|Senator Morrill of Vermont - steel magnate|
1860 Morrill Tariff
Friends and Patriots,
I am willing to bet $5.00 that almost none of you were taught this in high school or college about the Civil War or what southerners call The War of Northern Aggression.
If there had been no Morrill Tariff there might not have been the Civil War or what southerners call the War of Northern Aggression. A smoldering issue of unjust taxation that enriched Northern manufacturing states and exploited the agricultural South was fanned to a furious blaze in 1860 by the Morrill Tariff. It created regional mistrust and ignited the fires of secession in the South. Remember, prior to the Civil War there was no U.S. income tax. In 1860 about 95% of U.S. government revenue was raised by a tariff on imported goods. A high tariff is usually legislated not only to raise revenue, but also to protect domestic industry from foreign competition. Imported goods become expensive to buy compared to domestic goods. This protects domestic industries and allows them to charge higher prices that otherwise would be lost to foreign competition. High tariffs hurt exporters since they face higher domestic costs and retaliatory foreign tariffs. This depresses export volume and exporters profit margins.
Prior to 1824 in the U.S. the average tariff level in the U.S. had been in the 15 to 20% range. This met the needs of the federal government and did not excessively burden the South. The tariff was raised to 20% in 1816 to help pay for the War of 1812. This resulted in a 26% net profit increase to Northern manufacturers.
In 1824 the Whigs under Henry Clay and the Northerners began pushing for higher tariffs.
In the 1850s the South accounted for 72% to 82% of U.S. exports and the South was dependent on the North and Europe for manufactured goods.
Northern states only received 20% of the South’s agricultural products, the rest went to Europe. Tariffs were an economic hardship for the South.
In 1824 Clay and his allies passed a 35% tariff and the North boomed but the South suffered immensely and agitation grew in the South. South Carolina’s exports fell by 25% in two years. In 1828 the Northern dominated Congress raised the tariffs to 50%. In short, the South was getting killed economically. The tariffs became known as the Tariffs of Abomination in the South.
The Tariffs led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832 when South Carolina called a state convention and “nullified” the 1828 and 1832 tariffs as unjust and unconstitutional. The North and South nearly came to blows then, except John Calhoun negotiated a compromise in 1833 that returned the tariff to 15%. The tariff stayed at 15% until 1860. Our nation’s political leaders and economic interests in 1860 learned no lesson from the Nullification crisis of 1832.
High tariffs were one of the fundamental policies of the new Republican Party. The recession of 1857 boosted the call for high tariffs for the North.
In May 1860 the Congress passed the onerous Morrill Tariff Bill. Morrill was not only a Senator but a steel manufacturer. The average tariff went from 15% to 37% with an increase to 47% in three years. The South was paying 87% of the total taxes before Morrill so the situation became dire in the South. Furthermore, 80% of the tax revenues were spent on Northern public works and industrial subsidies. The North was being enriched at the expense of the South.
Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens, the most powerful Republican and Pennsylvanian iron manufacturer campaigned in favor of the Morrill Tariff. Two days before Lincon’s election an editorial in the Charleston Mercury stated: quote “The real causes of dissatisfaction in the South with the North, are in the unjust taxation and expenditure of the taxes by the Government of the United States……the nation has turned from a confederated republic to national sectional despotism.” unquote
Lincoln then endorsed the Morrill Tariff in his Inauguration and promised to enforce it on the Southern states even if the Southerners seceded.
At first the Northern sentiment was to allow the South to secede but then Northern industrialists realized their glory tariff days were over and they would have to compete against a free-trade South if the South seceded.
On 4 April 1861, Lincon met secretly with Colonel John Baldwin, a delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention.
Baldwin told Lincoln that a majority of Virginia’s convention wanted to stay in the Union but that Lincoln had to do something about the tariffs or Virginia and the rest of the South would secede. During his meeting with Lincoln Baldwin learned that Lincoln was committed to military action at Ft. Sumter. Ft. Sumter was a tariff collection point. After the Southerners fired on Ft. Sumter northern opinion became enflamed against the South for firing on the flag. Three days later Lincoln called for 75,000 volunterrs to put down the Southern “rebellion”. Lincoln’s action caused the border and Gulf states to secede.
In response to Lincoln’s action Baldwin stated and I quote: “There are now no Union men in Virginia. But those who were Union men will stand to their arms, and make a fight which shall go down in history as an illustration of what a brave people can do in defense of their liberties, after having exhausted every means of pacification.”
The tariff question and the States Rights question were strongly linked and both the issues were linked to the issues of limited government and a strong Constitution. Slavery was merely one of the tensions between the North and the South. The South had sought a proper redress of grievances from a northern dominated government just as the colonies had against King George. Like the King, Northern industrialists were not willing to give up their Southern colonies. After the war, high tariffs and discriminatory railroad shipping taxes continued to favor the Northern economic interests. The South was impoverished for generations after the war. There would not have been a rush to secession if the Morrill Tariff had been cancelled. The Morill Tariff stands as an example of partisan political, industrial greed, self-centered depravity and sinful nature of man.