The Civil War tariff revolt


The Nullification Crisis of 1832-33 involved state secession and use of force to repel attempts to collect federal customs tariffs. Nullification acquired a different shade of meaning even before the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision soon extended the reach of the Fugitive Slave Law north to the Canadian border. By 1860 Southern conservatives were complacently decrying “Nullification”–by which they meant the creation of sanctuary cities where slaves could hide.  Local authorities in the North worked only to enforce local and state laws–not to help persecute runaway slaves under odious federal jurisprudence.  

So why do government school history professors stand by and let charlatans convince the innocent that the Civil War was caused by racial collectivism? Andrew Jackson again addressed the Congress, in January 1833, regarding South Carolina’s virtual secession via a bill outlawing US customs from collecting Tariffs of Abominations.

That State Legislature first passed “An act to carry into effect, in part, an ordinance to nullify certain acts of the Congress of the United States purporting to be laws laying duties on the importation of foreign commodities,” passed in convention of this State, at Columbia, on the 24th November, 1832. The next was called “An act to provide for the security and protection of the people of the State of South Carolina.” It then passed “An act concerning the oath required by the ordinance passed in convention at Columbia on the 24th of November, 1832.” This last was an oath rejecting federal power in favor of state laws and courts. Jackson explained:

But by making it ” unlawful for any of the constituted authorities, whether of the United States or of the State, to enforce the laws for the payment of duties, and declaring that all judicial proceedings which shall be hereafter had in affirmance of the contracts made with purpose to secure the duties imposed by the said acts are and shall be held utterly null and void,” she has in effect abrogated the judicial tribunals within her limits in this respect, has virtually denied the United States access to the courts established by their own laws, and declared it unlawful for the judges to discharge those duties which they are sworn to perform.

One federal customs house was moved from Charleston to Castle Pinckney as a “precaution,” and trusted customs agents who quit in fear could not be replaced, such was the nearness of armed confrontation.  Jackson spoke of the potential for military violence:

…the power of summoning the posse comitatus will compel, under the penalty of fine and imprisonment, every man over the age of 15, and able to travel, to turn out at the call of the sheriff, and with such weapons as may be necessary; and it may justify beating, and even killing, such as may resist. The use of the Posse comitatus is therefore a direct application of force, and can not be otherwise regarded than as the employment of the whole militia force of the county, and in an equally efficient form under a different name.

Jackson made it clear that federal troops would put down the insurrection unless Congress, the courts and the Carolina legislature acted to head off the danger. This they did by lowering the “Tariff of Abominations” that had sparked the reaction. Still, all hope of stopping “protective” tariff extortion within the system was doomed thanks to Jackson’s defusing of the situation.  Colonial “Acts of Navigation” had necessitated the 1st Revolution in 1776. This revolt led Lord Dunmore to issue an Emancipation Proclamation calling slaves to arms in exchange for freedom long before Lincoln’s similar proclamation.

The Opium Wars in which Great Britain attacked Chinese cities to force repeal of the Chinese government’s ban on opium grown in British India came to resumed naval artillery attacks in 1859. At the outset of these wars, in 1837, Britain had withdrawn capital invested in the United States to gird its navy for war. The resulting contraction of capital caused America’s First Great Depression, but to this day it is inexpedient and impolite to even mention this Chinese connection.

China was again defeated and a tariff on opium imports was enacted there in January 1860 to pay reparations to her attackers. Despite professed neutrality, the US also landed military forces in China. Cause had again produced effect. Thus, in a failing economy, the Morrill protective tariff was soon being assembled in Congress. It was reported in March 1860, passed on May 10, then went dormant.

The South reacted and by September the Secretary of War had quietly facilitated southern seizure of federal weapons and facilities. After the mild and Whiggish Lincoln was elected, with three months to go before taking office, Texans raided armories and commandeered revenue ships, sparking tariff revolt elsewhere.  Capital flight and foreign adventures had wrecked the economy, and the Secretary of the Treasury resigned December 10.

South Carolina seized a federal fort, customs-house and vessels that same December. In January, with Lincoln’s inauguration still two months away, Georgia seized two federal forts and an arsenal, then commandeered a steamer. Louisiana took over three forts and the arsenal at Baton Rouge as Georgia seized the arsenal at Augusta and a steamer. Then Florida commandeered navy yards and another arsenal.

The Morrill tariff was revived, the embattled Treasury began selling notes, and John Sherman made a speech about federal tariffs, fort and armories. A secession convention was convened and northerners began backing away from support for sanctuary cities by repealing the Personal Liberty bill and similar enactments. William Tecumseh Sherman calculated the effect of reverting to a revenue-only tariff, dubbed “free trade” by Morrill and other protectionists:

“Now, if the south have free trade, how can you collect revenues in the eastern cities? Freight from New Orleans to St. Louis, Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati, and even Pittsburg, would be about the same as by rail from New York, and importers at New Orleans, having no duties to pay, would undersell the east if they had to pay duties.”

This was what the Civil War was about–customs revenue and crony tariff protection.

Meekly disarmed colonial Brazilians had no such possibility, and imperial slavery continued there until after Cleveland’s first term–yet rabble of the looter persuasion do not order their statues torn down or accuse modern Brazilians of racial collectivism. Americana, the Confederate town founded by disaffected Johnny Rebs, holds charming square dances in gray regalia with nary a protest from unreconstructed brown audience members and participants. ALL of them are fed up with carpetbagger looter politicians and their damned taxes!  These politicians and their judges keep the Libertarian Party from forming, so locals–forced at gunpoint to vote–cast enough blank ballots to potentially elect libertarian mayors in many major cities.

If you want Brazilian or American audiences to understand your theory on the roots of war or what causes economic depressions, you might consider hiring a degreed and accredited translator and interpreter.

7 thoughts on “The Civil War tariff revolt

  1. Pingback: Do tariffs wreck economies? | libertariantranslator

  2. Hank,

    As you suggested, I’m continuing the discussion on the origins of the Civil War on the website.

    I guess the first thing to distinguish is the secession from the actual Civil War. Once the southern states began seceding, war was not guaranteed. Even if the issue for the Deep State of the time was gaining enough revenues to fund the industrial magnates of the North, well represented by Lincoln prior to his presidency, passing legislation and mobilizing the citizens of the North to support a shooting army and armed invasion of the south were two different things.

    Your article itself stated the Morrill Act was not enforced until secession actually began; in other words, chances are tariffs would have remained more or less reasonable if the southern states had stayed in the Congress to bug and bugger the northern representatives. Given the southern veto over enforcement of the Morrill Act, it is reasonable to say it was not tariffs, per se, that caused secession.

    Similarly, the concept of sanctuary cities with respect to the Fugitive Slave Act cannot be said to have caused secession, as secession most assuredly would result in dramatically less return of fugitive slaves. If the south seceded, the fugitive slaves would not be from a state, and the northern cities would be under no legal obligation to return them, even given the Fugitive Slave Act. Therefore, the propensity of Northern cities to shelter slaves also was logically not a reason for secession.

    I think it could be argued that the South saw itself as a different culture from the North, not radically different, but substantially different, and that the south saw a more-or-less permanent conflict with the north over not only the exploitation of tariffs, but the question of slavery and general culture. So the southern states seceded, with a view to existing within a more homogeneous country than they could have in the continental United States. It’s noteworthy that the Confederate Constitution mirrored much or most of the US Constitution, showing that the fundamental values of the two sections were very similar.

    But, given the secession, war was not inevitable, even if there was a Northern “War Party” at the time, equivalent to the Deep State war party of today. As with today, incidents had to be ginned up to mobilize a population that would rather not carry out an armed invasion of a sovereign country for not benefit to themselves.

    Unfortunately, Jefferson Davis played right into the hands of the war party. He made exactly the same mistake made by Japan of 1941, Finland of 1939, and Germany of 1941: figuring they could knock out a vastly superior country in terms of industrial capacity and population by a lightning strike, demoralize the larger country, and achieve their objective. Instead, the idiocy of Fort Sumter gave Lincoln the opportunity to mobilize the North into supporting a war to the finish against the Confederacy.

    In fact, a member of Davis’ cabinet, Robert Toombs, warned Davis to his face that invading Fort Sumter would destroy the Confederacy.

    So, I would hold that the conditions causing secession were not necessarily the same as those actually generating hostilities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here is an excerpt from my translation of a 1924 book on Portugal’s enforcement of the Mercantilist monopoly over its Brazilian colony. This control is analogous to that exercised by the Northern States in the Customs Union over those in the South:
      Padre Raphael Galanti made the following comments on the directive shutting down the textile mills: “In addition, the Metropolis had been planning to export all types of manufactured goods to Minas.

      “Here is what Governor D. Antonio de Noronha wrote at the time, as we find it in the Rev. do Instituto Hist. Bras., of 1844, p. 19: “I recall Your Excellency’s speaking to me about the mills established in this capitania (Minas Gerais), and which I found in such state of development as, were they to continue at that pace, the inhabitants of the capitania would soon no longer be dependent on those of this Kingdom, due to the diversity of goods already being produced in their factories; and I now place before Your Excellency the expedient I have adopted on this important subject.”

      “The expedient consisted of a letter addressed to one of the ministers directing him to put a stop to the abovementioned factories.” R. Galanti, Historia do Brasil, Vol. III, 2nd ed., São Paulo, 1911, p. 408.

      Martins Junior also commented on the directive as follows: “The Portuguese Palace cared little about the population’s vexation and the cutting off of their industrial energies.

      “Compelling additional proof of the Metropolis’ meanness of spirit can be found in the Directive dated January 5th, 1785, doing away with all milling and manufacture of gold, silver, cotton, linen and wool throughout the whole of Brazil.
      (Compare this with Tecumseh Sherman’s comment on the danger of a low Southern tariff to northern manufactures…)


      • That’s a very interesting piece of information. The colonial, and not incidentally, distant government with almost no representation from the colonies in the political composition of the government, consciously worked to suppress local industries from developing on the grounds that the development of such industries would affect the revenue stream to the mother country.

        Now, consider an obverse situation. A local government places tariffs on goods to give local industries the opportunity to develop, even though on a piece-by-piece basis, they may not be able to compete with foreign countries due to cheaper labor, or possibly even a more intelligent population.

        In concrete terms, should the US open itself up completely to foreign competition, and thereby offload much of its steel-making, manufacturing and electronics to China?

        Just as a bit of resource, the analogous situation occurred in imperial Rome, as described in Law of Civilization and Decay . What happened was that the development of safe and effective trade routes by the Roman government and empire allowed a heavy flow of grains and materials to Rome, driving down the price of agricultural materials and throwing almost the entire class of small Roman farmers into poverty, dislocation, and Serfdom. There was a complex interaction with the Roman moneylenders and nobles, who sponsored draconian laws with respect to debt default, but the result was the dramatic depopulation of the Roman territory.

        And, if you go by the book, this is not an isolated case. The point of the book was that the success of various civilizations contains the seed of its own destruction.

        So, with this in mind, one gains a sympathy to the protective tariffs sponsored by populists like Trump, in spite of the obvious potential for abuse by rent-seekers.


    • New info: The Opium War buildup beginning in 1837 sucked British capital out of These States, bringing a recession. Another wave of such violence coincided with the elections that condemned Lincoln to the White House and sapped revenues. I recommend Stephen R. Platt books on the Opium Wars and Twilight of Empire for material that recently was nigh impossible to find.


  3. What I advocate (until sth better comes along) is a revenue-only tariff, like Antebellum Dems. Already foreigners have to ship the stuff over, which typically costs 10%, and another 10% tariff to pay Navy and Coast Guard to sift it for biological or other weapons seems cheap to me and unintentionally protects native trade. The purpose of the tariff is to fund a government that enforces rights, not to subsidize lazy or inefficient businesses. Plus I much prefer the tariff to the Communist Manifesto income tax, capitation explicitly outlawed before Populists spoilered in the 16th Amendment alongside Prohibition.


  4. Pingback: Brazilian illiteracy and prohibition | libertariantranslator

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