Skip to comments.The Truth About Tariffs (James McPherson on civil war tariffs)
Posted on 01/31/2004 11:18:21 AM PST by GOPcapitalist
DILORENZO IS ESSENTIALLY CORRECT that the tariff supplied ninety percent of federal revenue before the Civil War. For the thirty years from 1831 to 1860 it was eighty-four percent, but for the 1850s as a decade it was indeed ninety percent.
But the idea that the South paid about seventy-five percent of tariff revenues is totally absurd. DiLorenzo bases this on pages 26-27 of Charles Adams, When in the Course of Human Events, but Adams comes up with these figures out of thin air, and worse, appears to be measuring the South's share of exports, and then transposing that percentage to their share of dutiable imports. Exports, of course, are not subject to taxation and never have been, because such taxes are prohibited by Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution -- which Adams appears not to know. In any case, Adams claims that about eighty-two percent of exports from the U.S. were furnished by the South -- he cites no source for this, and it is in fact wrong -- the true figure was about sixty percent on the average, most of that cotton -- and then by a slight of hand claims that this proves the South paid a similarly disproportionate share of tariffs. But of course the tariffs were only on imports.
The idea that the South would pay a disproportionate share of import duties defies common sense as well as facts. The majority of imports from abroad entered ports in the Northeastern US, principally New York City. The importers paid duties at the customs houses in those cities. The free states had sixty-two percent of the US population in the 1850s and seventy-two percent of the free population. The standard of living was higher in the free states and the people of those states consumed more than their proportionate share of dutiable products, so a high proportion of tariff revenue (on both consumer and capital goods) was paid ultimately by the people of those states -- a fair guess would be that the North paid about seventy percent of tariff duties. There is no way to measure this precisely, for once the duties were paid no statis tics were kept on the final destination of dutiable products. But consider a few examples. There was a tariff on sugar, which benefited only sugar planters in Louisiana, but seventy percent of the sugar was consumed in the free states. There was a tariff on hemp, which benefited only the growers in Kentucky and Missouri, but the shipbuilding industry was almost entirely in the North, so Northern users of hemp paid a disproportionate amount of that tariff. There were duties on both raw wool and finished wool cloth, which of course benefited sheep farmers who were mostly in the North and woolen textile manufacturers who were almost entirely in the North, but it was Northern consumers who ultimately paid probably eighty percent of that tariff (woolen clothes were worn more in the North than the South, for obvious rea sons). Or take the tariff on iron -- it benefited mainly Northern manufacturers (though there was an iron indus try in the South as well), but sixty-five percent of the railroad mileage and seventy-five percent of the railroad rolling stock were in the North, which meant that Northern railroads (and their customers, indirectly) paid those proportions of the duties on iron for their rails, locomotives, and wheels. One can come up with many more examples.
SOURCE: North & South, January 2004, Vol. 7, Number 1, page 52
For fun I'll get us started:
McPherson kicks off his article with the allegation that Charles Adams' statistics on pp. 26-27 of his book are fabricated and unsourced. I just pulled out my copy of Adams' book "When in the Course of Human Events" and opened to the pages in question. Contrary to McPherson's assertion, the paragraph where Adams' statistics are stated is very clearly sourced as Endnote #14 in Chapter 2. I flipped to the back of the book where the endnotes are given and sure enough there is a source:
Jabez L.M. Curry, "The Perils and Duty of the South" Nov. 26, 1860.
Recipient: The Wlat Brigade
Reason: To see the communist historian James McPherson make an idiot of himself once again.
Exactly where were these "free states"? (/sarcasm)
Jabez L.M. Curry, "The Perils and Duty of the South" Nov. 26, 1860.
If you've been around here for a while, you will know that I have expressed exasperation about the history of the WBTS that I learned in school. I think there is a lot to be said for the South's position on secession, and little good to be said about Abraham Lincoln.
BUT ... I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss a man or McPherson's credentials on a subject such as this. Maybe it was a bit much to say Adams made something up out of thin air (though I'm still looking for any reason he might have believed that Lincoln ordered the arrest of Taney) but merely being able to cite someone who has misstated facts in the past does not necessarily represent good scholarship.
This is just another case in a long pattern of similar behavior by McPherson. As a case in point, I've posted many rebuttals of his historically shoddy articles on FR and other forums before. I've also assembled a large ammount of evidence that McPherson writes from the far left wing of the political spectrum and actively associates with a communist political party (if you desire to see either of these items freepmail me and I'll send you a copy or a link).
Maybe it was a bit much to say Adams made something up out of thin air
By all professional standards it was. To look at a properly footnoted page with a fully disclosed source and then state that no source is given is a lie. To follow that lie up with a subsequent unsourced counter claim of your own is to engage in hypocrisy. McPherson did both in that article.
(though I'm still looking for any reason he might have believed that Lincoln ordered the arrest of Taney)
Adams recently wrote a piece on this detailing his sources. The first and most direct is a record written by Ward Hill Lamon, who states himself as a party to executing arrest warrant (he was the federal marshall for D.C.) on Taney. Lamon was also one of Lincoln's closest personal friends and essentially followed the president around Washington as a personal bodyguard. Lamon, along with Lincoln's law partner William Herndon and longtime friend Joshua Speed, probably new and witnessed Lincoln's day-to-day life better than any other man who ever knew him so there is no reason to doubt that Lamon, if he was telling the truth, would have been privy to that sort of information.
Second, Adams cites two contemporary 1860's sources who recorded their personal conversations with Taney himself in which it was divulged that the Chief Justice had some sort of knowledge pertaining to an arrest plot against him. Though not explicit, they corroborate each other and both come in a time period that lends credibility to Lamon's account.
I will readily concede that the verdict is still out on the Taney arrest story and hope that more material will surface to prove or disprove it. The Lamon document, for example, was only rediscovered a few years ago. The two Taney accounts, which appear in books by their authors that were published in the 1870's and 80's but are obscure today, were only brought to public attention a few months ago.
Second, Adams cites two contemporary 1860's sources who recorded their personal conversations with Taney himself in which it was divulged that the Chief Justice had some sort of knowledge pertaining to an arrest plot against him. Though not explicit, they corroborate each other and both come in a time period that lends credibility to Lamon's account. Thanks for your reply.
It would have been much nicer if Adams had put all this stuff in his book, but he didn't (or so it is my recollection). We, who present an alternate history, are never allowed to be wrong about anything whether it be in regard to Abraham Lincoln or Vincent Foster; and we can't be right either if we do not present an overwhelming barrage of facts.
I do think it's a bit Clintonian (or Lincolnesque) to think that a single cite to someone almost no one remembers can establish a fact. Academics like McPherson are quick to dismiss such sources and usually they are correct to do so.
My copy of it shows him citing the Lamon account in his book. The other two were not known at the time his book came out though. There is one error in his book's version of the Lamon account, though it is not at the fault of Adams. He also mentions a corroborating document to Lamon by Frances Lieber, which has since been found not to exist. The error originated a few years ago after the discovery of the Lamon document in which another author mistakenly identified the same document as being both by Lamon and by Lieber. Thus most works from roughly 1995 to roughly 2001 repeat the Lieber error. After roughly 2001 this error was discovered, so subsequent articles including Adams' have corrected for it.
I do think it's a bit Clintonian (or Lincolnesque) to think that a single cite to someone almost no one remembers can establish a fact.
Actually Lamon is generally well remembered as a historical figure, at least among Lincoln scholars. He is the main source for many commonly known events about Lincoln's life, such as how he got to Washington before the inauguration when the threat of a kidnapping or assassination was high. Lamon is also the source of the informationr regarding Lincoln's trip to Ford's Theater in which he was warned not to go due to the danger. Sometime in the 1880's or 90's some surviving members of the Lincoln administration, led by Sec. of Interior Usher, wrote Lamon on the issue of documenting his knowledge of Lincoln for history. They identified to him as the last living close personal friend of Lincoln who saw Lincoln day-to-day in action. I believe Herndon had recently died as had most of Lincoln's cabinet at the time. In response Lamon began assembling his letters and stories for a biography (he had gotten another individual to ghost-write a Lincoln biography for him in the 1870's but it was of generally poor quality and unrepresentative of what Lamon himself knew). What Lamon had completed of this project was edited and published posthumously around 1900 by his daughter and is generally considered among the 3-4 most reliable "insider" biographies of Lincoln's life. It's greatest shortcoming is the fact that it was never finished and is very incomplete, so many events and large segments of the timeline were never recorded in it.
There are some surviving customs house reciepts, but they are incomplete in one major way: they don't show the whole picture. Customs house reciepts only recorded the initial point of entry for goods and not the subsequent inland and coastal shipping of them. To draw conclusions upon them would be something akin to getting the partial shipment records of the goods that went through the massive Wal-Mart distribution facility in Arkansas while lacking any records of what stores they shipped out to next. So yes - McPherson is short of facts and supplants them by appealing to "common sense" and that "common sense" is anything but for anybody who understands the economics of international trade.
The problem is that where a tarrif is collected has nothing to do with either who bears the cost of the tarrif or who benefits. Whether you agree with DiLorenzo's take on Lincoln and the relative role of tarrifs vs slavery or not, he is an economist who has dealt with this issue of tarrifs in the antibellum US in some detail and has demonstrated that the South paid a substantially disproportianate share of the tarrif while the North reaped a substantially disproportionate share of government spending from the tarrif income. (Note to MacPherson - this is called a wealth transfer and can sometimes explain part of the reason why some parts of a society seem to have a higher standard of living than others)
Looks like a good topic !
Dr. RDF, do you think Dr. Quackenbush would like a piece of this?
I missed this, probably because it occurs several paragraphs after the initial statement of fact. I saw that Adam actually cited Hyman (A More Perfect Union). So I did a little looking into this book and found this on usenet:
If you read this newsgroup regularly, or read libertarian or neo-Confederate Web publications, you might have heard that Lincoln authorized or ordered the arrest of Chief Justice Roger Taney. The columnist Joseph Sobran has stated it as fact at least three times, and Jerome Tuccille, the guide for civil liberties on About.com, has also referred to it.I guess I wouldn't have put it in the book if I were Adams. There's enough damning stuff so there is no need to use such questionable material.
The story seems to stem from the following paragraph in Jeffrey Rogers Hummel's 1996 book _Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men_ (p. 154):
"_Ex parte Merryman_ appears in Civil War histories from many angles. . . But almost never brought up is Lincoln's warrant for the arrest of Chief Justice Taney. I have seen this mentioned in only two locations: Frederick S. Calhoun's official history, _The Lawmen: United States Marshals and Their Deputies_, rev. edn. (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), pp. 102-04; and Harold M. Hyman,_ A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution_ (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973), p. 84. Their sources are two independent manuscript collections, which lends credence to the claim's reliability, although I have personally examined neither collection."
Curious about this claim, I consulted both sources. Hyman states that "in an unpublished memorandum, Francis Lieber noted that Lincoln contemplated Taney's arrest, and issued Ward Hill Lamon, marshal for the District of Columbia, permission to arrest him"(p. 84). Calhoun goes into a bit more detail, recounting Lamon's exact claims that "after due consideration the administration determined upon the arrest of the Chief Justice" and that "It was finally determined to place the order of arrest in the hand of the United States Marshal for the District of Columbia"(Lamon himself was Marshal of D.C.). However, Lamon said, Lincoln had instructed his friend to "use his own discretion about making the arrest unless he should receive further orders(p. 103)". These further orders never came, and Lamon (obviously) did not arrest Taney.
This is an odd story. Lincoln referred to Lamon as "my particular friend" and clearly valued him as a companion. But there is no record, as far as I can tell, that Lincoln ever consulted Lamon on a decision of high political importance, much less that he entrusted Lamon with such a decision. Also, it was not clear if these were in fact two independent sources; Lieber could have been merely recounting Lamon's claims about such a warrant, rather than vouching for them independently. Still, Francis Lieber was a highly respected lawyer, the principal compiler of the US military code, and his assertion would carry some weight.
The manuscript sources listed are (by Hyman) "Lieber Papers no. 2422"; and (by Calhoun) "'Habeas Corpus', n.d., unpublished draft manuscript. Both are stored at the Huntington Library, in San Marino, California.
Although I would have liked to visit the Huntington (I drove past it on a recent trip to California; it is in a beautiful botanical garden), time and budgetary constraints were in the way. So I wrote a letter, reproducing the relevant quotations from all three books and asking if I might be able to hire someone there to look into the manuscript sources a bit.
I received a very interesting reply from John Rhodehamel, Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts. He had checked the records, and reported that there are not two sources, only one: Lamon. Hyman's reference to the Lieber papers was in error, apparently caused by a confusion of source numbers: Rhodehamel states that "the corresponding document in the Lieber coll., (LI 2422), is not relevant, nor does the Lieber coll. subject index for "Taney" yield anything related to Lamon's story." However, the manuscript "Habeas Corpus", referred to by Calhoun, is LN 2422. Therefore, Rhodehamel concludes: "I think it's clear that Hyman was really citing LN 2422 when he credited 'Lieber papers no. 2422'".
This leaves the whole matter resting on Lamon's manuscript. I ordered a photocopy of it from the Huntington.
I have now examined it, and it's even less convincing than I would have thought. The document takes up five handwritten pages; I'd estimate it's about 1800 words long. There is, as Calhoun notes, no date. The latest date in the document is in 1863, but (as pointed out in an accompanying note written by Don Fehrenbacher in 1976), the context indicates the document was composed well after the events referred to. Also, according to Fehrenbacher, the document is _not_ in Lamon's handwriting. This does not mean it is spurious (most authors or researchers in the 19th century had secretaries copying their drafts), but neither does it inspire confidence.
"Habeas Corpus" appears (to me) to be the beginning of a projected treatise on the Lincoln administration and the writ of habeas corpus. It begins with a list of the suspensions of the writ, and long quotations from relevant legal documents, especially Taney's opinion in the Merryman case (although Lamon, or perhaps his copyist, persistently spells it "Merriman"). After recounting Merryman's arrest, his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and that petition's acceptance by Taney, Lamon gives his version of the Lincoln administration's reaction (p.3):
"After due consideration the administration determined upon the arrest of the Chief Justice. A warrant or order was issued for his arrest." Lamon was given this document (whatever exactly it was) by Lincoln himself, but told to use his own judgement about actually making the arrest, unless Lincoln gave further instructions. Lamon goes on: "This writ was never executed, and the Marshal never regretted the discretionary power delegated to him in the exercise of this official duty."
Lamon says no more about the supposed arrest order. The "Habeas Corpus" document continues with more quotations from legal opinions and military orders, as well as from Democratic party resolutions opposing the Lincoln administration's policies. Then it ends suddenly, with no conclusion. There is nothing about what ended up happening to the original writ, warrant, or order.
After reading the full text, Lamon's story seems even odder than before.
A Federal law enforcement officer, handed a legal document authorizing the arrest of the Chief Justice, would be unlikely to refer to it as vaguely and variously as Lamon does. The issuance of such an arrest order would clearly be of major historic importance, and would tend to make relevant details stick in the mind. Details like whether it was a warrant, a writ, or an order; by whom and when it was issued; and who was present when the document was handed over. Lamon quotes multiple paragraphs from Taney's _Merryman_ opinion, a public document, but passes over the alleged warrant (or whatever it was), a historic matter of which he has sole knowledge, in only a couple of sentences.
After I informed Jeffrey Rogers Hummel of Rhodehamel's findings, Hummel emailed me stating that "If Ward Hill Lamon is the only source reporting that Lincoln isued an arrest warrant for Taney, then the report is certainly not credible." (He gave me permission to quote him publicly). Seeing the exact words of the report makes it even less credible.
I apologize for the brevity of my quotations from Lamon; I am seeking permission from the Huntington library to include some more extensive quotes from Lamon's manuscript, but I have not yet received it.
I am still researching a couple of aspects of this: I am looking for a sample of Lamon's handwriting so I can confirm "Habeas Corpus" was not handwritten by him, and I am looking for more biographical material on Lamon.
Also, if anyone else has come across the "Lincoln tried to arrest Taney" story in credible or quasi-credible publications or online sources, I would be interested in hearing about it.
Actually Lamon is generally well remembered as a historical figure ...
I agree. I was referring to Jabez L.M. Curry.
The subject is tariffs, the causes of the Civil War, and the historiographical stewardship of James McPherson.
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