Reminding Confederate Revisionists about the facts of the civil war part 2

Fact 2# Tariffs had little to do with Confederate secession

This is a common misconception about the civil war. This is not to say that tariffs and taxes were not cited as a grievance at all, infact taxes were mentioned on occasion as one of reasons by secessionists. It was mentioned once in the South Carolina declaration of immediate causes, but there is very little evidence to demonstrate that it caused the civil war. The argument is, secession at core was motivated by the tariff issue, and these is very little evidence to support this. It is understandable why some would like to make the tariff issue the main cause for secession. One obvious reason is that it is viewed as a noble reason to secede given it’s about taxes. It appeals to a conservative audience, the main political position of political revisionists. Another obvious reason is that it takes away the (often awkward) requirement of civil war revisionists to defend the institution of slavery in the south. Regardless. there is very little evidence to point to the tariff matter as being the straw that broke the camels back.

Linking the 1828 Nullification Crises to the civil war

Where do we start? Well we can start with the Tariff of 1828 which involved a protective tariff passed by the United States congress. This protective tariff, while it benefitted many Northern states, cost many of the Southern states whom had relied heavily on the importation and international trade of their industries. The Tariff of 1828 lead to a number of objections by southern delegates and the eventual nullification crises that lead to one of those States, South Carolina, threatening to seceed. The thing is that the nullification crises actually ended in 1833 after negotiations were made to modify the tariff law to the satisfaction of South Carolinian representitives.

The nullification crises did not happen during the civil war, the events of the nullification crises occured close to 30 years prior to the events of the civil war and were resolved well before those events.

Fort Sumter was not a tariff collections port

(Courtesy of a post from the Civil war forums)

There is a historical myth circulating on the internet that Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was a “tax collection fort” and thus the first shots of the Civil War fired in April 1861 were somehow connected to the newly enacted Morrill Tariff.

First of all, Fort Sumter had nothing to do with “tax collection.” The fort had been constructed for coastal defense following the War of 1812, a conflict which saw the city of Washington burned and Baltimore shelled by a British fleet.

And the conflict over Fort Sumter which culminated in April 1861 actually began the previous December, months before the Morrill Tariff became law.

The commander of the federal garrison in Charleston, feeling threatened by the secessionist fever overtaking the city, moved his troops to Fort Sumter on the day after Christmas 1860. Up to that point the fort was essentially deserted. It was certainly not a “tax collection fort.”

The Morrill Tariff

Civil war revisionists often point to the Morrill Tariff as evidence that the tariff issue was the core cause for secession. What was the Morrill Tariff? The Morrill Tariff was a law adopted on March 2nd 1961 which increased the tariff in the United States. The issue with pointing to the Morrill Tariff as the cause for Confederate secession is obvious. The Morrill Act was passed on March 2nd 1861, nearly 4 months following secession of the first states. Ironically the only reason it managed to pass was because of the absence of Southern Democratic representitives in congress at the time due to, wait for it, secession.

You will find that revisionist will often point to the Morrill Tariff having passed congress in 1859 as evidence that the tariff issue sparked secession in the following year, 1860. The problem with this is that the bill that passed congress in 1859, which was eventually vetoed by the then Democratic president James Buchanan, had nothing to do with the tariff. The Morrill Act was a bill related to the funding of colleges:

Morrill decided to introduce a bill on his and Turner’s idea. The bill passed Congress, but President Buchanan vetoed the bill on February 26, 1859. Buchanan said that the colleges would be unsuccessful and that agriculture and mechanics were not college degree fields. Although disappointed, Morrill did not stop. He changed the bill only slightly and presented it to Congress for a second time. Finally, on July 2, 1862, President Lincoln, who had been influenced by Turner while still in Springfield, signed the legislation. It declared that states would receive special land paid for by the federal government to construct a state college. This college was mainly to teach agriculture and mechanics. As the years went by many colleges went on to develop many other fields, which in the long run have helped our country grow and prosper (4).

So you see, the Morril Tariff on 1862 had nothing to do with the Morrill act of 1859 which was vetoed anyway by president Buchanan.

So no, there is very little evidence which supports the argument the Morril Tariff caused secession.

Tariffs were at their lowest levels prior to Confederate secession

The final nail to this myth and that’s the Tariff rate leading up to the civil war. Tariffs were at their lowest rates in decades leading up to the civil and this was thanks to the Tariff Act of 1857:

The Tariff of 1857 was a major tax reduction in the United States. It created a mid-century low point for tariffs. It amended the Walker Tariff of 1846 by lowering tax rates around 17 percent (5).

Fact 3# Anthony Johnson, a black man, was not responsible for bringing about the institution of slavery to America.

This is a relatively new argument brought up by revisionists in regards to slavery. The argument goes that the first person to legally own slaves was a black man by the name of Anthony Johnson in the 17th century. There are a number of reasons why revisionists will argue this in a debate surrounding the civil war. Part of the motivation is to show that slavery wasn’t necessarily rooted in racism as ‘the blacks’ did it too. Another motivation for bringing this up is to put blame on ‘the blacks’ ath the time for causing slavery itself. It’s obviously meant to derail any argument that slavery itself was the main motivation for the secession of the Confederacy. As with many arguments from revisionists, it holds little water.

Who was Anthony Johnson? Anthony Johnson was an african, an Angolan to be exact, held as an indentured servant in the colony of Virginia in 1621. He achieved freedom after 7 years of fulfilling his contract and was legally recognized as a ‘free negro where he went on to run a successful farm. Anthony Johnson himself purchased another black indentured servant from another owner but there was a dispute in regards to whether he legally owned that person and this lead to the Casor suit:

Johnson ultimately won the case, and not only did he get his servant back, but Casor became Johnson’s slave for life as Johnson had said he was. This officially made Johnson the first legal slave owner in the colonies that would eventually become the United States. (There were other slaves before this, just not ones that were legal in the British colonies under common law) (6).

This lawsuit happened in 1654 and while it was a significant point in history for the institution of slavery in America, it didn’t bring about legalization of the institution. Slavery was already legally recognized in the colonies prior to this lawsuit:

In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to legally recognize slavery. Other states, such as Virginia, followed. In 1662, Virginia decided all children born in the colony to a slave mother would be enslaved. Slavery was not only a life-long condition; now it could be passed, like skin color, from generation to generation(7).

There is uncertainty as to when the first slaves exactly arrived on American soil. However there is plenty of evidence pointing to legal slave ownership well before the Casor suit in Virginia:

Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in New England, though the exact beginning of black slavery in what became Massachusetts cannot be dated exactly. Slavery there is said to have predated the settlement of Massachusetts Bay colony in 1629, and circumstantial evidence gives a date of 1624-1629 for the first slaves. “Samuel Maverick, apparently New England’s first slaveholder, arrived in Massachusetts in 1624[/quote] (8).

So no, Anthony Johnson did not bring about legalized slavery in the United States. It’s also highly questionable to argue he was the first legal slave holder in the United States as well considering there were other accounts of legal slave ownership that predates the Casor case. Namely Samuel Maverick, a colonist, whom purchased black slaves in 1638 in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize it 3 years after.

References

(1) http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~ras2777/amgov/davis2.html
(2) http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/jdmess.html
(3) http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june11/civilwar_04-12.html
(4) http://www.lib.niu.edu/2001/ihy010240.html
(5) http://www.monacorarecoins.com/rare-coin-articles/panic-of-1857-tariff-act-of-1857/
(6) http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/08/the-first-legal-slave-owner-in-what-would-become-the-united-states-was-a-black-man/
(7) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1narr3.html
(8) http://slavenorth.com/massachusetts.htm

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