Tariffs Did Not Cause the Civil War

Historians, politicians, and neo-secessionists who argue that the Civil War… was caused by the Federal government’s manipulation of tariffs are at best terribly deluded, at worst, they are scurrilous ideologues with a shameful political agenda.


A brief history lesson for Tom DiLorenzo, Governor Greg Abbott, President Donald Trump, the Freedom Caucus, Ron and Rand Paul,  and any other woefully misguided students of history:

  • Article 1, Section 8  of the Federal Constitution- The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States………   Really, this should explain it, but secessionists were never concerned with Constitutional restraint.
  • The first tariff in our history was signed into law by George Washington on July 4, 1789.
  • The Walker Tariff of 1845 slashed duties in place since the Whig’s controlled Congress- A southern coalition pushed for the reduction
  • Tariffs were reduced again in 1852 and 1857.  The 1857 tariff was only 18%- the lowest since the 18th century.
  • The Morrill Tariff of 1861 was not passed until Southerners had already resigned from Congress.  During the secession crisis, Southern Senators had blocked the increase.  When in place, it raised the duty from 18-36%.


The Civil War was caused by slavery-  not tariffs

5 thoughts on “Tariffs Did Not Cause the Civil War

  1. Whereas slavery was the biggest issue, it wasn’t the only issue that caused the civil war. It really came down to a power struggle. When Andrew Jackson formed the Democratic party, he formed it as a pro-slavery, anti-Indian party. This allowed him to capture the south and what was then the west, today’s Midwest. Once the Indians were removed from the Midwest, they were no longer an issue and the Midwest started to have more in common with the Mid-Atlantic/New England states. The Democrats, and the South by extension, generally held power over the Federal government from 1828 until the election of 1860. In that election the South was shown that it no longer had power on the national stage, so it wanted to leave the Union. The biggest reason was fear of losing slavery, but money and power were also big reasons. The south was opposed to the things that the Republican favored beyond just slavery.

    The South wanted lower tariffs, the Republicans favored a protective tariff.
    The South wanted public lands sold, the Republicans wanted to give them away.
    The South was against internal improvement, the Republicans were for them.

    Many of the things the Republicans wanted came directly from the Whig party, as many Republicans were former Whigs.

    Both sides of the argument are in fact wrong. The “Lost Cause” side is wrong because they deny that Slavery was a major cause of the Civil War, but their opponents are wrong, as the say that Slavery was the only cause, the truth, in fact, is in the middle.


      1. The South seceded because of what they feared that the North and Republicans would do. Lincoln had not even became President yet when states started to secede. To say tariffs weren’t a consideration because they were low in the 1850s and weren’t raised until after states left the Union doesn’t mean that they weren’t a reason for secession. Remember that slavery was legal in the 1850s and it’s status wasn’t changed until after states left the Union.


      2. I’m not arguing that the Constitution doesn’t allow the government to levy tariffs, my point is that the South wanted low tariffs. They weren’t in favor of protective tariffs, because they didn’t have much industry to protect, they were better served by low tariffs. So yes, the government had the power to raise tariffs, but the South wanted them low. I’m not saying that they broke on Constitutional grounds. It should be noted, at the time, that the federal government didn’t have the power to abolish slavery.

        Once again several factors caused the civil war:

        1) SLAVERY – The South feared that the North would eventually gain enough power that they could outlaw slavery
        2) POWER – The election of Lincoln showed that the South no longer held power on the national stage, so they wanted out.
        3) TARIFFS – The South wanted lower tariffs, they had little industry to protect and would benefit from lower priced imports.
        4) GOVERNMENT LANDS – The South wanted to sell government lands for two reasons. The money from the sale of government lands could replace, at least partially, tariffs. Second, if there were free land in the West, it would devalue land in the South. The two biggest drivers of wealth in the South were their land holdings and their slaves
        5) INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS – The South didn’t want them because they would cost money, making higher tariffs necessary, and they would make it easier for runaway slaves to travel north.


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