Why didn’t Lincoln just let the Southern states secede and leave the Union?

wausaubob

Colonel
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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Zooming out for a moment, I think this thread provides a really interesting example of what makes studying history so difficult. Much as we want to hammer people’s motivations down to specific things, humans act for nebulous and contradictory reasons. Sometimes, esoteric ideas like “freedom” or “Union” really can motivate people to act. Other times, it takes concrete things like money to push action. Though the trope is that it all comes back to the money, humans have also proven to sometimes be driven solely or mostly by ideas.

This relates to different schools of thought within the historical community. Charles and Mary Beard are famous examples of the more economically focused school of history/progressive historiography. This interpretation of history has since fallen out of favor in most cases. The Beards in their discussion of the civil war downplayed slavery, abolitionism, and morality issues in favor of economic ones.

Other historians have shifted focus to those ideas of slavery and morality as driving motivators. Similarly, some historians have viewed the role of religion as a motivator for action.

All of this is to say that looking for motivating factors is difficult and it’s important to not approach from a preconceived endpoint and then find the evidence to back up the idea. As many have pointed out, the tariff argument does not square with the evidence, and consequently examinations of Union war aims must shift accordingly.

It also speaks to a larger idea that history is not a static idea but an ever-changing subject. But that’s for another time.
Except that slavery cannot be divorced from economic growth. Slavery had to be resolved to get immigration going again and to cause European investors, mainly in Britain, to have confidence in the US economy. Slavery was a yoke around the neck of the US, which made a few people rich and gave them great political power. If a politician wanted to curtail and end slavery, he also wanted to end the slave owners' alliance from controlling US economic growth. Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska took off after the US Civil. The main issue was resolved and growth mushroomed. The same thing happened in Texas, after a brief delay.
 

Zack

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Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Except that slavery cannot be divorced from economic growth. Slavery had to be resolved to get immigration going again and to cause European investors, mainly in Britain, to have confidence in the US economy. Slavery was a yoke around the neck of the US, which made a few people rich and gave them great political power. If a politician wanted to curtail and end slavery, he also wanted to end the slave owners' alliance from controlling US economic growth. Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska took off after the US Civil. The main issue was resolved and growth mushroomed. The same thing happened in Texas, after a brief delay.

I think people think I was arguing the war wasn’t about slavery.

I was arguing exactly the opposite. Clearly I articulated my ideas poorly.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Lincoln had an economic motivation. It was to govern a united nation and institute the Whig program which the Republicans had inherited. And by then, both northern parties were pro immigrant, pro growth parties. The northern economy didn't need slavery and it had already been demonstrated.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I think people think I was arguing the war wasn’t about slavery.

I was arguing exactly the opposite. Clearly I articulated my ideas poorly.
A good deal of the war was about economic growth and not letting Britain or Russia undercut the growing US iron industry. The secessionist states did not produce much iron, so that was not something their leadership favored. If the slave owners had kept slavery out of the way of economic growth, the war may have never happened.
 

Zack

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Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
What I meant to say was that arguments centering solely on economic issues like the tariff cleave to a historiographical style that has since been largely rejected.

However, it can be hard to see esoteric ideas such as “duty” and “honor” as motivating for millions of people or even one leader. We want it to be exclusively all about $$ but sometimes it just isn’t.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Thanks for following up with the link, I'll check it out. Tariffs are just one piece to the overall economic puzzle, and this is what I am researching now, as well as the origin of the 75% tariff burden by the South. It's more complex than tariffs.
Claims that the Southern "tariff burden" was that high rest on an analysis summed-up by John C. Calhoun: "We export to import." Here's what he meant:

1. There can be no tariff revenue unless there are imports.
2. There can be no imports unless America has the exchange credits needed to pay for them.
3. America earns exchange credits when it sell exports.
4. The South accounted for about 70% of exports and cotton alone about two-thirds.

Ergo, the South accounted for about 70% of tariffs.

Calhoun's analysis was good enough before California started producing gold in about 1850. Thereafter, gold was available to pay for imports as a well as the exchange credits generated by (mostly Southern) exports.
 
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Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Thanks for following up with the link, I'll check it out. Tariffs are just one piece to the overall economic puzzle, and this is what I am researching now, as well as the origin of the 75% tariff burden by the South. It's more complex than tariffs.
I have explained above how John C. Calhoun's "We export to import" analysis explains the argument that the South carried about 75% of the tariff burden.

More importantly, however, the South objected to protective tariffs because they tended to create domestic monopolies for manufacturing companies North of the Ohio River and the Mason Dixon line.

There are two types of tariffs: protective and revenue.

Protective tariffs* are designed to block imports so that the beneficiary industries cut competition. In reality they were constructed in such a way as to enable the protected item to be produced by domestic monopolies, or near monopolies. Thus, the optimal protective tariff generates NO revenue because it blocks all imports of the specified item. Before the war, all three of the America's leading manufacturing industries—cotton textiles, woolens, and iron products—benefitted from protective tariffs.

In 1861 the Confederacy had more railroad mileage than any country in the world, except the truncated United States. When desperately trying to rebuild their RRs at the end of the war railroad iron was priced at $80 per ton domestically but $32 a ton in Liverpool.

Revenue tariffs are designed to collect revenue. One example was sugar that was commonly used in all of the states and overwhelming obtained from imports.

In short, Lincoln and Northerners generally did not want to lose their Southern markets, which were much bigger than the share of revenue tariffs actually paid by Southerners. The Yankees also did not want to lose their legal coastwise shipping monopoly that the Confederacy would open up to competition.

*Alternatively known as Restrictive tariffs.
 
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unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
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Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
Claims that the Southern "tariff burden" was that high rest on an analysis summed-up by John C. Calhoun: "We export to import." Here's what he meant:

1. There can be no tariff revenue unless there are imports.
2. There can be no imports unless America has the exchange credits needed to pay for them.
3. America earns exchange credits when it sell exports.
4. The South accounted for about 70% of exports and cotton alone about two-thirds.

Ergo, the South accounted for about 70% of tariffs.

Calhoun's analysis was good enough before California started producing gold in about 1850. Thereafter, gold was available to pay for imports as a well as the exchange credits generated by (mostly Southern) exports.
And yet Calhoun stated in a letter the true issue was slavery and not the tariff.

Go figure (even at 75%.)
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
I have explained above how John C. Calhoun's "We export to import" analysis explains the argument that the South carried about 75% of the tariff burden.

More importantly, however, the South objected to protective tariffs because they tended to create domestic monopolies for manufacturing companies North of the Ohio River and the Mason Dixon line.

There are two types of tariffs: protective and revenue.

Protective tariffs* are designed to block imports so that the beneficiary industries cut competition. In reality they were constructed in such a way as to enable the protected item to be produced by domestic monopolies, or near monopolies. Thus, the optimal protective tariffs generates NO revenue because it blocks all imports of the specified item. Before the war, all three of the America's leading manufacturing industries—cotton textiles, woolens, and iron products,—benefitted from protective tariffs.

In 1861 the Confederacy had more railroad mileage than any country in the world, except the truncated United States. When desperately trying to rebuild their RRs at the end of the war railroad iron was priced at $80 per ton domestically but $32 a ton in Liverpool.

Revenue tariffs are designed to collect revenue. One example was sugar that was commonly used in all of the states and overwhelming obtained from imports.

In short, Lincoln and Northerners generally did not want to lose their Southern markets, which were much bigger than the share of revenue tariffs actually paid by Southerners. The Yankees also did not want to lose their legal coastwise shipping monopoly that the Confederacy would open up to competition.

*Alternatively known as Restrictive tariffs.
Again, it seems a bit strange to have the South complain about the tariff or who was getting the most revenue, when it was the South itself that promoted the tariff system for funding the operation of the federal government.

Why?

Because they shuddered at the idea of a 'head tax' for each person as this would force them to include their numerous slaves into such a tax system.

Far better to collect tariffs, protective or otherwise, on imports into the United States, spread out upon ALL the States, vice pay for the continuing 'right' to own slaves by the millions.
 

29thWisCoG

Corporal
Joined
Apr 12, 2021
What I meant to say was that arguments centering solely on economic issues like the tariff cleave to a historiographical style that has since been largely rejected.

However, it can be hard to see esoteric ideas such as “duty” and “honor” as motivating for millions of people or even one leader. We want it to be exclusively all about $$ but sometimes it just isn’t.
Not hard to believe this for patriotic citizens, but hard to believe for a politician, and Lincoln was one of the best politicians of all time.
 

29thWisCoG

Corporal
Joined
Apr 12, 2021
I was taught to believe that the Lincoln forced union to "free the slaves", Over time as I began to research the civil war due to my ancestry I was curious about this issue, thus the OP. I started with an open mind and I still do have an open mind on the issue, it's not yet settled for me.

If Lincoln really did force union with the south primarily because of economics, to protect federal government revenue, and protect the US economy, then I would have no problem with that at all... this conclusion would not be a "gotcha moment" for me in regards to Lincoln's motives for warring with the South.

Many of you are very defensive in this thread, and some are downright snarky and disrespectful, and I am not sure why. Some of you are providing good sources and comments, with civil discussion and I appreciate that.
 

wausaubob

Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Claims that the Southern "tariff burden" was that high rest on an analysis summed-up by John C. Calhoun: "We export to import." Here's what he meant:

1. There can be no tariff revenue unless there are imports.
2. There can be no imports unless America has the exchange credits needed to pay for them.
3. America earns exchange credits when it sell exports.
4. The South accounted for about 70% of exports and cotton alone about two-thirds.

Ergo, the South accounted for about 70% of tariffs.

Calhoun's analysis was good enough before California started producing gold in about 1850. Thereafter, gold was available to pay for imports as a well as the exchange credits generated by (mostly Southern) exports.
The cotton states were against tariffs, because it strengthened the various dollar denominated currencies. The British were against tariffs too, because tariffs made it harder for the British to undercut all US manufactured items and drive the US manufacturers out of business. The broad center of the country was in favor of tariffs and building a domestic economy that was both powerful and not vulnerable to a blockade.
But tariffs had little to do with secession. If the southern states were primarily concerned about tariffs, then they would have not seceded and would have instead forced some compromises to get better rates for the products their citizens consumed.
As far as Lincoln having a economic reason to fight the war in 1861, he did. But it had little to do with tariffs. The Republicans had won. They were going to reduce the reach of slavery, and enact their political program. The US Civil War helped them achieve both goals.
 

8thFlorida

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 27, 2016
The Presidential proclamation, as authorized by Congress covered only the slaves in the areas still controlled by the Confederacy. In those areas in the 15 states that permitted coerced labor that were controlled by the US, the US Army was already dismantling slavery by individual decision making. By friction alone, slavery was disappearing where the US Army was in control. But on top of that, the President authorized the army to start recruiting freedmen, which was a big policy change. While the war proceeded, there was no opportunity for slave catchers to apprehend and return those who had escaped slavery. The free line had moved from the Canadian border to the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon line.
But the internet is good place for a little "Whataboutism" in the morning. Its a lot of fun.
And this was a big change. The slaves merely changed masters. This was always the argument of the South and still is true today. Judah Benjamin and Jefferson Davis also enlisted blacks to fight the war.
 

NedBaldwin

Major
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
California
Claims that the Southern "tariff burden" was that high rest on an analysis summed-up by John C. Calhoun: "We export to import." Here's what he meant:

1. There can be no tariff revenue unless there are imports.
2. There can be no imports unless America has the exchange credits needed to pay for them.
3. America earns exchange credits when it sell exports.
4. The South accounted for about 70% of exports and cotton alone about two-thirds.

Ergo, the South accounted for about 70% of tariffs.

Calhoun's analysis was good enough before California started producing gold in about 1850. Thereafter, gold was available to pay for imports as a well as the exchange credits generated by (mostly Southern) exports.
Its an overly simplistic analysis that I think gives a distorted impression.

#1 is true by definition - tarrif were applied to imports, thus need to have imports to have revenue.
But not all imports were subject to tarrif evenly thus there need to imports of the right things to have revenue or put another way, since not all imports led to revenue, some portion of "exchange credits" could be generated without an associated tarif cost.

#3 does not account for trade deficits and tries to suggest that the holder of "exchange credits" to pay for imports is the exact same entity as the holder of "exchanged credits" received from exports when there is no evidence to show that to be the case. Money moves around in an eonomy.

Thus any claim of logic for #4 is completely faulty
 

NedBaldwin

Major
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
California
Revenue tariffs are designed to collect revenue. One example was sugar that was commonly used in all of the states and overwhelming obtained from imports.
Sugar is a bad example.
"Almost all of the sugar grown in the United States during the antebellum period came from Louisiana. Louisiana produced from one-quarter to one-half of all sugar consumed in the United States. "
[https://www.crt.state.la.us/louisia...e-cabildo/antebellum-louisiana-agrarian-life/]
the Sugar tariff was protective on behalf of a southern state.
In short, Lincoln and Northerners generally did not want to lose their Southern markets, which were much bigger than the share of revenue tariffs actually paid by Southerners. The Yankees also did not want to lose their legal coastwise shipping monopoly that the Confederacy would open up to competition.
Southern markets were not a bigger share of revenue tariffs actually paid.
The coastwise shipping would be an issue but only really for those in the shipping business.
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
Again, it seems a bit strange to have the South complain about the tariff or who was getting the most revenue, when it was the South itself that promoted the tariff system for funding the operation of the federal government.

Why?

Because they shuddered at the idea of a 'head tax' for each person as this would force them to include their numerous slaves into such a tax system.

Far better to collect tariffs, protective or otherwise, on imports into the United States, spread out upon ALL the States, vice pay for the continuing 'right' to own slaves by the millions.

I'm a little curious to what he thinks he explained in the Calhoun thread? Perhaps voodoo economics? Or is there a new economic model where you take the economic data from one decade and apply to another decade and come up with a conclusion? He applied Calhoun's assertions from 1828 and applied it to the 1840-1860 when tariffs were at an all-time low. (confused).

Here's the Calhoun thread: https://civilwartalk.com/posts/2234720


Furthermore, he didn't prove anything in this thread except he seemed to give the board Investopedia's definition of tariffs. Don't know what he tried to prove with that one either(confused).
 
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