Making the South Tributary to the North
“England had discouraged manufacturing in her colonies that she might have a larger market for her manufactures. Immediately upon the declaration of our independence we began to manufacture what we needed, and for the first quarter century after our independence the South took the lead of the North in commerce and manufactures as well as agriculture. We shipped our produce and bought goods in exchange in the open markets of the world. The ports of Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston and Savannah had a direct trade with Europe.
In 1799, according to assessment for direct taxes, the North and the South had almost exactly the same amount of property, viz., $400,000,000 in value each. From 1791 to 1802 inclusive the exports from the North were $129,205,000. In the same period the five Southern States exported $256,708,300.
From 1791 to 1813 the five Eastern States exported, including an immense amount of Southern productions, only about $299,000,000. The Southern States for the period, including New Orleans, exported $509,000,000. The commercial prosperity was wholly on the side of the South.
Why then did the South lose its supremacy in commerce and navigation? [Thomas Hart] Benton in his “Thirty Years’ View” said the extinction of the commercial supremacy of the South was and is charged to Federal legislation by which the producing and self-sustaining section was made subject to the non-producing or dependent section.
Some of the chief legislation of the Government against which he inveighed was the policy of the protective tariff and internal improvements and the immense sums levied on the products of one section of the country to be disbursed in tremendous expenditures in the other, making the South tributary to the North and a supplicant for a small part of the fruits of its own labor.
Benton in a speech in Congress said: “Under this legislation the exports of the South have been made the basis of the Federal revenues. Virginia, the two Carolinas and Georgia may be said to defray three-fourths of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum annually furnished by them, nothing, or next to nothing, is returned to them in the shape of government expenditures.”
(Annual Agricultural Resources and Opportunities of the South, J. Bryan Grimes, Farmers’ National Congress speech, 1901, pp. 4-5)