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Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

Foremost in the minds of Southerners by 1860 was the incessant abolitionist agitation that had wrought Nat Turner’s murderous rampage in 1831, and most recently then, John Brown’s in 1859. The memory of brutal slave uprisings and massacres in Santo Domingo and what may lay ahead for them had much to do with separating the South from the North. Rather than work toward a practical and peaceful compromise to end the labor system inherited from Britain, the abolitionists and Lincoln himself allowed the drift to war and the end of the republic.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Self-Preservation Compelled Secession

“What mighty force lay back of this Southern movement, which by the beginning of February, 1861, had swept seven States out of the Union?

An explanation early accepted and long held by the North made it simply the South’s desire to protect slavery. Forty years of wrangling over this subject, fortified by many statements Southerners had made about it . . . [and] South Carolina in her secession declaration had made the North’s interference with slavery her greatest grievance, and the subject appeared equally large in other seceding States.

Yet simple answers are never very satisfying, and in this case it was too simple to say that Southerners seceded and fought a four-year war for the surface reason of merely protecting their property in slaves. Had not the South spurned the Corwin Amendment, which guaranteed slavery in the States against all interference by Congress? And what happened to the subject of slavery in the territories, which had loomed so big in the 1850’s? Now it was forgotten by both the North and the South.

Slavery was undoubtedly a potent cause; but more powerful than slavery was the Negro himself. It was the fear of what would ultimately happen to the South if the Negro should be freed by the North, as the abolitionists seemed so intent on doing – and Southerners considered Republicans and abolitionists the same.

This fear had worried [John C.] Calhoun when he wrote in 1849 “The Address of Southern Delegates in Congress to their Constituents.” It was not the loss of property in slaves that the South feared so much as the danger of the South becoming another Santo Domingo, should a Republican regime free the slaves.

And it is no argument to say that Lincoln would never have tried to do this. The South believed his party would force him to it if he did not do so of his own volition. If he were not himself an abolitionist, he had got his position by abolition votes. A friend of Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, told him that the South’s knowledge of what happened in Santo Domingo and “Self-preservation had compelled secession.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 8-10)

A Fearful Danger and Political Menace

The electoral college system erected by the Founders worked best when limited to two candidates, but became what was described as a “fearful danger” when multiple candidates emerged in 1860. New Yorker Samuel Tilden’s dark prophesy of a purely sectional candidate becoming president was realized in 1860; when the Gulf States began to go out of the Union he stated that “The situation was unprecedented, and it is worse than idle, it is presumptuous, to rail at [President James] Buchanan for his failure to act.” The latter is scapegoated for failure, though the Founder’s failed to foresee such a calamity.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Fearful Danger and Political Menace in 1860

“The election of Abraham Lincoln has been studied from every angle. It is well to disregard the providential aspect of the outcome. Seventeen years ago, Mary Scrugham made a careful examination of the returns. Her “Peaceable Americans of 1860-1861” shows how ridiculously the machinery of the electoral college misrepresented American opinion in this critical campaign.

To question the constitutionality of Lincoln’s election is absurd, but to criticize the system by which one of four candidates could carry the electoral college decisively with a large third of the popular vote is pertinent.

At the first two meetings of the electoral college, Washington was chosen without contest. Thereafter, as everyone knows, the growth of parties put an end to the deliberative character of the body, for each political organization put up its own list of electors in every State – where the legislatures did not choose them. Reporting the popular result became automatic.

Polling not a vote in almost one-third of the States, obtaining not a single elector from the South, and receiving a noticeable minority of the popular suffrage, a sectional candidate was chosen President of the United States – and all this according to the Constitution. What may happen in the future can only be imagined – should this dangerous system survive.

Miss Scrugham’s analysis of the election of 1860 should open our eyes. Lincoln had no votes in ten States of the Union; while [Vice President John] Breckinridge received more that 6,000 in Maine, 2,000 in Vermont, and 14,000 in Connecticut.   According to the “acid test of geographical membership,” the Republican was the only “out and out sectional party.”

Some accused the Southern Democrats of splitting their party for the sake of forcing the election of Lincoln and thus finding a compelling excuse for secession.

If the entire opposition to Lincoln, however, had been united on one candidate, the electoral college would still have given him the presidency “regardless of the fact that popular vote against him was a million more than that for him.”

In 1860, then, according to the returns, it would have been impossible for a majority of the American people to choose a president even if they had been united on a single hypothetical candidate.

In the face of the vote which both [Stephen] Douglas and [John] Bell received in the Southern States, “it is folly to assert,” continues Miss Scrugham, that the South was “aggressively pro-slavery and bent on maintaining slavery” even at the cost of the Union.”

[New York Governor Samuel] Tilden saw the fearful danger of the victory of Lincoln before it had occurred. Laying his finger on the political menace of any man’s being made President without one electoral vote from the South, he urged his fellow citizens to defeat [Lincoln] by any means possible.”

(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, excerpts, pp. 219-220)

Senator Wigfall on the Cause of Discontent

Referring to the proposed Thirteenth Amendment in early 1861, offered by the Lincoln’s party and approved by him, Southern Commissioners Yancey, Rost and Mann wrote to British Lord John Russell on August 14, 1861: “The very [Republican] Party in power has proposed to guarantee slavery in the States, if the South would remain in the Union.” This underscored that their cause was not a defense of slavery, but the high price of protecting Northern manufacturers. Even with Lincoln’s support of slavery, the South chose political independence from the North.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Senator Wigfall on the Cause of Discontent

“Said Senator Louis Wigfall, of Texas, March 4th 1861 in the United States Senate, only a few hours before Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration:

“It is early in the morning and I hope I shall not say anything that may be construed as offensive. I rise merely that we may have an understanding of this question.  It is not slavery in the Territories, it is not expansion, which is the difficulty.

If the resolution which the Senator from Wisconsin introduced here denying the right of Secession, had been adopted by two-thirds of each branch of this department of the Government, and had been ratified by three-fourths of the States, I have no hesitation in saying that, so far as the State in which I live and to which I owe my allegiance is concerned, if she had no other cause for a disruption of the Union taking place, she would have undoubtedly have gone out.

The moment you deny the right of free government to the free white men of the South, they will leave the Government. They believe in the Declaration of Independence.

In the “address of the People of South Carolina, assembled in convention . . . to justify the passage of the South Carolina Secession Ordinance of 1860, it is declared that (excerpted): “The one great evil from which all other evils have flowed is the overthrow of the Constitution of the United States. The Government of the United States is no longer the Government of Confederated Republics, but of a consolidated Democracy. It is no longer a free Government, but a Despotism. It is, in fact, such a Government as Great Britain attempted to set over our Fathers; and which was resisted and defeated by a seven years struggle for Independence. The Revolution of 1776 turned upon one great principle, self-government — and self-taxation, the criterion of self-government.”

The Southern States now stand exactly in the same position towards the Northern States that the Colonies did towards Great Britain. The Northern States, having the majority in Congress, claim the same power of omnipotence in legislation as the British Parliament.

“The General Welfare” is the only limit of legislation of either; and the majority in Congress, and in the British Parliament, are the sole judges of the expediency of the legislation this “General Welfare” requires. Thus the Government of the United States has become a consolidated Government; and the people of the Southern States are compelled to meet the very despotism their fathers threw off in the Revolution of 1776.

The consolidation of the Government of Great Britain over the Colonies, was attempted to be carried out by the taxes. The British Parliament undertook to tax the Colonies to promote British interests . . . Our fathers resisted this pretension. And so the Southern States, toward the Northern States, in the vital matter of taxation.

They are in a minority in Congress. Their representation in Congress is useless to protect them against unjust taxation; and they are taxed by the people of the North for their benefit, exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in the British Parliament for their benefit. For the last forty years, the taxes laid by the Congress . . . have been laid with a view of subserving the interests of the North.

The people of the South have been taxed by duties on imports, not for revenue, but for an object inconsistent with revenue — to promote, by prohibitions, Northern interest in the productions of their mines and manufactures.

The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected, three-fourths of them are expended at the North. This cause . . . has made the cities of the South provincial. Their growth is paralyzed; they are mere suburbs of Northern cities.

The agricultural productions of the South are the basis of the foreign commerce of the United States; yet Southern cities do not carry it on. Our foreign trade is almost annihilated . . . by gradual and steady encroachments on the part of the people of the North, and acquiescence on the part of the South, the limitations in the Constitution have been swept away; and the Government of the United States has become consolidated, with a claim of limitless powers in its operations.

A majority in Congress, according to their interested and perverted views, is omnipotent. Numbers with them, is the great element of free Government. A majority is infallible and omnipotent. “The divine right to rule in Kings,” is only transferred to the majority.

The very object of all Constitutions, in free popular Government, is to restrain the majority. Constitutions, therefore, according to their theory, must be the most unrighteous inventions, restricting liberty. None ought to exist; but the body politic ought simply to have a political organization, to bring out and enforce the will of the majority. This theory is a remorseless despotism.

In resisting it, as applicable to ourselves, we are vindicating the great cause of free government, more important, perhaps to the world, than the existence of all the United States.”

(The Great Conspiracy, Its Origin and History, John A. Logan, A.R. Hart & Company, 1886, excerpts, pp. 226-227; 231-234)

 

Seward’s Analysis of Fort Sumter

Though a duplicitous and scheming politician, William Seward understood that any action to reinforce Fort Sumter would be an act of war, as was Major Anderson’s movement from Moultrie to Sumter. He further recognized that war on the North’s part would cause disunion.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Seward’s Analysis of Fort Sumter

“The question submitted to us, then, practically, is:

Supposing it to be possible to reinforce and supply Fort Sumter. Is it wise to attempt it, instead of withdrawing the garrison? The most that could be done by any means now in our hands would be to throw two hundred and fifty to four hundred troops into the garrison, with provisions for supplying it five or six months.

In this active and enlightened country, in this season of excitement, with a daily press, daily mails, and an incessantly operating telegraph, the design to reinforce and supply the garrison must become known to the opposite party in Charleston as soon at least as preparation for it should begin. The garrison then would almost certainly fall by assault before the expedition could reach the harbor of Charleston; suppose it to be overpowered and destroyed, is that new outrage to be avenged, or are we then to return to our attitude of immobility? Moreover in that event, what becomes of the garrison?

I suppose the expedition successful. We have then a garrison at Fort Sumter that could defy assault for six months. What is it to do then? Is it to make war by opening its batteries and attempting to demolish the defenses of the Carolinians? Can it demolish them if it tries? If it cannot, what is the advantage we shall have gained? If it can, how will it serve to check or prevent disunion?

In either case, it seems to me that we have inaugurated a civil war by our own act, without an adequate object, which after reunion will be hopeless, at least under this administration, or in any other way than by a popular disavowal both of the war and the administration which unnecessarily commenced it.

Fraternity is the element of union; war is the element of disunion.

Fraternity, if practiced by this administration, will rescue the Union from all its dangers. If this administration, on the other hand, take up the sword, then an opposite party will offer the olive branch, and will, as it ought, profit by the restoration of peace and union.”

(Life of William H. Seward, Frederic Bancroft, Volume II, Harper & Brothers, 1900, excerpt, pp. 99-100)

Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

Though popular histories portray Lincoln as a simple and self-educated man who rose from a lowly background to become president, he was in reality a shrewd politician and wealthy corporate attorney. His clients before 1860 included the Illinois Central Railroad, then the largest railroad in the world, and an annual income of about $5000, more than triple that of the Illinois governor. After the War, Lincoln’s heavy-handed policy of military might was continued by his generals sent to eradicate the Plains Indians in the way of government-subsidized transcontinental railroads.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln’s Pecuniary Interests at Council Bluffs

“A year prior to his nomination to the presidency — to be exact, in August, 1859 — he had visited Council Bluffs, Iowa, to look after his real estate holdings there and incidentally see the country.

A contemplated railroad to extend westward from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast was a live, but no new topic. For years such a possibility had been discussed, and in the first national campaign conducted by the Republican Party in 1856, a Pacific railroad was made a rather prominent issue. Shortly before his trip to Council Bluffs, Abraham Lincoln had purchased several town lots from his fellow [Illinois Central] railroad attorney, Norman B. Judd, who had acquired them from the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. Council Bluffs at this time was a frontier town, containing about fifteen hundred people.

General [Grenville] Dodge . . . relates that “during Lincoln’s visit, some of the citizens of Council Bluffs took him to a high bluff known as Cemetery Hill, just north of the town. He was greatly impressed with the outlook; and the bluff from that time has been known as Lincoln’s Hill . . .

From here he looked down upon the place, where by his order, four years later, the terminus of the first trans-continental railway was established.”

The platform of the Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president in May 1860 at Chicago, declared in the sixteenth plank:  “That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction . . . ”

General Dodge [said]: “There is great competition from all the towns on both sides of the Missouri River for fifty miles above and below Council Bluffs, Iowa, for the distinction of being selected as [the] initial point. President Lincoln, after going over all the facts that could be presented to him, and from his own knowledge, finally fixed the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad where our surveys determined the practical locality — at Council Bluffs, Iowa.”

(Lincoln and the Railroads, John W. Starr, Jr., Arno Press, 1981 (original 1927), excerpts, pp. 196-202)

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad

The “Big Four” of Central Pacific Railroad fame included Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, both of New York. While the War Between the States raged in the East, they made a fortune through generous government subsidies usually obtained by bribery or special treatment for Republican Party donors. While that party claimed to be waging war against the American South to eradicate slavery, the government-supported railroad companies used virtual slave labor for construction crews. The railroad crews used white supervisors of Chinese laborers in the same manner as Northern regiments of colored troops were led by white officers.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Chinese Labor for the Central Pacific Railroad    

“Early in January 1865 Crocker’s agents scoured Sacramento, Stockton, and San Francisco for laborers . . . [but many] quit when they had earned enough money to pay stage fare to Virginia City. But children, too, were scarce in the foothills and for months the labor shortage remained acute. In the company’s new San Francisco office [Leland] Stanford . . . petitioned the War Department to send out five thousand Rebel prisoners to be put to work under the guard of a few companies of Union soldiers. But the war ended and the scheme had to be shelved.

A plan of importing, under contract, thousands of peons from Sonora and other Mexican states never got beyond the discussion stage . . . [but another] dubious possibility remained – the lowly Chinese. There were already thousands of them on the Coast . . . crowded into the wretched warrens of a score of “Chinatowns.”

A threatened strike of his white crews proved the deciding point. [Fifty] Chinese were herded on freight cars in the Sacramento yards and hauled to the end of the track. By sunrise they went to work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. At the end of their first twelve hours of prodding industry Crocker and his engineers viewed the result with gratified astonishment.

Another gang of fifty was hired at once, then a third. Finally all doubt vanished and the Chinatowns of the state were searched for every able-bodied male who could be tempted by the bait of steady work and forty dollars a month.

Of course the white laborers of the Coast resented the affront. To counteract this injury, railroad spokesmen were presently referring to the Chinese as “the Asiatic contingent of the Grand Army of Civilization,” and Stanford was incorporating into company reports long defense for them . . . To charges that the Chinese were held in a state of virtual serfdom by the labor contractors with whom the company dealt, Stanford stated: “No system similar to slavery . . . prevails . . . Their wages . . . Paid in coin at the end of each month, are divided among them by their agents . . . in proportion to the labor done by each . . . These agents are generally American or Chinese merchants, who furnish them with supplies of food, the value of which they deduct monthly . . .”

By the end of 1865 the company was committed to the use of Chinese for most of their labor, and Stanford was hopeful that the force might be increased to fifteen thousand during the coming year. Of course no such supply was available in California . . . [but accordingly] boats from Canton were presently tying up at San Francisco piers, their rails swarming with yellow faces, while labor leaders predicted economic ruin for the Coast and threatened reprisals.

The advent of the Chinese relieved white men of pick and shovel work; many became gang foremen, others were promoted to teamsters, powdermen, or stone-workers. Moreover, the Chinese lived in their own camps, cooked their own meals, and knew their place. Thus the superiority of the Caucasian was undiminished, his dignity enhanced. Harmony reigned in the Sierra canyons and real progress began to be made.”

(The Big Four, The Story of the Building of the Central Pacific, Oscar Lewis, Borzoi Books, 1938, excerpts, pp. 69-72)

Lincoln Feared Re-election Loss

Rudolf Mathias Schleiden was Minister to the US from the Bremen Republic from 1853 through the War Between the States. He reported to his government on February 26 [1861] that “like a thief in the night, the future President arrived here [Washington] on the morning of the 23rd.” Schleiden offered to mediate the coming conflict, but met indifference and resistance at Washington.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln Feared Re-election Loss

“Immediately upon arriving in Richmond, Schleiden wrote to Vice President [Alexander H.] Stephens asking for an interview, to which the latter replied that he would be happy to see him immediately. During the course of a confidential talk which lasted for three hours Stephens declared that he believed all attempts to settle peacefully the differences between the two sections were futile.

“The actions of Seward and Lincoln had filled the South with suspicion,” Stephens said, “but neither the Government at Montgomery nor the authorities of Virginia contemplated an attack on Washington. Public opinion was embittered against the United States because of its strengthening of Fort Pickens and Fort Monroe, and the destruction of the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, and the navy yard at Norfolk . . . ”

In a formal letter written after the conference Schleiden asked for a frank statement of the terms which the South would be ready to grant and accept for the purpose of securing the maintenance peace and gaining time for reflection. To this letter Stephens replied, stating that the Government of the Confederacy had resorted to every honorable means to avoid war, and that if the United States had any desire to adjust amicably the question at issue it should indicate a willingness in some authoritative way to the South.

However, he added . . . ”it seems to be their policy to wage a war for the recapture of former possessions looking to the ultimate coercion and subjugation of the people of the Confederate States to their power and domain. With such an object on their part persevered in, no power on earth can arrest or prevent a most bloody conflict.”

The reelection of Lincoln was almost unanimously predicted by the diplomatic corps in January 1864. In February Schleiden mentioned in a dispatch that Lincoln said to Judge Thomas, of Massachusetts, that he would be satisfied if his successor was elected from the Republican Party. If that did not take place the President feared that he would spend the rest of his life in jail for repeated violations of the Constitution. About this time [Salmon P.] Chase remarked to Schleiden that the war would never end so long as Lincoln was president.”

(Rudolf Schleiden and the Visit to Richmond, April 25, 1861, Ralph Haswell Lutz, American Historical Association Annual Report, 1915, Washington, 1917, pp. 212-216)

Reconstruction’s Long Life in North Carolina

There were two clear-cut factions within the Republican Party in North Carolina in the early 1900s: one which supported industrial development, and the more dominant one whose primary interest was in the spoils of office with one political aim – the holding of a Federal job. As Secretary of War William H. Taft relates below, the entire Federal service in North Carolina was controlled by “a distant appointing power.” The author writes of “Revenue officials, often openly and unblushingly corrupt, almost alone had the ear of the Federal administration and dominated Federal politics in the State. The people could not forget that the Federal government had forced Negro rule on them at the point of the bayonet, nor that every Democratic victory for years had been accompanied by a threat of Federal interference in State elections.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reconstruction’s Long Life in North Carolina

“The chief interest in State politics in 1906 centers in the fight within the Republican party for control of the organization. So bitter did the fight become that President [Theodore] Roosevelt felt called upon to take a hand. He sent his secretary of war, William H. Taft, to address a warning to the State Republican convention which met in Greensboro, July 9-10, and it was in this speech that Secretary Taft said:

“I do not wish to seem ungracious, but I must be candid. In my judgement the Republican Party in North Carolina would be much stronger as a voting party, if all the Federal officers were filled by Democrats. Of course I cannot deny that a wish to fill public office is an honorable aspiration, whether by appointment of by election, but when all hope of choice by the people is abandoned, and everything is given over to influencing a distant appointing power to choose particular men to perform official functions in a community hostile to those men, the result is not good for the men or the community . . . As long, however, as the Republican Party in the Southern States shall represent little save a factional chase for Federal offices in which business men of substance in the community have no desire to enter and in the result of which they have no interest, we may expect the present political conditions in the South to continue.” [Raleigh News & Observer, July 10, 1906]

The warning of Candidate Taft fell upon deaf ears . . . [and] Thus the Republican party in North Carolina specifically acknowledged itself to be an organization merely for the control of Federal patronage.”

(Republican Office Holders Refuse to Abdicate; North Carolina, Rebuilding an Ancient Commonwealth, 1584-1925, R.D.W. Conner, Volume II, American Historical Society, 1929, pg. 527)

 

Postwar South Ruled by Genial, Patronizing Viceroys

Lincoln’s war not only destroyed the Southern economy and impoverished the region, but also became a vehicle for New England’s commercial colonization of the South. This status persisted through FDR’s first term as he recognized the South as America’s number one economic problem and used Democrat Party patronage and power to keep the region in bondage. The North continued tales of “Southern outrages” from Reconstruction days, and Presidential candidate George Wallace noted in 1968 that Northern editors would always refer to racial incidents in the South as “race riots,” while the same in the North were labeled “civil disturbances.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Postwar South Ruled by Genial, Patronizing Viceroys

“The manufacturers and distributors of the North and various adjunct agencies are bleeding the South white. The same may be said of a very large part of Southern industries, owned, as has been observed, in the North and operated by local overseers.

To a great extent the region is controlled by the absentee owners through their overseers and retainer agents. These agents are the symbols of success in the South and the paragons of social life. Their mansions stand on a thousand hills. It is good to wine and dine with these genial, if patronizing, viceroys. The absentee overlords retain the best legal talent to help them with their battles in the courts and the legislatures. Other types of influential persons, good public relations men and lobbyists, are also retained. Some of their retainers are always member of the legislatures. By selling some stock locally they raise up other friends and defenders.

Small wonder, then, that the corporations have exercised a large influence over law-making in the Southern States. Too often they have been able to defeat measures objectionable to them especially tax measures – and to promote those favorable to them. Too often they have not been willing to pay their fair part of the cost of public services or a fair wage to their employees.

Such industries are of questionable value to a community. The South has advertised its cheap labor, and industrialists from the North have tried to keep it so. There are other differentials against the South, already noted, that have also been a factor in the lower wage scales of Southern industry.

The absentee masters of Southern industry and the chain store magnates are interested in profits and not in the welfare of the South. This is natural, but it illustrates a fundamental weakness in an industrial system based on outside capital. It would seem that those who gather their wealth from the South might reasonably be expected to give some of their educational benefactions to higher education in the South.

But their gifts have generally gone to northern institutions that are already rich compared with those in the South. Their contributions to cultural development, whether in the form of gifts or taxes, go largely to the North.

The North has not only held the South in colonial bondage, but it has been very critical of the South, even for conditions that inhere in such an economic status. It is doubtful if the British ever had a more superior and intolerant attitude toward the American colonists.

The “Southern outrages” complex, fomented by Radical politicians in the old Reconstruction days, has persisted. Incidents that have escaped editorial eyes if they happened in the North have been denounced as outrages if they occurred in the South. A public lynching in a well-known western State a few years ago did not evoke nearly as much condemnation as does the lynching of a Negro by a clandestine mob in the South.

The people of the North are not denounced as being crude and barbarous because of the persistent activities of murderous bands of racketeers in large northern cities.”

(One Hundred Years of Reconstruction, Albert B. Moore, 1943, Southern Historical Society Addresses; Journal of Southern History, 9, 1943, excerpts, pp. 159-164)

No Submission to Northern Manufacturers

It is said that the tariff was the most contentious issue in the United States between 1808 and 1832, and this exploded with South Carolina threatening tariff nullification in that latter year. This was settled with Congress steadily lowering tariffs. Economist Frank Taussig wrote in 1931 that by 1857 the maximum duty on imports had been reduced to twenty-four percent and a relative free trade ideal was reached, due to Southern pressure. He also noted that the new Republican-controlled Congress increased duties in December 1861 and that by 1862 the average tariff rates had crept up to 47.06%.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Submission to Northern Manufacturers

“South Carolina had opposed the tariff from the earliest days of the republic. The very first Congress, in 1789, had included a group of Carolina representatives known as “anti-tariff men.” When the Washington administration sponsored a mild import measure, Senator Pierce Butler of the Palmetto State brought the charge that Congress was oppressing South Carolina and threatened a “dissolution of the Union, with regard to that State, as sure as God was in his firmament.”

The tariff of 1816, passed in a wave of American national feeling after the War of 1812, found six out of ten Carolina members voting against the bill. John C. Calhoun and the other three members who supported the measure were severely censured at home.

Almost the entire South opposed the tariff of 1824. The spreading domain of King Cotton now had a well-defined grievance: the Northeast and the Northwest were uniting to levy taxes on goods exchanged for exported cotton; their protective tariff policy, and concomitant program for internal improvements, was benefiting their entire section at the expense of the South.

The policy protected New England [cotton] mills and furnished funds for linking the seaboard States of the North with the new Northwest by means of canals and turnpikes. The Southern planters paid the bills: they were forced to buy their manufactured supplies in a high market and their chief article of exchange, cotton, had fallen from thirty cents a pound in 1816 to fifteen cents in 1824. In addition, the internal improvements program offered them no compensation; the rivers took their cotton to the shipping points.

When the “Tariff of Abominations” passed in 1828, all the Southeastern and Southwestern members of the house opposed it, except for three Virginians. In the Senate, only two Southerners supported “the legislative monstrosity.”

The opposition to Northern tariff policy was most vociferous in the Palmetto State. [English-born South Carolinian Thomas Cooper presented] Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy (1826) and other writings of the period [which] receive credit for doing much toward shaping opinion on the tariff.

In 1827, he told Senator Martin Van Buren of New York that if [Henry Clay’s] American system were pushed too far, the Carolina legislature would probably recall the State’s representatives from Washington.

Seven years after [Cooper’s] arrival in the Palmetto State, he made the famous declaration that it was time for South Carolina “to calculate the value of the Union.” This historic utterance of July 2, 1827, gave rise to shocked expressions of horror, even among some Carolina hotheads, but it had been indelibly burned into the thinking of a generation. It had a habit of cropping out down through the years. Webster and Hayne both alluded to it during their famous debate.

An English traveler, stopping at Columbia . . . in 1835, had the opportunity to hear Cooper expressing his opinions and to observe the attitude of those who surrounded the strong-minded college president [of South Carolina College]. After this occasion, he noted in his diary:

“I could not help asking, in a good-natured way, if they called themselves Americans yet; the gentleman who had interrupted me before said, “If you ask me if I am an American, my answer is No, Sir, I am a South Carolinian.” [These men] are born to command, it will be intolerable to them to submit to be, in their estimation, the drudges of the Northern manufacturers, whom they despise as an inferior race of men. Even now there is nothing a Southern man resents so much as to be called a Yankee.”

(Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, Rollin G. Osterweis, LSU Press, 1949, excerpts, pp. 139-141)

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