Browsing "Republican Party Jacobins"

Experimenting with Government Social Programs

Former Alabama Governor George Wallace recalled: “My father used to tell me that poverty and illiteracy in the South resulted from the way in which we were treated after the war when they burned the schools down, burned the railroads, just desecrated the South. We are just now overcoming the effects of that tyranny and of the iniquitous Thaddeus Stevens [the Radical Republican leader in Congress], who wanted nothing but vengeance.” Wallace felt himself as one of the South’s “rural proletariat,” and committed himself to “rid the region of what he considered a Northern-imposed inferiority.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Experimenting with Government Social Programs

“Most Southerners of the [postwar] – and their progeny, including George Wallace – viewed the period of military occupation as cruelly harsh . . . [but] for Southerners, “the unforgiveable reality was not that military rule was unbearably strict or unreasonably long but that it had been imposed at all; what mattered was that the bayonets had glittered among a people who had complied, whatever their reluctance and misgivings, with the Lincoln program for Reconstruction, only to find that the rules had changed as the political winds shifted.

Military rule (but not military occupation) ended in most States in 1868. By then, however, the federal Reconstruction Acts had placed the South’s political structure firmly under the control of [Republican] Radicals who, in practice if not in law, hand-picked governors, legislators, judges, tax collectors, and postmasters.

Many of the jobs were lucrative political plums that lent themselves to graft and payoffs. Legislators were bribed to sell railroad holdings to speculators for next to nothing. An Alabama editor of the time complained that “inside the State capitol and outside of it, bribes were offered and accepted at noonday and without hesitation or shame,” which helped “to drive capital from the State, paralyze industry, demoralize labor, and force the [best] citizens to flee Alabama as a pestilence, seeking relief and repose in the wilds of the distant West.”

Bribes and frauds notwithstanding, Reconstructions greatest dollar cost to the South came from enormous (and frequently wasteful) legislative spending on new programs fostered by the novel and, for the time, somewhat extraordinary notion that social responsibility was a function of the government.

These programs involved not only the establishment of free public school systems for white and black children but also the construction of insane asylums, hospitals, roads, and bridges. Despite extravagances and often misused funds, America’s first integrated governments – [Southern] legislatures comprising blacks, carpetbaggers and scalawags – were experimenting with social programs that State governments in the North had never before financed.

But these largely noble experiments were undertaken at the expense – financially and psychologically – of Southern white landowners, who saw the American republic’s traditional rights and values being overturned by what seemed to them a motley collection of blacks, Northern usurpers and Southern traitors.

In formal as in common speech . . . “the United States are” became “the United States is.” But to Southerners, the end of the war – the War Between the States, as most Southerners would refer to it for at least the next 125 years – meant encroaching federalism and government involvement in theretofore private sectors.

Thenceforth, at least well into the heyday of George Wallace, Alabamians would distrust and often detest the federal government, or at best, view it with deep misgivings.

In Barbour County, the defeated whites told their children and grandchildren horror stories of Reconstruction that would burn into their memories: black constables “paraded the streets,” administering “powers of sovereignty” over whites; federal troops carried off or killed farm animals, burned cotton, and plundered stores and homes; once-wealthy families were reduced to penury; local leaders were arrested on trumped-up charges; most whites were prohibited from voting in local and State elections while blacks, induced by threats, money or liquor, were permitted to vote two or three times each for candidates sympathetic to the Radicals.”

(George Wallace, American Populist, Stephan Lesher, Addison-Wesley, 1994, pp. 10-12)

Theories of Conflict and Higher Law

Many in the antebellum South viewed the theories advanced by abolitionists and the new Republican Party as threatening the Union they wished to remain in and forcing their withdrawal. As South Carolina was threatened with coercion in 1832 over nullification, those in the South wondered why the Northern States which nullified federal laws were not threatened with coercion – which well might have impelled those Northern States to secede.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Theories of Conflict and Higher Law

“But whatever the real issue between the sections in the territorial dispute, there was no doubt, in the South at least, of the sectional objectives in defending or in opposing two new theories developed in the North during the decade of the fifties.

These were the theories of the “irrepressible conflict” and of the “higher law.”

Both were considered by the South to be incompatible [with the United States Constitution] . . . both were soundly denounced as a direct infringement of the principle of constitutional guarantees.

The theory of the “irrepressible conflict” was the joint product of Abraham Lincoln’s address before the Republican State Convention in Illinois, delivered on June 16, 1858, and of William Seward’s “Irrepressible Conflict” speech delivered at Rochester, New York, October 25, 1858.

This theory was denounced by every legitimate agency in the South from county assemblies to State conventions. On December 2, 1859, the General Assembly of Tennessee resolved “that we recognize in the recent outbreak at Harper’s Ferry the natural prints of this treasonable, “irrepressible conflict” doctrine put forward by the great head of the Black Republican party and echoed by his subordinates.”

The second of these theories — the theory of the higher law – [was championed by] William Seward of New York.

This theory doubtless sprang from the ranks of the abolitionists in the latter thirties, for as early as June 15, 1841, Representative Kenneth Raynor of North Carolina attacked the position of John Quincy Adams on the slavery question because he “has thrown aside law and Constitution, and has dared to put the issue of this question upon the high and impregnable ground of the Divine law”, a position which Raynor declared “sweeps away everything like human compact and rests the mutual rights of men on what the imagination of fanaticism may picture to itself as a Divine requirement.”

In February 1851, Robert Toombs discovered that a “great question is rising up before us [to] become a “fixed fact” in American politics. It is . . . sometimes called the higher law, in antagonism to our constitutional compact. If the first (i.e, higher law) succeeds, we have no other safety except in secession; if the latter (i.e, the constitutional compact succeeds) “liberty and Union, may be forever one and inseparable.”

Before the end of the following year, the “fixed fact” had found definite expression from the pen of William Hosmer in a volume of some two hundred pages entitled, The Higher Law. Within those pages, the author makes the following contention: “Men have no right to make a constitution which sanctions slavery, and it is the imperative duty of all good men to break it, when made . . . the fact that a law is constitutional amounts to nothing, unless it is also pure . . .”

On February 18, 1861, Fulton Anderson, commissioner from Mississippi to Virginia, warned the Virginia Convention that an “infidel fanaticism, crying out for a higher law than that of the Constitution . . . has been enlisted in this strife”; and in the Alabama Convention of that year L.M. Stone maintained that the “triumph of a Higher Law party, pledged to the destruction of our Constitutional Rights, forced us to dissolve our political connection with [the] hostile States.”

(The South As A Conscious Minority, Jesse T. Carpenter, New York University, 1930, pp 157-160)

Moral Tormentors

Moral Tormentors

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of it victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.”  C.S. Lewis

 

 

Men of the Republican Political Machine

Congressman Roscoe Conkling of New York controlled patronage positions in the New York customhouse after the war, and selected friend and future vice president and president Chester Arthur to the top position of collector in 1871. Seen as a loyal Republican Party hack, Arthur was accused by reformers of taking “illegal kickbacks, overstaffing, insidious accounting and lax administration.” Ironically, Arthur’s custom house corruption investigation was initiated during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, himself known as “His Fraudulency” and elected by Republican Party vote-fraud in the occupied South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Men of the Republican Political Machine

“The Radical Republicanism that defined the immediate years after the Civil War was an attempt by Congress to reengineer the former slave States. The Radicals narrowly failed to remove President Andrew Johnson . . . [was followed] by the election of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant had been a crusty, drunken, charismatic commander, but his presidency marked the end of the politics of passion and the beginning of a long period when personalities determined factions, and when competent, loyal (and at times corrupt) insiders thrived.

Grant’s defenders described him as an icon of pragmatism . . . his detractors assaulted his administration as a descent into a world where the highest bidder was rewarded. By the late 1860s, a new generation of Republicans and [Northern] Democrats jelled into a political class that shared a desire for order and control.

In place of stirring orators debating high principles . . . the Senate was occupied by a class of politicos who believed in “women, wine, whiskey, and war,” as Senator John McDougall of California remarked. They reveled in the martial cult of the Civil War and eagerly supported America’s military expansion against the Native Americans of the Plains. But they reveled more in the political machine and its benefits.

[Grant’s Vice-President Roscoe] Conkling defended the machine as necessary and even constructive force in American political life, thundering, “We are told that the Republican Party is a machine. Yes. A government is a machine, the common-school system of the State of New York is a machine, a political party is a machine . . .”

For him, as for Chester Arthur and even James Blaine, the party was a church to which absolute fealty was expected and demanded, and in emotional moments these men of the machine could wax about its virtues with the romantic zeal of a lover serenading his loved one.

In 1871, Arthur was offered one of the plum positions in the federal bureaucracy, the collector of New York Customhouse. The position of collector had opened up when the former occupant, Arthur’s friend Tom Murphy, was forced to step down in the face of corruption allegations.

The port of New York was the primary gateway for goods from abroad, and smuggling was a constant. As an incentive, officials who snared illegal, unregistered or undertaxed shipments were entitled to a percentage of the goods seized or the fines levied. This “moiety” process made it possible for even a low-level official to double or triple his income . . . [while] it struck reformers . . . as unsavory.”

(Chester Alan Arthur, Zachary Karabell, Henry Holt and Company, 2004, excerpts, pp. 18-20; 22)

Postwar Whiskey, Beer and Dollar Bills

In 1880, the shooting war had been over for 15 years though a conflict raged for political control of the South until 1877. James Garfield and Chester Arthur eked out a slim victory in 1880, and the New York Times wryly observed that so many [Republican] factions were convinced that they had been promised cabinet positions that “if all reports are true, President Garfield’s Cabinet will contain about one hundred and twenty-five persons.” The elimination of Southern conservative influence in Congress led to the corruption of the Gilded Age.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Postwar Whiskey, Beer and Dollar Bills

“The [presidential] campaign of 1880 is notable mostly for what it lacked. It was a contest of organization and will, not a battle over the future direction of the country. The Republican factions in Chicago were divided by personalities, not by beliefs, and the [Northern] Democrats did not offer a dramatically different vision.

But the main attraction had all the ideology of a horse race. That fact did not escape the disgusted intellectuals who sat on the sidelines wondering what had happened to the once noble republic of Washington [and] Jefferson . . . [and] . . . What was the election about, really, other than who would win?

[Republicans and Democrats] voted because of party loyalty or because some local organizer sweetened the pot. They voted because a Republican precinct boss in New York Boston or Buffalo or St. Louis or Nashville invited them to a picnic on a fine Sunday on September, trucked out a few respected and/or dynamic speakers, and handed out whiskey, beer and dollar bills.

Yet if you had collared [James] Garfield and Arthur or [Winfield Scott] Hancock . . . and asked them if they stood for anything, they would of course had said yes. They would have said they stood for good government, for the hopes and dreams of the common man, for the expansion of trade, for orderly cities and prosperous farms, well-managed railroads, solvent banks, stable currency, and the settlement of the West.

Having served the Union during the Civil War, they felt the North’s victory had closed the last great fissure that had threatened a country founded on principles of liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. It wasn’t that they eschewed ideology . . . They believed, simply, that everyone would be best served by a government led by their faction. Political appointments and party discipline helped ensure order nationally, and if party leaders stood to gain from electoral success, all the better.

Most politicians of the era saw no inherent conflict between government service and personal gain. They would have looked at later generations of Americans, at the reformers of the twentieth-century who created one box for public service and a separate one for private advancement, and scoffed at the naivete. Most politicians of the 1870s and 1880s looked a government as a vehicle for both.

Accusations that they were feeding at the public trough made minimal sense to them. Government was an institution for the public good that was meant to reward those who entered it.

[To win] the pivotal State of Indiana, Arthur delegated Stephen Dorsey, the former carpetbag Arkansas senator. Dorsey was the ablest fund-raiser the [Republican] Stalwarts had, though it was understood that he was a political operator not afraid to push beyond the limits of law and propriety. He was the type of operative who gives politics a bad name. Dorsey went to the land of the Hoosiers, got some votes legally, and paid for others.

In 1880, not a single State south of the Mason-Dixon Line went Republican, and not a single State from the North went Democratic. A banquet was held by the Union League Club at Delmonico’s to honor Stephen Dorsey for delivering Indiana to the Republicans.

Reform-minded editors like E.L. Godkin sighed that the episode confirmed the venality of politics . . . Dorsey had already been the target of a congressional investigation into the “Star Route” scandals, a scheme that had made a number of Republican loyalists rich from postal route concessions at the federal government’s expense.”

(Chester Alan Arthur, Zachary Karabell, Henry Holt and Company, 2004, excerpts, pp. 45-47; 50, 54)

Nothing Less Than a War of Conquest

Lincoln, controlled by a disjointed Republican party, was unable to recognize that he was waging war upon free Americans who followed the very words of Jefferson’s Declaration. Former Governor William A. Graham, in his Hillsboro, North Carolina speech of April 27, 1861 and nearly a month before his State seceded, explains the logical and peaceful course Lincoln could have taken to defuse the crisis and thereby saved the lives of a million Americans, the Constitution and as well as the Union he claimed to be saving.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nothing Less Than a War of Conquest

“We are in the midst of great events. For months past our political skies have been dark and lowering. The country has stood in anxious suspense on the perilous edge of civil war. It is well known that I among others, have insisted, that the election of Mr. Lincoln . . . obnoxious as were his own avowals of sentiment in relation to slavery in the South, and still more obnoxious as was the spirit of hostility to us, which animated the mass of his party followers, was not a sufficient cause for a dismemberment of this Government, and the destruction of the Union . . .

The seven States, however, stretching from our Southern frontier to the confines of Mexico, one by one in rapid succession have declared themselves separated from the Government of the United States, and formed a new confederation.

They found in the election which had taken place sufficient cause of occasion, in their estimation, for this hitherto untried course of proceeding, and levied armies to defend it by force. The authorities of the United States denied the right of secession claimed by these States, and the danger became great of a collision of arms.

The issue was made, but evaded under the administration of [President James] Buchanan. Its solution by Mr. Lincoln has been a matter of anxious contemplation to the people of the country since his accession to power. Whatever may be the true construction of the Constitution, or the President’s idea of his duty to enforce the laws, a wise statesmanship cannot close its eyes to the facts.

It is impossible to treat so extensive a revolution like a petty rebellion; for if suppressed by force, it would be at the expense of desolation and ruin to the country. He should have dealt with it . . . [and] yielded to the necessities by which he was surrounded, and adjusted by arrangement what he found impossible to control by force, or if possible, only at a sacrifice to the nation itself never to be repaired.

Had Mr. Lincoln risen to the height of the great occasion, promptly withdrawn his troops from fortifications which he could not defend; convened Congress in extra session; recommended and procured the passage of a law, or amendment to the Constitution, acknowledging the independence of the seceded States . . . he might yet have maintained a Union of twenty-seven contented States . . . And after an experiment of a few years, there might, and in my opinion probably would have been, a re-annexation of the seceded States themselves.

But instead of this bold and magnanimous policy, his action has been vacillating. His inaugural address in equivocal, interpreted by some, on its first appearance as portending force, assurances are thrown out that his intentions are only peaceful. And when the public mind in all the eight [Southern States] that had not seceded, was settling down in the conviction that the forts were to be evacuated and repose was to be allowed, so favorable to conciliation and harmony, a Proclamation suddenly bursts upon the country announcing a determination on coercion, and calling for a militia force so great as to endanger the safety of more than the seceded States.

Careless of any terms of conciliation, or adjustments of differences with the border States, he resolves, but not till after his own adherents have been demoralized by his hesitation and professions of peace, on the application of force to maintain the authority of the Government in the States which have withdrawn, and requires us to cooperate as instruments in their subjugation.

The sober sense of the people of North Carolina had met this question, and for themselves have settled it. Ardent in their attachment to the Constitution and the Union, they had condemned separate State secession as rash and precipitate . . . as long as there was hope of an adjustment of sectional differences, they were unwilling to part with the Government . . . But the President gives to the question new alternatives.

These are, on the one hand, to join with him in a war of conquest, for it is nothing less, against our brethren of the seceding States, or, on the other, resistance to and throwing off the obligations of the Federal Constitution. Of the two, we do not hesitate to accept the latter.

And withal, we cannot exclude from our contemplation the idea, that when [the seceded States] shall be subdued upon the issues involved in the contest, our turn will come next; our only exemption above theirs being, like the victims of Cyclops, we shall be last to be devoured.”

(The Papers of William A. Graham, Volume V, 1857-1863, J.G. Hamilton, Max Williams, editors, NCAH, 1973, excerpts, pp. 244-247)

The Union League of the Republican Party

In the midst of the mostly inflammatory influence of the Republican’s Union League upon the freedmen, the Ku Klux Klan emerged in the immediate postwar. To underscore the Union League’s destructiveness, an 1870 Congressional Committee report provided this indictment of Republican rule over the conquered South: “[The] hatred of the white race was instilled [by the League] into the minds of these ignorant people by every art and vile that bad men could devise; when the Negroes were formed into military organizations and the white people of these States were denied the use of arms; when arson, rape, robbery and murder were things of daily occurrence, . . . and that what little they had saved from the ravages of war was being confiscated by taxation . . . many of them took the law into their own hands and did deeds of violence which we neither justify or excuse. But all history shows that bad government will make bad citizens.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Union League of the Republican Party

“The nocturnal secrecy of the gatherings, the weird initiation ceremonies, the emblems of virtue and religion, the songs, the appeal to such patriotic shibboleths as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Flag, and the Union, the glittering platitudes in the interest of social uplift — all these characteristics of the League had an irresistible appeal to a ceremony-loving, singing, moralistic and loyal race. That the purposes of the order, when reduced to the practical, meant that the Negro had become the emotional and intellectual slaves of the white Radical did not dull the Negro’s enthusiasm, he was accustomed to be a slave to the white man” [South Carolina During Reconstruction, Simkins & Woody, page 7].

The Union League gave the freedmen their first experience in parliamentary law and debating . . . the members were active in the meetings, joining in the debate and prone to heckle the speakers with questions and points of order. Observers frequently reported the presence of rifles at political rallies, usually stacked in a clump of bushes behind the speaker’s platform, sometimes the womenfolk left to guard them.

In the autumn of 1867, a League chapter made up mostly of blacks, but with a white president named Bryce, was holding a meeting with its usual armed sentries on the perimeter. When a poor white named Smith tried to enter the meeting, shots were fired; there followed a general alarm and, subsequently, a melee with a white debating club nearby. The Negroes rushed out; Smith fled, hotly pursued to the schoolhouse; the members of the debating club broke up in a panic and endeavored to escape; a second pistol was fired and a boy of fourteen named Hunnicutt, the son of a respectable [white] citizen, fell dead.

[Carpetbagger John W. De Forest wrote]: “The Negroes, unaware apparently that they had done anything wrong, believing, on the contrary, that they were re-establishing public order and enforcing justice, commenced patrolling the neighborhood, entering every house and arresting numbers of citizens. They marched in double file, pistol in belt and gun at the shoulder, keeping step to the “hup, hup!” of a fellow called Lame Sam, who acted as drill sergeant and commander. By noon of the next day they had the country for miles around in their power, and the majority of the male whites under their guard.”

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pp. 29-32)

 

“They Have Made a Nation”

Lincoln appointed no men to his cabinet who were familiar with Southern sentiment or sensitivities – an act which might have avoided a collision and perhaps have truly “saved the Union.” The Republican Party won the contest and would not be denied the fruits of victory no matter the cost. Charles Francis Adams was appointed minister at London by Lincoln, somewhat appropriate as Adam’s grandfather himself viewed the presidency as monarchical. More important, Adams was a Republican politician with little regard for the American South and put party above the welfare of the country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“They Have Made a Nation”

“For the post at London Lincoln had made one of his best appointments. As a boy [Charles Francis Adams] had witnessed stirring events in Europe; in the company of his mother he had taken the long and arduous winter journey by carriage from St. Petersburg to Paris to join his father John Quincy Adams. Passing through the Allied lines, he reached Paris after Napoleon’s return from Elba.

By 1861 he had served as legislator in Massachusetts, had become prominent as a leader of the “conscience” Whigs and the Free-Soilers, and had achieved the position of an influential leader of the national House of Representatives where his main contribution was as a moderate Republican earnestly engaged in the work of avoiding war.

Though depressed at the nomination of Lincoln, whom he never fully admired, he accepted appointment as minister to England and gave of his best as a loyal servant of the Lincoln administration.

Through all the diplomatic maneuvers there ran the central question of recognition of the Confederacy and the related questions of mediation, intervention and the demand for an armistice. Had the South won on any of these points, victory would have been well-nigh assured. By September of 1862 [Lord] Palmerston and Russell’s deliberations had reached the point where, in view of the failures of McClellan and Pope and the prospects of Lee’s offensive, Palmerston suggested “an arrangement upon the basis of separation” (i.e., Southern victory); while Russell, the foreign minister, wrote in answer that his opinion the time had come “for offering mediation . . . with a view to the recognition of the independence of the Confederates.”

[Just] at this juncture there came a bombshell in the speech of the chancellor of the exchequer, W.E. Gladstone, at Newcastle (October 7) in which he said:

“Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made what is more important than either, — they have made a nation . . . We may anticipate with certainty the success of the Southern States so far as regards their separation from the North.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, D.C. Heath & Company, 1937, pp. 461-462; 468-469)

Vichy Rule in North Carolina

The victorious North installed a native proconsul in 1865 to rule North Carolina, who acceded to the various constitutional fictions emanating from the radical Northern Congress. That proconsul acted as if no military overthrow of free government had taken place in his own State, and committed treason by adhering to the enemy. North Carolina and the South were ruled by “Vichy” regimes emanating from Washington, as France later be ruled from Berlin.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Vichy Rule in North Carolina

“In obedience to the proclamation of Provisional Governor [William] Holden, the State Convention met at noon on Monday, the 2nd instant [2 October 1865]. The permanent President is Honorable E.G. Reade, of Person County. He is regarded as one of the best jurists in the State, was a Whig and an opponent of secession and State rights, and is now provisional judge of the eighth circuit by appointment of the Governor.

The Governor’s message came in on the second day. He takes it for granted that the Convention will recognize the abolition of slavery, provide that it shall not be re-established, and submit the amended Constitution to a vote of the people. [Governor Holden stated:]

“North Carolina attempted, in May 1861, to separate herself from the Federal Union. This attempt involved her, with other slaveholding States, in a protracted and disastrous war, the result of which was a vast expenditure of blood and treasure on her part, and the practical abolition of domestic slavery. She entered the Rebellion a slaveholding State, and emerged from it a non-slaveholding State. In other respects, so far as her existence as a State and her rights as a State are concerned, she has undergone no change.

Allow me to congratulate you, gentlemen, upon the favorable circumstances which surround you, while engaged in this great work of restoring the State to her former and natural position. It is my firm belief that the policy of the President in this respect, which is broad, as liberal, and as just as the Constitution itself, will be approved by the great body of the people of the United States . . . our State will enjoy, in common with the other States, the protection of just laws under the Constitution of our fathers.”

(The South Since the War: As Shown by Fourteen Weeks of Travel and Observation in Georgia and the Carolinas, Sidney Andrews, Ticknor and Fields, 1866, pp. 133-134)

The War for Tariffs, Taxes and Astonishing Profits

The war commenced by Lincoln in 1861 immediately presented his administration with the problem of a conflict the United States could simply not afford. In April 1861, federal spending was only about $172,000 a day, raised by tariffs and land sales. By the end of July 1861, Lincoln had caused this to increase to $1 million, and by the end of December it was up to $1.5 million per day. Also in December 1861 Northern banks had to stop paying their debts in gold, with the federal government doing the same shortly after and resorting to printing money. The country had gone off the gold standard, Wall Street was in a panic, and Lincoln would lament, “The bottom is out of the tub, what shall I do?” The cost of the war would eventually reach $8 billion, enough to have purchased the freedom of every slave five times over – and provided each with the proverbial 40 acres, and the mule.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The War for Tariffs, Taxes and Astonishing Profits

“By May 1864 [financier Jay] Cooke was selling [Northern] war bonds so successfully that he was actually raising money as fast as the War Department could spend it, no mean feat for that was about $2 million a day at this point. Altogether, the North raised fully two-thirds of its revenues by selling bonds. If Abraham Lincoln must always be given the credit for saving the Union, there is also no doubt that the national debt was one of the most powerful tools at his disposal for forging victory.

Although the [Northern] people were willing to endure very high taxes during the war, peacetime was another matter altogether. Immediately after the war the cry for repeal of the wartime taxes became insistent. With military expenses quickly dropping, the problem, was what taxes to cut. American industrialists, who had prospered greatly thanks to wartime demand and wartime high tariffs, naturally did not want the tariffs cut.

Because the Civil War had broken the political power of the South, the center of opposition to the tariff, they got their way. The tariff was kept at rates far above the government’s need for revenue as the North industrialized at a furious pace in the last three decades of the nineteenth century and became the greatest – and most efficient – industrial power in the world.

Of course, no matter how large, efficient, and mature these industries became, they continued to demand [tariff] protection, and, thanks to their wealth and political power, get it.  As Professor William Graham Sumner of Yale explained as early as 1885, “The longer they live, the bigger babies they are.” It was only after the bitter dispute between Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick caused the astonishing profits of the privately held – and highly protected – Carnegie Steel Company to become public knowledge, in 1899, that the political coalition behind high tariffs began to crack.

Before the Civil War there had been little advocacy of an income tax in this country, at least at the federal level, although by the war six States had implemented such taxes for their own revenue purposes. But once a federal income tax was in place, thanks to the Civil War, it quickly acquired advocates, as political programs always do.

These advocates pushed the idea relentlessly . . . Republican Senator John Sherman . . . said during a debate on renewing the income tax in 1872, that “here we have in New York Mr. Astor with an income of millions derived from real estate . . . and we have along side of him a poor man receiving $1000 a year. [The law] is altogether against the poor man . . . yet we are afraid to tax Mr. Astor. Is there any justice in it? Why, sir, the income tax is the only one that tends to equalize these burdens between the rich and the poor.”

(Hamilton’s Blessing, John Steele Gordon, Penguin Books, 1997, pp. 79-83)

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