Research Exercise: Confederate Soldiers on Tariff Policy

I have heard it said that since the correspondence of Confederate soldiers does not often mention that the soldier in question was fighting to protect the institution of slavery, Confederate soldiers did not fight to protect slavery … and, ergo, the Confederacy was not established to protect slavery.

Let’s stipulate for a moment that this reasoning is on the mark, and let’s apply it elsewhere … specifically the oft-cited cause, the tariff. Surely, if the Confederacy was established to protest protective tariffs, then Confederate soldiers would write home about how they were risking life and limb to protest the imposition of protective tariffs.

So, folks, show me those wartime letters. Thanks.

46 thoughts on “Research Exercise: Confederate Soldiers on Tariff Policy

  1. Bob Huddleston August 19, 2014 / 2:10 pm

    What did the Rebels call Lincoln’s supporters? Was it the Tariff Republicans or the Black Republicans?

    • Melissa Blue August 20, 2014 / 12:17 pm

      Not sure about the “rebels”, but Union-loyal, white-supremacist Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas called them “Black Republocans”.

      • John Foskett August 24, 2014 / 8:18 am

        F. Try reading the assignment next time.

  2. Bob Huddleston August 19, 2014 / 2:14 pm

    I don’t suppose this will help :>)

    “It is a hard matter to get a Union man to acknowledge that this is an abolition war. He will say to you; ‘If I thought this was a war for the abolition of slavery, I would not only lay down my arms which I have taken up for the defense of the Union, but I would go into the Southern army…many in the western states speak the same way. Now, any man who pretends to believe that this is not a war for the emancipation of the blacks, and that the whole course of the Yankee government has not only been directed to the abolition of slavery, but even to a stirring up of servile insurrections, is either a fool or a liar.”
    “The Vidette” camp newspaper for John Hunt Morgan’s brigade, November 1862.

  3. BorderRuffian August 19, 2014 / 2:38 pm

    from The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, VA, January 24, 2013-

    Jefferson Smith, Charlottesville

    Having read the “apology” from a Confederate soldier (Daily Progress letter to the editor, Nov. 25), I would like to offer thoughts from another Confederate soldier.

    I am 82 years of age. My grandfather served the Confederacy under North Carolina Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew. He died at the Battle of Gettysburg. I will allow his thoughts, written to my grandmother just a couple of weeks prior to that battle, to speak for themselves.

    “My lovely wife. I do so miss you, and the life we have there on the small plot of land God has given us. More and more, it seems that my thoughts are drifting back there to reside with you. Yet, as badly as I desire to be back home, it is for home for which I deem it best for my presence here with these other men. The proclamation by the Lincoln administration six months prior may appear noble. Were I here in these conditions, simply to keep another man in bondage, I would most certainly walk away into the night and return unto you. God knows my heart, and the hearts of others here amongst me. We know what is at stake here, and the true reason for this contest that requires the spilling of the blood of fellow citizens. Our collective fear is nearly universal. This war, if it is lost, will see ripples carry forward for five, six, seven or more generations. I scruple not to believe, as do the others, that the very nature of this country will be forever disspirited. That one day, our great great grandchildren will be bridled with a federal bit, that will deem how and if they may apply the gospel of Christ to themselves, their families and their communities. Whether or not the land of their forefathers may be deceitfully taken from them through taxation and coercion. A day where only the interests of the northern wealthy will be shouldered by the broken and destitute bodies of the southern poor. This my darling wife, is what keeps me here in this arena of destruction and death.”

      • tmheaney August 19, 2014 / 5:14 pm

        And frankly rather suspect as a source too.

        • Spelunker August 20, 2014 / 3:03 am

          I’m suspect of anything not citing an original verifiable source… Not saying it doesn’t exist, but a link to an original scan would be nice.

    • E.A. Mayer August 19, 2014 / 6:39 pm

      A letter to an Editor from a grandson? Not very good provenance. OK where’s the original? How can it be viewed and determined to me authentic? Is it authentic? Does such a letter even really exist? And what do you think his social structure that he is obviously protecting based on?

      “The most powerful motivator remained Confederate troops’ certainty that they must fight to prevent the abolition of slavery, the worst of all possible disasters that could befall southern white men and their families. Over and over soldiers repeated the same refrains about the necessity of fighting for slavery that they had been sounding since the beginning of the war.” Chandra Manning “What this Cruel War Was Over” p138

  4. John Foskett August 19, 2014 / 3:24 pm

    They didn’t. But (to get past your stipulation, which is appropriate to the exercise) a lot of them mentioned defending the institution of slavery in their letters, as Manning discovered. A lot more than actually owned slaves, to answer the good old neo-Confed canard. This makes sense for a few reasons: (1) secession was based on slavery, not on “the tariff”; (2) “the tariff” cut differently in different parts of the South; and (3) the vast majority of these guys probably knew/cared jack about the tariff. Slavery was the well-known and easily-assimilated North-South split, not temporary machinations with the tariff on various items.

      • Brooks D. Simpson August 19, 2014 / 7:16 pm

        I’m sure he did. But we both know that he cared about other things much, much more.

        • John Foskett August 20, 2014 / 7:57 am

          It’s also non-responsive. Maybe Hunter can try to answer the question – which asks about rank and file soldiers serving the CSA who discussed/mentioned “the tariff” in correspondence, diaries, journals, etc. I hope he’s got an awful lot of time on his hands to probe the haystack for that needle. To give him his due, however, he’s been pretty straightforward about the motivation for secession.

  5. jarretr August 19, 2014 / 4:07 pm

    But, of course, the South wasn’t even uniformly against protectionism, since those Louisiana planters benefited enormously from sugar tariffs.

    • John Foskett August 20, 2014 / 8:00 am

      You are correct, which is one reason why “the tariff” wasn’t the driving force. There were parts of the Upper South which also were not “harmed” by the Morrill. Oddly, none of the geniuses who push this strawman around (think: DiLorenzo) ever mention the Morrill’s predecessor and its role in the disastrous 1857 panic. ,

  6. Bob Nelson August 19, 2014 / 4:14 pm

    Since you already know the answer — no letters — it seems somewhat silly to reply but I will throw in my 2 cents anyway. I doubt that 1 in 100 Confederate soldiers even knew what a tariff was. “What are you fighting for Johnny Reb?” “For a lower tariff so we can buy cheaper sewing machines.” NOT!!! Most likely would get, “To protect our homes and our rahts.” Whether they would actually have been able to enumerate those rights except perhaps (1) to get rid of those Federal fat cats in Washington and (2) keep blacks “in their place” is questionable. I think the tariff was a piece of the puzzle but not the protective Morrill Tariff passed by the U.S. House in 1860 as I think you mean here. Southern aristocrats and politicians wanted their own tariff. The money would be used to build roads, canals and railroads and establish a banking system so Southerners did not have to rely on financial institutions in Boston, Philadelphia or New York. They wanted to be able to warehouse cotton and imports, develop a manufacturing base and trade directly with Europe. They also wanted to expand into Mexico, the Southwest and the Caribbean. Big dreams. For anyone interested in the economics of secession there are at least three great books on the subject — Robert Russel’s “Economic Aspects of Southern Sectionalism” (1924, a very good doctoral thesis), James Huston’s “Calculating the Value of the Union” (2003) and John Majewski”s “Modernizing a Slave Economy” (2009). I think it would be a great topic for discussion but not here under this question you have posed.

    • Jimmy Dick August 19, 2014 / 9:45 pm

      The Morrill Tariff was still in a Senate committee until the Lower South seceded and their senators resigned in early 1861. Only then was the tariff brought out of committee to the floor so it could be voted on. Had those senators not resigned, the Morrill Tariff would never have reached the floor. In addition, had it somehow gotten to the floor (by magic!) the 14 votes were enough to ensure that tariff failed. It is all in the Congressional records.

      So that means anybody who was against the tariff that was the law in 1860/61 until the Lower South seceded allowing the Morrill Tariff to become law was against one put into place by Southern representatives and senators which also happened to be the lowest one in US history.

      The tariff is just a dead issue.

      • John Foskett August 20, 2014 / 8:05 am

        And which, by the way, had played a part in the financial debacle of 1857. Of course. the Panic was less severe in the South.

  7. Brad August 19, 2014 / 8:35 pm

    Although a soldier will fight for a way of life — democracy, the American dream, etc. — I doubt any would say, “yup, I’m fighting for that good old tax code, the Internal Revenue Code.” You can apply that to today or yesteryear. People fight for a tangible concept or an intangible concept that has meaning. The tariff ain’t it.

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 19, 2014 / 8:38 pm

      I understand. But such is the logic of the argument that I wanted to show how it could be applied.

  8. Sandi Saunders August 20, 2014 / 9:32 am

    I think the actual research has been done by many and they have answered this question. Many of the young Confederate soldiers did not indeed own slaves but that did not preclude them coming from a home in which their father and grandfather or uncle did. Also many farmers “rented land from, sold crops to, or worked for slaveholders” in some capacity without being able to claim “being” a slave owner. They were all tied together in the practice of slavery which was a manifestation of their racism and bigotry, soft pedaled as ‘they would starve without us to care for them’. Much like the lie that slaves should to be counted (whole or the compromised 3/5) for the purposes of “representation”. As if!

    If this letter was authentic, the original would be on display, its provenance proven and acclaimed by Civil War Heritage groups. Therefore, it is not.

  9. Melissa Blue August 20, 2014 / 12:34 pm

    Interesting point, and it applies equally to the Union soldiers as well. Many came from slave-owning families, and many others did not, but virtually all, in some capacity, supported slavery. And whether this was a slave-owner from kentucky or Missouri, or a textile manufacturer from Massachusetts, or a sugar refiner from Pennsylvania, and whether they rented land from, or sold crops to, or just did business with slave-owners, they were all tied together in the practise of white-supremacy, bigotry, racism, and slavery. Norht and South, USA and CSA.

    • Sandi Saunders August 20, 2014 / 1:20 pm

      But again, only the Confederacy went to war to keep it.

    • jarretr August 20, 2014 / 1:45 pm

      “But virtually all, in some capacity, supported slavery.” That is patently false. There’s a difference between supporting white supremacy and supporting slavery. Seriously, if you have an interest in this material, have you even bothered to read the vast amount of scholarship written on it?

      • John Foskett August 21, 2014 / 7:06 am

        More use of a defective calculator by “Melissa”.

      • BorderRuffian August 21, 2014 / 8:01 am

        Most of the “anti-slavery” sentiment of the North was motivated in the protection and promotion of free white labor.

        • Brooks D. Simpson August 21, 2014 / 9:01 am

          And to what do you attribute the pro-slavery sentiment in the South?

          • John Foskett August 21, 2014 / 9:46 am

            The protection and promotion of enslaved black labor (which was “free” in the economic sense after the original “investment”).

          • Jimmy Dick August 21, 2014 / 10:29 am

            Amen, Brother John!

  10. Joshism August 20, 2014 / 6:25 pm

    I think a strong argument can and should be made that 1860s Confederates viewed emancipation the same way 21st century Republicans view gun control: the fear that if the Federal government has the power to take away some of property, they have or will in the future have the power to take away any and all of my property. There was certainly a racial element for many Southerners (whether to benefit financially from slavery, or simply because they thought free blacks were a danger to white woman) which should not be discounted, but their legal status as property made them symbolic in a struggle against powerful Federal government.

    • tmheaney August 20, 2014 / 7:18 pm

      While you have some definite points here, Joshism, please let me point out that the fear wasn’t about a “powerful Federal government”. Secessionists in speech after speech, editorial after editorial in 1860-61 do not mention the federal government increasing in power or becoming too powerful; they only point out that the “Black Republicans” had gained the Presidency and a substantial representation in Congress in the November 1860 election. Secessionists did not articulate a fear that the federal government was threatening to become too powerful; they articulated a fear that their enemy, the Republican Party, had great influence of that federal government.

      • John Foskett August 21, 2014 / 7:02 am

        The Big Government fallacy regarding the ACW is a late-20th century invention of DiLorenzo, et al, driven by his Mises addiction. The secessionists didn’t care much about the federal government until it became identified with Lincoln. Any “big government” features – federal income tax, massive military expenditures, etc. – came well after secession. .

    • hankc9174 August 21, 2014 / 8:01 am

      i’m not sure about free blacks being a danger to white women, but free whites were certainly a danger to black women.

      Much of the expressed ‘moral evil’ of slavery was the unspoken knowledge that it was, to a large extent, a system of sexual gratificiation for white males…

  11. hankc9174 August 20, 2014 / 7:19 pm

    as stated in numerous forums through the years, the war’s causes and why men fought are two totally different avenues.

    using a more modern example, many men enlisted because of pearl harbor, but pearl harbor did not cause world war 2.

    men fought to preserve their way of life, because their leaders convinced them to, to impress a girl, to prove their manhood, for adventure, to see the world, to escape their way of life, you pick it.

    and remember half of all fighting ‘men’ were under 20…

    • Sandi Saunders August 21, 2014 / 7:52 am

      In a war so visceral to the people I do not think any civil war is as easily dismissed as “the war’s causes and why men fought are two totally different avenues”. The reasons were/are much more personal / intrinsic to the soldier when they are literally fighting on their own soil IMO.

      The “way of life” they fought to preserve in the Confederacy was slavery. The “way of life” they fought to preserve in the Union was the Union. Being a “young nation” and having so many “young men” fighting, emotions were high and war came quickly once secession was announced. Having believed in America enough to throw off the Crown, which was no small choice or feat, the Union supporters were naturally predisposed to fight to preserve what had been so hard won. Having seen their power base eroding, the Confederacy was naturally predisposed to fight the changes that would have left them much poorer and without any power because they saw how a nation under the Constitution would be run. If anything, the Civil War proved how little many people understood the very fabric of the nation they had created.

      Soldiers on both sides were no doubt honorable men and the fact that they so soon aligned to fight as Americans again proves that truth.

      They can use any language or proof they choose, much, in fact most of the Confederate heritage that is celebrated and remembered is done with a decidedly 20th Century mindset but still the same old Federalist/Anti-Federalist language and sentiments whether they have any real bearing on the Civil War or not. And of course I think “not”. This is the ultimate injury to the very soldiers they claim to honor.

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 21, 2014 / 8:37 am

      “many men enlisted because of pearl harbor, but pearl harbor did not cause world war 2.”

      I don’t understand the point being made here. World War II had been going on for years before December 7, 1941. As to why people enlisted after December 7, 1941, they were pretty clear why they thought they were fighting.

      The point remains: there are people who claim that something isn’t mentioned in soldiers’ letters, then that can’t be why they were fighting, and thus it can’t be what the war is about. This is usually applied to the issue of slavery. I’m applying the same test to the notion that it was all about the tariff. I’m stipulating for the sake of the exercise that logic I find dubious is in fact correct.

      Note that none of the tariff advocates have offered evidence from soldiers’ letters that it was all about the tariff.

      • Sandi Saunders August 21, 2014 / 8:45 am

        You are using finesse when a 2×4 is needed. Must be the academic in you.

      • hankc9174 August 22, 2014 / 3:14 pm

        my (poor) point being that the relationship between letter content and macro-political strategic events is, at best, tenuous, as is the use of logic with flat-earthers…

  12. John Foskett August 21, 2014 / 7:05 am

    “Pearl Harbor did not cause World War 2”????? Are you sure about that as regards the US? Let’s put it this way – Pearl Harbor caused the US to be at war against Japan and it caused Hitler to declare war on the US three days later.

  13. Ken Noe August 21, 2014 / 9:48 am

    Bell Wiley mentions the tariff twice in “Johnny Reb,” but only in the context of what politicians and editors were telling future soldiers. In thirty years of reading soldier letters, I can’t recall a single instance. The 320 soldiers I surveyed for “Reluctant Rebels” never mentioned it once. As I pointed out here last year, the tariff came up only rarely in a Google search of the 12/60 Georgia secession debates,(6 times) in comparison to the frequency the debaters mentioned slaves and slavery (126 times).

  14. Fergus August 22, 2014 / 8:50 am

    Quote from a blurb forFor Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War Paperback by James M. McPherson
    Motivated by duty and honor, and often by religious faith, these men wrote frequently of their firm belief in the cause for which they fought: the principles of liberty, freedom, justice, and patriotism. Soldiers on both sides harkened back to the Founding Fathers, and the ideals of the American Revolution. They fought to defend their country, either the Union–“the best Government ever made”–or the Confederate states, where their very homes and families were under siege. And they fought to defend their honor and manhood.”
    Read the book

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 22, 2014 / 9:00 am

      Read a long time ago. Reading books means more than quoting the blurb.

      • Ken Noe August 22, 2014 / 9:48 am

        I seem to remember McPherson strongly linking Confederate enlistment to the preservation of slavery.

        • Brooks D. Simpson August 22, 2014 / 10:12 am

          Had Fergus read the book (instead of telling other people to read it), he might have come across that argument.

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