Confederate Cause

Causes of the War - Why did Lincoln choose war over peace?

CC Home || The Cause || Commentary || Links ||  Genealogy || Confederate Units || Quotes || Suggested Reading

Why war?

Simply stated, a powerful and independent nation to the south would be an economic threat to the United States and therefore, eventually a potential military threat.  Taxes on the exports of the South and West were the primary source of revenues to the federal treasury (estimates vary 70-80%).  Shipping and transportation revenues for Southern imports/exports were essential to the economies of the New England states.  Goods manufactured in Northern industrial states were sold in the South and West because import duties (protective tariffs) on competing English and European goods were so high as to make the American goods less costly to the Southern consumer. 

With Southern states controlling their own ports and their own duties, competing goods could be imported from abroad at lower cost, inducing the expanding railroads and other major buyers to import steel rail and other manufactured goods through Southern ports at the exclusion of U.S. ports.  Unless, the U.S. government lowered its duties and tariffs---surrendering revenues----to remain competitive, Northern ports would lose traffic and profits and Northern manufacturers would have to compete price-wise or shut down (American textile manufacturing was far less efficient than the English textile mills).  Northern newspaper editors described this double-edged sword:

The predicament in which both the Government and the commerce of the country are placed, through the non-enforcement of our revenue laws, is now thoroughly understood the world over....If the manufacturer at Manchester [England] can send his goods into the Western States through New Orleans at less cost than through New York, he is a fool for not availing himself of his advantage...If the importations of the counrty are made through Southern ports, its exports will go through the same channel.  The produce of the West, instead of coming to our own port by millions of tons, to be transported abroad by the same ships through which we received our importations, will seek other routes and other outlets.  With the lost of our foreign trade, what is to become of our public works, conducted at the cost of many huindred millions of dollars, to turn into our harbor the products of the interior?  They share in the common ruin.  So do our manufacturers...Once at New Orleans, goods may be distributed over the whole country duty-free.  The process is perfectly simple... The commercial bearing of the question has acted upon the North...We now see clearly whither we are tending, and the policy we must adopt.  With us it is no longer an abstract question---one of Constitutional construction, or of the reserved or delegated powers of the State or Federal government, but of material existence and moral position both at home and abroad.....We were divided and confused till our pockets were touched.  ---New York Times March 30, 1861
The Southern Confederacy will not employ our ships or buy our goods.  What is our shipping without it?  Literally nothing....It is very clear that the South gains by this process, and we lose.  No---we MUST NOT "let the South go." ----Union Democrat , Manchester, NH, February 19, 1861
From a story entitled: "What shall be done for a revenue?"
That either revenue from duties must be collected in the ports of the rebel states, or the ports must be closed to importations from abroad....If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe.....Allow rail road iron to be entered at Savannah with the low duty of ten per cent, which is all that the Southern Confederacy think of laying on imported goods, and not an ounce more would be imported at New York; the railroads would be supplied from the southern ports.
---New York Evening Post March 12, 1861
, recorded in Northern Editorials on Secession, Howard C. Perkins, ed., 1965, pp. 598-599.

In other words....the Northern sentiment was: To Hell with Constitutional issues! To Hell with Right or Wrong!  Let's bend the South to our will because they are threatening the money in our pockets!

In other words, the South was destroyed and more than 600,000 Americans lost their lives and another million were maimed for selfish, economic reasons!  Had these enterprising Yankees of the 1860s been around in the 1980s, the United States would have placed a 40%-50% import tariff on Japanese cars and if that didn't work they would have bombed Japanese auto factories.  We can't have those pesky Japanese importing better quality cars than we make!  The reader may think this a little absurd, but rest assured that people in Detroit were thinking it in 1980 and that Congressmen from Michigan and the UAW union were lobbying Congress for higher tariffs.

The almighty dollar was at the root of the war.  There are many surfaces, many angles and many facets to this rock, some of which we'll review, but money was the keyFollow the money!

Just as the American Revolution started primarily as a tax revolt, so did the War for Southern Independence.  Of course, there were other grievances besides tax policy, but the money was always the keystone issue. 

Tax revolts were a threat to American federal government from the beginning.  The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 was put down (at least in part) when President George Washington personally lead 13,000 troops into the western Pennsylvania frontier.  Was this excessive show of force against a "minor" revolt to make a point?  YES.  The government would use its power to enforce tax laws.  Or perhaps the rebellion was more widespread?  Rebellion and secession in the South were legitimate fears had the enforcement been pressed in the South, therefore Treasury Secretary Hamilton didn't recommend action there.  The federal government (by design!) simply didn't have the power to fully enforce unpopular tax policy at that time .  Tax policy would continue to be a potential incendiary of revolt in the coming decades.

Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is a force, like fire: a dangerous servant and a terrible master. --George Washington

As predicted by the Anti-federalists (see Section 1 ), the power of the federal government did grow beyond its Constitutional charter.  It grew in power sufficient to make tax revolt much more dangerous.

But, why didn't Lincoln choose peaceful alternatives?  This issue will be addressed in the next section.

Why was there war?

....under construction

Copyright © Steve Scroggins - All rights reserved.

CC Home || The Cause || Commentary || Links || Genealogy || Confederate Units || Quotes || Suggested Reading