Monthly Archives: December 2016

Leading Historian Cannot Connect the Dots

(December 31, 2016). As I continue through the YouTube lectures posted by Columbia University’s history professor Eric Foner I came to the one that explains financing of the Civil War. The following remark demonstrates the professor’s persistent blind spot about the economic reasons the North did not want the South to secede peacefully.

[Northerners] raised the tariff to enormous levels during the war. Not because Charles Beard [an earlier Civil War historian] was there in 1860 saying, “The tariff is the cause of the war” but because that’s the way you raise money . . . Now, later the tariff became a fixture to protect Northern industrialists. (Italics added.)

The professor is correct in noting that tariffs remained high long after the end of the Civil War. Tariffs on dutiable items averaged about 45% for about fifty years after the war, although they were only 19% on the eve of the war. They dropped after Democrat Woodrow Wilson became President in 1913 and then went right back up during the Roaring Twenties when the Republicans regained control of the federal government. In fact, they did not drop to levels consistent with a so-called free trade policy until after World War II. At that time there wasn’t any international competition to the industrial states north of the Ohio and Potomac rivers because the economies of Europe and Asia had been wrecked by the WW II.


Foner’s failure is his apparent inability to realize that the fifty years of uninterrupted high tariffs remaining after the Civil War was a legacy that Republican leaders had wanted from the beginning. President Lincoln, for example, favored high tariffs. The year before the Civil War started he wrote, “In the days of Henry Clay, I was a Henry Clay-tariff-man and my views have undergone no material change on that subject.” A campaign profile published in a Pennsylvania newspaper in February 1860 labeled Lincoln “a consistent and earnest tariff man from the first hour of his entering the public” stage. Even as far back as 1832 when Lincoln announced his first candidacy for the state legislature, he reportedly said, “I am in favor of the internal improvement system [public works spending]and a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles.”

Even the two Civil War Republican leaders commonly believed to be the most sincere advocates of racial equality also defended high tariffs. Pennsylvania Representative Thaddeus Stevens was one of their strongest proponents partly because he owned an iron-products company. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, who admitted that there were other principles more meritorious than tariffs, was contacted by a Rhode Island Republican shortly after the war ended who wrote, “Without [black suffrage in the South], Southerners will certainly unite . . . with Democrats of the North, and the long train of evils sure to follow their rule is fearful to contemplate . . . [including] . . . a great reduction of the tariff.”

Under the influence of teachers like Foner most modern historians cannot perceive that the lengthy post-war high tariffs reflect original war aims at the North. They presume that anyone mentioning tariffs is attempting to use them as an explanation for Southern secession, in which they were only a secondary factor. They were, however, a primary explanation for why the North did not permit the Southern states to secede peacefully, as explained in this earlier post.

High tariffs generally promoted prosperity across the North until the Great Depression, but they were harmful to the South’s export economy in at least fourth ways.

First, they made it difficult for countries overseas to buy American cotton because the buyers needed exchange credits that could only be generated by selling (typically manufactured) goods into the USA. Our high tariffs made that difficult. Therefore, the overseas buyers who might have otherwise purchased more American cotton bought it from other countries.

Second, as explained in this post import duties tended to create domestic industrial monopolies. This was readily admitted by the head of the New York based refined Sugar Trust* who said under testimony in 1899, “The mother of all trusts is the customs tariff bill.” By the early twentieth century some American monopolies were so powerful—steel among them—that they sold goods in Europe a lower prices than in the USA. Since it had few manufacturing plants until well into the twentieth century, the South was particularly harmed by industrial monopolies.

Third, tariffs increased prices on domestic manufactured goods, which were primarily produced outside of the South. Southerners had to pay to buy them but got little benefit as employees or owners of the companies that reaped the rewards. Consider the example of railroad iron, which the South badly needed to rebuild her network after the war in 1865. It sold for $80 a ton in New York but only $32 in Liverpool in 1866.  A huge expense for the South, which as the Confederacy had the second largest railroad network in the World.

Fourth, since the protective tariffs generated persistent trade surpluses in the late 19th century, the postbellum Republican Party used the surpluses to provide increasingly generous Union veterans pensions as a “bribe” to keep the constituency loyal to the GOP.

In sum, the protracted lingering of high tariffs after the Civil War can be traced directly to the Civil War era Republican Party. They are not something that came up inadvertently afterward as Foner suggests.


*Sugar refining was an industrial process controlled by the Sugar Trust, which marketed under the still familiar Domino brand. The vast majority of raw sugar was imported from other countries and Hawaii, while only a small amount was grown in the South. As a product category refined sugar had its own tariffs that sharply restricted imports, thereby enabling the Sugar Trust monopoly.

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Virginia Historian Said The Confederates Were Wimps

(December 30, 2016) As I continue through the YouTube Civil War lectures posted by Columbia University’s Eric Foner I came to one in which Foner quotes another historian as essentially saying that Confederate supporters were wimps. Foner opines on the University of Virginia’s Armstead Robinson who Foner says was a “good historian”:

[Robinson] taught in the South [and gave lectures to] the [United] Daughters of the Confederacy…[In criticizing a Southern lack of will Robinson said,] ‘Giving up after four years? The American Revolution lasted eight years! How could you give up after four years? That’s ridiculous! What kind of war is that?

Once again Foner cites a statement that demeans Confederates but he omits facts that contradict the implications of the statement. As the table below indicates, he fails to mention that the number of American soldiers killed during the Revolutionary War was less than 1% of the white population. In contrast, the number of Confederate soldiers killed during the Civil War was 5.5% of the white population of the Confederacy. (By comparison, American deaths in World War II approximated 0.3% of the country’s population.)


Taken as a percent of the white population, Confederate Civil War deaths were six-times larger than American soldier deaths during the Revolutionary War even though the Civil War was only half as long. If the Southern loss ratio were applied to the present American population the number of killed soldiers would be over 17 million.

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The Spin In This Lecture Will Give You Whiplash

(December 29, 2016) Yesterday while proceeding through Eric Foner’s Civil War lectures on YouTube I came to this one about the Emancipation Proclamation. Chiefly because of contextual omissions the professor puts enough spin on it to give the listener whiplash by saying:

[Consider] how Lincoln addresses the freed people directly…“I urge you to refrain from violence”…but then adds “except in self defense.”…[I]sn’t that interesting. He didn’t have to say it…[Lincoln is showing that he] is not cowed by the chorus of warnings of these slaves massacring their owners.

Actually, to anyone who knows the full story Lincoln was almost compelled to use the language Foner quotes. The professor fails to clarify how two versions of the Emancipation Proclamation—issued about three months apart—differed. The preliminary version that was announced on September 22, 1862 was the more impactful one because it signaled the President’s intent to officially free Confederate slaves on January 1, 1863 when a formal version would be signed if the Rebels did not surrender.

Lincoln’s advice that freedmen “refrain from violence except in self defense” is only contained in the second version. More importantly, the reason it is included is because the language in the preliminary version suggested that Lincoln may have wanted to deliberately provoke a slave rebellion as a means of winning the war quickly. The statement in the September proclamation that triggered such concerns was that the “[US] military and naval authority…will do no act to repress [slaves], or…any efforts [the slaves] may make for their actual freedom.” Many critics concluded the statement ordered the military to do nothing to protect Southern civilians should a slave rebellion arise.

Among them was Charles A. Dana, a trusted civilian observer of generals and armies in the field for Lincoln. Dana immediately urged that the statement by erased or changed because of its potential to incite servile insurrection. Another example was former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis from Massachusetts. Although he did not believe Lincoln intended to instigate a slave rebellion, he concluded the proclamation’s likely result would be to “incite a part of the inhabitants of the United States to rise in insurrection against valid laws.” He foresaw “scenes of bloodshed” and “servile war.”

Boston maritime mogul and friend to abolitionist Charles Sumner, Robert Forbes, concluded that Sumner’s followers genuinely wanted the slaves to “be made free by killing or poisoning their masters and mistresses.” Similarly, New York’s Continental Monthly urged that a “thousand mounted men” be recruited to raid deep into the South with authority to assemble and arm the slaves.” Finally, Massachusetts Senator Sumner said, “I know of no principle…by which our [Southern White] rebels should be saved from the natural consequences of their own action…They set the example of insurrection…They cannot complain if their slaves…follow it.”

Colonel Charles Francis Adams, Jr. who was the son of Lincoln’s ambassador to Great Britain and the great-grandson and grandson of two US presidents later remarked that the prevailing belief in the North at the time of the proclamation was that it would spark an immediate slave uprising to bring the war to a sudden end. Major General George McClellan similarly complained that the President sought to stir up slave rebellions in an attempt to end the war. McClellan cannot be dismissed as an isolated example because he was Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 wartime presidential election when he received about 45% of the total vote.

According to historian Howard Jones, initial reaction that the Emancipation Proclamation might provoke slave rebellions was also common in Europe. The Europeans especially worried that it could trigger a race war that would extend beyond American borders. Instead of concluding that emancipation gave the United States the moral high ground the Europeans were contemplating whether they should ally with the Confederacy before a genocidal race war began to infect the entire Western Hemisphere and thereby disrupt international trade.

Even President Lincoln admitted the possibility of such insurrections before he issued the preliminary proclamation. On September 13, 1862 he replied to a delegation of Chicago abolitionists visiting Washington that he recognized the potential “consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South” that such a proclamation might provoke. Whatever the moral benefits, or immoral consequences, of emancipation he “view[ed] the matter as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the [Confederate] rebellion.”

Whatever Lincoln’s intent, the preliminary proclamation led to an uproar about its potential to incite slave rebellions. Contrary to Foner’s interpretation, Lincoln’s inclusion of qualifying language in the final version was not a bold action to signal that he refused to be cowed by warnings of slave uprisings. To the contrary, it was a reactionary step to try and convince others that he did not originally intend to provoke such uprisings.

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A Question Eric Foner Doesn’t Know How To Answer

(December 28, 2016) As I continue through Dr. Eric Foner’s Civil War lectures I discovered that the professor admits he doesn’t know how to explain why few Northerners were willing to avoid Civil War by letting the Southern states secede peaceably. After noting that the abolitionist publisher of The New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, opined that the erring sisters should be permitted to leave in peace, Foner says:

Why not just let them go? Good question! You can adduce answers [such as] The American Mission, Unionism, Nationalism. Very few people in the North said, “Let them go.” Why? [To answer that] requires us to do what no historian has ever successfully done.

Foner’s inability to understand why Northerners were unwilling to let the South secede reflects his gigantic blind spot. He is unable to see the obvious: Northern motivations to “save” the Union lie in economic self-interest, not altruistic abolitionism. In short, Foner is unable to change perspective from North to South even though mere children realize that perspective changes everything. This is an all too common fault among many modern academic historians but the greater evil is their censorship of contrary viewpoints.


First, Southern cotton alone accounted for about sixty percent of all United States exports and all Southern exports represented about seventy percent of the country’s total. A truncated federal union composed solely of Northern states could not hope to maintain a favorable international balance of payments thereby causing a steady drain on the nation’s gold reserves.

The situation would be even worse if the Northern states tried to match the Confederacy’s anticipated low tariffs. Ten days before South Carolina led the cotton states into secession on December 20, 1860, the Chicago Daily Times editorialized on the calamities of disunion:

In one single blow our foreign commerce must be reduced to less than one-half what it now is. Our coastwise trade would pass into other hands. One-half of our shipping would be idle. . . We should lose our trade with the South, with all its immense profits. Our manufactories would be in utter ruins . . . If [our protective tariff] be wholly withdrawn from our labor. . . it could not compete with the labor of Europe. We should be driven from the market and millions of our people would be compelled to go out of employment.

Second, if the Confederacy were to survive as a separate country its import tariffs would certainly have been much lower than those of the Federal union. President Jefferson Davis announced in his inaugural address, “Our policy is peace, and the freest trade our necessities will permit. It is…[in] our interest, [and those of our trading partners] that there should be the fewest practicable restrictions upon interchange of commodities.” Low Confederate tariffs would create two problems for the abridged Federal union: 

  1. Northern manufacturers sheltered by protective tariffs would lose their Southern markets because low Confederate tariffs would prompt Southerners to buy European manufactured goods. If all of the slave states were to join the Confederacy the loss of market could total $200 – $400 million. Among the hardest hit would be New England’s textile mills and Pennsylvania’s iron makers.
  2. Articles imported into the Confederacy from Europe would divert tariff revenue from the North to the South. Since tariffs accounted for about 90% of Federal tax revenue, the diversion would be a serious problem. If all the slave states were to join the Confederacy the tax-revenue loss could total $21 million of the $54 million in 1860 tariffs, based upon the slave-state proportional share of America’s population.  

Thus, after the opening shots at Fort Sumter the Northern states chose to fight to “preserve the Union” because they wanted to avoid the anticipated economic consequences of disunion—not because they had a mystical love for a Union with a people they hated and ridiculed. In January 1861 The Philadelphia Press editorialized, “It is the enforcement of the revenue laws, not the coercion of the state [South Carolina] that is the question of the hour. If those laws cannot be enforced, the Union is clearly gone.” In When in the Course of Human Events author Charles Adams reasons:

If trade were to shift to the Southern ports because of a free trade zone, or extremely low duties relative to the North, then [the] great cities [of the Northeast] would go into decline and suffer economic disaster. The image painted by these editorials [from newspapers of Northeastern cities] is one of massive unemployment, the closing of factories and businesses, followed by unrest, riots, and possibly revolution. The inland cities of the North would also go into decline, like Pittsburgh, where duty-free British steel and iron products would cripple the American steel industry.

Foner’s obsessive depiction of Southern immorality regarding slavery deludes him into believing that Northern war motivations could be nothing less than noble.

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Eric Foner Perceives Beyond the Truth

(December 27, 2016) In this lecture Columbia University’s history professor Eric Foner condemns Pennsylvania’s James Buchanan as “perhaps the worst President in American history.” The professor begins by explaining that Buchanan was immediately under the thumb of Southern politicians. He points to the President’s initial cabinet selections as compelling evidence that Southerners dominated the administration from the beginning.


As the table above illustrates, citizens of states that voted for Buchanan got five out of seven cabinet posts. Four of the five were Southerners. However, Foner’s claim that Buchanan’s initial cabinet alone is sufficient verification that Southerners controlled him from the start is dubious. In the politics of the era cabinet posts were commonly awarded to residents of states that supported the winning Presidential candidate.

That practice did not change when Lincoln was elected. Five of his seven cabinet posts also went to men who lived in states that Lincoln carried in the election. Two of Lincoln’s cabinet members were from slave states, even though slave states were almost half of all sates at the time.

Some observers will, no doubt, argue that Lincoln’s choices were narrower than Buchanan’s because eleven Southern states seceded from the Union. Only seven, however, seceded before Lincoln took office. More importantly, Lincoln’s list of candidates for cabinet posts had been settled more than a month before even the first state (South Carolina) seceded.

On the night after the November 6, 1860 election, Lincoln wrote-down a list of candidates for cabinet appointments. Six of the eight were appointed. The two that were not chosen were from New Jersey and Illinois, which were states where he received electoral votes. The seventh selection was Simon Cameron who bargained for a cabinet position at the earlier Republican nominating convention in exchange for committing Pennsylvania’s delegates  to  Lincoln (David Donald, 249 & 261).


On the night after the November 6, 1860 election, Lincoln wrote-down a list of candidates for cabinet positions. Six of the eight were appointed. The two that were not chosen were from New Jersey and Illinois, which were also states where Lincoln received electoral votes. The seventh selection was Simon Cameron who was to receive a cabinet appointment based upon a bargain to get Pennsylvania’s delegates committed to Lincoln at the earlier political convention where Lincoln won the Republican nomination. (David Donald, 249 & 261.)

Although Foner later gave other reasons in his lecture why he feels that Buchanan was a Southern sympathizer he also he also provided evidence that Buchanan was not. Nonetheless, the professor’s conclusion that Buchanan’s sectional sympathies were obvious from the start based  only upon the initial cabinet selections fails to take into account the conventional political practices of the era.

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First They Came For Forrest

(December 26, 2016) The following is a guest article by Fred Ray that is republished with permission. Fred is the author of Shock Troops of the Confederacy. His article was originally published in September at the TOCWOC blog where Fred regularly reviews new books.

First They Came For Nathan Bedford Forrest…

I normally don’t do much on contemporary politics, but unfortunately political correctness is starting to have a real effect on public life and Civil War studies. The latest craze is what might be called the historical cleansing of America of all symbols which might offend the usual suspects. It started with Confederate monuments, but it hasn’t stopped there. The latest one is former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney. His statue stands outside the Maryland State House, and has been targeted for removal by the usual group of activists.

Taney, however, was no Confederate, but remained loyal to the Union until his death in 1864. His crime was to have written the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which formally recognized slavery and denied that anyone of African ancestry was a “person” under the Constitution. Taney was one of the country’s top legal minds and thought this might settle the [slavery] question [short of Civil War], but instead it simply inflamed it. Only [four] years later, a group of Southern states seceded to form a nation of their own.

Taney personally had no brief for slavery and thought it a pernicious institution. A slave owner himself, he had unilaterally freed them and provided for the support of those too old to work. However, he strongly believed that under the Constitution this was a matter for the states and not the federal government. When the war began it was Taney who acted as the guardian of civil liberties against the encroachments of the Lincoln administration. However, was a sick man and unable to devote much time or energy to it (he died in 1864). I’ve always wondered what might have happened if he had been in better health. As it was, there were rumors (never substantiated) that Lincoln had gone so far as to prepare a secret warrant for his arrest.

Another non-Confederate to be recently targeted is Andrew Jackson, presumably because he was a slave owner and especially because of the Indian removals. However, these worthies should also remember that it was Jackson who forced South Carolina to back down during the 1832-33 Nullification Crisis. There are also rumblings about Thomas Jefferson.

All this brings to mind the old and rather bitter joke current in the former Soviet Union—that everyone knew exactly what the future would be, because Comrades Marx and Lenin had laid it all out and it was a matter of historical inevitability that could not be changed. No, the problem was the past—that was what kept changing. Every few years the history books would be rewritten to accommodate the latest shift of the political winds, and individuals who had fallen out of favor were excised from the pages and airbrushed from photographs as if they had never existed. I never thought I’d see it here, but we certainly seem to be headed that way ourselves.The latest action against the Confederacy is brought to us by the City of Alexandria, VA, which wants to rename the Jefferson Davis Highway as well as to remove of the statue of a Confederate soldier there.

As for Lincoln and Taney, if you’d like an unbiased look the two, the writing and impact of Dred Scott, and the habeas corpus cases, I recommend Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President’s War Powers. Lincoln pretty much invented “war powers” out of whole cloth—no other president had claimed such sweeping authority. There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that gives the president the power to unilaterally suspend habeas corpus and arbitrarily arrest civilians.

I took a look at that a couple of years ago in relation to the president’s war powers and the laws of war, including the Lieber Code. Some of the measures Lincoln took or approved of were quite shocking.