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In the years 1861 to 1865, the United States fought a great civil war. Southern states seceded from the Union and northern states brought them back by military force. More than half a million men died of disease, bullets and bayonets. More were wounded and crippled. It was America's bloodiest war.
American academic historians have with near unanimity cited slavery as the cause of the war. The controversy over slavery was the most prominent feature of the country's politics in the years prior to the war. Politicians used the slavery issue in their acrimonious sectional debates. Northern states were generally free of slavery by 1861, but the southern states still used Negro slave labor in their agricultural workforce. Slavery was an obvious difference between the geographic sections.
Academic historians are uncertain exactly how slavery is supposed to have caused the war, but its prominence in politics led them to believe it must somehow have been the cause, especially when they could not see any other explanation.
The historians' view of the cause of the war has become deeply ingrained in American culture. We regard southern slave owners with extreme distaste, as frivolous idlers, sinfully profiting from the labor of whipped slaves. Americans believe the South seceded from the Union to preserve its sinful institution. Anyone expressing a contrary view is regarded as an apologist for sin, a "neo-Confederate," and a person to be shunned in respectable society.
Abraham Lincoln, the Republican president who "saved the Union" by military force and freed the slaves, however, is the most respected president in the minds of modern Americans.
The reality, however, is vastly different from the modern perception. It has been shrouded from view by a veil of myth and ignorance.
The institution of slavery was not the cause of the war. The tariff, a tax on imported goods, was the sole cause of the war. Northern manufacturers, who had gained political control in northern states, wanted the government to lay heavy taxes on foreign commerce to "protect" their domestic business. The South, however, was dependent on foreign commerce for its prosperity and wanted low tariffs. Political and business leaders on both sides realized that further argument was useless, that the tariff rate depended on the balance of power in Congress between the northern and southern states.
There is abundant and accessible evidence that the war was a struggle to control the tariff, but that evidence is strangely absent from the history books.
Here, the reader will find convenient access to key documents and the analytical tools necessary to understand the economic mechanism that led to war. The reader will learn who were the actors in the controversy, their individual economic motives and their political schemes.
The slavery controversy that so roiled Congress in the years prior to the war did not arise from gentle humanitarian concern of northerners for the welfare of southern Negro slaves. It arose solely as a shrewd scheme by tariff advocates to shift the balance of power in Congress (a) by restricting the westward migration of slave labor and (b) preserving slavery where it already existed.
In the early years of the country, Negro slavery was not regarded by the general public with the same degree of abhorrence as in modern times. Frustrated tariff men, however, realized that by demonizing slavery in the public eye, they might obtain legislation prohibiting slavery in the new territories in the west. Southern planters with their slave labor force would not go there. The balance of political power in the state would more likely be aligned with northern interests.
Actually freeing existing southern slaves would give the South more political power because freedmen would now be counted as five-fifths of a man for the purpose of apportioning Congressional representation. That, many northern manufacturers did not want. Those with financial interests in the competing fibers of wool and silk, however, would have had mixed emotions. They likely regarded with malicious satisfaction the prospect of disabling their economic competition by emancipation of their slave labor force.
The anti-slavery agitation was entirely a secret conspiracy to publicly agitate against slavery to gain the balance of power in Congress. There is very good evidence of it.
Free markets and individual economic freedom allow efficient development and robust growth of the economy. Departures from the free market come only with heavy costs. The Civil War is a prime example of the pernicious effects of government intervention in commerce by means of heavy taxation.
American academic historians, however, by misdirecting attention to slavery as the purported cause of the war, have deprived Americans of their most valuable lesson in the tragic costs of large government and heavy taxation. It is a massive and costly failure. The U.S. Civil War, moreover, is only a small part of a much larger mass of similar effects.
Why have academic historians so grievously failed to understand the cause of the war? It is a puzzling question. The answer has several parts. Because the most serious economic effects occur by an indirect mode of action, the cause is not immediately obvious to the casual observer. Republican pro-tariff propaganda deliberately obscured the cause. They didn't see it in their financial interest to believe the tariff was harmful to anyone. Historians have not availed themselves of the mathematical tools to discern the economic cause. Finally, academic historians get their pay in several ways by means of government. It is not in their financial interest to discover a mechanism that would alert the public to the pernicious costs of the taxation that ultimately provides their daily bread.
What should be done? Several things. First, citizens should should, with a close skeptical eye, familiarize themselves with the basic documents relating to the cause of the U. S. Civil War and thoroughly satisfy themselves that the cause was taxation and nothing else.
Citizens should become thoroughly aware of the importance of economic freedom to a prosperous economy. They should understand how steeply the curve of prosperity goes down with increasing tax rates and government intervention. They should understand how steeply up the curve of prosperity goes with decreasing taxation. They should contemplate the immense prosperity that must follow a substantial reduction in the tax rate and in government spending. How to get there from where we are now, however, is not a trivial problem.
People should study the several important lessons in tax effects that arise from a study of U. S. Civil War history.
At a minimum, responsible individuals should insist that American historians (1) immediately stop indoctrinating their students in the false history that the Civil War was fought to stop or limit southern racist oppression of Negroes and (2) direct their students to the original documents that reveal the actual cause of the war and the very real economic oppression of Negroes as well as southern whites.