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The Economic Causes Of The War

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PostPosted:     Post subject: The Economic Causes Of The War Reply with quote

Matthew Josephson, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938

Chapter 1, The Triumph of the Directory

“The Civil War was of course no pure and simple struggle over slavery or States’ Rights. The preponderance of wealth lay in the manufacturing rather than in agriculture after 1850. Practically all of the iron and textile manufacturing trade was in the control of the Northern bourgeoisie by 1860; over two-thirds of the banking capital, the greatest portion of the foreign shipping, more than three-quarters of the white population, mechanics and free farmers, were on the Northern side.

When the (South) burst into insurrection, foreseeing the fatal turn of events, the Northern capitalist States moved to crush their rebellion. But also, once engaged in the conflict, the progressive bourgeoisie of the North sought not only to destroy the enemy but to complete their own revolution---the swift completion of the bourgeois revolution which had been begun in the eighteenth century. The Northern Whigs who for a generation under Webster and Clay---indifferent to the small cry of the Abolitionists---had shown an overweening appetite for measures encouraging business, for a national banking system, for internal improvements of rivers and harbors and a protective tariff, for Pacific Railway subsidies and free homesteads---all the things that Southern political power had barred---were led at last to join…in the struggle for “union and liberty.”

But masses of people, free farmers and laborers, may not easily be led into bloody battle to endure hunger, torture, weariness, and death for a new banking act, or a 47 percent ad valorem tariff upon imports. It was in the name of patriotism, freedom and equal rights for all men, and free soil---doctrines proclaimed sincerely no doubt by the more radical middle class ideologues---that the liberty-loving Northern masses were stirred to action.

“To hundreds of thousands of voters who took part in that memorable contest,” (of 1860) and cast their ballots for Mr. Lincoln, as Blaine recalls, “the tariff was not even mentioned.” Instead they were exhorted to aid free territory and resist the aggressions of the proslavery leaders of the South. But in the October elections in Pennsylvania, on whose outcome the whole national contest depended, the tariff was the real issue and had “a controlling influence not only in deciding the contest for political supremacy, but in that more momentous struggle which was to involve the fate of the Union.

Here, in accents which he made no effort to suppress, Curtin, the Republican candidate for the Governorship and the frank spokesman of the iron trade, asserted that Pennsylvania’s sons were “pining for protection to their labor and their dearest interests.”

Indeed, human liberty and the subvention of the iron trade became inextricably intertwined in his soul, so that he cried at once, “If you desire to become vast and great, protect the manufactures of Philadelphia…All hail liberty! All hail freedom!

(The) war party, as it sat in Congress sternly voting day by day measures supporting full military action toward crushing opposition, almost unchallenged, enacted a series of sweeping laws which entrenched in power the new dominant class and encompassed the ruin of the old regime as surely as had the laws of the revolutionary French Convention in 1789-93. Noteworthy was the drastic Morrill Tariff Act…the new national banking act of 1863 and the subsequent law of 1865, striking down State banks, were also the realization of a purpose pursued since Jackson had destroyed the United States Bank in 1836; they enriched enormously the financial and fund-owning class. Likewise, the historic Homestead Act of 1862 threw open to settlement and exploitation by free capitalists and farmers the vast public domain of cheap land…which the (South) had resisted tenaciously….Significant also, and passed as a military measure was the Pacific Railway Act, the first large-scale subsidy to railroad enterprise long championed by the Northern Whigs.

A minority party in 1860 and victor in a three-cornered electoral contest, it knew during the war the intoxication of unchallenged power and fortune beyond calculation. Its formidable adversaries had deserted enmasse, leaving it in command of all the offices of the federal government!

It had the management of the gigantic war finances, through which it attached to itself the interests…of the great capitalists and bankers throughout the North. It raised revenues by a high tariff which placed thousands of manufacturers under debt to it and linked their fortunes also with its fate…Railway financiers and promoters of all kinds had to turn to it for privileges and protection. Finally, millions of farmers of the West owed their homes to its generous policy of giving away public lands. Never had a party had its foundations on interests ramifying throughout such a large portion of society.”
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