Most people in America believe the Civil War was about slavery, well the real truth is
it was about money! I've always said it was about taxation and land acquisition so let’s
look at it from another angle so it all makes sense. As there was no federal income
tax, the federal government depended on indirect taxes as its primary sources of
revenue. Most duties, imposts, and excises' were collected at ports throughout the
United States; ports monitored by Federal garrisons. For thirty years from 1830 to
1860 the tariffs amounted to about eighty-four percent of federal revenues, but during
the 1850s tariffs amounted to ninety percent of federal revenue. As the ports in the
South had the most traffic, they paid seventy-five percent of all tariffs in 1859.
Let me explain the difference between the North and South’s concerns. The
Industrialist North wanted to protect their industries from foreign imports and exports
by placing a tariff on those commodities. This was called protectionism. The South
wanted Fair Trade (little or no taxes,) because the Southern economy was largely
agricultural and geared to exporting a large portion of its cotton and tobacco crops to
In 1860 Representative Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont drafted a bill called the Morrill
Tariff. It placed excessive taxes or tariffs on Southern imported and exported
commodities. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Morrill tariff in the 1859-
1860 sessions, and the US Congress passed it on March 2, 1861. Passage of the bill
was possible because many low-tariff Southerners had left Congress after their states
declared their secession. Two additional tariffs sponsored by Morrill, each one higher,
were passed during Abraham Lincoln's administration to raise urgently needed
revenue during the Civil War.
President James Buchanan, (D), from Pennsylvania signed it into law to protect the
steel industry in Pennsylvania just two days before Abraham Lincoln’s (R)
inauguration. The bill immediately raised the average tariff rate from about 15 percent
to 37.5 percent. The unjust taxation that enriched Northern manufacturing states and
exploited the agricultural South grew even more lopsided when Lincoln’s second tariff
increase would increase the average rate to 47.06 percent for southern ports. At that
time the import-dependent South was paying as much as 80 percent of the tariff, while
most of the revenues were being spent in the North. The South was being plundered
by the tax system and wanted out!
The cities and states with deep water ports preferred to keep the tariff revenue for
themselves, rather than sending the money to Washington. The Tariff and States
Rights question was therefore strongly linked to the issues of a limited government
and a strong Constitution. The Morrill Tariff dealt the South a political injustice,
economic hardship and public crisis. It therefore made Secession an alternative to an
exploited and unequal union with the North.
On March 4th, 1861 Lincoln literally promised in his first inaugural address a military
invasion if the new, tripled tariff rate was not collected. Lincoln said; "The power
confided in me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property, and places
belonging to the government, and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what
may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion--no using force against,
or among the people anywhere. Lincoln’s statement proves my point about taxation
and land acquisition.
Five weeks later, on April 12th, 1861. Fort Sumter, a tariff collection point in
Charleston Harbor, was bombarded by the Confederates. Lincoln later revealed that
he manipulated the Confederates into firing the first shot, which helped generate war
fever in the North.
Five days after the evacuation of Ft. Sumter, Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the
seceding States that were in insurrection, (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida,
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas). If you’ll notice all these States had deep water
The Morrill Tariff was addressed in the conventions of Georgia and South Carolina on
November 19, 1860. Senator Robert Toombs (D), a founding father of the
Confederacy, from Georgia gave a speech to the Georgia legislature in which he
denounced the "infamous Morrill bill." The tariff legislation, he argued, was the
product of a coalition between abolitionists and protectionists. Toombs described this
coalition as "the robber and the incendiary... united in joint raid against the South."
Anti-tariff sentiments also appeared in Georgia's Secession Declaration of January
29, 1861, written in part by Toombs.
Charles Dickens a famous author from England was a strong opponent of slavery,
said these things about the war going on in America: “The Northern onslaught upon
slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug disguised to conceal its desire
for economic control of the United States. The love of money is the root of this as
many, many other evils. The quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands,
solely a fiscal quarrel.”
The Country was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1860 due to President James
Buchanan’s policies and Washington needed the tariff money to pay the bills. Lincoln
undoubtedly calculated that the mere threat of force would put down secession talk.
His gamble, however, failed and erupted into a terrible and costly war for four years.
The Union Army’s lack of success early in the war, the need to keep England from
coming into the war on the side of the South, and Lincoln’s need to appease the
radical abolitionists in the North led to the increasing promotion of freeing the slaves
as a noble cause to justify what was really a dispute over just taxation and States
Rights. The war still put the country in bankruptcy not to mention 650,000 Union and
Confederate lives plus the destruction of the South. The Morrill tariff was enforced
until 1913 which put an overwhelming burden on the South during re-construction.
Another example of Northern treachery was this tariff money should have been spent
in the South to rebuild it instead of being sent to Washington to protect the northern
It was said by Edmund Burke “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it”.