Monday, November 21, 2005

Trade, Republicans, and The War For Southron Independence

A relevant question to ask might be... Was Henry Clay to blame for the whole war? Henry Clay? A kentuckian from decades earlier? How could that be?

Let me explain...

After the War of 1812 the United States economy wasn't in real good shape, and Clay devised a plan to restructure it. It was called the "American System" and strong tarriffs and export bounties were its cornerstones. This system was deeply injurous to the southern interests. While the states of the North were busily building their own little economic autarchy, the economy of the South was actually a global one, dependant on the international trade of raw material (cotton) for manufactured goods from Europe.

The imposition of protective tariffs artificially raised prices to the Southern consumer by up to 40% ad valorem and therefore decreased the value of cotton exported relative to goods produced for domestic consumption. Robert Barnwell Rhett, a longtime Senator from South Carolina, assembled statistics which showed that between 1791 and 1845, the Federal Government collected $927,050,097 in customs duties, of which $711,200,000 were collected in the Southern States, and just $215,850,097 in the more populous North. Moreover, of $102,000,000 expended upon "internal improvements" only $37,000,000 were devoted to projects south of the Mason-Dixon line. In short, the Southern States were disproportionately taxed by the "American System", yet, possessing few domestic manufacturing establishments, benefited little from the direct effect of the protective tariff, and received only a small share of the Federal windfall.

At best these tarriff laws were dubious. Consider.. the Constitution mandates the federal government act "for the general welfare" of the states. How then does one justify laws which so clearly benefit one region of the country, while sodomizing another?

By the mid 1800's things were getting bad. The federal government was raping the South with such efficiency that that the national debt had been irradicated by 1840.

The whole Tarriff crisis came to a head when Congress passed the "Tarriff on Abominations" which prompted South Carolina to pass the "Nullification of Ordinances" which basicly meant that the State of South Carolina would nullify any law it deemed unconstitutional. Anyone suprised that state fired the first shots?

South Carolina never actually nullified things. Its power play simply forced congress to back off its Tarrifs. This was all a source of serious regional discord in america until Polk was elected and put the US solidly on the path to free trade.

This is the back-drop, and the continued atmosphere of distrust that colored politics in the 1840s and 1850s. The South was continually pitted against the North on issues economic, and social.

As the Abolishonist movement gained strength... more and more the press blamed every violence on the "Slaveocracy" of the south. The unpleasentness in Kansas... "The Bleeding of Kansas" as it was called... was blamed on the South.

In 1856 Edwin Sumner delivered a vituperative and classless speech regarding the "Crime against Kansas" in which he cast scurrilous assertions upon the moral character of the absent Senator Butler of South Carolina. Thankfully... Preston Brooks, the other senator from South Carolina and kin to Butler, was present. He knew Sumner to be a coward, and simply grabbed his cane and walked to the front of the hall. There, Brooks beat Sumner with his cane until the yankee was unconscience.

God Bless South Carolina.

In the press, Sumner's accusations were barely mentioned. Only the violence, which was cast as further evidence of the Evil inherent in the South and its people.

Matters escalated. Several northern states passed "personal liberty laws" which sound nice at first... but when you read them you realize they are just an excuse to disregard the constitution. Something that the Republican party of the day wasn't shy about at all. To demonstrate the Republican disdain for the Constintion on Independence Day 1854 William Lloyd Garrison publicly burned a copy of the document upon which American liberty is founded, damning it for "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell". William Seward, who had advocated the enactment of "Personal Liberty Laws" by the Northern States in order to frustrate the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, publicly contended that, "There is a higher law than the Constitution."

Please keep these facts in mind when you hear Rush Limbaugh, or anyone else, defend the Tyrant King Lincoln.

The assumption of the existence of a "higher law" than the Constitution was essential to the coherence of Republican ideology. Nearly every object of the party's political program was contrary to the letter or inimical to the spirit of the compact of 1789. The Supreme Court had pronounced in 1857 that the exclusion of slaveholders from the territories by the Congress would represent the illegal assumption of an undelegated power contrary to the provisions of the Tenth Amendment. The constitutionality of protective tariffs was also a matter of question. Yet no recognition of the limits of the authority vested in the Federal Government dimmed the zeal of the Republican party for these measures. During the 1850s the party had deliberately conspired to obstruct the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law, in violation of the obligation placed upon the States to return runaways. Moral fervour, and material interest, had led the Republican State Governments to act with a reckless disregard for the Constitution in the past and Southern statesmen could therefore entertain no expectation that a Republican Federal Administration would show more restraint.

Maybe we'll pick up here another day... I suspect that's enough for most of you to digest.