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04 Oct

It has been the drum-beat accusation against those States of the South that seceded in 1861 that they were motivated by the desire to retain chattel slavery. Slavery certainly was an issue and had been one such for many decades, but it was not slavery that motivated the Cotton States to leave the Union. Had slavery been the motive, then the original 13th Amendment to the Constitution — the Corwin Amendment — that had already been introduced into the Congress and begun its journey through the States for ratification, would have ended the matter. This proposed Amendment had placed slavery into the Constitution in perpetuity with no recourse for its removal. Therefore, it was obvious then and remains obvious today, that slavery as an institution would have been far more protected in the Union than out.

So, if slavery wasn’t the over-riding issue, what was? Many people believe that the close relationship between the federal government and large northern corporations — what Hamilton called “the American System” and what was known in Britain as mercantilism — required far more money to be distributed to those corporations than they earned. The money had to come from somewhere — and it did! It came from the wealthiest part of the Union, the South! Few can understand the economics of this unless one understands that cotton was the “oil” of its day. With cotton, the South also produced resin, turpentine and tobacco, three other very valuable items for world trade. The manufacturers of the North couldn’t hold a candle to the income produced by the Southern States. Europe didn’t  need America’s manufactured goods, but it needed the South’s cotton and resin and turpentine and tobacco — and was willing to pay for it.  Of course, that profited the North nothing! So the only way that the North could profit from the goods of the South was with a high tariff. Earlier in the century, a very high tariff was proposed (called the Tariff of Abomination!) and was only removed when the Southern states nullified it as was their right under the Constitution. The matter was explained by a Missouri Senator named Benton in 1828,  years before the Lincoln tariff:

“Before the (American) revolution [the South] was the seat of wealth. . .Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac; and this in the face of fact, that the South . . .has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing. Such an export would indicate unparalleled wealth, but what is the fact? . . . Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of Federal revenues . . .Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourths of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annual furnished by them, nothing or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of Government expenditures. That expenditure flows  . . . northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. Federal legislation does all this!”

Is it any wonder that Lincoln, a practitioner of crony capitalism, was not willing to let the South go even when it had every right to do so? As with most crimes, one must simply “follow the money. . .”


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