(October 29, 2020) From the Southern perspective the key issue in the 1860 general election was the viability of the Constitution’s protections for minority rights. The slave states started the previous decade in 1850 with thirty senators, which was equal to the number of Senate members from the free states. By 1860, however, the free states had thirty-six senators compared to only thirty for the slave states. In the House of Representatives slave states had 39% of the 233 members in 1850 compared to 38% of 237 members in 1860.
Moreover, after failing to get Kansas admitted as a slave state by an adverse 11,000-to-2,000 Popular Sovereignty vote in 1858, Southerners realized that there was little chance of getting any new slave states west of the Missouri River. All such territories were likely to ultimately become free states. As events transpired, all twelve of the states that entered the Union after the Civil War started in 1861 until 1896 initially added two new Republican senators each. Not until nearly fifty years after the war began would a new state enter the Union with a Democrat senator, which came with Oklahoma statehood in 1907. Given the ancient Greek wisdom that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” after the 1860 general elections Southerners correctly anticipated a tectonic shift irreversibly against their interests in Washington’s political representation.
The first seven cotton states seceded because they rightly feared the increasingly powerful Republican Party would ride roughshod over the minority protections in the Constitution and that Republican control would last for decades. In 1896, which was thirty-one years after the Civil War had ended, the former slave states had only 25% of the 88 Senators and 35% of the 355 House members. During that period the Republican Party increased tariffs on dutiable items from 19% on the eve of the Civil War to an average of 45% for fifty years thereafter.
The tariffs had two effects. First, they created domestic manufacturing monopolies north of the Ohio River and Mason Dixon Line by keeping competitive imports out of the U.S. market. After the Civil War ended and the South was rebuilding her railroads, for example, railroad iron was priced at $80 a ton domestically compared to only $32 in Liverpool. The difference was chiefly due to American tariffs. Second, by blocking European manufactured imports into the USA, the domestic tariffs made it hard for European cotton buyers to acquire the dollars needed to pay for American cotton. Consequently, they paid lower prices for our cotton and also increasingly preferred to buy cotton from other regions such as Egypt, Brazil, West Africa, and India that did not block European imports with tariffs.
The situation is similar today except that the roles of the political Parties are reversed. This time Democrats are anxiously waiting to use simple arithmetic majorities to trample over Republican interests. Democrats speak boastfully of dismantling features of the Constitution and governing traditions that have historically protected minority rights. Examples include stacking the Supreme Court, abolishing the Electoral College, admitting Puerto Rico and the Columbia District as new states in order to provide four new Democrat senators and discontinuing the Senate filibuster so that they can achieve their objectives with a simple arithmetic majority in the Senate. If the Democrats win the elections next week the rights of political minorities may be crushed underfoot for decades to come, just as the South was held into peonage for nearly a century.
If it comes to that, Nikki Haley may realize that throwing Confederate Heritage under the bus gained her only temporary personal advantage at the expense of long-term Democrat domination.
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