own realms . . . and trying to retain economic and social dominance over those who will not, and prefer not, to subsume themselves to liberal ideas that seem not to serve them in their own lives per their own assessment.

    I won’t argue the latter points further, as it is expanding into a whole other arena, but it seems to be as much a part of the discussion today as it was, under different conditions, in the 19th century.

    1. It’s a pity that your twisted version of History doesn’t jive with the facts. Bringing modern politics into the mix further destroys this post. Bad history, poor research, and twisted facts.

  3. The Morrill Tariff seems to have been recycled by Denson in his essay “Lincoln and the First Shot”, in which he claims that the low tariffs passed by the South in light of the Morrill tariff spelled doom for the Northern economy. Why that should be I’m not sure as the point of a protective tariff is specifically to relieve local industries of the need to compete with foreign commerce. He concludes there for that this is the reason Lincoln continued to reenforce Sumter, which he insists was an intentional provocation on Lincoln’s part.

    The full text of the essay is available here:,+what+would+become+of+my+revenue?+I+might+as+well+shut+up+housekeeping+at+once%22&source=bl&ots=5hIQvNcHoq&sig=ACfU3U30ISTCM_Sq0j1jYyLw8vyCJaCSjQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjVve229NrgAhWECHwKHf80Dz8Q6AEwAXoECAUQAQ#v=onepage&q=groceries&f=false

    I’m naturally immediately skeptical but don’t have the time for a thorough vetting. If it interests you I’d be much obliged if you’d take a look at this one as well.

    1. I don’t buy it. It was the South’s actions that pushed things to the brink of war. They seceded under the Tariff of 1857, one of the lowest of the century, they raided Federal armories and banks, they fired on Star of the West and probed Fort Pickens, then passed a resolution to take Fort Sumter, and after Davis was warned not to do so, attacked Fort Sumter. Lincoln was losing some tariff money, but the majority was coming in through Northern ports. Why spend billions to get back millions?

      1. Well the claim isn’t about the lost duties but rather that it would have had devastating effects on the economy and thus shifted public opinion in favor of war.

  4. The South insisted the States are the sovereigns. Based on the 1783 Treaty of Paris, that is a fact. I have found no proof that the States ever relinquished their sovereignty. The Southern States called conventions and/or held popular votes to decide whether or not to secede. Alexander Boteler of Virginia warned the Lincoln Administration that any call to invade a State would result in the secession of Virginia—invasion of a sovereign State was held to be treasonous. The central reason Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas seceded was Lincoln’s program of military coercion/invasion (the call for 75,000 volunteers) of the seven sovereign States who chose to leave what they considered a voluntary union.
    You also have to remember the South considered the December 1860 armistice between the U.S. government and South Carolina as well as the January 1861 armistice between the U.S. government and Florida to still be in force. These agreements, which originated during the Buchanan presidency, essentially said that any attempt at Northern reinforcement of Sumter or Pickens was considered an act of war.
    Relative to the forts, they were considered partnership property designed to protect the specific areas around which they were built. Also, the South offered to pay the feds for the forts.
    I believe the individuals and groups of individuals who met face to face with Lincoln on April 4, 1861; April 12, 1861; and April 22, 1861. On April 4, 1861, John Baldwin, a staunch Virginia Unionist, virtually begged Lincoln to call a convention to compromise and avoid war; he even asked Lincoln specifically how much tariff revenue would be lost. Remember, Virginia was still in the Union at that time. Lincoln told all of the Southern representatives that the North could not let the South go because their stated 10% average import duty (Confederate Constitution) would cause a shift to Southern ports and destroy the North’s revenue (Morrill Tariff’s average of 47.56%). I also believe the politically astute English author Charles Dickens and Lyon Gardner Tyler (President Tyler’s son) who echoed pretty much what Lincoln told the Southern representatives. In The Gray Book, Tyler even wrote about the tariff being the tipping point for Lincoln, the Radical Republicans and their corporate-welfare loving interests.
    Lincoln stated his political philosophy in 1832–internal improvements/corporate welfare, protective tariffs for industries in bed with the government, and a national bank. He held those beliefs whether he called himself a Whig or a Republican thus he was the perfect “president” for the Radical Republicans who sought consolidated, centralized government controlled by the North. (This is in my book, UNION AT ALL COSTS: From Confederation to Consolidation.)
    J.M. Taylor

    1. Sorry, no. Based off what the Supreme Court and the Father of the Constitution, James Madison said, they did. It was not a voluntary Union-the original governing document was The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. When we moved over to the Constitution, in the Preamble, it states that this is done “In Order to form a more perfect Union”. SUPREME COURT RULINGS PRIOR TO THE WAR
      In Cohens v. Virginia (1821), the US Supreme Court ruled, “That the United States form, for many, and for most important purposes, a single nation, has not yet been denied. In war, we are one people. In making peace, we are one people. In all commercial regulations, we are one and the same people. . .. America has chosen to be, in many respects, and to many purposes, a nation; and for all these purposes, her government is complete; to all these objects it is competent. The people have declared, that in the exercise of all the powers given for these objects, it is supreme. . . . The constitution and laws of a State, so far as they are repugnant to the constitution and laws of the United States, are absolutely void. These States are constituent parts of the United States. They are members of one great empire.” [19 U.S. 264, 413-414]

      “The people made the constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their will, and lives only by their will. But this supreme and irresistible power to make or to unmake, resides only in the whole body of the people; not in any sub-division of them. The attempt of any of the parts to exercise it is usurpation, and ought to be repelled by those to whom the people have delegated their power of repelling it.” [19 US 264, 389]

      In Fletcher v. Peck, the Court ruled, “But Georgia cannot be veiwed as a single, unconnected, sovereign power, on whose legislature no other restrictions are imposed than may be found in its own constitution. She is a part of a large empire; she is a member of the American union; and that union has a constitution the supremacy of which all acknowledge, and which imposes limits to the legislatures of the several states, which none claim a right to pass.” [10 U.S. 87, 136]

      In McCullough v. Maryland, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote: “In discusing this question, the counsel for the state of Maryland have deemed it of some importance, in the construction of the constitution, to consider that instrument, not as emanating from the people, but as the act of sovereign and independent states. The powers of the general government, it has been said, are delegated by the states, who alone are truly sovereign; and must be exercised in subordination to the states, who alone possess supreme dominion. It would be difficult to sustain this proposition. The convention which framed the constitution was indeed elected by the state legislatures. But the instrument, when it came from their hands, was a mere proposal, without obligations, or pretenses to it. It was reported to the then existing congress of the United States, with a request that it might ‘be submitted to a convention of delegates, chosen in each state by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legislature, for their assent and ratification.’ this mode of proceeding was adopted; and by the convention, by congress, and by the state legislatures, the instrument was submitted to the people. They acted upon it in the only manner in which they can act savely, effectively and wisely, on such a subject, by assembling in convention. It is true, they assembled in their several states–and where else should they have assembled? No political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the states, and of compounding the American people into one common mass. Of consequence, when they act, they act in their states. But the measures they adopt do not, on that account, cease to be the measures of the people themselves, or become the measures of the state governments.

      “From these conventions, the constitution derives its whole authority. The government proceeds directly from the people. . . . The constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the state sovereignties.” [17 U.S. 316, 402-404]

      In Gibbons v. Ogden, the Court ruled, “When these allied sovereigns converted their league into a government, when they converted their Congress of Ambassadors, deputed to deliberate on their common concerns, the whole character in which the States appear, underwent a change.” [22 U.S. 1, 187]

      In Dodge v. Woolsey, (1855), the Court ruled, “Further, the constitution is not only supreme in the sense we have said it was, for the people in the ratification of it have chosen to add that ‘this constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.’ And, in that connection, to make its supremacy more complete, impressive, and practical, THAT THERE SHOULD BE NO ESCAPE FROM ITS OPERATION [my emphasis], and that is binding force upon the States and the members of congress should be unmistakable, it is declared that ‘the senators and representatives, before mentioned, and the members of the state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by an oath or affirmation to support this constitution.” [59 US 331, 348-349]

      Here’s what the Supreme Court said prior to 1860:

      “The constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the state sovereignties.” [17 U.S. 316, 404]

      “The people made the constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their will, and lives only by their will. But this supreme and irresistible power to make or to unmake, resides only in the whole body of the people; not in any sub-division of them. The attempt of any of the parts to exercise it is usurpation, and ought to be repelled by those to whom the people have delegated their power of repelling it.” [19 US 264, 389]

      Those two were written by Chief Justice John Marshall, a member of the Virginia Ratification Convention.

      There was no armistice in place. The Confederacy determined weeks before Lincoln was inaugurated that a resolution was necessary and passed one stating that they would retake Fort Sumter. Davis was also warned in his cabinet meetings not to attack the forts. He did it anyway.

      The tariff was a minor issue-that was per the Southern leadership, who flat said that slavery was the primary reason for secession and war. The vast majority of the tariff was being paid in Northern ports. Lincoln and the Union government wouldn’t recognize the Confederates because to do so would give them legitimacy. Dickens didn’t know what he was talking about-he was fairly biased towards the South. The South had NO problems with a centralized government when it came to slavery-they cheered the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision, even though they hurt Northern states rights. Davis also had no problems with the Federal government cracking down on people going against the government.

    2. “The Southern States called conventions and/or held popular votes to decide whether or not to secede.”
      Yeah and not a single one voted in favor except for Arkansas and that was only after initially voting against but then holding a second vote after Fort Sumter.

  5. So why does Article 1 of the treaty acknowledge the various colonies as free, sovereign, and independent states? If the Articles of Confederation was “perpetual” in the strictest sense, the States would have not have been allowed to secede from it to form a new government. It only required nine States to validate/ratify the Constitution and it was not until 1791 that Rhode Island joined–they were either an independent nation-state or still adherents to the Articles of Confederation. Also, the States created the constitution, not the “whole people” and, as Jefferson Davis said ad nauseum, the only powers the central government has are those the States delegated to it in Article 1, Section 8. Also, Virginia, Rhode Island and New York included clauses in their ratification stating they could leave the compact if it was not in their best interest to remain. Classical Liberal John Taylor of Caroline wrote New Views of the Constitution of the United States (1823) where he took the notes of Robert Yates, who attended the Constitutional Convention and wrote Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention, detailing how the “Nationalists” lost the debate. Of course, Lincoln used military force to change that.

    The South definitely believed the armistices were still intact–the ones from December 6, 1860 (South Carolina) and January 29, 1861 (Florida). It is my understanding that the specifics can be found in the Cornell University Library. There is also a quote from Braxton Bragg about the Florida agreement in the Official Records, page 457.

    I worked in logistics for a Fortune 500 company for over thirty years. I have seen how tariffs can be used to punish countries, sections of a country, etc. A classic case is the Pittsburgh Plus Pricing System of the early 1900s (corporate welfare instituted at the behest of the steel industry) that shafted the Southern States.

    The tariff was not a minor issue to the South or to Lincoln. John Baldwin’s 1866 testimony was printed in the Staunton Speculator. In it, he goes into vivid detail about how Lincoln (and likely “his owners” as the late George Carlin would say) were freaking out about the Southern States being out of the Union. ( Lincoln told Baldwin the North stood to lose “fifty or sixty million” yearly if the South was allowed its independence with the ability to operate as a free trade zone. The April 12, 1861 Stuart, Randolph and Preston meeting with Lincoln produced a similar result. Later, on April 22, 1861, Baltimore’s Rev. Richard Fuller and associates met with Lincoln and heard the same message about lost tariff revenue.

    The country you describe sounds more like a replication of the British Empire the colonies broke away from. I do not believe the States would have ever agreed to join a government they could not get out of. That would be like The Eagles’ Hotel California where “you can check out any time you like but you can never leave”, i.e., that sounds like Hell.

    1. Your opinion is noted and equally dismissed. Lost Cause nonsense and twisted history. Sorry, but you’re comparing modern day tariffs with 19th century ones? Again, I’ll go with what the Southern leadership was saying over you. I’ll also go with what many of the Founding Fathers were saying-Washington, Madison, Adams, Webster, Hamilton, etc. The states were sovereign unto themselves but beholden to the Federal.
      Speech of Alexander H. Stephens, to the Georgia Legislature, Nov. 14, 1860.
      “The next evil that my friend complained of, was the Tariff. Well, let us look at that for a moment. About the time I commenced noticing public matters, this question was agitating the country almost as fearfully as the Slave question now is. In 1832, when I was in college, South Carolina was ready to nullify or secede from the Union on this account. And what have we seen? The tariff no longer distracts the public councils. Reason has triumphed. The present tariff was voted for by Massachusetts and South Carolina. The lion and the lamb lay down together– every man in the Senate and House from Massachusetts and South Carolina, I think, voted for it, as did my honorable friend himself. And if it be true, to use the figure of speech of my honorable friend, that every man in the North, that works in iron and brass and wood, has his muscle strengthened by the protection of the government, that stimulant was given by his vote, and I believe every other Southern man. So we ought not to complain of that.

      [Mr. Toombs: That tariff lessened the duties.]

      [Mr. Stephens:] Yes, and Massachusetts, with unanimity, voted with the South to lessen them, and they were made just as low as Southern men asked them to be, and those are the rates they are now at. If reason and argument, with experience, produced such changes in the sentiments of Massachusetts from 1832 to 1857, on the subject of the tariff, may not like changes be effected there by the same means, reason and argument, and appeals to patriotism on the present vexed question? And who can say that by 1875 or 1890, Massachusetts may not vote with South Carolina and Georgia upon all those questions that now distract the country and threaten its peace and existence? I believe in the power and efficiency of truth, in the omnipotence of truth, and its ultimate triumph when properly wielded. (Applause.)”

      None of the major declarations or Southern leaders said much about the tariff, but they certainly did about slavery. Nice try, but not right.

    2. BTW, perhaps you should look at all the other treaties that come after that. For example, the Treaty of Ghent (which ended the War of 1812), shows that it is between “two nations”-not 25:
      “His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America desirous of terminating the war which has unhappily subsisted between the two Countries”
      It goes on to talk about “both” parties and other pronouns involving two participants:
      Of course the Confederacy thought there was a armistice, though none was signed. Lincoln was a different president and under no obligation to keep with what his predecessor had done-they both felt different about secession and how to deal with it. But that’s probably why Lincoln is consistently thought of as one of the three best presidents of all times and Buchanan as one of the worst.
      Sounds like Hell? LOL! Strange that they agreed to it then. Also, the Supreme Court rulings prior to the war left no doubt about their sovereignty and that they didn’t overrule the Federal. New York tried to push conditional ratification and it flat failed:
      James Madison to Alexander Hamilton, July 20, 1788. The subject is Hamilton’s news that the New York Ratification Convention was considering ratifying the Constitution on the condition that specified amendments be made within a specified period, failing which New York would reserve the right to withdraw.

      “Yours of yesterday is this instant come to hand & I have but a few minutes to answer it. I am sorry that your situation obliges you to listen to propositions of the nature you describe. My opinion is that a reservation of a right to withdraw if amendments be not decided on under the form of the Constitution within a certain time, is a conditional ratification, that it does not make N. York a member of the New Union, and consequently that she could not be received on that plan. Compacts must be reciprocal, this principle would not in such a case be preserved. The Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever. It has been so adopted by the other States. An adoption for a limited time would be as defective as an adoption of some of the articles only. In short any condition whatever must viciate the ratification. What the New Congress by virtue of the power to admit new States, may be able & disposed to do in such case, I do not enquire as I suppose that is not the material point at present. I have not a moment to add more than my fervent wishes for your success & happiness.

      “This idea of reserving right to withdraw was started at Richmd. & considered as a conditional ratification which was itself considered as worse than a rejection.” –James Madison

  6. If the tariff was so irrelevant, why was Lincoln so concerned about it? There are scores of letters from both Northern and Southern newspapers and the London Times that referenced the tariff issue. You can recite all of the nationalist drivel in the world but the fact is Lincoln repeated to three different groups that he could not let the South go because of the tariff disparity. The Confederate Constitution was libertarian in many aspects. For example, it outlawed corporate welfare–one of the core programs of the Protectionist Whigs and the Radical Republicans. The tariff issue was argued from 1791 and up–even Calhoun agreed to increase the 1816 Tariff after the War of 1812 to help pay the costs incurred by Northern manufacturers but when the North wanted to keep it at protectionist levels, the South argued vehemently against it. Calhoun later nullified the Tariff of Abominations that almost led to war in the 1830s. Cooler heads prevailed and the tariff rate was steadily lowered.
    To say anyone would enter into an agreement with no escape would certainly imply they are unwise. That makes absolutely no sense. I know Lincoln claimed in his First Inaugural that the “Union” began with the 1774 Articles of Association, which was simply a boycott of certain British imports–and has no factual basis. Of course, Lincoln was a sectional candidate who was not even on the ballot in 10 Southern States — he represented the interests of the North and Upper Midwest but not the South.
    I know the Hamiltonians wanted a monarchical style of government but the Jeffersonians did not. In the early 1800s Jefferson even proposed breaking the country into 100 person mini-republics because of his fear of consolidation. I will admit that Patrick Henry’s fear of joining an alliance with “the Puritans” was real. As Raphael Semmes and others noted, they wanted to re-create the world in their image.
    You like to quote the wishy-washy Madison (who was likely influenced too much by the great centralizer Alexander Hamilton). It was Madison who wrote the Virginia Resolutions as Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions. One of their key arguments was that “The central or national government was created as an agent of the States, ‘which were the real sovereigns, and to do only those things which were specifically granted to it in the compact of the Constitution.'” Of course this was in reaction to the Federalists’ authoritarian and wicked Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. You know, the one that criminalized certain forms of speech, especially if directed toward certain politicians. Thank God, when Jefferson became President, the Alien and Sedition Acts were done away with.

    1. Odd, Lincoln wasn’t the one who seceded or started the war. To the Southern leadership we look for reasons for secession and war and the vast majority of them stated that slavery was the motivation. Lincoln was concerned over the tariff, but not to the point where he would start a war over it. His duties as president included the collection of said tariffs-that’s why he was discussing it. The idea that the Federal government or Lincoln were some kind of huge monstrous entities trying to flail about and destroy the South is nonsense. Lincoln took no overt actions when he came into office, DESPITE the fact that the Southern leaders in the U.S. government were illegally shipping arms to the South (John Floyd), looting Federal arsenals across the South, calling for 100,000 troops the day Lincoln was inaugurated (when the U.S. army was composed of 16,000 troops-most in the West fighting Indians), shooting at Federal ships (Star of West) and making aggressive moves against Federal forts (Pickens and Sumter). On the other hand, Lincoln was not going to sit back like Buchanan. He wasn’t going to meet with the Southern leaders to offer any for of legitimacy. He wanted business as usual and he and the cabinet were convinced that the Unionists in the South would force these Fireeaters and secessionists to back down and come back to the United States without a fight.
      Wishy washy Madison? Awwwww, do the facts bother you? Madison made it very clear from the start as to where he stood on the matter. When SC tried to Nullify and threaten Secession, Madison, Webster, and Andrew Jackson made very loud and public statements that said that it was not legal. Period. At no point did Madison say that secession was right or legal. If you want to talk wishy-washy, that would be Jefferson. For example, here’s what he said on the matter at one point:
      “But if on a temporary superiority of the one party, the other is to resort to a secession of the Union, no federal government can ever exist. If to rid ourselves of the present rule of Massachusets & Connecticut we break the Union, will the evil stop there? Suppose the N. England States alone cut off, will our natures be changed? are we not men still to the south of that, & with all the passions of men? Immediately we shall see a Pennsylvania & a Virginia party arise in the residuary confederacy, and the public mind will be distracted with the same party spirit. What a game, too, will the one party have in their hands by eternally threatening the other that unless they do so & so, they will join their Northern neighbors. If we reduce our Union to Virginia & N. Carolina, immediately the conflict will be established between the representatives of these two States, and they will end by breaking into their simple units. Seeing, therefore, that an association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry, seeing that we must have somebody to quarrel with, I had rather keep our New England associates for that purpose than to see our bickerings transferred to others.” [Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 4 Jun 1798]
      Certainly sounds like he didn’t want them to secede.
      “To say anyone would enter into an agreement with no escape would certainly imply they are unwise. That makes absolutely no sense.”-to you. Therein lies your problem. You’re taking it personally. You’re making judgement calls based on your modern viewpoint. Those men were flat told that they were to ratify the Constitution “en toto and forever” and they did. Washington likewise spoke to this. As did Adams. Dismiss it all you want, but it was made clear to those folks-and I also posted the Supreme Court rulings prior to the war that utterly destroy your argument. What’s your excuse for those rulings?
      Slavery was the main cause of secession. Read the words of the Southern leaders-or do you consider them “wishy washy” as well?

    2. “In the calm hours of self-possession, the right of a State to nullify an act of Congress, is too absurd for argument, and too odious for discussion. The right of a state to secede from the Union, is equally disowned by the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Nations acknowledge no judge between them upon earth, and their Governments from necessity, must in their intercourse with each other decide when the failure of one party to a contract to perform its obligations, absolves the other from the reciprocal fulfilment of his own. But this last of earthly powers is not necessary to the freedom or independence of states, connected together by the immediate action of the people, of whom they consist. To the people alone is there reserved, as well the dissolving, as the constituent power, and that power can be exercised by them only under the tie of conscience, binding them to the retributive justice of Heaven. The indissoluble link of union between the people of the several States of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the right, but in the heart. If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other, the bonds of political association will not long hold together parties no longer attached by the magnetism of consolidated interests and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people of the disunited States to part in friendship with each other than to be held together by constraint.” –John Quincy Adams

      Daniel Webster:

      “Replying to Robert Y. Hayne, Senator from South Carolina, on the subject of a state’s right to nullify unconstitutional laws, Daniel Webster stated as follows:
      So, Sir, I understood the gentleman, and am happy to find that I did not misunderstand him. What he contends for is, that it is constitutional to interrupt the administration of the Constitution itself, in the hands of those who are chosen and sworn to administer it, by the direct interference, in form of law, of the States, in virtue of their sovereign capacity. The inherent right in the people to reform their government I do not deny; and they have another right, and that is, to resist unconstitutional laws, without overturning the government. It is no doctrine of mine that unconstitutional laws bind the people. The great question is, Whose prerogative is it to decide on the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the laws? On that the debate hinges. The proposition that, in case of a supposed violation of the Constitution by Congress, the States have a constitutional right to interfere, and annul the law of Congress, is the proposition of the gentleman. I do not admit it. If the gentleman had intended no more than to assert the right of revolution for justifiable cause, he would have said only what all agree to. But I cannot conceive that there can be a middle course, between submission to the laws, when pronounced constitutional, on the one hand, and open resistance, which is revolution or rebellion, on the other. I say, the right of a State to annul a law of Congress, cannot be maintained but on the ground of the unalienable right of man to resist oppression; that is to say, upon the ground of revolution. I admit that there is an ultimate violent remedy, above the Constitution and in defiance of the Constitution, which may be resorted to when a revolution is to be justified. But I do not admit, that, under the Constitution and in conformity with it, there is any mode in which a State government, as a member of the Union, can interfere and stop the progress of the general government, by force of her own laws, under any circumstances whatever…. It is, Sir, the people’s Constitution, the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people and answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that this Constitution shall be the supreme law. But the State legislatures, as political bodies, however sovereign, are not yet sovereign over the people. So far as the people have given power to the general government, so far as the grant is unquestionably good, and the government held of the people, and not of the State governments. We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people. The general government and the State governments derive their authority from the same source…. If there be no power to settle such questions [constitutionality of a federal tariff], independent of either of the States, is not the whole Union a rope of sand? Are we not thrown back again, precisely, upon the old Confederation? It is too plain to be argued. Four-and Twenty interpreters of constitutional law, each with a power to decide for itself, and none with authority to bind any body else, and this constitutional law the only bond of their union!… Some authority must, therefore, necessarily exist, having the ultimate jurisdiction to fix and ascertain the interpretation of these grant, restrictions and prohibitions [with respect to the enumerated powers]. The Constitution has itself pointed out, ordained, and established that authority. How has it accomplished this great and essential end? By declaring, Sir, that “the Constitution, and the laws of the United States made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”
      This, Sir, was the first great step. By this the supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States is declared. The people so will it….But who shall decide this question of interference? To whom lies the last appeal? This, Sir, the Constitution itself decides also, by declaring “that the judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the constitution and laws of the United States.” These two provisions, Sir, cover the whole ground. They are, in truth, the key-stone of the arch! With these, it is a Constitution; without them, it is a confederation. (Emphasis in the original)”

      Daniel Webster, “Reply to Hayne,” Daniel Webster: Representative Speeches, Little Masterpieces, Bliss Perry, ed. (New York: Doubleday and McClure, 1901), 146-48, 152, 170-171

      Washington wrote to Alexander Hamilton, “No man in the United States is, or can be more deeply impressed with the necessity of reform in our present Confederation than myself. No man perhaps has felt the bad effects of it more sensibly; for to the defects thereof, & want of Powers in Congress may justly be ascribed the prolongation of the War & consequently the Expenses occasioned by it. More than half the perplexities I have experienced in the course of my command, and almost the whole of the difficulties & distress of the Army, have their origin here.” [Washington to Alexander Hamilton, 31 Mar 1783]

      So he clearly saw the necessity of a strong, central federal government. Three months later he repeated this theme in his “Circular to State Governments,” in which he wrote, “There are four things, which I humbly conceive, are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States as an Independent Power:

      “1st. An indissoluble Union of the States under one Federal Head.
      “2ndly. A Sacred regard to Public Justice.
      “3dly. The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment, and
      “4thly. The prevalence of the pacific and friendly Disposition, among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.”
      “Yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true Patriot, to assert without reserve, and to insist upon the following propositions, That unless the States will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives, they are undoubtedly invested with by the Constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to Anarchy and confusion, That it is indispensable to the happiness of the individual States, that there should be lodged somewhere, a Supreme Power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the Confederated Republic, without which the Union cannot be of long duration. That there must be a faithfull [sic] and pointed compliance on the part of every State, with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue, That whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the Sovereign Authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the Liberty and Independence of America, and the Authors of them treated accordingly.”

      “I could demonstrate to every mind open to conviction, that in less time and with much less expense than has been incurred, the War might have been brought to the same happy conclusion, if the resources of the Continent could have been properly drawn forth, that the distresses and disappointments which have very often occurred, have in too many instances, resulted more from a want of energy, in the Continental Government, than a deficiency of means in the particular States. That the inefficiency of measures, arising from the want of an adequate authority in the Supreme Power, from a partial compliance with the Requisitions of Congress in some of the States, and from a failure of punctuality in others, while it tended to damp the zeal of those which were more willing to exert themselves; served also to accumulate the expenses of the War, and to frustrate the best concerted Plans.” [George Washington, “Circular to State Governments,” 8 June 1783]

  7. As the late Frank Zappa used to say: “Great google-moogly!” It is amazing to read how the secession from The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (the one that was not actually perpetual) to the U.S. Constitution became a conversion to an involuntary Union with no means of escape. A handful of Southern Nationalists, such as Marshall may have seen it that way but, from the numerous books I’ve read on the subject, that view was minimal. As a matter of fact, the entire project was often referred to as “experimental.” There were also many in the North who did not get the memo. For example, William Rawle, whose book A View of the Constitution (1825) was used at West Point. Rawle, literally a Philadelphia lawyer and a highly esteemed one to boot, included the following:
    “The Secession of a state from the union depends on the will of the people of such state.” (p. 238)
    “The Union is an association of the people of republics; its preservation is calculated to depend on the preservation of those republics…Governments of dissimilar forms and principles cannot long maintain a binding coalition.” (pp. 234-235)
    “It will depend upon the State itself whether it will continue to be a member of the Union…If the States are interfered with they may wholly withdraw from the Union.”
    Perhaps Jefferson was out to lunch when the involuntary union part of the program was announced as he wrote the following:
    “If any State in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative, to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying let us separate. I would rather the States should withdraw which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture. (From 1816, Jefferson shared his opinion about the perpetuity of the Union through correspondence with William Crawford, then Secretary of War, and eventually Secretary of the Treasury.)
    In 1858, Ben Wade—a Radical Republican and enemy of the South–asked, “Who is the final arbiter—the government or the States—why, to yield the right of the States to protect its own citizens would consolidate this government into a miserable despotism.”
    “The States which seceded held, it must be remembered, the theory that the United States was not a single nation, but a collection of nations, which had for many years acted for certain purposes through an agency known as the Government of the United States.” (John Codman Ropes, The Story of the Civil War, Part 1: Chapter II: The Question of the Southern Forts (New York, New York and London, England: G.P. Putnam and Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1894), 17,
    In his book, American Conflict, Horace Greeley wrote: “There was not a moment when a large portion of the Northern Democracy was not hostile to any form or shade of coercion. Many openly condemned and stigmatized a war on the South as atrocious, unjustifiable, and aggressive.” Greeley also said: “…we maintain that they have a perfect right to discuss it; nay, we hold with Jefferson to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive or injurious, and if the Cotton States decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless, and we don’t see how one party can have a right to do what another has a right to prevent.”
    Just because you — and I assume your Northern ancestors — felt the Union was involuntary and inescapable does not mean everyone viewed it that way. Since I lean toward the Classical Liberal/Libertarian/decentralization point of view, I have no problem with secession. For example, if Scotland, Ireland or Wales want independence that is their choice. If Catalonia wants to escape the control of Spain, that is up to the Catalonians. If California wants to secede, that is up to the citizens of California. A great example is when Estonia, Latvia, Armenia, etc., seceded from the old Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The only legitimate government is one that protects the rights of its people—if it does not represent those rights, it seems to me that government has lost all legitimacy.
    One of the questions I like to ask is this: English writer Charles Dickens and English Catholic Libertarian Lord Acton (“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”) supported the South and Karl Marx supported the North (Marx wrote extensively in Greeley’s paper)—doesn’t that raise a bit of a red flag as to what the schism was all about?

    1. LOL, nope! My ancestors fought for the Confederacy. And again, Dickens was shut down by another Englishman in the papers over there. You’re comparing apples and oranges with those examples. It was and is perpetual. I’ll take the word of the Father of the Constitution and the Supreme Court over yours. Jefferson had his opinion-it differed from Adams, Washington, Jackson, and Lincoln….in other words, Jefferson was in a distinct minority. You do know that many Southerners fought AGAINST the Confederacy? In fact, Southern Unionists disagreed with what you claim above:

      I will add below a series of statements from Southern Unionists in the decade or so prior to the Civil War. They offer some interesting insight into the arguments against Secession:

      It was in this framework of talking about secession being the equivalent of revolution that the unionists of the deep South produced several highly interesting doctrines. First, they doubted that there was a right of secession at all, no matter how stridently the States Rights supporters insisted that the right came from the compact theory. No clause existed in the Constitution that could be used to construe a right of secession; moreover, “No government,” wrote a contributor named Old Hickory, “could be supposed to contain a provision for, or to sanction as a right, its own destruction.”(21) The reason why a government could not recognize treason was then amply laid out. Government would be totally unstable, and an unstable government would fail at its mission of protecting life, liberty, and property. Once the right of secession was admitted, groups had the privilege “of disobeying … at pleasure [the government’s] laws or obligations.” Judge Garnet Andrews of Georgia, a unionist in 1851 and later the Georgia American party gubernatorial candidate in 1854, warned that given the states fighters’ view of secession, “Then no government could stand for five years. It is the essence of anarchy.” It was for this reason that citizens had to weigh carefully the call for separation from the North. People had a right of revolution, but they should exercise it only when true oppression occurred. Unionists insisted that the Compromise of 1850 met the conditions of the Georgia Platform and no just cause for revolution existed. The editor of the Louisville Courier called secession “but a milder name for treason.”(22)

      Those opposed to the States Rights party also proclaimed that at stake was the destiny of republicanism, or of self-government. The editor of the Vicksburg Weekly Whig found the central issue to be the practicality of the Constitution, “[on] the perpetuity of which, hangs the freedom of mankind.” In North Carolina, one individual, Henry W. Miller, warned that the idea of secession by convention was “in my humble judgment, repugnant to the Constitution, at war with the theory of our Government, and if established, will lead to the overthrow of our Republican system.” In fact, a number of scattered comments underscored the feeling prevalent among some Southerners that breaking the Union was equivalent to ending the modern experiment in liberty and self-government. One Georgia correspondent to Calhoun in late 1847 remarked about the Wilmot Proviso that it “stands out threatening the dismemberment of our Union and with it the last hope of human liberty.” An Alabamian wrote Daniel Webster in the midst of debate over Clay’s compromise measures that “let us once separate & never will such another Government be organised in this World.” There was a considerable understanding that secession not only involved the Union as a national entity but the future of liberty and self-government as political institutions.(23)

      The unionists took their analysis of secession a step further by arguing that disunion would make majority rule impossible. According to Judge Andrews, secession “asserts the principle that the minority have the right to force the majority. There can be no government where such a principle is recognized.” Howell Cobb also addressed the issue in a long letter during the Georgia gubernatorial contest of 1851. “But between this right of revolution for acknowledged and palpable causes, and the claim of a small fraction of a society or of States bound together in one common government, to destroy at pleasure that government, there is all the difference that can be between order and disorder.” Cobb insisted that the founders made no provision for secession and that they intended a perpetual union. Secessionists used arguments that would forever destroy government based on the consent of the governed. This particular charge drew responses from the states rights camp. The central one, as given by the Nashville Convention, was that majority rule could be tolerated only where all parts of the polity possessed identical interests–such as property in people–for then “the dominant cannot oppress the subject people without oppressing themselves.”(24)

      If secession were admitted as a legal device, then the future of the United States was easily written. The preamble to a Union Southern Rights Meeting in Stuart County, Georgia, warned, “If this confederacy is destroyed all is lost! Separation will follow separation, until the whole country is divided into little petty States and fractions, who, too weak to defend themselves, will become the prey of military leaders and demagogues.” Unionists realized that once secession was permitted, there was no stopping the process of fragmentation because any group with a complaint could then announce its intention to separate unless its wishes were fulfilled. Secession was the “squeal” of those who “must be allowed to do what [they] please.” Caving in to secessionists would positively destroy any central government: “the inevitable consequence will be, that the Federal authority will cease to be respected at home.” In Alabama, a unionist believed “if the doctrine of `peaceable secession’ is recognized, and the false pride or unreasonable whims of a State are deemed sufficient reasons for its exercise, no year would pass without some one of the States throwing the whole machinery of government into a score of weak but hostile communities.” For unionists, then, the deep South controversy over the legitimacy of the Compromise of 1850 was not merely a debate of secession versus unionism, it was a debate over the stability of republicanism itself. As the editor of the Southern Banner phrased it, the “Crisis” of 1851 “shall test the capacity of our federal system of government for self-preservation.”(25)

  8. You are making the argument put forth by Lincoln, Webster, Story, and other nationalists and I fully understand there were Southerners who believed in the nationalist view of the union, just as you do. And yes, I identify with the Jeffersonian view that the States are the sovereigns as they were described in the 1783 Treaty of Paris with the union being a compact among the States and I do not believe sovereignty goes away simply by agreeing to join a government compact. I certainly don’t believe that ridiculous assertion that The 1774 Articles of Association created the union and I don’t believe a union maintained by military force/coercion is what the Founders envisioned.

    I know Andrew Jackson was adamantly against secession and nullification and he routinely clashed with John C. Calhoun, who echoed the beliefs of Jefferson (and Locke and Milton). President Zachary Taylor vehemently opposed secession but his son, Richard Taylor, became a Confederate General—Richard compared the South’s cause to be parallel to the English fight for their rights at Runnymede. Irish-born Confederate General Patrick Cleburne not only supported the independence of the South, he also planned to return to his native land and help kick the English out of Ireland. Unfortunately, he was killed at the Battle of Franklin. According to libertarian writer and economic historian Gary North, the Jeffersonian view was prevalent up until 1860.

    I’m not aware of Dickens being “shut down” anywhere. I know he debated the “government historian” John Stuart Mill who ignorantly claimed the only argument between North and South was slavery, totally omitting the disagreements concerning tariffs and banking, as well as the different requirements of an agrarian economy versus an industrial economy and cultural differences. From what I have read, Dickens got the best of that argument.

    I know there were several Southerners who remained pro-Union and I also know there was a considerable number of Northerners who fought for the South. For example, the Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama was named after Amelia Gayle Gorgas, whose husband was Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance from Running Pumps, Pennsylvania. There were hundreds of Confederate soldiers from the southern parts of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, etc. as well as other Northern States. Of course, the blockade kept out many pro-Southern foreigners whereas the North had 494,400 foreigners (many mercenaries) [From Robert C. Wood, Confederate Hand-Book (Falls Church, Virginia: Sterling Press, 1982), 27. [Wood breaks down the numbers as follows: “Germans 176,800; Irish 144,200; British-Americans 53,500; English 45,500; Others 74,900. This makes a total of 494,900.”] Confederate General Richard Taylor made several comments about the South fighting against “Union” troops who could not speak English.

    One of the loudest complaints from Southerners was that the Republican Party was hell-bent on changing the nature of the union itself, simultaneously enriching their corporate partners. This was noted from a seemingly unlikely source. In 1864, J.P. Morgan said:
    “I supported President Lincoln. I believed his war policy would be the only way to save the country, but I see my mistake. I visited Washington a few weeks ago, and I saw the corruption of the present administration—and so long as Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet are in power, so long will war continue. And for what? For the preservation of the Constitution and the Union? No, but for the sake of politicians and government contractors.”[1]
    J.P. Morgan—American financier and banker, 1864.
    [1] Mildred Lewis Rutherford, A True Estimate of Abraham Lincoln & Vindication of the South (Wiggins, Mississippi: Crown Rights Book Company, 1997.), 58-59. This quote appeared on page 11 of the December 25, 1922, edition of Barron’s. Original source: New Haven Register; copied in New York World, September 15, 1864.

    Other Northerners believed the Southern States had a right to independence (the following is from Coercion of the Southern States, Chapter Fifteen in my book UNION AT ALL COSTS):

    Thomas Reynolds, the Democratic ex-Governor of Missouri and Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, said on December 28, 1860: “I am heart and soul with the South. She is right in principle from the Constitution.”[1]

    Democrat James S. Thayer of New York made an ominous prediction on January 21, 1861:
    If the incoming Administration shall attempt to carry out a line of policy which has been foreshadowed, we announce that, when the hand of Black Republicanism turns to blood red, and seeks from the fragment of the Constitution to construct a scaffolding for coercion, another name for execution, we will reverse the order of the French Revolution and save the blood of the people by making those who would inaugurate a Reign of Terror the first victim of a national guillotine.[2]

    In an April 4, 1861, interview with Mr. Russell, a correspondent with the London Times, Secretary of State Seward said forceful subjugation of the South was the antithesis of the way American Government was supposed to work. Seward stated, “It would be contrary to the spirit of American Government to use armed force to subjugate the South. If the people of the South want to stay out of the Union, if they desire independence, let them have it.”[3] Less than a week later, On April 10, 1861, Seward wrote to Charles Francis Adams, Sr., Minister to England: “Only a despotic and imperial government can coerce seceding States.”[4] Seward made these comments with near certain awareness that such a program was being formulated.

    The New York Herald editorialized:
    The day before Fort Sumter was surrendered two-thirds of the newspapers in the North opposed coercion in any shape or form, and sympathized with the South. Three-fifths of the entire American people sympathized with the South. Over 200,000 voters opposed coercion and believed the South had a right to secede.[5]

    Gerald Hallock and David Hale, both staunch opponents of the tactics of the Republican Party, published The Journal of Commerce. Their strong stance against coercion was met with the U.S. Post Office’s refusal to carry their papers.
    President Buchanan expressed to Stanton, who served as his Attorney General and later as Secretary of War under Lincoln and Johnson, that the Constitution did not provide any power to the central government to coerce a seceding State.

    In his book, American Conflict, Horace Greeley wrote: “There was not a moment when a large portion of the Northern Democracy was not hostile to any form or shade of coercion. Many openly condemned and stigmatized a war on the South as atrocious, unjustifiable, and aggressive.”[6]

    Charles Beecher Stowe, son of Harriet Beecher Stowe, in an address at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, offered the following commentary:
    Many patriotic men of the South who cared little or nothing about slavery were stirred with the deepest indignation at the suggestion of the National government subduing a sovereign State by force of arms, and said that a Union that could only be held together by bayonets had better be dissolved; and for the principle of State rights and State sovereignty the Southern men fought with a holy ardor and self-denying patriotism that have covered even defeat with imperishable glory.[7]

    Stowe admitted the Southern belief in limited, consensual government was an admirable endeavor despite the tragic results the South endured. Massachusetts lawyer, editor, and author John T. Morse wrote in his two-volume biography about Lincoln. “History is crowded with tales of despots, but of no despot who thought or decided with the taciturn independence which marked this president of the Free American Republic in regard to coercing seceding States.”[8]

    There was a sizable group of abolitionists mainly associated with Garrison and Phillips that opposed coercion. They recognized the Southern States had a right to self-determination and that it was best for slaveholding States to secede and form their own country. Under this logic, the four slave States that remained in the Union (five counting West Virginia) should have had the same option.

    Even within the Republican Party, there was a lack of universal agreement. The party’s platform strongly denounced an armed invasion of any State or territory under any pretext. Stanton biographer George Gorham noted the internal split in the party. Where Lincoln and his supporters demanded an unbroken Union, prominent Republicans such as Greeley and Chase were fine with disunion, feeling “a union of non-slave-holding States would be preferable to any attempt to maintain by force the Union with the slaveholding States.’”[9]

    Indeed, Horace Greeley summed it up succinctly in November 1860, by recognizing the South’s right to consider whether or not the Union served its interests. Greeley wrote:
    …we maintain that they have a perfect right to discuss it; nay, we hold with Jefferson to the inalienable right of communities to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive or injurious, and if the Cotton States decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless, and we don’t see how one party can have a right to do what another has a right to prevent.[10]

    Halfway through the war, negative reaction had not abated. In 1863, a myriad of issues remained. The Peace Democrats in the North became emboldened by the anti-war sentiment of Northerners whose constitutional rights were being violated by the Lincoln Administration. In some areas of the North, reaction to draft officers included forced resistance. The severity of anti-war sentiment in the North led Lincoln to suspend the writ of habeas corpus throughout the Union. (Detailed in the chapter concerning suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus.)

    Lincoln felt an obligation to promote his party’s survival. Failure to subdue the South would have likely destroyed the Republican Party. Union General McClellan noted this element of party rivalry and distrust. McClellan, a Democrat who believed in honorable warfare as he was taught at West Point, opposed the destruction of civilian property and felt the violation of the civil rights of Northerners was wrong. For these and other reasons, he was widely distrusted by the Radical Republicans.

    McClellan felt Stanton and Lincoln had betrayed him during the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862 when thousands of his troops were pulled and his recommended troop movements were rejected. W.C. Prime, journalist and historian from Cambridge, New York, echoed this sentiment by arguing the Radical Republicans sabotaged McClellan during this campaign “because they wanted to prolong the war so they could ravage and subjugate the South and consolidate their own political power.”[11] The Radical Republicans, in particular, saw the opportunity for both financial and political gain. “If McClellan had taken Richmond, it would have been an end of the Republican party.”[12] Also, if (hypothetically) President McClellan had spared the South from Reconstruction, occupation, and martial law, the Republican Party could not have instituted their Hamiltonian ideology. For many Republicans, the party and its corporate interests held more importance than the constitution.

    Lincoln scholar David Herbert Donald summarized the rewards expected by coercion of the Southern States, noting the Radicals were anxious to control the government to promote their industrial interests. John Sherman, Republican Senator from Ohio and brother to Union General Sherman, was not bashful in expressing their goals. Sherman’s expectations for Lincoln were “to secure to free labor its just right to the Territories of the United States; to protect…by wise revenue laws, the labor of our people; to secure the public lands to actual settlers…; to develop the internal resources of the country by opening new means of communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific.”[13] Donald keenly translated the meaning that “the Radicals intended to enact a high protective tariff that mothered monopoly, to pass a homestead law that invited speculators to loot the public domain, and to subsidize a transcontinental railroad that afforded infinite opportunities for jobbery.”[14] Charles Sumner complained that key Union victories too soon might not allow the Radicals enough time to completely institute their program of industrial supremacy.

    Echoing Donald’s observations were those of Southern Conservative scholar, M.E. Bradford, who noted, “A great increase in the tariff and the formation of a national banking network…were the cornerstones of this great alteration in the posture of the Federal government toward the sponsorship of business.”[15] Bradford went on to describe Lincoln’s cautious manner relative to openly expressing the underlying Republican (largely Radical Republican) agenda. However, “in private he made it clear that the hidden agenda of the Republicans would have its turn, once the stick was in their hand.”[16] Lincoln ultimately delivered as “the tariff rose from 18.84 percent to 47.56 percent. And it stayed above 40 percent in all but two years of the period concluded with the election of Woodrow Wilson.”[17] Virginia historian Ludwell H. Johnson referenced that such a massive welfare transfer was one of Calhoun’s greatest fears. Then, as now, factions in Wall Street held strong influence over government actions.

    Another vital part of this agenda lay in passage of the 1862 Legal Tender Act along with the National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864. This resulted in “$480 million of fiat money that was soon depreciated by two-thirds in relation to specie…all notes but the greenback dollar were taxed out of existence, excepting only United States Treasury bonds that all banks were required to purchase to have a share in the war boom.”[18] The bonds were supported by debt, as advocated by Hamilton, and the central bankers controlled the supply of money, credit, lending, etc. Keeping the South in the Union and eliminating the Plains Indians (impediments to the railroads) were critical for the success of this agenda. Military coercion of the Southern States, rather than legitimate attempts to compromise, was the route chosen. Ultimately, Lincoln delivered to the Radical Republicans what they expected.

    [1] Mildred Lewis Rutherford, Truths of History (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Old South Institute Press, 2009), 21.
    [2] Ezra Carman, The Maryland Campaign of 1862—Volume I, South Mountain, Edited and Annotated by Thomas G. Clemens, New York, New York: Savos Beatie LLC, 2010), 63.
    [3] George Edmonds, Facts and Falsehoods Concerning the War on the South 1861-1865 (Wiggins, Mississippi: Crown Rights Book Company Liberty Reprint Series, 1997), 160.
    [4] Rutherford, Truths of History, 19. [From Seward’s April 10, 1861, correspondence with Charles Francis Adams, Sr., Minister in England.]
    [5] Ibid. Original source: The New York Herald.
    [6] Ibid., 20-21. Original source: Horace Greeley, American Conflict, 513.
    [7] Charles Beecher Stowe, “Honest Confession Good for the Country,” Confederate Veteran Magazine (Publication of the United Confederate Veterans), Volume 19, Number 7, July 1911, 326,, (Accessed April 23, 2016).
    [8] Rutherford, Truths of History, 20. Original source: American Statesman Series, Morse in Vol. II., ‘Life of Abraham Lincoln.’
    [9] George C. Gorham, Life and Public Services of Edwin M. Stanton (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, 1899, Volume I), 193, University of California,$b539234;view=1up;seq=231, (Accessed April 23, 2016).
    [10] Lyon Gardiner Tyler, The Gray Book: A Confederate Catechism (Wiggins, Mississippi: Crown Rights Book Co.—The Liberty Reprint Series, 1997), 33. Originally printed in Tyler’s Quarterly in Volume 33, October and January issues, 1935.
    [11] Michael T. Griffith, “The Smearing of General George B. McClellan,” 2014,,, (Accessed April 23, 2016).
    [12] Minor, 138. [From a conversation between A.K. McLure and Charles Minor.]
    [13] David Herbert Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered (New York, New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 2001), 106.
    [14] Ibid.
    [15] M.E. Bradford, Remembering Who We Are—Observations of a Southern Conservative (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1985), 147.
    [16] Ibid.
    [17] Ibid.
    [18] Ibid., 147-148.

    1. Nope. More bad facts, poor history, and Lost Cause rhetoric. Mildred? The posterchild for female Lost Causers. Mill got the best of Dickens for sure-English attitudes and their final decisions reflects as much. Slavery was the MAIN cause for the South. I didn’t say ONLY cause. I’ll believe the Southern leaders.

  9. The book Nathan Bedford Forrest in search of the Enigma –Eddy W. Davison and Edwin C. Bears states that the cause was that the US government went against the constitution. (Americans are currently too stupid to see the that the government does not care what what the documents says ) the southern heads were controlled by the UK so their documents are useless along with colt industries with Sam Colt being a “fire eater” copper head who was only interested in selling his wears tried to make it slavery, but slaves had freedom as they could level “Voodoo death.” But, the US Government was controlled by Russia so the Tsar whom Lincoln hated forced the Emancipation proclamation like the Tzar did in Russia.
    In response to the Tax question which Lincoln was said to have claimed as the cause, Only the English made any response to it which proves that England had saught to cause a revolution in the US Roger K. Broxton of Andalusia, president of the Confederate Heritage Fund said, “There is no proof of Lincoln ever declaring the war was fought to abolish slavery, and without such an official statement, the war-over-slavery teaching remains a complete lie and offensive hate speech that divides Americans, as is being done now by the media and politicians regarding the Confederate flag in South Carolina.” ( retrived February 14, 2019) war-over-slavery is the same the “November Traitor” idea and is therefor calling for a massacre of Southerns so that only an independent South can protect the Southern people even as Isreal to the Jews.

    1. Wow, that’s a whole lot of crazy in one bag. I’ve met Edwin C. Bears and he sticks to the standard academic historian version of slavery as the main cause.

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