It was called “The Morrill Tariff.” It was adopted by the Northern dominated Congress in 1861 and signed by President James Buchanan. It imposed a tax of up to 45 percent on British goods shipped into the United States, and it was that final straw that drove the Southern States to rebellion. The Northern industrialists wanted the tax for two reasons. The tax would overcome the trade advantage the British had in the South, and it would help finance an intercontinental railroad that the Northeastern robber barons desperately wanted. They wanted that railroad, but they did not want to pay for it.

You see, the South was purely agricultural. We had no manufacturing of our own. We sold our farm produce, then purchased the manufactured goods we needed. So our cotton, tobacco, hemp fiber, timber, salt pork and other basic goods were used to obtain furniture, women’s Sunday dresses, China ware, wagon wheels and buggy whips. The British paid better prices for our goods and in turn shipped back superior goods at lower prices. Rather than improve their products and pay for our goods, the Northern industrialists depended on the tariff to force the South to do business on their terms.

This was their second attempt at a punishing tariff. Former Vice President John C. Calhoun had blocked the first attempt, and after his death in March of 1850, they pushed it through again.

South Carolina believed that the tax was a violation of the Constitution, so they voted “articles of nullification” holding that the tax was illegal and they did not have to pay it. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against them and the tax was imposed. South Carolina then took a paragraph from the Declaration of Independence that expresses the right of a people to throw off an oppressive government and establish a new government more to their liking. Using that argument, they issued articles of secession. Six other Southern states also heavily impacted by the tax joined them.

When President Lincoln demanded troops and equipment from the remaining states to force the Confederacy back into the union, the other Southern states refused. Most of them then joined the Confederacy.

The Confederacy did not want a war. They simply wanted to be left alone. But when the Union invaded the Confederacy, they fought back as strongly as they could. They came close. If Sherman had been turned back in the Battle for Atlanta, Lincoln would have lost the next election and a negotiated settlement would have ended the conflict.

Now, lets clear up a couple of things. It was not a civil war. A civil war is a conflict between two factions of a nation over control of the nation. The Confederacy had no desire to control the union. Even the north refereed to it as a war of rebellion. Slavery was not the primary cause of the conflict. Slavery was a bad thing and it was used effectively against the Confederacy. But it was not what we fought about.

Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is His website can be accessed at

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