(May 25, 2020) A recent thread in an online discussion group about the causes of the Civil War continues to be dominated by those who equate the causes of secession with the causes of the war. But they are not the same because the North could have permitted the seven cotton states to leave in peace. Instead Northerners chose to start a Civil War in order to coerce the seven back into the Union. The vast majority in the discussion group fail to question why the North chose to fight beyond replying that it was to “preserve the Union.” They are thunderstruck when challenged with the thought that “preserve the Union” was merely a euphemism for “avoiding the consequences of disunion.”
“Oh yeah. What are those consequences?” they ask dismissively.
“Economic hardship,” I reply.
“Like what?” they say and leave their jaw dropped until I reply.
“Loss of tariff revenue and access to Southern markets for monopolistic domestic manufacturers of the North who have been protected by deterrence tariffs.”
“Oh, that’s BS. My college professor told me that the tariff argument has been completely discredited,” they reply after a sigh and frown.
“Not discredited at all,” I say. “Consider that the tariff on dutiable items increased from 19% before the war to an average of 45% for over fifty years thereafter. In fact rates did not drop until Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who lived in the South as a boy, became President.”
With a backhanded wave they respond, “Oh, that’s ridiculous. Nothing that happened after the war can explain what the war was about!”
“If the war was fought to preserve the Union, surely you admit that it was preserved by readmission of the former Confederate states,” I reply. “That was after the war, as was the 13th Amendment freeing the slaves.”
This time they raise both hands as if to push the thought away before saying, “That’s different because my professor never talked about it because . . . well he went to Yale and studied under Dr. Blight . . . and . . . well, that’s just different, see?”
It’s useless to detail Dr. Blight’s biases so I provide examples of secession-era newspapers documenting that concerns over the economic consequences of disunion undeniably worried Northerners.