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From Tariff's To Secession by Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

From Tariff's To Secession
Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

As an introduction, a person can better understand the reason and the cause, for why the South seceded, when you begin with the subject of the Tariff Law, that Congress passed on May 19, 1828. This new law was ultimately designed to protect the industry in the northern section of the United States. In fact it was labeled the Tariff of Abominations by Southerners because of the effects it had on the antebellum Southern economy. Southerners called this unconstitutional. Just a reminder, a Tariff is a tax placed on goods imported from foreign countries. The 1845 Webster’s Dictionary states it this way: “A list or table of duties or customs to be paid on goods imported or exported.” 1 The outcome of this Tariff Law gave birth to outrage, hatred, scandal and disgrace and brought near, the South seceded from the United States on this one issue. 

After the 1828 Tariff law came the 1840 Tariff, which burdened the South with paying eighty-four percent of the tariffs then rising to eighty-seven percent in 1860. In fact, much of the tariff revenue collected from Southern consumers was used to build railroads and canals in the North. Between 1830 and 1850, 30,000 miles of track was laid. Most of the tariff revenue collected in the South, was spent in the North and the South rightly felt exploited. At the time, ninety percent of the federal government’s annual revenue came from these taxes on imports.

In a speech by Lloyd Tilghman Everett, who practiced law and researched, wrote and lectured on Confederate History from a legal standpoint, gave a speech in 1917 and said this in affirming of what I just gave aa an introduction: “The tariff question, as a serious sectional issue, first came to a head about 1830. Having once gotten hold of the nursing bottle of ‘protection,’ so called, in 1816 and 1820, New England and the North cried ever for more. The tariff of 1820 was followed by that of 1824, and that in turn by the ‘tariff of abominations’ in 1828. These were sectional measures, and the South felt herself being oppressed and impoverished by the combined Northern and North-western majority. The tariff act of 1832 was of the same stripe as its predecessors. Out of this situation came the Nullification crisis of 1830-33.” 2

In the words of Charles Dickens, in his “All The Year Round: A Weekly Journal, Volume 6.” he says this concerning the year 1832, “The injustice of the North caused the assemblage of a Convention, called by the people of South Carolina, which proceeded to declare the tariff null and void, on the ground that ‘Congress had exceeded its just powers under the constitution, which confers on it no authority to afford such protection, and had violated the true meaning and intent of the constitution, which provides for equality in imposing the burdens of taxation upon the several States.’” 3 Even in 1832, over the issue of tariffs, “South Carolina, ready to secede, was arming a militia, and preparing for extremities [serious adversities].” 4

Then, in 1860, the Republican platform called for even higher tariffs,  implemented by the new Congress, in the Morrill Tariff of March of 1861, signed by President Buchanan before Lincoln took the oath of office. This tariff imposed the highest tariffs in United States History, with over a fifty percent duty on iron products and twenty-five percent on clothing. On this, Dickens makes this statement, “So the case stands, and under all the passion of parties and the cries of battle lie the two chief moving causes of the struggle. Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this as of many, many other evils.” 5 Toward the end of the war Lincoln made the conflict primarily about the continuation of slavery. And by doing this, he successfully silenced the debate about the economic issues and states’ rights. But just know, the main grievance of the Southern states was about tariffs, not slavery. 

The most important question that needs to be asked is not, “Why did the South secede,” but rather, “Why did the North refuse to let the South go by secession.” The easy conclusion is, if the North would have allowed the South to secede, it would indeed deprived the North of most of its tax (tariffs) revenue. The North would not have survived. To illustrate this, we turn to Mr. Lincoln when he was asked, “‘Why not let the South go in peace?’ Abraham Lincoln replied, ‘Let the South go? Let the South go! Where then shall we gain our revenues?’ And the united North reechoed: ‘Let the South go! Where, then, shall we look for the bounties and monopolies which have so enriched us at the expense of those improvident, unsuspecting Southerners? Where shall we find again such patient victims of spoliation?”

We also told in the first volume of the Southern Historical Society Papers, “The importance of this narrative is, that it unmasks the true authors and nature of the bloody war through which we have passed. We see that the Radicals provoked it, not to preserve, but to destroy the Union. It demonstrates, effectually, that Virginia and the border States were acting with better faith to preserve the Union than was Lincoln's Cabinet. Colonel Baldwin showed him conclusively that it was not free-soil, evil as that was, which really endangered the Union, but coercion. He showed him that, if coercion were relinquished, Virginia and the border States stood pledged to labor with him for the restoration of Union, and would assuredly be able to effect it.” 7

So, who was this Colonel Charles Brown Baldwin? He was a
Virginia politician. After a brief period in the Confederate Army at the beginning of the war, he served in the Confederate Congress. Also, he was an attorney, member of the Virginia Convention of 1861, member of the Confederate House of Representatives from 1861-1865 and Speaker of the House of Delegates from 1865-1867. Baldwin served a term in the House of Delegates and during the secession crisis of 1860–1861 he was a staunch Unionist, who voted against leaving the Union, even meeting privately with President Lincoln on April 4, 1861 in an attempt to find a compromise. That’s what this narrative is all about.

The  article continues by saying: “But what was the decisive weight that turned the scale against peace, and right, and patriotism? It was the interest of a sectional tariff! His single objection, both to the wise advice of Colonel Baldwin and Mr. Stuart, was: ‘Then what would become of my tariffs’” 8

Mr. Lincoln declared war on the South, in order to collect taxes—plain and simple. In his two presidential war proclamations against the Confederate States on April 15 and 19th of 1861, Lincoln says this: “Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed therein...” 9 It was about the collection of taxes, aka revenues or tariffs.

On December 25, 1860, Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, often called the Father of Secession, declared unfair taxes to be the cause of secession by stating so succinctly,  “The Southern States now stand exactly in the same position toward the Northern States that our ancestors in the colonies did toward 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 to the legislation of either; and the majority in Congress, as 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 Southern States now stand in the same relation toward the Northern States, in the vital matter of taxation, that our ancestors stood toward the people of Great Britain. 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. ... 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.” 10 This is so foundational – for why the South sought Southern independence.
Also, Joseph Tyrone Derry who served as a private in the Sixty
Third Regiment, Georgia Infantry tells us the events of 1860 by saying, “As the election of 1860 drew near, there was a serious split in the Democratic party. One wing of the party declared that Congress had no right to interfere with slavery in any territory, but that the question should be left
entirely to the white inhabitants of each territory. The candidates of this wing were Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, for President, and Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia, for Vice-President. The other wing of the Democratic party declared that Congress was bound to
protect the right of every citizen of the United States to go into any territory with any species of  property including slaves, and that when the territory formed a constitution for admission into the Union, then the white inhabitants of said territory could decide whether they would allow slavery or not. The candidates of this wing were John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for President, and Joseph Lane of Oregon, for Vice-President. 

The American party nominated John Bell of Tennessee for President and Edward Everett of Massachusetts, for Vice-President. This party declared that it stood for the Constitution of the Country, the Union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws. The American party exerted but little influence in the election, because it did not touch the question at issue.” 11

Now, just a little background on the Grand Old Party (Republicans). A healthy question might be, “when was the Republican Party first organized and who gave it its name.” Even though there has been much debate, it has been generally
acknowledged that when the Michigan State Convention was held at Jackson, early in June, 1854, the first State representative body adopted the name of “Republican.” The title was suggested in a letter from Horace Greeley to a delegate to that convention. This letter was shown to the late Senator Howard and several other influential men. The suggestion was deemed a good one, and the name was formally adopted in the resolutions of the convention.” 12

At the birth of the “The Republican party, which embraced in its ranks not only Free Soilers [opposition to the expansion of slavery], but also Abolitionists, who declared that it was the duty of Congress to prohibit slavery in every territory. The candidates of this party were Abraham Lincoln of Illinois for President, and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for Vice-President. 

The conservative elements of the country were hopelessly divided, and accordingly the Republicans elected their ticket. Of the popular vote Mr. Lincoln received 1,857,610; Mr. Douglass, 1,365,976; Mr. Breckinridge, 847,953, and Mr. Bell, 590,631. The total conservative vote was 2,804,560. Had all the conservatives of the country stood together Mr. Lincoln would have been defeated. He was the first President of the United States elected exclusively by a single section of the Union.” 13

As soon as the result of the election was known, the process began and “on the 20th [December, 1860], they adopted an Ordinance of Secession, and that evening, in the presence of the Governor and his council, the Legislature, and a vast concourse of citizens, it was signed in the great Hall of the South Carolina Institute, by one hundred and seventy of the members. This action was speedily imitated by the politicians in the interest of the conspirators in the States of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas,
Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee.” 14

The Southern people could never have been forced into secession, had they not believed, that there was no safety or peace for the South in the Union. The majority of the South had come to the conclusion that peace with two governments was better than a Union of uncooperative States.

“Peaceable secession was hoped for by many in the South. The ground of this hope was their implicit belief in the right of a State to secede. Many prominent men in the North, even some of the Abolitionists, ackowledged it. In the early days of the Republic the majority of the American people believed in it.” 15

The “Six seceding States met accordingly, by their chosen delegates, at Montgomery, Alabama, on the 4th of February, 1861; and a seventh State, Texas, joined soon after. ... The Montgomery Congress in four days adopted a provisional instrument of government for the ‘Confederate States of America,’ which should continue in force for one year unless superseded earlier by a permanent organization. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who had shaped out the scheme while a Senator at Washington, was next chosen President of this provisional government, and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia its Vice-President.” 16

Not yet having seceded, “Virginia made still another special effort
to bring about a reconciliation between the North and the South by calling for a Peace Congress of all the States to meet at Washington [February 4, 1861 – at the Willard Hotel]. Twenty States responded to this call, thirteen Northern and seven Southern. Ex-President John Tyler was chosen presiding officer. But every offer of
compromise was voted down by the Northern delegates. So the Peace Congress adjourned without accomplishing anything.
The Confederate authorities proceeded to occupy such forts and arsenals as were peaceably surrendered to them, but made no attack upon those held by United States troops. The Confederate Government sent commissioners to Washington to try and make a peaceful settlement of all questions at issue. Mr. Buchanan received them as private gentlemen, but not as ambassadors from the Confederate government. He held that a State could not secede, but that at the same time the government had no power to coerce a State.” 17

The day finally came, March 4, 1861, the Presidential
Inauguration for Abraham Lincoln. “In his inaugural he declared his intention to collect the public revenues at the ports of the seceding States, and to recover the forts, arsenals and all other public property before held by the Federal authorities. 

The Confederate commissioners [John Forsyth of Alabama, Martin Jenkins Crawford of Georgia and André Bienvenue Roman of Louisiana] now addressed a note to Mr. [William Henry] Seward, the new Secretary of State (March 12th, 1861), saying that the Confederate States wished a peaceful settlement of all questions. They declared that it was neither the interest nor the wish of the seceding States to injure in any way the States lately united with them, or to demand anything that was not just. Mr. Seward replied
that he was in favor of peace, and that Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, would be evacuated in less than ten days. He assured the commissioners that notice would be given of any change either at Fort Sumter or at Fort Pickens in Florida.” 18

But to no ones surprise, “A fleet of seven vessels was meanwhile being fitted out at New York, and at
Norfolk, Virginia. When the commissioners heard of this and inquired about it, Mr. Seward’s answer in writing was, ‘Faith as to Sumter fully kept, wait and see.’ 19 Guess what happened next? “The very next day (April 8) Mr. [Robert S.] Chew, an official of Mr. Seward's department, accompanied by Capt. Talbot, appeared before Gov. Pickens and Gen. Beauregard in Charleston, and read to them the following paper, which he and Talbot said was from the President of the United States: ‘I am directed by the President of the United States to notify you to expect an attempt will be made to supply Fort Sumter with provisions only; and that, if such an attempt is not resisted, no effort to throw in men, arms or ammunition, will be made, without further notice, or in case of an attack upon the fort.’” 20

On its way was the “Star of the West” coming on peaceful terms?
Let’s truly examine this. From the book entitled “Battles of America by Sea and Land, Volume 3,” we read this, “The Star of the West, Captain John McGowan, a well-known merchant steamer, was chartered by the government and quickly laden with supplies. To prevent suspicion, she was cleared for New Orleans and Havana. At sundown on the 5th of January she left her wharf at New York, and when well down the bay she took on board, under cover of the night, four officers and two hundred and fifty artillerists and marines, with their arms and ammunition.” 21 

Joseph Tyrone Derry, who served the Confederacy in the Oglethrope Infantry gives his thoughts, “It was now evident that
nothing was left to the Confederates but to attack the fort or back squarely down. When the Confederate authorities heard of the approach of the fleet they ordered General Beauregard, their commander at Charleston, to demand of Major Anderson the surrender of the fort. Major Anderson refused to comply. Other fruitless efforts were made to secure the evacuation of the fort.

The bombardment of Fort Sumter began on April 12th, 1861.
The Confederate authorities had in their desire for peace waited until the last possible moment before ordering the bombardment. At the very moment when General Beauregard gave Major Anderson the final notice of his intention to open fire, the fleet sent by the United States Government was lying off the mouth of the harbor and prevented from entering only by a gale.
After a furious bombardment, during which the fort was set on fire by bursting shells, Major Anderson surrendered. The Confederates allowed the garrison to salute their flag and take it with them, departing with all the honors of war.” 22

Mr. Derry reminds us, “These States seceded rather than countenance the policy of coercion, which they believed to be contrary to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and
unwarranted by the Constitution of the United States.” 23 Added to this, comes from Louis Trezevant Wigfall of Texas, who briefly served as a Confederate Brigadier General of the Texas Brigade, then became a member of the Confederate Senate representing Texas. This is what he stated, “To have persuaded the people of the seven seceded States at one time that the Republican party was a very conservative, Constitution-loving party might have prevented the act of secession; but it will do no good now. The act of secession has been committed; a new government has been formed, and new remedies must be offered. ... The question now is not of saving the Union, but of saving the peace of the country. Withdraw your troops; acknowledge the right of self-government; make no futile attempt to collect tribute from people who are no longer citizens of the United States; do these things and you will have peace. Send your flag into that country with thirty-four stars upon it, and it will be fired at and war will ensue.” 24

“The people of the seceding States would never have withdrawn from the Union, if they had not come to the conclusion that there was neither peace nor safety for the South in the Union. They believed that only in this way could they maintain constitutional liberty. They showed their love for the old Constitution by taking it as the model for the new one, and their love for the old flag by adopting one as near like it as possible.” 25

These men and women fought for a righteous cause. Dr. John
William Jones states it best, “This great strife has awakened in the people the highest emotions and qualities of the human soul. It is cultivating feelings of patriotism, virtue and courage. Instances of self-sacrifice and of generous devotion to the noble cause for which we are contending are rife throughout the land. Never has a people evinced a more determined spirit than that now animating men, women, and children in every part of our country. Upon the first call, the men fly to arms; and wives and mothers send their husbands and sons to battle without a murmur of regret. It was, perhaps, in the ordination of Providence that we were to be taught the value of our liberties by the price which we pay for them.” 26

I’ll close with the words of Lloyd Tilghman Everett, given in a speech  entitled “Living Confederate Principles: A Heritage For All Time.” He said, “We often hear it said that the glory of the Confederate soldier is imperishable and immortal; that his valor and devotion to duty have won for him a name and a fame that shall never die. That is true. History shows us no equal to the splendid blend of physical and moral courage and long sustained fortitude of the half starved legions of Lee—certainly no superior. And while, to use a homely phrase, every tub must stand upon its own bottom; while each man must win for himself, by his own worth, his standing in the community, yet I prize as a priceless treasure the proud fact that I am the son of a Confederate soldier. Nor is this merely a matter of pride or of accidental honor to me. It is a very real incentive to look well to my own course and conduct in order that I may hand on untarnished the shining legacy that was bequeathed to me.” 27

End Notes

1  Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845). 825.

2  Lloyd T. Everett, Living Confederate Principles: A Heritage For All Time: An Address Delivered by Lloyd T. Everett (Ballston, Va.: Vexid Publishing House, 1917), 10-11.

3  Charles Dickens, All The Year Round: A Weekly Journal, Volume 6 (London, 1862), 329.

4  Charles Dickens, All The Year Round: A Weekly Journal, Volume 6 (London, 1862), 329.

5  Charles Dickens, All The Year Round: A Weekly Journal, Volume 6 (London, 1862), 330.

6  Frank H. Alfriend, The Life of Jefferson Davis (Cincinnati: Caxton Publishing House, 1868), 201.

7  J. William Jones, Southern Historical Society Papers (January to June), Volume 1 (Richmond: John & Goolsby, Printers, 1876), 454.

8  J. William Jones, Southern Historical Society Papers (January to June), Volume 1 (Richmond: Johns & Goolsby, Printers1876), 454-455.

9  Abraham Lincoln, Carl Schurz, Joseph Hodges, The Writings of Abraham Lincoln: 1858-1862, Volume 5 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1906), 286-287.

10  Orville J. Victor, The Comprehensive History of the Southern Rebellion and the War for the Union, Volume 1 (New York: James D. Torrey, 1862), 108.

11  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 90-91.

12  Eugene V. Smalley, A Brief History of the Republican Party (New York: John B. Alden, Publisher, 1884), 30.

13  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 93.

14  Benson J. Lossing, A Pictorial History of the United States: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time (Hartford: T. Belknap, Publishers, 1858), 546-547.

15  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 101.

16  James Schouler, History of the United States of America 1861-1865, Volume 6 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1899), 53.

17  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 104-106.

18  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 107.

19  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 107-108.

20  John Anderson Richardson, Richardson's Defense of the South (Atlanta: A. B. Caldwell, Publisher, 1914), 351.

21  John Laird Wilson, Battles of America by Sea and Land, Volume 3 (New York: James S. Virtue, 1878),

22  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 108-109.

23  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 110.

24  Marion Mills Miller, Great Debates In American History, Volume 6 (New York: Current Literature Publishing Company, 1913), 31-32.

25  Joseph T. Derry, Story of the Confederate States or, History of the War for Southern Independence (Richmond: B. F. Johnson, Publisher Company, 1895), 111.

26  J. William Jones, The Davis Memorial Volume, or, Our Dead President, Jefferson Davis and the World's Tribute to His Memory (B. F. Johnson, 1889), 322.

27  Lloyd T. Everett, Living Confederate Principles: A Heritage For All Time (Ballston, Va.: Vexid Publishing Company, 1917), 3.


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