A Party of Disunion and Thievery
Fielding their very first presidential candidate in 1856, the new Republican party was responsible for breaking up the 1789 federation of States only four years later – it was indeed the party of disunion. With conservative Southerners gone from Congress in 1861, the Republicans began dismantling the Founders’ republic and ushered in America’s “Gilded Age” and pursuit of empire. This new America would be “despotic at home and aggressive abroad” as Robert E. Lee famously remarked to Lord Acton shortly after the war ended.
A Party of Disunion and Thievery
“In the Plundering Generation, Ludwell H. Johnson summarized the real reasons for Lincoln’s violent opposition to the South’s independence: “Manufacturers feared the loss of American markets to a flood of cheap British goods pouring through a free-trade Confederacy; Northern shippers feared the loss of their monopoly of the coasting trade and their share of the transatlantic carrying trade; merchants feared the loss of the profits they garnered as middlemen between the South and Europe; creditors feared the loss of Southern debts; the Old Northwest feared the loss or curtailment of the Mississippi trade; the Republicans feared the disintegration of their party should it let the South go and bring upon the North all the consequences just mentioned.”
Lincoln waged war on the South, however, to achieve more than preservation of the status quo. War was the means to establish the North’s hegemony over the political and economic life of the United States. War offered Lincoln, his party, and Northern special interests a continental empire to exploit. And they did so with ruthless abandon. In the North, Lincoln’s Congress imposed excise taxes on virtually all items; raised the protective tariff to the highest level in the country’s history (under the Morrill Act of 1861); issued paper currency (Legal Tender Act of 1862); awarded Northern railroad companies government loans and extensive land grants (Pacific Railway Act of 1862); unilaterally repealed Indian land claims; promoted settlement of western lands by Northerners (Homestead Act of 1862); effectively “nationalized” the country’s financial institutions (National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864); and furnished Northern business with cheap labor (Contract Labor Law of 1864).
In the South, Congress authorized the theft of tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, worth of Southern property (Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, Direct Tax Act of 1862, and Captured and Abandoned Property Act of 1863). The cotton, alone, that the North stole has been conservatively valued at $100 million.
This legalized robbery was in addition to the plundering by Lincoln’s Army. In December 1864, Sherman wrote: “I estimate the damage done to the State of Georgia . . . at $100,000,000; at least $20,000,000 which has inured to our advantage, and the remainder is simple waste and destruction.”
With Lincoln came the wholesale corruption of the political system. In 1864, Edward Bates, Lincoln’s attorney general, lamented that “the demoralizing effect of this civil war is plainly visible in every department of life. The abuse of official powers and thirst for dishonest gain are now so common as they cease to shock.”
(Lincoln and the Death of the Old Republic, Joseph E. Fallon, Chronicles, August 2002, excerpts pp. 44-45; www.chroniclesmagazine.org)