New Life in Tariff Argument

(March 9, 2018) Many of today’s historians are frustrated that they cannot eradicate the “myth” that sectional differences over tariffs even secondarily contributed to the Civil War. They like to label tariffs as “The Great Civil War Lie” and insist that slavery was the solitary cause of the war. Yet the strong opposition to President Trump’s recent shift in American tariff policy suggests that they should reevaluate one their key arguments.

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Specifically, they argue that Southerners had no reason to object to tariff hikes on the eve of the Civil War because rates had steadily declined over the previous fifteen years and were the lowest in at least forty years. As the table below shows, the tariff on dutiable items dropped from thirty-five percent in 1846 to nineteen percent in 1861, translating to a decline of about fifty-five percent.

But current loud objections to President Trump’s initiative suggests that tariff opponents will fight against higher rates even if they have been dropping for years. The table above shows that modern-era American tariffs have been declining since the end of World War II. Specifically, rates on dutiable items dropped from thirty-two percent in 1947 to about five percent currently, translating to a decrease of about eighty-five percent.

Although slavery may have been the leading cause of North-South differences, tariff policy was at least a secondary one. For example, even as the Confederate constitution legalized slavery it also outlawed protective tariffs. In order to sharply increase rates, in 1860 the U. S. House of Representatives passed the Morrill Tariff seven months before any Southern state seceded. The Senate passed it less than a year later after the initial seven Southern states formed the Confederacy. (The senators would likely have passed it within a matter of months anyway because new Republican senators had been elected and would soon take their seats.) Every Republican senator voted for the tariff. Thereafter rates on dutiable items averaged forty-five percent until the Republicans lost the White House to Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Wilson cut rates to a low of eighteen percent but Republicans increased them again to a high of almost sixty-percent in 1932.

From the end of the Civil War to the end of World War II, Republicans generally kept tariffs high in order to protect Northern industry from overseas competition at the expense of the South’s export economy. Southerners of the era consistently opposed high tariffs—as did their antebellum ancestors—for two reasons.

First, protective tariffs artificially inflated the cost of Northern manufactured goods as well as competitive goods from overseas. Second, such tariffs made it hard for European industrial economies to earn the American exchange credits needed to buy Southern cotton thereby giving the Europeans an incentive to buy cotton from other countries. Since half of the South’s cotton was purchased in Europe as late as 1940 America’s protective tariffs were a provocation to the South’s biggest customer for a long time.



(March 8, 2018) I submitted the article below to a Civil War periodical but it was rejected because the publisher concluded it was “controversial” and “did not advance the scholarship on Lincoln.” It is basically a condensed excerpt from my 2016 book, The Confederacy at Flood Tide.


Was the Emancipation Proclamation Meant to Trigger a Slave Rebellion?

In early June 1862 the Confederacy appeared to be on the verge of collapse. Rebel armies in the West met nothing but disaster during the first five months of the year. Meanwhile, in the East, Union Major General George McClellan led the largest army ever assembled in the Western Hemisphere to the very doorstep of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. By early July, however, Robert E. Lee’s smaller Confederate army drove McClellan back twenty-five miles to a redoubt at Harrison’s Landing on the James River where the Union commander seemed satisfied to wait defensively under the protective guns of a naval flotilla.

Despite revoking the orders of two field generals that attempted to free the slaves in their sectors during the preceding twelve months, Lincoln responded to McClellan’s reversal by reconsidering whether emancipation should become general federal policy. Appeasing the border-states earlier in order to win their loyalty—an important reason for rejecting emancipation previously—no longer seemed necessary. At least from a military viewpoint, those states presently seemed to be securely in the Union and Lincoln could exclude them from an anti-slavery proclamation that applied only to the Rebel states.[1]

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As a result the President met with border-state representatives on 12 July to explain that he might be forced to issue such a proclamation because of rising anti-slavery sentiment in the North. He urged them to adopt gradual compensated emancipation. To soften the blow he arranged to have a bill for compensated emancipation introduced in congress the following day.[2]

On 22 July the President read the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to the entire cabinet. Secretary of War Stanton and Attorney General Bates urged immediate adoption. Surprisingly, the abolitionist Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase felt that it would be better to let the generals in the field implement the program sector-by-sector, partly to avoid the “depredation and massacre” of civilians and their property. Secretary of State Seward remarked that emancipation “would break up our relations with foreign nations and the production of cotton for sixty years.” He also advised that if the President was determined to proceed, he should wait until the Union armies won an important victory. Otherwise, he warned, the policy “would be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help.” The border-state Postmaster General opposed it on the grounds that it would damage the Party’s autumn election prospects.[3]

Secretary Chase’s comment suggests that a number of important Northerners recognized that emancipation might prompt a slave uprising. In fact, Lincoln was among them. On 13 September a delegation of Chicago abolitionist visited the White House to urge immediate emancipation. Lincoln first clarified that he could “raise no objections” to their proposal based upon an argument that he lacked the legal authority. Then he added that he could not “urge objections” to their proposal based upon the possibility that it could lead to a bloody slave uprising in the South. Whatever its moral benefits, or immoral consequences, the he regarded the matter exclusively as a war measure.

Understand, I raise no objections against it [the delegation’s emancipation proposal] on legal or constitutional grounds, for, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, in time of war I suppose I have a right to take any measures which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South. I view this matter as a practical war-measure, to be decided on according to the advantages and disadvantages it my offer to the suppression of the rebellion. (Italics added.)[4]

In short, Lincoln was prepared to run the risk of a Southern slave uprising if emancipation would give the Union an important wartime advantage. On 22 September, nine days after meeting with the Chicago delegation, Lincoln publicly announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It is described as “preliminary” because the formal proclamation would not be effective until January 1, 1863. Continue reading

Lincoln and McClellan

(March 7, 2018) Provided below is Chapter Eleven of my Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies book. Source citations are available in the book whereas they have been removed from this online version. Generally, modern historians condemn McClellan for what he failed to do instead of applauding him for what he did do. Among the things he did do was to take command of a panicked and demoralized army and converted it into a victorious one that stopped Lee’s first invasion of the North in less than three weeks.


Ultimately Civil War students must take a position on Major General George McClellan. It is necessary to decide whether Lincoln was correct in growing impatient with him, or whether the general was driven to a natural resentment of the President—and especially Radical Republican leaders—by their unfair treatment of him. While most modern historians side with the Republicans, McClellan apparently had powerful endorsements among experts of his time.

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One example was Helmuth Von Moltke who was the leader of the Prussian armies that won the 1870-1871 Franco Prussian War, which paved the way for the creation of a German state. George Curtis, who was co-counsel to Dred Scott when the slave’s case reached the Supreme Court in 1857, cited a conversation that Moltke had with another American whom Curtis “had no reason to doubt.” The American said, “Some of us in America do not estimate McClellan so highly as we do some of our other generals.” Moltke replied, “It may be so, but let me tell you that, if your Government had supported General McClellan in the field as they should have done, your war would have ended two years earlier.” However, since Moltke met with McClellan in 1868 when the latter visited Europe, it may be presumed that the Prussian was influenced by whatever information McClellan provided.

Similarly, during the last summer of his life Robert E. Lee visited his cousin Cassius Lee and they shared reminiscent conversations. Cazenove Lee who was Cassius Lee’s twenty-year-old son, claimed to be present. Cazenove later told Robert E. Lee, Jr. that he asked the former Rebel leader, “ . . . which of the Federal generals he considered to be the greatest.” According to Cazenove, the old general answered, “McClellan, by all odds.”

While both the Von Moltke and Cazenove Lee incidents cannot be absolutely verified, they were told under circumstances that suggest validity. But whether or not they are true, a case for McClellan or Lincoln can be made independent of the statements.

Following defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861 the principal federal army in the east was in disarray. Lincoln called upon 34-year-old George McClellan to take command, bring order out of chaos and prevent the capital from being captured by the jubilant Rebels. The President chose McClellan for two reasons. First, he was familiar with him from before the war because Lincoln did legal work for the Illinois Central Railroad when McClellan was an executive in the company. Second, news reports had generally credited McClellan with winning four small victories in the western mountains of Virginia during the preceding month or so. In truth, the victories were actually won by subordinates, although McClellan had overall command. Nonetheless, they had the effect of separating the strategically important western part of Virginia from the Confederacy. Continue reading

Why Fred Ray’s Book Review is Best

(March 6, 2018) Of the half-dozen reviews of my Southern Reconstruction  book to date, Fred Ray’s at TOCWOC is the only one that mentioned the analysis showing that Southerners have already paid a form of reparations, if not for slavery then for losing the war.

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Specifically, former Confederates paid their share of federal taxes to fund sizable budget items that only benefitted Americans who had sided with the federal Union during the Civil War. One example was the retirement of federal debt that exploded from $80 million at the start of the war to $2.7 billion at the end. A second example was the interest on the federal war debt, which represented a cumulative 23% of the federal budget for the first twenty-five years after the war. A third example was the increasingly generous Union veterans pensions, which accounted for 40% of the federal budget in 1893. They reached a cumulative total of over $5 billion by 1917 and $8 billion by 1942, yet the only recipients were Union veterans and their dependents.

Although the facts are undeniable, most modern historians are blind to such truths because they are obsessed with the racial aspects of Reconstruction. While some of today’s historians might readily argue that blacks should be paid slavery reparations, nearly all seem to be unaware that if the South had been a defeated sovereign state the payments by former Confederates and their descendants noted above would have been classified as war reparations.

Latest Book Review of *Southern Reconstruction*

(March 5, 2108) Fred Ray at the TOCWOC Blog wrote the review below on my Southern Reconstruction book.

Reconstruction in the South has become a subject dominated these days mostly by academics writing about race and America’s “unfinished revolution,” as viewed through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. However, there is much more to it than that. New England and the South had been rivals since Revolutionary times, and when the shooting stopped in 1865 the Yankees had a glittering prize—control, perhaps permanent, of their old rival. It was simple—the former Confederates (which included pretty much all the male population) would be disenfranchised, and their former slaves enfranchised. They, along with the much smaller number of Union loyalists (who would never be enough by themselves) would provide a permanent majority in the troublesome South. However, it didn’t work out quite that way, and it led to an era just as divisive, in many ways, as the war that proceeded it.

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President Lincoln, unfortunately, had little to say about his plans for reconstructing the South or about Negro voting, which left the field open to the Radical Republicans after his death. Although we consider black citizenship and voting rights a given today, it was certainly not seen that way after the war, and was one of the many issues that led to a struggle between the president and congress. On the one hand was the need for national reconciliation, on the other the rights of freedmen, including the franchise.

TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog

Philip Leigh, two of whose books I have reviewed previously, approaches the subject with a different perspective. Leigh has worked as a computer industry stock analyst, and in addition to a degree in Electrical Engineering has a Masters in Business Administration. This gives him tools that most historians do not have, or indeed may not even be aware exist. In his earlier book Trading With The Enemy, which examined the informal and illegal trade between North and South during the war, he gave a solid economic analysis of the situation and does so here as well, utilizing facts and figures instead of the generalizations so common these days. There have been recent attempts, for instance, to rehabilitate the Carpetbagger governments of Reconstruction, but Leigh is having none of it, showing how corrupt they really were, and how budgets soared during their tenure regardless of the impoverished postwar condition of the states.

Continue reading the review here.

Aesop’s Wisdom

(March 4, 2018) Any student of the Civil War and Reconstruction who has tried to defend Southerners can endorse the wisdom of Aesop’s fable, “The Wolf and the Lamb.”

Once upon a time a wolf was slaking his thirst upstream from a lamb. He wanted to eat the lamb but felt a need to justify murder. “Damn you for polluting the water I am drinking,” growled the wolf.

The lamb answered, “That is impossible because I am downstream from you.”

“Well, damn you for saying disparaging things about me a year ago,” the wolf accused.

“That also is not possible because I am only six months old,” replied the lamb.

“Then it was your dad,” said the wolf as he leaped on the on helpless lamb.

With his dying breath the lamb gasped, “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.”

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University of Georgia professor Stephen Berry tells students they should drop his class if they question his opinion that slavery caused the Civil War. Berry appears to be one of the many modern historians who equate the reasons for secession with the reasons  for the war. Even if he will concede that slavery may have been the chief cause of secession, a student in Berry’s class is evidently not permitted to suggest that the Northern states could have let the South depart in peace and thereby have avoided the war.

The situation is similar at Facebook and other online discussion boards where administrators unevenly censor members depending upon the member’s viewpoint. For example, majority-opinion members often mention twentieth century examples of racial violence as lingering consequences of the Civil War. Yet the administrators will not permit mention of any twentieth century incidents that suggest the North could have let the South secede peaceably without war. Instead they censor such examples for violating prohibitions against discussing modern politics. Thus, one cannot note that the bombardment of Fort Sumter need not have triggered a war just as America declined to be provoked into war after North Korea’s 1968 attack on the U. S. S. Pueblo warship.

About four years ago I wrote several unpaid online articles for a glossy Civil War magazine. None were controversial and the column editor urged me to continue sending more. But when I submitted a draft that was contrary to the magazine’s underlying anti-Southern bias they rejected it and never gave an explanation.

Interpreters of the Southern viewpoint are not the only ones treated tyrannically. Another example includes the minority of historians that are critical of such Union leaders as Ulysses Grant or William T. Sherman. Consider the caustic dismissal of Joseph Rose’s authoritative and original Grant Under Fire by a reviewer in Ohio History magazine.

Not only does [Rose] question Grant’s military abilities, but he also portrays him as a pro-slavery drunk with low morals and a weak character. These accusations are far from original and have been proven over the years to be unfounded. They are in the same vein as Lost Cause historiography. There is a clear confirmation bias in this work, and it affects the overall validity of his argument. Rose uses evidence out of context in order to reinforce his interpretation, while concurrently ignoring evidence that goes against his thesis.

[I]t is clear that his research did not shape his conclusion; instead, his conclusion shaped his research.

Among other faults, the reviewer’s attempt to link Rose to “Lost Cause historiography” is inexcusable innuendo.

Unfortunately, I cannot recall anytime during my life when the tyranny of majority opinion has been so ruthlessly imposed and the minority opinion so viciously censored and attacked. It appears to be a byproduct of the anti-freespeech sentiments that dominate college campuses presently. If the leading historians of the 1960s had been equally tyrannical when men like James McPherson and David Blight were coming of age, Battle Cry of Freedom and Race & Reunion might never have seen the light of day.