The Causes Of The War Between The States

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Richmond-Times Dispatch:

In an interview, Crompton falsely said the Confederate states seceded because of heavy taxation and “tyranny” by the federal government, not slavery. “They were overtaxing the South and the South got fed up with it,” he said. “Slavery was not a factor.”

Let’s cover this one more time for good measure.  The thinking in the South was based on who did the thinking.  If you were among the more educated, such as preachers and pastors, you would have seen the war between the states as a theological conflict.  My former professor, Dr. C. Gregg Singer, stated that “The Southern Presbyterian Church saw the war as a humanistic revolt against Christianity and the world and life view of the Scriptures” (A Theological Interpretation of American History, 86-87).

R. J. Rushdoony, citing Benjamin Palmer, stated that “Indeed an important aspect of the Civil War was the Unitarian statist drive for an assault on its Calvinist enemy, the South…  The gathering conflict (South Carolina had moved as early as November 16, 1860) Palmer saw as forces of a false theology, of atheism and of the French Revolution, of the religion of humanity, in short, arrayed against a Christian people dedicated to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to Constitutional government.  These forces sought to frame “mischief by law” (The Nature of the American System, 58-59).

Men like they cite – Palmer, Plumer, Thornwell, Dabney – were in the pulpits or seminaries informing men how to think.  Being “churched” today may not be a thing like it was 150 years ago, but the place for philosophy was in the pulpit.  On the other hand, on a more pedestrian level, there was the burdensome taxation and tariffs set in place by the Congress.

Although they opposed permanent tariffs, political expedience in spite of sound economics prompted the Founding Fathers to pass the first U.S. tariff act. For 72 years, Northern special interest groups used these protective tariffs to exploit the South for their own benefit. Finally in 1861, the oppression of those import duties started the Civil War.

In addition to generating revenue, a tariff hurts the ability of foreigners to sell in domestic markets. An affordable or high-quality foreign good is dangerous competition for an expensive or low-quality domestic one. But when a tariff bumps up the price of the foreign good, it gives the domestic one a price advantage. The rate of the tariff varies by industry.

If the tariff is high enough, even an inefficient domestic company can compete with a vastly superior foreign company. It is the industry’s consumers who ultimately pay this tax and the industry’s producers who benefit in profits.

As early as the Revolutionary War, the South primarily produced cotton, rice, sugar, indigo and tobacco. The North purchased these raw materials and turned them into manufactured goods. By 1828, foreign manufactured goods faced high import taxes. Foreign raw materials, however, were free of tariffs.

Thus the domestic manufacturing industries of the North benefited twice, once as the producers enjoying the protection of high manufacturing tariffs and once as consumers with a free raw materials market. The raw materials industries of the South were left to struggle against foreign competition.

Because manufactured goods were not produced in the South, they had to either be imported or shipped down from the North. Either way, a large expense, be it shipping fees or the federal tariff, was added to the price of manufactured goods only for Southerners. Because importation was often cheaper than shipping from the North, the South paid most of the federal tariffs.

Much of the tariff revenue collected from Southern consumers was used to build railroads and canals in the North. Between 1830 and 1850, 30,000 miles of track were laid. At their best, these tracks benefited the North. Many rail lines had no economic effect at all. Many of the schemes to lay track were simply a way to get government subsidies. Fraud and corruption were rampant.

With most of the tariff revenue collected in the South and then spent in the North, the South rightly felt exploited. At the time, 90 percent of the federal government’s annual revenue came from these taxes on imports.

These ideas don’t conflict.  In fact, they dovetail together as a real example of statism and its effects.  While the pastors were philosophically training the men who would ultimately decide on war, these same men were suffering under the yoke of financing an entire country due to protective tariffs.  You can believe they heard from their countrymen, their neighbors and their wives about the yoke of burden they felt.

War ensued.  If anyone tells you that the war was fought over slavery, he is lying to you.  That’s revisionist history, a version of events that has no basis in the primary source documents of the time (newspapers, sermons, etc.).  Idiot “journalists” today may not know history, but you need to be better than that.

UPDATE:  Frank Clarke sends the following note.

For those who say the Civil (sic) War was “all about slavery”, I like to point out that slaves in the South were “identified as free” by the Emancipation Proclamation — issued two years after a war that was “all about slavery” started — but weren’t actually free because there were no blue-clad troops to spring them.  Slaves in DC were freed by ordinance in 1864.  Slaves elsewhere had to wait until the 13th amendment in December 1865, 8 months after a war that was all about slavery ended.  It appears the DC politicians didn’t get the memo about the war being all about slavery, and Lincoln, himself, didn’t realize it for two whole years.

The Emancipation Proclamation, America’s first major PR effort, was (much more likely) a ploy to “make the war about slavery” which would operate to bring lots of Northern abolitionists down to the recruiting stations.  This, in turn, would beef up the ranks of the Union army which was then getting its clock cleaned.

Had Lincoln been keen to erase slavery, he could have done it far cheaper than ruining the South’s economy and threatening the North’s — at a cost of 620,000 dead — had he done it the way the Brits had 30 years prior; he certainly had to know about that.  The Brits outlawed slavery, then bought out all the slaveholders for cash.  It was a good deal for anyone who could see the onrushing Industrial Revolution, an event which would, in short order, make human chattel slavery an economic dead-end.

But Lincoln was not keen to empower the South with such a scheme.  Lincoln wanted to OWN the South.  The tariffs had done that.  If the South rendered itself immune to the tariffs, the Northern economy would crash.  This could not be allowed to happen.  It is related that one reporter asked Lincoln “Why not just let them depart?” and Lincoln’s answer was “Then who would pay for the government?”  That was Lincoln’s (and the North’s) motive.

Foreign newspapers of the day, Corriere della Sera, Le Monde, The Times of London, and others, universally saw the conflict as economic and not connected to slavery.  As disinterested spectators, their views are telling.

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  1. On August 25, 2017 at 7:55 am, DCP said:

    In 1973, I was back in college trying to graduate. In one of my classes, I don’t remember which one, I did a comparison of railroad shipping rates for a project.

    Pittsburgh, PA was a steel producing town, and so was Birmingham, AL. Just not to the same degree.

    It cost twice as much to ship a ton of steel from Birmingham north to Pittsburgh as it did to ship a ton of steel south from Pittsburgh to Birmingham.

    The economic exploitation continued.


  2. On August 25, 2017 at 8:33 am, Fred said:

    By original design the fedgov was to get just about all of its operating revenue from import tariffs. The article you have quoted at length conflates national import tariffs with the violation of the original meaning of commerce clause which was to protect the states one against another from unjust pricing and restrictions ie; market manipulation among the states including internal tariffs.

    I wholly support national import tariffs on everything and support them as the sole source of fed revenue. There is no shortage of raw materials or ability in this country. We do not need imports at all. This America first original design by the founders was not new. All nations and nation states favored their own industry, economy, people first.

    Our LORD has supplied everything we will ever need, all you have to do is believe!

    Who rails against the evils of ‘protectionism’ today? This no tariff, internationalism, globalism, neocon ‘free trade’, NWO return to the Tower of Babel is wrong. Same evil, same plan, different era. Who would get in bed with the Chicoms and Wahhabi house of Saud? Evil that’s who.

    Take care of your own house first! While I don’t agree with all of this article it’s a decent primer and representation of ‘nationalist’ tariff based mode of putting your own industry first.

  3. On August 25, 2017 at 9:48 am, Pat Hines said:

    Secession was over culture and economics, as stated (religion being a key component in our culture).

    The war was caused by the treasonous invasion of the lawfully seceded states. It was treason because it violated Article III, Section III of their constitution which makes an invasion of a state or group of states treason.

    From time to time one may read an essay by an anti-southern or anti-white author claiming that those that resisted the invasion were traitors, such an assertion is patently absurd.

  4. On August 25, 2017 at 11:28 am, Laird Bean said:

    The importance of the Missouri Compromise in the path to the Civil War cannot be ignored. Slavery was the primary issue there and helped to ignite the passions surrounding it. Though slavery was not the only catalyst, certainly it had a very large role in the fomentation of the conflict!

  5. On August 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    It’s easy to confuse the various manifestations of rejection of centralized control that we may look at as important because of the theatric value of those examples, with what’s really important and what I tried to focus on, i.e., the cultural, theological and philosophical underpinnings of the split.

  6. On August 25, 2017 at 3:51 pm, Mack said:

    “While the pastors were philosophically training the men who would ultimately decide on war, these same men were suffering under the yoke of financing an entire country due to protective tariffs. You can believe they heard from their countrymen, their neighbors and their wives about the yoke of burden they felt.”

    And God commands us, without exception:

    And Thou shall not covet anything else that is thy neighbor.

    Although Justin Morrill was certainly a sinner, as you note, these evil tariff began long before his did.

    Was the war legal? Why didn’t President Lincoln petition Congress to declare war?

    Why misdescribe ‘succession’ as ‘rebellion’ — was the CSA treason or sedition?

  7. On August 25, 2017 at 4:37 pm, Mack said:

    Sad commentary at AT:

    Goodbye, history: No brown wrapper required

    The editor of Blue and Gray magazine finished his editorial in 2003 with this:

    “Will Blue and Gray be driven underground and to find its way to your mailbox in a plain brown wrapper? Those who might destroy or censor any aspect of history would be wise to remember a lesson of history – that once a society permits books to be destroyed, bodies are usually the next to follow.”

    No brown wrapper will be required. Blue and Gray magazine has announced that it will cease publishing.

  8. On August 25, 2017 at 5:23 pm, George said:

    There is a good article by Paul Craig Roberts on this very topic:


    Scholarly and detailed (but without the theological perspective, of course) and comes to the same conclusions you have listed; it was about taxation and concentrating control of the states at the Federal level. P.C.R. also points out that Lincoln to his dying day was active in trying to “repatriate” all blacks to “their original clime”, as Lincoln put it back then. Roberts also points out that had Northern troops been of the opinion that the war was about emancipating blacks, Union troops would have deserted en mass. No doubt he is right about that, since the North was very racist at that point in time. The revisionist history about Lincoln was/is an effort to paper over the immoral nature of that war which devastated the South under the campaigns of Grant, Sherman and Lincoln.

  9. On August 27, 2017 at 8:09 am, Pete said:

    I’ve attempted to educate numerous in the facts over decades yet very few want to hear it. That is strange. Taking a step back from the detailed culture/economic items, {HS} would you agree that at the core, the North just refused to let the Southern leadership / states take a role in interpreting the constitution? That IMHO based on much research was the cause. The North just wanted to tell the South how it was going to be. And the rest is history.

  10. On August 27, 2017 at 8:31 am, GenEarly said:

    The Truth of the past can be judged by what it has spawned.
    Does anyone really think that the current USSA is a republic? It is now a Demoncrazy ruled by an Established Elite from the District of Control. The Constitution is relegated to museum status along with the Confederate statues…… soon to be followed by Jackson, Jefferson, and Washington statues.
    Civil War II is underway with the New Ferals being the NWO Internationalists progreSSing on the bones of any American Heritage, as flawed as it is.
    These NWO Traitors infect almost all of Congress, the Feral Bureaucrazy, the Feral Judiciary, the Feral Reserve & International Banksters, International Corps, New Tech Monopolies, and ProgreSSive Marxist Collegiate breeding pools.

    Winston Churchill laid it out clearly in this quote. Care to pick out which “stage” we are currently experiencing?

    “If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed;
    if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may
    come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”

    Also to be considered is the Fiasco of the firing on Ft.Sumter in the CW I as set up by Lincoln as the spark to react on. Lincoln like Obamy played Tyranny like a violin. Discernment is vital.

  11. On August 27, 2017 at 10:19 am, Bill Cthulhu said:

    That oft repeated number of approximately 650,000 deaths misses some significant non-combat numbers directly caused by the War of Northern Aggression.

    I was visiting my Dad right after finishing my time in the Army. I was sitting in his office at a medical clinic he ran. He knew I was on a nutrition kick and said, “There are some items in here I bet you don’t know – I didn’t.” It was a medical history book.

    He marked a few chapters for me to start on. What was stupefying to me was the history of the non-combat deaths 1865 – 1870. Due to the actions of Sherman and some others, so much cropland had been destroyed and crops looted and burned, a famine was caused almost immediately. This was just the start. Food storage, fruit and nut trees, vineyards, all means of support for Southern farmers was wiped out in a period of a couple of months. Obviously, starting over with zero outside help was close to impossible.

    Per the author’s footnoted details in this book, this was not just a death sentence for so many families in the South. So many crops had, for decades, made their way North, to feed the growing nonagricultural population above the Mason-Dixon line. The author cited numerous sources to come up with these numbers: over 1 million dead in the South, not quite 1 million dead in the North from the summer of 1865 to the end of 1870, just due to starvation and malnutrition. Just the non-combatants.

    Additionally, whites families suffered more in the South from malnutrition due to table manners. The author, an MD and nutritionist cited the common practice of drinking all the juices on a plate or in a bowl when the food was eaten, or sopping the plate with bread. Such practices by blacks, “cleaning the plate,” got the water soluble B and C vitamins, as well as trace zinc and selenium into their systems. What was left of the Southern family still practiced table manners (even while on starvation quantities apparently), not sopping their plates, developing scurvy and beriberi. Greatly shortening their lives, allowing minor injuries or infections to be fatal.

    So, more like 3,000,000 dead, 1861 – 1870.

    A neighbor (who has an oil painting of General Lee in his study), when we were discussing this some years ago, said in almost shock, “So the war really did take out two generations of the South – one in the War, another in famine.”

    More history suppressed which some of us have found out by accident.

  12. On August 27, 2017 at 1:13 pm, Phil Ossiferz Stone said:

    >If anyone tells you that the war was fought over slavery, he is lying to you.

    I suggest you guys go read the Declaration of Secession from any of the Confederate states. They all say the same thing, more or less, though it is cloaked in very fine language. Here is a representative sample from North Carolina’s:

    “The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

    “We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

    You are picking the scab off of old wounds for no good reason with this revisionist baloney. In so doing you are hewing wood and carrying water for the people felling statues — our common enemy.

    As the great-grandson of a man who had two Southern trash with a Federal warrant trashcan his house looking for ‘contraband’ — an outrage that led to him and his neighbors riding the Ohio with rifles in hand to keep the nigger-catchers out — I respectfully ask you to knock it the hell off.

    Nothing follows.

  13. On August 27, 2017 at 2:12 pm, SoCalMike said:


    There is a small town in middle Tennessee called Barren Plains. Before the war it was called Crop Plains.

  14. On August 27, 2017 at 2:47 pm, Light Dragoon said:

    On the point of the Emancipation Proclamation, one must never forget the international implications of this document. Britain and France were still toying with the idea of intervening in the domestic fracas, and would have, much like French, Dutch and Spanish involvement in the American War of Independence, brought a sure end to it with victory going to the South. However, since both Britain and France had previously (as noted) outlawed slavery, it would be difficult in domestic politics for either of them to be seen as supporting a rebellion whose primary objective was in defense of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation handily did this, by placing the object of Southern Independence, and thus Northern aggression, squarely in the realm of an argument over the morality of slavery. Since people, especially politicians, have short memories, the proposed Corwin Amendment which would have enshrined slavery forever in the Constitution, supported by Lincoln and passed by the (Northern controlled) Congress could be quietly forgotten.

    One interesting and completely unintended consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation though was bringing the Russians into the international discussion. Tsar Alexander the II had recently freed the serfs in Russia, and felt somewhat of a kinship with Lincoln. Add to this the fact that Russia had been rather ruthlessly suppressing a revolt in Poland in the early 1860’s, and that most of the energy the British government expended internationally was on keeping Russia “contained” (which was the primary reason for the Crimean War just a few short years before) and you have a move by the Russians to align with the Lincoln regime out of prudence of nothing else.

    One little-known fact is that the Russian fleets, both Baltic and Pacific, wintered in Northern ports during the winter of 1863, both as a show of support for the Lincoln administration but more importantly to position them in ice-free ports should the British and French decide to try to bottle them up in the event that war broke out between them. Remember, war DID break out 80 years later over Poland, so the Russians had good reason to be concerned.

    Quite the solid chess move by Alexander. Check, Britain and France, your

    (Interesting long-term result was the arming of Russian armies over the next several decades [Smith and Wesson “Russians”, anyone?] by New England arms makers, and the transfer of military and naval technology to the Russians from the US Army and US Navy, such as Monitors and Dahlgren guns. Russian-built Monitors were still defending St. Petersburg in WWI, and we were still supplying military technology in the form of trucks to the Russians in WWII.)

    No matter what Lincoln or any of his supporters actually thought about slavery, or what the Southerners fighting for their independence thought about it, moving the matter of Southern Independence into a question over slavery was a brilliant political move, and one that probably allowed the North to eventually subdue their unwilling neighbors. The court historians have kept up the argument for the past 150 years, allowing very little variation on that theme, but it was in the end a very, very complex situation. Sadly, easy answers to complex questions are far more palatable to the masses than a reasoned argument and explanation.

  15. On August 27, 2017 at 9:34 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    @Phil Ossiferz Stone,

    What I offered you is a theological, philosophical and cultural “peak behind the curtain.” If you don’t care to look, that’s your business. But there’s no way that you know as much information, or have the analytical abilities, as Dr. C. Gregg Singer or R. J. Rushdoony. It would take you 10,000 lifetimes or more to equal these men.

    As for “hewing wood and carrying water for the people felling statues,” you’re just making that up. You don’t know my thoughts on the men who have been protesting felling statues, because I haven’t told you that. You do know my opinion of the men who are felling statues, and I’ve been clear about that.

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