Lincoln Quote?

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First Sergeant
Official Vendor
Jul 26, 2018
When discussing the causes of the Civil War, I am often told Lincoln's goal was to collect taxes and tariffs from the South. This is often accompanied by the claim, Lincoln said so. However, although I have asked for a reference for - Lincoln said so - nobody so far has been able to produce a statement by the sixteenth president stating his goal in the war was to collect taxes and tariffs. Does anyone know of a direct quote from Lincoln saying he is primarily interested in taxes and/or tariffs?


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 20, 2005
Right here.
Those folks are relying on two things.

First is Lincoln's first inaugural in which he says, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so."

and later in the same speech, "I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it so far as practicable unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself. In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to 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 of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States in any interior locality shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist in the Government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating and so nearly impracticable withal that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices. The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union. So far as possible the people everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be followed unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper, and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised, according to circumstances actually existing and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections."

As we can see, Lincoln didn't say it was his primary goal. He said he was going to enforce the law. Revenue laws were part of the law, but so was every other U.S. law. He would still send the mail. Are they going to argue that the war was over delivering the mail?

The second source is a problematic interview with Virginian and later confederate officer John Baldwin in which Lincoln offered to evacuate Fort Sumter if Virginia's secession convention would dissolve. In Baldwin's postwar account, Lincoln supposedly said, "What about the revenue? What would I do about the collection of duties?" Baldwin then claimed he asked, "Sir, how much do you expect to collect in a year?" Baldwin then has Lincoln saying, ''Fifty or sixty millions."

This claim is problematic because Lincoln spoke with John Hay and with John Minor Botts about the interview, going over what was said, and neither said anything about the tariff being mentioned. Additionally, the $50-60 million figure is for the entire tariff, not just what the seceding states were responsible for contributing. The vast majority of the tariff was paid outside the seceding states. Lincoln would know this. What the seceding states paid was a drop in the bucket.

So the folks you're talking to are twisting historical fact and taking a problematic claim at face value without any type of critical analysis.

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