National Tariff Legislation and Agitation
Lincoln's Support for the Tariff
Lincoln Goes to Congress
Lincoln in the 1850s
Tariff as an 1860 Political Issue
President Lincoln and the Tariff
"In the days of Henry Clay, I was a Henry Clay-tariff-man and my views have undergone no material change on that subject," wrote Abraham Lincoln in 1860.1 A campaign profile published in a Pennsylvania newspaper in February 1860 labeled Lincoln "a consistent and earnest tariff man from the first hour of his entering public."2 When Lincoln announced his first candidacy for the state legislature in 1832, he reportedly said: "I am in favor of the internal improvement system and a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles."3 Speaking in Pittsburgh on the way to Washington in February 1861, President-elect Lincoln said: "The tariff is to the government what a meal is to the family; but, while this is admitted, it still becomes necessary to modify and change its operations according to new interests and new circumstances."4
Tariffs and their impact on international trade and domestic production were a major political issue for the first half of the 19th Century. Because the federal government depended on the tariff for most of its revenue, the tariff rate was both an important economic and fiscal issue. Because the very different ways that the North and the South viewed trade, it was an important election issue. Historian Norton Garfinkle wrote: "From the start, much of the South opposed tariffs because their main purpose was to protect domestic manufacturing, largely a Northern enterprise. At the same time, in the Southern view, tariffs threatened the Southern economy, which was critically dependent on trade with Great Britain. Great Britain was by far the United States' largest trading partner in the antebellum era, and the most important export to Britain was Southern cotton."5
In supporting a strong revenue-raising tariff, Lincoln was following in the footsteps of Alexander Hamilton, who founded the nation's economic system in the early 1790s, and Henry Clay, who coined the "American System" of support for internal improvements, strong tariffs and a national banking system. Historian Peter S. Onuf wrote: "Tariff protection was the centerpiece of a broader, neo-Hamiltonian program of nation-building that included chartering the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 and federal funding for international improvements, thwarted by President [Monroe's] stunning veto of the bonus bill in 1817 on constitutional grounds." Onuf wrote: "The history of tariff politics is usually cast in terms of conflicting interests, while the deepening polarization over slavery - the paramount interest of the Southern states - roils just beneath the surface. Yet the very definition of these interests was predicated on assumptions about the future of American foreign trade relations - and the likelihood that they would be interrupted by war."6 Civil War historian Phillip S. Paludan wrote: "Before 1833 the United States followed a protective tariff policy. But in that year South Carolina threatened nullification of the so-called 'Tariff of Abominations,' and to resolve the crisis Congress agreed to lower the duties."7
In 1832, about the same time that tariffs were becoming a major national issue, 23-year-old Abraham Lincoln made his first entry into politics in Sangamon County Illinois. "He ran as a Whig." emphasized early biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay, both of whom worked for President Lincoln as his aides. "We have a memorandum in Mr. Lincoln's own handwriting in which he says he ran as "an avowed Clay man." His support for the tariff was a key part of Lincoln's political identity. In one of the few speeches of his, which, made at this time, have been remembered and reported, he said: 'I am in favor of a national bank; I am in favor of the internal improvement system, and of a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles.' Nothing could be more unqualified or outspoken than this announcement of his adhesion to what was then and for years afterwards called 'the American System' of Henry Clay."8
National Tariff Legislation and Agitation
As speaker of the House of Representatives, Clay had taken an active role in shepherding the Tariff Bill of 1816 through to passage - taking particular interest in protection of textile manufacturers. "The home-market idea, national economic independence, the favorable impact of industrialization, and governmental promotion of these conditions all had become basic concepts of the Speaker's ideology," wrote biographer Maurice Baxter. In the debate over the 1820 Tariff bill, according to Baxter, Clay "pressed for nurturing manufacturing at a time when American agricultural exports and forcing commerce generally had fallen off. No longer would Europe provide the kind of market prevailing in the prewar period, he warned. But to soften opposition, he sought to reconcile all elements of the economy, thereby achieving national self-sufficiency."9 Although the bill passed the house, it narrowly failed to clear the Senate. The notion of reconciling divergent parts of the American economy would prevail in the economic thought of Abraham Lincoln.
Efforts at tariff reform struggled until 1824. Historian Harry Ammon wrote: "With Clay back in the speakership...the Committee on Manufactures had been given a pro-tariff majority. Moreover, the protectionist element in the House was stronger than during the previous session, since the new House, chosen under reapportionment based on the census of 1820, contained a larger representation from the middle states. The tariff issue followed sectional lines and consequently cut across rival Presidential factions. Even [Martin] Van Buren voted for the tariff, which Southern Crawfordites condemned. Andrew Jackson, who was then in the Senate, also supported the bill, which raised duties on iron, raw wool and textiles."10 In a speech to Congress in 1824, Clay said: "The globe is divided into different communities, each seeking to appropriate to itself all the advantages it can, without reference to the prosperity of others."11 Clay's protectionist proposals were fought by Massachusetts Congressman Daniel Webster. "Clay's speech of March 30-31 had followed several weeks of debate of the bill. Most of the general principles he had propounded were familiar themes: The home-market idea, the mutual advantages to all economic interests and geographical sections, the superior evidence of experience compared to theory," wrote Baxter.12
As secretary of State under President Adams from 1825 to 1829, Clay promoted the American system as a way to encourage growth in all sections of America. But Clay's critics, especially in the South, viewed the program's protective tariffs as an affront to their agricultural way of life. The tariff legislation of 1828 was designed by John Calhoun deliberately to fail by alienating the strongest backers of protection in the Northeast. Instead, the bill was packed with tariff after tariff. Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen wrote: "Thus, to Calhoun's amazement and the dismay of southern and western interests, the bill actually passed on May 1828, leaving Calhoun to attack his own bill."13 Calhoun had become a fervent opponent of such legislation. The "Tariff of Abominations" infuriated the southern planter aristocracy. During the 1828 presidential campaign, tariff reform came before Congress. Democrats backing Andrew Jackson devised a tariff that would punish New England, home of backers of President John Quincy Adams, but appeal to the Middle Atlantic states and Mid-west. Secretary of State Clay thought that the bill's backers were perpetuating a hoax that would never pass Congress. As Robert V. Remini observed, Henry Clay incorrectly thought that the South would kill the bill. But the Jackson backers did not want southern support. They were currying support in sections that Jackson needed for the election. President John Quincy Adams signed the bill, infuriating the South and setting up a sectional conflict that Jackson would have to settle as president. Remini wrote: "Southerners, who wrongly believed that the tariff was responsible for cotton's recent price decline, dubbed this outrage the 'Tariff of Abominations' and swore they would take action against it." The opposition would be led by Jackson vice president John C. Calhoun.14
After the November 1832 presidential election in which President Andrew Jackson defeated Henry Clay, South Carolina voted to nullify the "Tariff of 1828." Washington was in turmoil by January 1833. Devoted as he was to protectionist tariffs, Henry Clay was more devoted to the Union and soon recognized the self-defeating nature of the tariff bill that had been enacted. At the same time, he was devoted to undermining what he thought were the authoritarian tendencies of President Andrew Jackson.15 So, in 1833, Clay proposed to reduce tariffs substantially - prompting criticism from protectionists but applause from the rest of the country. The man known as Great Compromiser had become the "Great Pacificator." Clay and Calhoun cooperated to take the initiative for tariff reform away from Jackson and still allow the South to save face. Clay, having canvassed northern and pro-tariff opinion, devised legislation that Calhoun could and would support. Clay may have been overwhelmingly defeated in the 1832 presidential election, but he was not out of power. Historian Michael Holt wrote that "Clay, having fared miserably in the South in 1832, privately criticized Jackson's Nullification Proclamation for going too far toward consolidation. Publicly, he ducked the Senate vote on the Force Bill so as not to antagonize southern state righters' sensibilities. Most important, he cooperated with Calhoun, who had resigned the vice presidency and returned to the Senate as a member from South Carolina, to arrange the Compromise Tariff of 1833."16
The nation needed a leader and Clay stepped up to the task in part to upstage President Andrew Jackson. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: "Clay feared to put an army into the Old Hero's hands, for he dreaded Jackson's reckless anger, nor could he accept Calhoun's argument that nullification was the way to preserve the Union....He also perceived that a sudden and drastic reduction of the tariff could wreak havoc upon the economy. But he saw the elements of a compromise that would render nullification and a force bill academic questions. He introduced a compromise tariff that would reduce duties in two-year intervals until they reached a uniform 20 percent, and reluctantly he supported the force bill. Both measures were passed on March 1, 1833. That broke the crisis, though South Carolinians went through the motions of standing by their position."17 Robert Remini wrote: "Clay needed to undercut the President's argument that a mounting surplus after the payment of the national debt justified sharp reductions of the tariff rates. He was determined to preserve protection even to the extent of increasing the rates on some articles; but in order to reduce the level of revenue, he was also willing to eliminate duties on goods not in competition with domestic products. At the same time he planned to divorce the public land issue from the tariff and support a bill to allocate the proceeds from land sales to internal improvements. This overall strategy would presumably appeal to northern manufacturers, western settlers, and southern planters."18
On February 12, 1833, Senator Clay spoke to promote his bill, based on "that great principle of compromise and concession which lies at the bottom of our institutions." Under the bill, "my friends do not get all they could wish for; and the gentlemen of the other side do not obtain all they might desire; but both will gain all that in my humble opinion is proper to be given in the present condition of the country."19 Jackson scholar Jon Meacham wrote that Clay's intent was to "Fix the tariff, and foil nullification. Foil nullification, and undercut the Force Bill. Undercut the Force Bill, and check Jackson."20 Clay's motives were patriotic but also partisan. Economic historian Charles Sellers noted: "With nullifiers desperate for face-saving tariff reform, with manufacturers adamant against drastic reductions, and with the anti-Jackson forces in hopeless disarray, the Great Compromiser offered Calhoun a brilliant solution. The nullifier principle of a uniform percentage rate could be honored by lowering all duties to 20 percent, he proposed, while manufacturers could be mollified by spreading reductions over nine years with sharp cuts postponed until 1841-1843. Nullifiers could claim success, and manufacturers could count on years of ample protection during which the final cuts might be blocked."21
Part of the goal for Clay and Calhoun was to deny Jackson any credit for compromise on nullification on tariff reform. Despite Clay's aversion to being tarnished by involvement in another "corrupt bargain," according to historian Merrill Peterson, "Clay could not...overcome his fears for the fate of the American System at the hands of its greater enemy, the administration. 'Jackson has decreed its subversion, and his partizans follow him wherever he goes,' Clay wrote. 'He has marked out two victims, South Carlina, and the Tariff, and the only question with him is which shall be first immolated.' To salvage what he could of the American System, to keep the policy in friendly hands even in dissolution, became an important object. He was also concerned to deny the administration the glory of peacemaking, on one side, of Bloody Bill triumph on the other."22 Clay became the midwife of compromise. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: "After weeks of nervous backroom palaver the Congress arrived at curious resolution. Clay patched together a mostly northern majority to pass the Force Bill, and a mostly southern majority to reform the tariff. It was not all Calhoun wanted, but it replaced over ten years the lofty 'protective' tariff with a 'revenue' tariff fixed at 20 percent, the same rate 'protective' tariff with a 'revenue' tariff fixed at 20 percent, the same rate Calhoun had favored in 1816."23 In defending the compromise bill, Clay said: "While we would vindicate the federal government, we are for peace, if possible, union, and liberty. We want no war, above all, no civil war, no family strife. We want no sacked cities, no desolated fields, no smoking ruins, no streams of American blood shed by American arms!"24
On the last day of the session, March 1, 1833, Congress completed passage of both the compromise tariff and the Force Bill. Merrill Peterson wrote: "Each side surrendered a little of its particular interest for the transcendent interest of both in the Union. 'The distribution,' Clay conclude on a philosophical note, 'is founded on the great principle of compromise and concession which lies at the bottom of our institutions."25
Lincoln's Support for the Tariff
First elected in 1834, Illinois State Representative Lincoln ran for reelection in 1836 - supporting the general themes of Clay's American System. Lincoln's fellow Sangamon County Whig Robert L. Wilson recalled the rallies in the 1836 campaign: "The Speaking would begin in the forenoon, the candidates Speaking alternately until all who could Speak had his turn, generally consuming the whole afternoon. The discussions were upon National and State questions, prominant [sic] among which were the Subject of a National Bank, and the Tariff, and a general System of internal improvement."26
These issues were a way for Whigs like Lincoln to reach to Democrats hitherto aligned with Jacksonian Democrats, who were on the defensive nationally between 1837 because of their handling of the Panic of 1837 and the resulting economic recession. During this period, Lincoln was mostly concerned with the issues of internal improvements and banking. But during the hard-fought presidential election of 1840, Lincoln became a leading economic spokesman for Illinois Whigs. Lincoln debated repeatedly during the 1840 campaign with the Democrats' rising star, Stephen A. Douglas, "who had already become the standard-bearer and exponent of Democratic principles," wrote Lincoln partner William H. Herndon. "These joint meetings were spirited affairs sometimes, but at no time did he find the Little Giant averse to a conflict."27 Democrat John B. Weber remembered: "The discussion[s] between Douglas & Lincoln were fairly and ably discussed: they were able speeches - truly so."28 Weber recalled: "Lincoln used to stagger me with his tariff speeches: he so arranged his facts - his arguments - his logic that it approached me from such a peculiar angle that they struck me forcibly."29
Lincoln stressed economic issues during the campaign, but voters were more interested in campaign hype and hoopla. Historian Charles Manfred Thompson wrote: "Although the Illinois Whigs declared for a protective tariff, they did not press it on the voters as a vital issue during the campaign of 1839-40, apparently for the reason that the people of Illinois naturally favored a moderate tariff of the type of the one of 1846. Instead they relied for success on persuading the voters that [William Henry] Harrison was their logical candidate, and that Van Buren was unworthy of re-election."30 Whigs characterized the well-born Harrison as a man of the frontier while Van Buren was portrayed as an effete easterner.
Harrison won but died shortly after he took office. Clay-led Whigs soon split with Harrison' successor, John Taylor. In control of Congress in 1842, Whigs passed a strong protective tariff. Historian Yonathan Eyal wrote that the 1833 tariff "compromise that end that [nullification] crisis projected a reduced tariff schedule through 1842, and at that point Whigs took advantage of the lapse to pass a new set of duties that would help the manufacturing classes."31 Thus in the presidential election of 1844 the tariff was once again a central economic issue. Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen wrote that "two bills came out of the Whig Congress in 1842 to delay the reductions, and...Tyler vetoed them both. With his shrinking constituencies about to abandon him, Tyler conceded on a third bill that delayed some tariff reductions, but at the same time ended plans to distribute federal revenues to the states. Tyler not only managed to make himself unpopular, but by forcing concessions, he also eliminated the few bones that the Whigs had hoped to throw to southern interests."32 Taylor had unwittingly thrown Washington politics into an uproar.
Historian Michael Holt wrote: "The Tariff of 1842 seemed Whigs' most promising issue. Its passage had been their most significant achievement during the Twenty-Seventh Congress. They had predicted that higher duties would increase government revenues and reduce the debt, drive industry and expand employment, reverse the imbalance between imports and exports, cause gold to flow into rather than out of the country, and thereby increase the total money supply enough to fuel a general economic recovery. Many of these predictions had come true by the spring of 1844."33 The 1842 tariff bill effectively restored tariff rates to their 1824 levels. Tariffs went up about one third. Paul Studenski and Herman Edward Krooss wrote: "The decline in government revenues and depressed business conditions caused a new outbreak of agitation for increased tariff duties. At the same time the West demanded a liberalization of Federal land policy. But conservatives, led by Clay, feared that a liberal land policy would be detrimental to industrialism and to the older, more settled regions of the country. On the other hand, revenue from land sales had to be cut lest it endanger protectionism. Conservatives, therefore, proposed to distribute the proceeds of land sales among the states. Finally, in the Preemption Act of 1841 a compromise was reached. To satisfy the frontier, squatters were given the right to buy up to 160 acres of land at $1.25 an acre."34
Clay sought to capitalize on this achievement with another run at the presidency in 1844. It was in 1844 this campaign for president that Lincoln honed his economic arguments regarding the tariff. Historian Olivier Frayssé wrote: "Of all the Illinois Whigs, Lincoln was the only one (or almost the only one) who dealt with the issue of the tariff in electoral meetings in 1840. Once again, he demonstrated his political courage by going against the general opinion of rural Illinois. In 1843-44 he perhaps took advantage of the rise in agricultural prices, particularly of wool, in comparison to the general index of prices. The rise, which coincided with the adoption of a Whig tariff in 1842, increasing duties by an average of 34.4 percent, made it possible to describe the short-term advantages of protectionism for the farmer. This concern will be found again in Lincoln's efforts in Congress to obtain protection for American hemp."35 It was vitally important to demonstrate that the tariff was advantageous rather than injurious to farmers on America's frontier.
Party politics were in flux regarding issues like internal improvements and the tariff. Historian Yonathan Eyal wrote: "Free trade had always been a Jacksonian article of faith. But a newer breed of Democrat pressed it with a different rationale in the 1840s, as the nation began to recover from the depression of 1837-43. Now free trade seemed more important than before, as the volume of exchange with other countries ballooned and Democrats began to express particular concern with commercial prosperity."36 Eyal wrote: "So-called Old Fogies reemphasized the agrarian image of their party all the more vociferously during the 1840s, as their organization became increasingly open to commerce and economic growth."37 Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote of America in the 1840s: "Many Jacksonians in the past had temporized and straddled on the tariff out of deference to its supposed popularity. But the inner tendencies of their social thought were hard to resist....Van Buren, who as a representative of an industrial state had been responsible for much of the skittishness, finally committed himself against protection in 1843. For the Democratic minority of 1842, aroused by the organized drive of the manufacturing interests, the tariff signified much more than an increase in duties and the consequent transfer of wealth to the industrialists; it signified a new test of power between the business community and the rest of the population."38
Whigs had no such ambivalence. Historian Michael F. Holt wrote: "Whigs proudly asserted that the Tariff of 1842 had reinvigorated the economy. Horace Greeley trumpeted the tariff's virtues almost daily in his influential New York Tribune." Holt observed: "Northern Whigs also believed that they had a decisive edge over the Democrats on traditional issues like the tariff, distribution, and the Independent Treasury." Holt wrote that the Democrats were an elusive target: "On no issue, indeed, did the Democrats proved more evasive than on the one on which Whigs had placed their hopes in the spring - the tariff. Almost as soon as Polk received the Democratic nomination, Pennsylvania Democrats pleaded with him to modify his opposition to a protective tariff. For two years they had trumpeted their important role in securing Tariff of 1842, and in the spring of 1844 the Democratically controlled Pennsylvania legislature unanimously protested any attempts to lower the tariff rates. Polk, realizing that his past opposition to protective tariffs could doom Democrats in the Northeast, penned a letter to a Philadelphia Democrat named John Kane in which he artfully shrouded his tariff stance in ambiguity." The Democrats used the Kane letter to associate Polk with support of the tariff in the north.39
Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Throughout the campaign Lincoln and his fellow Whigs concentrated on the tariff issues while Democrats focused on expansionism in Texas and Oregon. The tariff of 1842 - the chief accomplishment of the Whig-dominated Twenty-Seventh Congress - had been designed to restore prosperity, encourage foreign investment, improve the balance of trade, and enhance government revenues. Because most of these goals had been achieved, Whigs decided to emphasize the tariff issue in the presidential campaign."40 Although Lincoln's speeches were not extensively reported, noted Burlingame, "a revealing article in the Sangamo Journal by one 'Lancaster,' probably a Lincoln pseudonym, may shed light on his thinking. Protective tariffs did not unfairly burden 'the poor farmer,' Lancaster argued, because all 'manufactured articles were sold as low and many lower after [the enactment of the 1842 tariff] than they were before.' Prices stayed down because manufacturers 'were encouraged to start their factories believing they could find a sale for their goods,' and the increased number of firms heightened competition, thus preventing 'any extortion in prices.' Lancaster insisted that 'These facts prove that our revenue is paid entirely by the foreign manufacturers; except perhaps occasionally some of our Fops and Dandies may be inclined to show off with a London Coat, a Paris pair of boots, or ornament his table with a set of English knives and forks, or his parlour with an European carpet.' Echoing Lincoln's 1843 Whig Party circular, Lancaster noted that farmers and working men 'do not indulge in those luxuries.' American manufacturers 'can furnish an article good enough for us, and if our office holders want to ape the Paris or London fashions, and are willing to give their custom to the foreign manufacture, and pay the duty themselves, it is certainly democratic to grant them the liberty.' American manufacturers of broadcloth would benefit from a 35 percent tariff, but farmers would also benefit from that protection, for the manufacturers paid for wool and lard oil, which the farmers produced, and paid wages to workers, who spent three-quarters of their income on goods produced by farmers. Lancaster concluded that an 'examination into the business of cotton goods, boots, shoes, cordage, iron, lead, and in fact most all articles coming under the denomination of manufactures will exhibit the fact that nine tenths of all protection goes indirectly into the pocket of the farmer.'"41
Lincoln's campaign definition of Whig principles was unusual. Historian Charles Manfred Thompson wrote: "A great deal has been said about the reluctance of the Whigs to declare for certain definite principles. However much such a state of affairs may have been true in the nation at large, it was not true in Illinois. In 1840 the Whigs had adopted clean cut principles upon which they asked the support of the people; and now in 1843, they reiterated their former declarations with greater emphasis. Without apparent hesitancy they proclaimed through the press and from the stump, political doctrines that cannot be mistaken or explained away."42 In March 1843, Lincoln helped author a set of Whig resolutions which began: "Resolved, That a Tariff of duties on imported goods, producing sufficient Revenue, for the payment of the necessary expenditures of the National Government, and so adjusted as to protect American Industry, is indispensably necessary to the prosperity of the American people."43
A few days later, Lincoln authored a campaign circular on economic issues. He wrote 'that a tariff sufficient for revenue, or a direct tax, must soon be resorted to; and, indeed, we believe this alternative is now denied by no one. But which system shall be adopted? Some of our opponents, in theory, admit the propriety of a tariff sufficient for revenue; but even they, will not in practice vote for such a tariff; while other boldly advocate direct taxation. Inasmuch, therefore, as some of them boldly advocate direct taxation, much, therefore, as some of them boldly advocate direct taxation, and all the rest, or so nearly all, as to make exceptions needless, refuse to adopt the tariff - we think it is doing them no injustice to class them all as advocates of direct taxation. Indeed, we believe, they are only delaying an open avowal of the system, till they can assure themselves that the people will. Let us then briefly compare the two systems. The tariff is the cheaper system, because the duties, being collected in large parcels at a few commercial points, will require comparatively few officers in their collection; while by the direct tax system, the land must be literally covered with assessors and collectors, going forth like swarms of Egyptian locusts, devouring every blade of grass and other green thing. And again, by the tariff system, the whole revenue is paid by the consumers of foreign goods, and those chiefly, the luxuries, and not the necessaries of life. By this system, the man who contents himself to live upon the products of his own country, pays nothing at all. And surely, that country is extensive enough, and its products abundant and varied enough, to answer all the real wants of its people. In short, by this system, the burthen of revenue falls almost entirely on the wealthy and luxurious few, while the substantial and laboring many who live at home, and upon home products, go entirely free."44
Lincoln and Springfield Democrat John Calhoun had frequently debated in the past. They revisited their 1840 debates in the presidential campaign of 1844. They had a healthy respect for each other's talents, but were ready for more verbal duels. Calhoun's appointment in 1842 as clerk of the Eighth Judicial Circuit meant that like Lincoln, he traveled throughout central Illinois. In March 1844, Calhoun and Lincoln met in a week-long series of evening debates in a room in Hoffman's off the central square of Springfield. Lincoln and Calhoun "held a long discussion, say three or four nights, on protective tariffs. Both these men were strong men, strong on this question. Calhoun in 1844 was a strong, very strong, and clear-headed man, Lincoln's equal and the superior of Douglas," wrote Lincoln law partner William H. Herndon.45 "Lincoln's arguments were profound - calhoun was an able man - No mistake - one of the ablest men that ever made Stump Speeches in Ills - He came nearer of whipping Lincoln in debate than Douglas did," recalled Lincoln neighbor James Gourley.46 Turner R. King recalled that "Calhoun & Lincoln discussed the tariff: they were the best debaters - most Logical & finest debates on the Tariff question in the State."47
Lincoln and fellow Whigs campaigned throughout central Illinois where statewide campaigns were usually won or lost. In late March 1844, Lincoln debated John Calhoun and two other Democrats on the issues of the presidential campaign. These Springfield debates from March 18 to March 25 followed a debate on March 16 in Jacksonville in which Whig Edward D. Baker and Lincoln debated Democrats Calhoun and Judge Alfred W. Cavarly. The Illinois State Register reported on March 22: "This being the first week of our Circuit Court, arrangements have been made by the public speakers, of both parties, to devote the evening hours, to the discussion of the great questions involved in the coming Presidential election."48 The rival Illinois State Journal reported: "There has been an interesting public discussion at the Court Room, on the political questions which divide the country, every evening of last week and Monday evening of this week."49 According to the State Register, a comment by Judge Cavarly "so disturbed Mr. Lincoln, that he promised to forfeit his 'ears' and his 'legs' if he did not demonstrate, that protected articles have been cheaper since the late Tariff than before."50
On the evening of March 20, Calhoun "developed the hidden mysteries of the Tariff, and leading measures of the whigs, to the public gaze," reported the State Register. " So completely did he expose modern whiggery and its anti-republican measures, that Baker himself turned pale, and Lincoln trembled at the thought of loosing [sic] his legs and his ears."51 In a subsequent edition, the State Register reported: "Mr. Calhoun proved beyond all cavil that in its operation the entire burden [of the tariff] fell on the consumer, yet Mr. Lincoln had the hardihood to assert that it might probably fall upon the manufacturer, after Mr. Calhoun had shown that it positively fell upon the consumer....Notwithstanding that it is so superlatively foolish, and carries with its own refutation, Mr. Lincoln had the presumption to insult the understandings of his hearers, by re-asserting that such was the case [that goods were cheaper because of the tariff]." The Democratic newspaper concluded: "Whiggery may well exclaim - save me from my friends! A more complete and perfect expose of the iniquity and absurdity of the tariff system, could not be desired than was unwittingly furnished by Mr. Lincoln himself. It stands very much in need of another advocate to protect it from Mr. L's defence."52
On March 28, the Lincoln-friendly Sangamo Journal reported: "The discussion has been well attended, and we readily accord to Mr. Calhoun due praise for making most of a bad cause. The efforts of Mr. Lincoln, were distinguished for ability, and in all candor we must say, that we did not discover a single position raised by Mr. Calhoun, that he did not entirely demolish."53
The Journal said: "The efforts of Mr. Lincoln were distinguished for ability, and in all candor we must say, that we did not discover a single position raised by Mr. Calhoun, that he did not entirely demolish."54 Herndon remembered that he "toted books" and "hunted up authorities" for Lincoln to use in these debates. Herndon later wrote that "Calhoun in 1844 was a strong, very strong and clear-headed man, Lincoln's equal and the superior of Douglas."55
Lincoln remembered these debates as an important part of his political development. "In 1844, I was on the Clay electoral ticket in this State (i.e., Illinois) and, to the best of my ability, sustained, together, the tariff of 1842 and the tariff plank of the Clay platform. This could be proven by hundreds - perhaps thousands - of living witnesses; still it is not in print, except by inference," Lincoln wrote in 1860. "The Whig papers of those years all show that I was upon the electoral ticket; even though I made speeches, among other things about the tariff, but they do not show what I said about it. The papers show that I was one of a committee which reported, among others, a resolution in these words: "That we are in favor of an adequate revenue on duties from imports so levied as to afford ample protection to American industry.'"56)
In 1844 John Calhoun had more at stake than Abraham Lincoln. In 1842 Lincoln had dropped out of the three-way race for the Whig congressional nomination for central Illinois It was understood that fellow attorney John Hardin would take the first term, friend Edward D. Baker the second in 1844 and perhaps Lincoln would get the 1846 nomination for the Whigs. In 1844 Calhoun was the Democratic candidate against Baker for the central Illinois congressional district. After their Springfield debates in March, Calhoun probably had little interest in taking on Lincoln as well as Baker, himself a very accomplished orator. Peoria editor Thomas Pickett recalled Calhoun came to Peoria to give a campaign speech a week after Lincoln had spoken at the Peoria county court house on a soggy Saturday night. "In their handbills announcing the meeting the Whigs were invited to make a reply. Learning that Mr. Lincoln was at Tremont...twelve miles distant, and believing we had no speaker capable of meeting Calhoun, I sent a messenger for him and Mr. Lincoln reached Peoria about the time the meeting opened." Democrats later claimed that Lincoln was snuck into the court house and remained outside the room while Calhoun began speaking on the evening of Saturday, April 13. Pickett recalled that Lincoln "repaired to the courthouse, where the gathering was held, and quietly took a seat near the door."57
Although publicity for the meeting stated that a Whig reply to Calhoun was invited, Calhoun himself denied he had ever agreed to a rebuttal. Both Democrats and Whigs gathered at the county court house to hear Calhoun. The Peoria Democratic Press reported the next week: "Last Saturday night for the first time in the present contest we were favored with a public address from a democratic speaker. Mr. Calhoun, the Democratic candidate of the Sangamon district for elector of president and vice president, paid us a visit by invitation on that day and public notice having been given of his intention to deliver a political address, a larger number of persons of both political parties assembled at the court house at candle lighting to hear him. He spoke until a late hour principally on the tariff subject, which he handled with much ability, and in a manner highly satisfactory to his democratic friends to say no farther. A portion of the Whig audience, however, manifested in a way not very commendable, their impatience under the force of his argument and proof of the falsity of the position they assume and the issue they desire to make between the parties."58
Calhoun tried to filibuster so Lincoln would not have an audience to hear his rebuttal. Decades later, the editor of the Peoria Democratic Press would tell a different story - alleging that Lincoln was an interloper who had surreptitiously entered the court house. "Mr. Lincoln was taken into Judge Thomas Bryant's office on the first floor of the court house and E. N. Powell, George C. Bestor, Judge Bryant and perhaps Mr. Pickett stood watch, and when the road was clear, Mr. Calhoun being fully under way in his arguments, these gentlemen ushered Mr. Lincoln up stairs and put him in one of the jury rooms unbeknown to the democrats, and the door of that room standing ajar, Mr. Lincoln was enabled to take notes of Mr. Calhoun's speech."59 Calhoun probably was not surprised by Lincoln's presence since the two men had given speeches earlier in the week in nearby Tazewell County where court sessions were being held. (Following a Democratic candidate and offering to give a rebuttal was a strategy that Lincoln would follow a decade later in the campaign against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and again in 1858 when he contested Senator Stephen A. Douglas.)
There was no report of this alleged skullduggery in the Peoria Democratic Press of 1844: "Mr. Lincoln, the opposing candidate of Mr. Calhoun, followed in reply. He set out by stating that Mr. C's great complaint against the tariff was that it taxed the people. That was enough for us on that occasion. We did not stay to hear him out. Mr. Calhoun did not object to the tariff laws to an extent sufficient to raise adequate revenue to defray the necessary expense of government, but he objected to the gross impunity of the present Whig high protective tariff, which imposed the burden of taxation on the poor and laboring portions of communities designedly for the benefit of the rich and great manufacturing portions of the country. This Mr. Calhoun did do - this Democrats generally do, and they can prove it up to the conviction of any one that is willing to be influenced by the truth though it runs counter to preconceived opinion."60
Nearly four decades later, editor Sloan remembered: "After Mr. Calhoun had spoken about two hours, the Whigs began to get restless, and were moving in and out a good deal, and the name of Lincoln was whispered all over the room. Pretty soon one bellowed out, 'Lincoln is at the door.' After some sharp talk between the leaders of the two parties, Mr. Calhoun took a fresh start. He spoke until nearly 12 o'clock." It was indeed almost midnight when Lincoln got his chance to rebut Calhoun. Editor Pickett reported that "for thirty minutes poor Calhoun was first skinned and then drawn and quartered, and the operation was performed with the utmost good nature."61
Lincoln was a tough opponent. One observer reported later that month: "Lincoln and Calhoun have returned from Tazewell. Our people are in the best spirits there. So far as we learnt, Lincoln never left Calhoun on any one occasion, that he did not make him hang down his under lip."62 But one reason that Calhoun was a tougher opponent than Douglas was that he was a more astute student of economics. Stephen A. Douglas had supposedly once said: "I have learned enough about the tariff to know that I know scarcely anything about it at all; and a man makes considerable progress on a question of this of this kind when he ascertains that fact."63 In late May, Lincoln wrote Congressman John J. Hardin: "The Locos here...are growing sick of the Tariff question; and consequently are much confounded at V.B's [Van Buren's] cutting them off from the new Texas question. Nearly half the leaders swear they wont stand it. Of those are Ford, T. Campbell, Ewing, Calhoun and others."64
The tariff was the central focus of Lincoln's speeches that spring and summer as Lincoln debated Calhoun, former Congressman William L. May, and other Democratic luminaries. Lincoln also spoke on June 19, 1844 at the Whig convention in Peoria where more than 2000 Whigs had gathered. He also served on the resolutions committee that drafted a document supporting Henry Clay's principles. It stated: "That foremost in importance among these principles we recognize and affirm, that of providing a national revenue by a tariff of duties on foreign importations, so adjusted that while it will yield no more than is necessary for an economical and efficient administration of the federal government, will at the same time afford equal protection and encouragement to every branch of American Industry."65 Illinois editor Jeriah Bonham recalled that "Lincoln was among the 'big guns' in the grand army of eminent statesman and eloquent speakers present on that occasion, a galaxy of bright particular stars in the constellation of talent and patriotism." Among those speakers were former Lincoln law partners John Todd Stuart and Stephen T. Logan as well as future Senators Orville H. Browning and Richard Yates. Bonham recalled that "none attracted greater and more marked attention than Mr. Lincoln."66
As Lincoln stood to speak, he "did not on rising show his full height; stood rather in a stooping posture, his long-tailed coat hanging loosely around his body, descending round and over an ill-fitting pair of pantaloons that covered his not very symmetrical legs," reported Bonham. "He commenced his speech in a rather diffident manner[,] even seemed for a while at a loss for words; his voice was irregular, a little tremulous, as at first he began his argument by laying down his propositions. As he proceeded, he seemed to gain more confidence, his body straightened up, his countenance brightened, his language became free and animated, as, during this time he had illustrated his argument by two or three well-told stories, that drew the attention of the thousands of his audience to every word he uttered. Then he became eloquent, carrying the swaying crowd at his will, who, at every point he made in his forcible argument, were tumultuous in their applause. His subject was the exposition of the protective system - the tariff, - the method of raising revenue by a system of duties levied on foreign importations, which at the same time would afford protection to American industries. Mr. Lincoln spoke a little over an hour. His arguments were unanswerable. This speech raised him to the proudest height to which he had ever before attained. He had greatly strengthened the Whig organization in the state and established his reputation as one of the most powerful political debaters in the country.""67
Lincoln realized by the autumn of 1844 that Clay would lose Illinois but that Indiana remained a possible Whig victory so he arranged a campaign trip there in October. Michael Burlingame wrote: "James C. Veatch remarked that Lincoln's 'plain, argumentative' tariff speech did 'honor to himself and the whig cause.' Later Veatch recalled that, once again, Lincoln had begun poorly; his 'appearance was awkward, his voice high and squeaky, and he had none of that extreme dignity which clothed the State orators I had heard.' But soon Veatch 'was struck by his manner of statement' as he discussed the shopworn tariff issue, placing 'things in a new light' so that 'dry facts became interesting.' Veatch reported that by the time Lincoln finished it was 'the most remarkable speech that I had ever heard.'"68
Lincoln Goes to Congress
With President James Polk in office and Democrats back in control of Congress, the Walker Tariff legislation was passed in 1846, substantially lowering American tariffs again. Democrats saw their vindication on the issue. Historian Yonathan Eyal wrote: "Free trade had always been a Jacksonian article of faith. But a newer breed of Democrat pressed it with a different rationale in the 1840s, as the nation began to recover from the depression of 1837-43. Now free trade seemed more important than before, as the volume of exchange with other countries ballooned and Democrats began to express particular concern with commercial prosperity." Britain's shift to free trade helped reenforce the anti-tariff position of Jacksonian Democrats. Eyal wrote: "The Democratic Illinois State Register of Springfield celebrated the fruits of free trade in 1849. The Walker Tariff of 1846, it argued, spawned prosperity unseen in the days of the high and hated Whig tariff of1842. The amount of funds in the national treasury increased, net federal revenue rose, the balance of trade with Europe remained favorable despite the unsettling political situation on the Continent, and all signs pointed forward. 'The increase of our commerce during the two years since the enactment of the bill of '46, has been so great.'"69
From 1842 to 1846, Lincoln turned his attention primarily to his law practice and his personal life. He formed a new law practice with himself as the senior partner to the younger William H. Herndon. He married Mary Todd after a traumatic breakup with her. Out of elective office, Lincoln apparently used his free time to study economics. Describing the economic influences on Lincoln, law partner William H. Herndon in 1886 wrote about the books on "political economy" which influenced Lincoln: "Mill's political economy, Carey's political economy, social science. McCullough's political economy, [Francis] Wayland, and some others. Lincoln ate up, digested, assimilated Wayland's little work. Lincoln liked the book, except the free trade doctrines. Lincoln, I think, liked political economy, the study of it."70 Lincoln was interested in spreading economic prosperity. Historian Gabor S. Boritt wrote: "Labor, defined one way, or the other, was to Lincoln the creator of all value. Like the classicists, his tutor Wayland among them, he saw capital as the 'fruit of labor.'"71 Historian Walter A. McDougall observed: "President Francis Wayland of Brown University was an exponent of 'clerical laissez-faire' in his Elements of Political Economy (1837).72 The role of trade in increasing prosperity was fundamental for Lincoln. Boritt wrote that "the assumption that development increased mobility was so fundamental to him that by the late 1850's, with most of his political career behind him, it is no longer enough to say that he favored development and expanding productivity because it helped people to rise in life. He also favored the right to rise because it led to development."73
Commentator Michael Lind wrote: "Henry Carey began as a free trader, but inherited his father's opinions along with a publishing empire closely allied with Hezekiah Niles' National Register and Pennsylvania iron and coal interests. Carey's spokesman in the U.S. Congress was William 'Pig-Iron' Kelley, who dedicated a book of his speeches to the economist, and when Carey died, his will revealed extensive holdings in Pennsylvania coal lands as well as shares in the Mammoth Vein Coal Company." 74 (It is often assumed that Lincoln read Carey carefully, although William H. Herndon only suggests he "peeped" into Carey's work. Robert Bray questions the evidence that Lincoln studied it closely.75 Historian Stewart Winger argued that "much of Lincoln's economic thinking followed that of the chief Whig economic theorist and apologist for the tariff, Henry C. Carey. Carey worked within the idiom of moral philosophy; he was optimistic about human nature; he rejected the conclusions of Malthus in part because a beneficent deity just would not act that way; and any reformed theology in his thought was much more muted and unitarian than it was in Lincoln's. Still the content of his economic ethics bears striking resemblance to Lincoln's, and some of the details of Lincoln's economic thought, like his preference for small land holdings, strongly indicate a direct influence of Carey on Lincoln."76 As president, Lincoln would have extensive contact with Congressman Kelley and occasional contact with Carey.)
Having begun his adult life as a free trade advocate, Carey switched his position in the late 1840s - long after Lincoln had become an advocate for a high tariff. Regarding tariff levels, economist Rodney J. Morrison noted: "In 1846 they started to fall once again in moderating trend that continued until 1857....Public opinion in the early 1840s turned against the tariff, and beginning in the late 1840s, manufacturing interests, especially textile producers, also opposed higher tariffs." Morrison wrote: "By urging protection at a time when it was falling in public favor, Carey adopted a losing cause." Nevertheless, Carey persevered. Morris observed: "After 1847 he examined each and every aspect of economic life with an eye towards how it would affect the country's foreign sector. According, he built an elaborate theoretical and statistical argument aimed at convincing various sectors of the American public that substantial benefits would accrue to them if only they would support protection."77 Morrison has criticized Carey's work: "Although analytically deficient, Henry Carey's political economy is an outstanding example of the theories put forth by indigenous American political economists, untrained in the discipline, committed to nationalism, and unwilling to accept the classical English model. The combination of these elements produced a stand that held that economic competition with a fully developed or more developed nation was impossible for a late starter."78
Carey worked hard to propagate his ideas. Michael Lind wrote: "Like his Irish immigrant father, Carey came to view free trade as the economic corollary of the British imperialism that had ruined Ireland, India, and other British colonies."79 Critics of Carey such as the New York Evening Post's William Cullen Bryant suggested that Carey's shift on tariffs was not unrelated to his growing investments in coal and iron in Pennsylvania. Historian Arthur M. Lee noted that Carey "wrote numerous books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles, carried on a voluminous correspondence in his almost undecipherable handwriting, and cultivated the friendship of nearly every important public figure of his day - always with the one thought uppermost of advancing the cause of protection. Between 1849 and 1857 he was virtually the economic editor of the New York Tribune, as well as a publisher of considerable influence in his own right."80
Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: "In 1850 Henry C. Carey...issued a manifesto entitled The Harmony of Interests, Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Commercial. Looking to a millennium when the Stars and Stripes would unite the globe under the doctrine 'Do unto others as ye would have them do unto you,' Carey held that the American system of industry (as opposed to the British system) would elevate and equalize the condition of all men and women through progress guided by 'true Christianity' rather than the detestable system known as the Malthusian.' He held capitalist enterprise to be an act of divinely inspired sub-creation, wealth a reward for good stewardship, society a harmony of interests, opportunity a natural human right, and improved standards of living the natural partner of social, moral, and spiritual elevation." Carey's work appears to have had a strong impact on Lincoln. It would certainly have a strong impact on the Republican Party in the late 1850s - especially in Pennsylvania where Carey lived and had investments.81
As a congressman-elect, Lincoln was also pondering these issues and thinking about how to revive the tariff as a political issue. Lincoln scholar Fred Kaplan wrote: "When he arrived in Washington in early December 1847, Lincoln had already written a preliminary draft of an essay on the tariff, perhaps intending it to be the subject of his maiden congressional speech....it would have made tactical sense for him to make himself even better prepared on a subject about which he was already knowledgeable and had spoken on many times before, and also to avoid immediately expressing himself on the controversial subjects of the day: the war and slavery. The tariff was a safe, tried and true Whig subject."82
Historian Gabor Boritt wrote that Lincoln's "mastery of the tariff question [in 1844] did not measure up to the high standards he sent for himself. He was ready to go back to study the subject and dig deeper. Such study became all the more important because in 1846 he obtained at last the nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives from his Seventh District, by then known as the Whig district of Illinois." After his election in the summer of 1846, Lincoln "devoted much time during [the period before taking office in Washington in December 1847)] to studying economics, particularly the question of protection." Boritt wrote that although many view the Walker Tariff as closing the issue, Lincoln continued to pursue it: "Lincoln declared the tariff to be 'in greater dispute than ever' and on eleven foolscap halfsheets started writing notes for a speech....As it turned out Lincoln's tariff notes never became a speech. These incomplete and fragmentary scraps nonetheless provide the most extensive surviving evidence of his views on the subject. More important they indicate further the development of his thought."83
In these draft remarks, noted Fred Kaplan, Lincoln "neatly summarizes the Whig argument in favor of the protective tariff, by protecting American industry, it protects the American worker and the economy as a whole; an environment in which domestic industry flourishes can provide the full employment and fair wages necessary to create a domestic marketplace; the wages that labor receives in a full-employment economy create the consumer demand necessary to sustain the marketplace; that to reason and act correctly on this subject, we must look not merely to buying cheap, nor yet to buying cheap and selling dear, but also too having full employment to so that we may have the largest amount of something to sell; and full employment can be secured only by an ample, steady, and certain marketplace in which to seel the products of labor."84 Lincoln concentrated on his labor theory of value, writing: "I suppose the true effect of duties upon prices to be as follows: If a certain duty be levied upon an article which, by nature can not be produced in this country, as three cents a pound upon coffee, the effect will be, that the consumer will pay one cent more per pound that before, the producer will take one cent less, and the merchant one cent less in profits--in other words, the burthen of the duty will [be] distributed over consumption, production, and commerce, and not confined to either. But if a duty amounting to full protection be levied upon an article which can be produced here with as little labour, as elsewhere, as iron, that article will ultimately, and at no distant day, in consequence of such duty, be sold to our people cheaper than before, at least by the amount of the cost of carrying it from abroad."85
Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that Lincoln "argued that since 'most good things are produced by labour, it follows that [all] such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages, of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government.' Lincoln used this principle in 1847 to justify protective tariffs, and he would later cite it while attacking slavery. In 1858, for example, he described the proslavery argument as 'the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it.' He declared that 'each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor." Burlingame wrote: "In applying this principle to the issue of protectionism, Lincoln drew a distinction between useful and useless labor. The latter included transporting goods from abroad when they could be produced as cheaply at home. Curiously, as he had done in his earlier discussion of the tariff, Lincoln continued to ignore the power 'infant industries' rationale. Nor did he emphasize the argument made by many other Whigs, that without high tariffs, an unfavorable balance of trade would damage the United States as specie was drained overseas, leading to a credit shortage and consequent economic stagnation."86 Lincoln wrote:
"In the early days of the world, the Almighty said to the first of our race 'In the sweat of they face shalt thou eat bread'; and since then, if we except the light and the air of heaven, no good thing has been, or can be enjoyed by us, without having first cost labour. And, inasmuch [as] most good things are produced by labour, it follows that [all] such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government. But then the question arises, how can a government best, effect this? In our own country, in it's present condition, will the protective principle advance or retard this object? Upon this subject, the habits of our whole species fall into three great classes-- useful labour, useless labour and idleness. Of these the first only is meritorious; and to it all the products of labour rightfully belong; but the two latter, while they exist, are heavy pensioners upon the first, robbing it of a large portion of its just rights. The only remedy for this is to, as far as possible drive useless labour and idleness out of existence. And, first, as to useless labour. Before making war upon this, we must learn to distinguish it from the useful. It appears to me, then, that all labour done directly and incidentally in carrying articles to their place of consumption, which could have been produced in sufficient abundance, with as little labour, at the place of consumption, as at the place they were carried from, is useless labour.87
The Mexican-American War and presidential politics sidetracked any ideas by Lincoln of resurrecting the tariff as a major political theme. As he prepared to leave Springfield for Washington in 1847, Lincoln was also preparing to abandon Henry Clay for war hero Zachary Taylor as the more electable Whig candidate for president. Historian Gabor S. Boritt wrote: "The vast majority of Whigs believed that the tariff was not then a viable cause, but the national debt bred by the Mexican War quickly rekindled Lincoln's hopes and that of some others as well. To have Old Rough and Ready rekindle protection was just too good an opportunity to forego. And so Lincoln decided it was best for Taylor to take a firm stand and announce upward tariff adjustment with 'due reference to home industries as 'indispensable.'"88
Lincoln in the 1850s
Lincoln left Congress in 1849 and returned to the practice of law. With the crises caused by the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska legislation of 1854, slavery became as the dominant national issue. With the defeat of Whig Winfield Scott in the presidential election of 1852, it became clear that the future of the Whigs was in doubt. Historian John S. Wright noted that economic issues faded as a wedge political issue in the 1850s: "The great national issues such as the tariff were still important in some areas but had always left the voters of Illinois cold. The prosperity of the fifties, too, had closed minds to other historic economic issues that had distinguished Whig from Democrat in the 1830's and early 1840's, such as the United States Bank. The drubbing of 1852 was sufficient to persuade many that the Whig party had one foot in the grave. A recurrence of a slavery or sectional controversy tended to shove the very sketchy unity within the Whig party deeper in the background."89 Lincoln did some campaigning for General Scott in Illinois that year. He spoke in Peoria in September 1852. The Lincoln-friendly Peoria Republican reported: "He showed up the inconsistency of the sham democracy on the question of internal improvement in such a manner that it is not to be wondered at that the friends of [Franklin] Pierce and [William Rufus] King were dissatisfied. On the subject of the tariff he advocated the American side of the question, asking why, instead of sending 4,000 miles for our railroad iron, the immense iron beds of Missouri were not worked, affording a better article than that of English manufacture, and giving employment to American labor."90
In the 1850s, Lincoln's priorities shifted along with those preoccupying the nation. In his eulogy for Henry S. Clay in July 1852, Lincoln concentrated on Clay's record on slavery to the exclusion of his positions on issues like trade and the tariff. With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Lincoln's focus has shifted completely from economic questions to focus on opposition to the spread of slavery. Lincoln's views were not out of step with those of many Whigs and anti-Nebraska Democrats who would become his fellow Republicans. "In the mid-1850s, the Republicans hesitated to take a strong position on tariffs, for they needed to attract support from pro-tariff states, such as Pennsylvania, without alienating Democrats who were defecting to their standard," wrote historian Heather Cox Richardson. Economic problems, however, caused a resurgence in interest in the tariff. "The Panic of 1857 and the ensuing depression permitted Republicans to develop a tariff stance...for many people blamed the panic on the low tariff a Democratic Congress had passed in 1857."91 Historian Eric Foner wrote: "The economic downturn that began in 1857 revived demands for tariff protection among manufacturers, especially Pennsylvania iron-makers. Conservative Republicans, most of them former Whigs, promoted the tariff as an issue that could broaden the party's base by attracting voters more interested in economic recovery than slavery. It might even win votes in border states like Maryland and Virginia, where industry was growing."92
Mr. Lincoln's economic views didn't change during this period, but his views on what was politically vital to the country did adapt. A 1858 campaign pamphlet in Illinois stated: "Mr. Lincoln stands on the Old Whig Platform, with Clay and Webster." Historian Gabor S. Boritt noted, however, that Lincoln disdained to talk about the tariff in 1858 Senate campaign with Senator Stephen A. Douglas. "When the Chicago Journal tried to introduce the issue into the Great Debates, he turned a cold shoulder towards it. He refused to mention the subject even when the occasion seemed to call for it." Lincoln had changed his political priorities as well as his perception of what issues would hold the nascent Republican Party together. Boritt wrote: "In ideological terms slavery was the supreme issue for him because he feared that is extension would strangle the American Dream. Tackling economic policies, however complementary onto his antislavery principle meant to him, as to the radicals, 'lowering the Republican Standard' and diluting its moral authority."93 For Lincoln, opposition to slavery was a matter of economic justice as well as human equality. It was also a matter of political viability.
Still, the tariff issue lingered. Financial journalist Steven R. Weisman noted that "without tariffs, the United States would have made a much slower transition from its status as a nation with an agrarian-based economy, rich in resources but lacking in capital investment, into the mighty industrial power it became after the Civil War. Debates about the tariff rose and fell throughout the nineteenth century, but without significant damage to the broad consensus in their favor. Democrats supported what Andrew Jackson termed a 'judicious tariff,' while Whigs, and later Republicans, pushed for higher tariffs to protect industries to fulfill their vision of development and enrich their political base. In the 1840s and 1850s, the anti-tariff forces managed to keep trade barriers reasonably low."94 Under southern pressure, Congress in 1857 again revised American tariffs downward. Historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: "The tariff of I857 was the lowest tariff enacted by Congress since 1816. The attitude of manufacturers toward that bill should serve as an index of the vitality of the tariff issue in the North. The record reveals that outside of Pennsylvania Northern industry offered no serious opposition to reduction. On the contrary, the reductions were welcomed. This was not because manufacturers were reductionists in principle, but because political exigencies led them to seek lowered duties on raw materials as a substitute for direct protection."95 The legislation was passed shortly before a severe worldwide panic hit in the late summer of 1857 - causing some northerners to rethink the wisdom of the tariff reductions and some Republicans to seek to revive it as a political issue.
While the 1858 Senate election in Illinois focused almost exclusively on slavery, historian Allan Nevins wrote that tariff issues were prominent elsewhere in the country: "In lower New England, the Middle Atlantic States, and Ohio, protection was a popular Republican plank. While Thaddeus Stevens demanded higher iron duties, Yankee candidates called for assistance to textiles. The Northern Democrats, however, did not let their rivals have exclusive use of the tariff issue. [John W.] Forney told a New York audience that he was for protecting industry in its whole length and breadth, while Ben Butler, running for Congress in the Lowell district of Massachusetts, denounced the low duties of 1846 and 1857 and asked for legislation to save the country from cheap European labor."96
While Lincoln was downplaying the tariff, the issue was contributing to increasing sectional division. Allan Nevins noted: "Until now [the late 1850s], however, the debate had been languidly intermittent., for most Whigs had been as moderate as sucking doves. Such men as Tom Corwin, J. J. Crittenden, and even Horace Greeley stood not for head-high but merely breast-high protection." Nevins noted: "The basic argument of the Whig-Republican protectionists was that the United States ought to produce its own iron, cloth, and most other manufactured commodities; that this could not be done while European wares came in unchecked floods; and that, when home manufactures once gained vigor, they would benefit American products of raw materials far more than any European markets could. No nation, they argued, had ever grown rapidly in wealth, power, intelligence, and arts while exporting raw materials and importing finished goods. On the contrary, such nations had always been impoverished."97 Strong pressure was growing from the iron and textile industries for greater tariff protection.
The economic recession of 1857 changed the political landscape and undermined the Democratic Party - just as the Panic of 1837 had done. Historian Arthur M. Lee noted that the Republicans had conducted their 1856 campaign virtually without any mention of the tariff.98 That was natural since the party contained both pro-tariff Whigs and anti-tariff Democrats. But Henry Carey and the Panic of 1857 helped push Republicans toward protectionism as they saw a political opportunity where the economics of a high tariff had previously eluded them. Allan Nevins noted: "Protection had benefited the German farmers, declared Carey, for not only did the industrial population of Germany consume large quantities of food, but the mills furnished agriculture with implements, garb, and household wares at prices as low as those in Manchester, Sheffield, and Leeds. The seaboard merchants of the United States were assured that tariffs, while not lessening foreign commerce, would greatly increase domestic trade. On every hand the protectionists found facts to illustrate their views."99 The impact was felt in Washington. Historian Jane Flaherty wrote: "Lawmakers agreed on the need to revise the Tariff of 1857, however they could not concur on how best to adjust the duties...representatives argued about whether these adjustments should come in the form of specific of ad valorem duties. Specific duties provided more predictable revenue, whereas ad valorem duties fluctuated with the price of the import and exacerbated the drop in revenue when imports declined."100
Tariff as an 1860 Political Issue
As the 1860 presidential election approached, the tariff became an important issue - especially in the swing state of Pennsylvania, which in 1856 had been easily carried by Keystone State native James Buchanan. Republican candidate John C. Frémont had received only 33 percent of the vote there in the first presidential election in which the Republican Party participated. Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron declared that the trade tariff "is the great question of the day."101 Philadelphia editor John W. Forney, a supporter of Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, wrote: "Our specialty here is the Tariff question. For many years, indeed as long as I can remember, Pennsylvania has been agitated by the discussion of this question, and the delays of Congress in affording such protection to our interests as they deserve.102
The tariff had been one of the issues that helped the "People's Party," as Pennsylvania Republicans were known, win the state elections in 1858.103 The Panic of 1857 had badly hurt the state's economy and an unusual number of winning congressmen were businessmen, rather than lawyers. Historian Bruce Collins wrote that Pennsylvania "[n]ativists supported protectionism because of the anti-foreign connotations of succoring American labor. Old Whigs no doubt found it heartening to have this issue revived from the 1840s. Cameron hoped to ride to the presidency in 1860 on the tariff issues. The Senator had long identified himself - even during his Democratic past - as a protectionist. Throughout the spring and summer of 1858, Cameron's correspondence was full of maneuverings, half-hints, pledges, and analyses of opinion which went into any bid for a presidential nomination."104
In 1860, Republicans desperately needed to attract Know-Nothings and pro-tariff Democrats if they were to have a chance at winning Pennsylvania. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Essential to Lincoln's victory were the Fillmore supporters of 1856, especially Pennsylvania, New York, and the Midwest....The Fillmoreites, who had shied away from the Republicans in 1856 because of the party's radicalism on slavery and race, regarded Lincoln's antislavery views as acceptably moderate. They also favored protectionism and other economic measures endorsed by the Chicago Convention, and they appreciated the Republicans' willingness to enact nativist legislation in several states and to share patronage plums with Know-Nothings."105
On May 10, 1860, Republicans pushed through the House of Representatives the Morrill Tariff which "was sponsored by the Republicans in order to attract votes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey," wrote historian Reinhard H. Luthin.106 The legislation was introduced by Vermont Congressman Justin Morrill, who "was particularly well suited to develop a new system of tariffs that would appeal to many different groups of Americans, for he bridged the world of business and agriculture: he had made his fortune in trade and commerce while he hailed from the small agricultural state of Vermont," noted historian Heather Cox Richardson. Lincoln was right to be careful about the tariff issue during this period which was just before his presidential nomination - and to distant himself from the Morrill legislation in Congress. Historian Richard Hofstadter noted: "The most important direct changes in the act, the increased duties on iron and wool, were plainly written with an eye on the coming elections, 'to attach to the Republican party [in] Pennsylvania and some of the western states.' In Pennsylvania the tariff issue did its work, but elsewhere manufacturers were aloof."107 Heather Cox Richardson wrote: "At the heart of the plan was the idea articulated by Francis Wayland and Henry Charles Carey that manufacturing, agriculture, labor, and all other economic interests interacted harmoniously and positively unless government unduly favored one or another....Morrill, who maintained contact with Carey throughout the debates on the bill, believed that tariff laws, if they were adjusted to encourage growth in all sectors of the economy, could be used to benefit all members of society."108
Morrill wisely broadened the tariff's appeal beyond the manufacturing sector. Richardson wrote: "Morrill rejected the traditional system of protection by proposing tariff duties on agricultural, mining, and fishing products, as well as on manufacturers. Sugar, wool, flaxseed, hides, beef, pork, corn, grain, hemp, wool, and minerals would all be protected by the Morrill Tariff. The duty on sugar might well be expected to appease Southerners opposed to tariffs, and, notably, wool and flaxseed production were growing industries in the West. The new tariff bill also would protect coal, lead, copper, zinc, and other minerals, all of which the new northwestern states were beginning to produce."109 Because the bill protected agricultural as well as manufacturing interests, Ohio Senator John Sherman would later observe: "The Morrill tariff bill came nearer than any other to meeting the double requirement of providing ample revenue for the support of the government and of rendering the proper protection to home industries."110
The Morrill legislation failed in the Senate, however, where Virginia Senator Robert M. T. Hunter had the bill tabled - effectively assuring that Republicans would be able to take political advantage of Democratic opposition, centered in the South, to the legislation's passage. Historian Stanton Ling Davis noted: "Pennsylvania Republicans studied closely the line up of votes upon this issue [in the House]. A test vote taken upon a motion of Justin S. Morrill to suspend the rules, showed 105 years to 69 nays. The negatives votes were all Democratic, 15 of them from northern states. While it was true that the Pennsylvania Democrats had voted in the affirmative, Republicans pertinently asked, 'What hope of protectionism exists in the Democratic party as a whole?'"111
Republicans desperately needed to win Pennsylvania to win the presidency. Reinhard H. Luthin declared that "the Republicans could not win the president in 1860 without the electoral vote of Pennsylvania. In October, 1859, the Chicago Press and Tribune editor became interested in Lincoln as presidential timber; he preached that Lincoln 'was an old Clay Whig, is right on the Tariff and he is exactly right on all other issues. Is there any man who could suit Pennsylvania better?' In this same month Lincoln's relative by marriage, Dr. Edward Wallace of Pennsylvania, desiring to sound the Illinoisan on the tariff issue in anticipation of offering him an endorsement for vice president, wrote Lincoln a letter."112 In his reply, Mr. Lincoln was forthright but careful to protect his political viability outside Pennsylvania:
I am here, just now, attending court. Yesterday, before I left Springfield, your brother, Dr. William S. Wallace, showed me a letter of yours, in which you kindly mention my name, inquire for my tariff views; and suggest the propriety of my writing a letter upon the subject. I was an old Henry Clay tariff whig. In old times I made more speeches on that subject, than on any other. I have not since changed my views. In old times I made more speeches on that subject, than on any other. I have not since changed my views. I believe yet, if we could have a moderate, carefully adjusted, protective tariff, so far acquiesced in, as to not be a perpetual subject of political strife, squabbles, changes and uncertainties, it would be better for us. Still, it is my opinion that, just now, the revival of that question, will not advance the cause itself, or the man who revives it. I have not thought much upon the subject recently; but my general impression is, that the necessity for a protective tariff will, ere long, force it's old opponents to take it up; and then it's old friends can join, and establish it on a more firm and durable basis. We, the old whigs, have been entirely beaten out of the tariff question; and we shall not be able to re-establish the policy, until the absence of it, shall have demonstrated the necessity for it, in the minds of men heretofore opposed to it.
With this view, I should prefer, to not now, write a public letter upon the subject. I therefo[re] wish this to be considered confidential.113
Lincoln wanted to be careful to keep together the Republican coalition behind the slavery question without alienating advocates of increased tariff protection. Furthermore, he recognized that he had not studied the issue in depth for a decade. Prior to the Republican National Convention, the North American editorialized: "We tell the convention, so soon to meet at Chicago, squarely, roundly, and in every other shape that means earnestness, that their candidates cannot carry the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey unless they stand publicly on protective grounds....This State cannot be carried on an anti-slavery issue only."114 Pennsylvania Republicans were vigilant. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: "The Pennsylvania delegation, traveling to Chicago determined to insist on a strong tariff plan, had been imperious in their demands. They took the attitude already expressed by the Philadelphia North American."115 Historian Arthur M. Lee noted that Pennsylvania's delegates focused on getting a protection plan in the Republican platform: "Judge Jessup, a Pennsylvanian, was chairman of the platform committee. One of Henry C. Carey's biographers suggested that Carey himself may have written the tariff plan, adding that at least 'it was a pithy summary of Carey's economic philosophy.'"116 A protective tariff was endorsed by the Republican platform, but the plank was not quite as strong as the New Jersey and Pennsylvania delegations would have liked. Historian David M. Potter wrote: "It seemed significant that while the whole platform was received with uproarious enthusiasm, no part of it was greeted with louder cheers than the tariff plank, which Pennsylvania, especially, into 'spasms of joy...her whole delegation rising and swinging hats and canes.'"117 Pennsylvania was key to Lincoln's nomination and the tariff was key to Pennsylvania's backing of Lincoln. Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote that "Lincoln received the support of almost the entire Pennsylvania delegation - partly through the efforts of doctrinaire protectionists such as Morton McMichael, Henry C. Carey's friend and publisher of Philadelphia's Bible of protectionism, the North American, who was a delegate at Chicago."118
United in support of the tariff, the Pennsylvania Republican Party, however, was split into two major factions - hurting their chances for victory. Lincoln's campaign allies and Republicans in other states paid particular attention to how to help bring out the tariff vote in Pennsylvania and keep the Republican organization united. Vermont's Justin Morrill and Ohio Congressman John Sherman were brought in to speak for the Republican ticket. Despite the importance of Pennsylvania, Lincoln himself was cautious about using the tariff issue in the election. Historian Allan Nevins wrote: "Lincoln...would have preferred no tariff plan at all."119 He had his eyes on New York as well as Pennsylvania. In 1860, Lincoln told James Quay Howard, who was doing research for a campaign biography: "The tariff subject must be touched lightly. My speeches in favor of a protective tariff would please Pennsylvania and offend [New York Post editor] William Cullen Bryant in the same degree. It is like the case of three men who had nothing to cover them but a blanket only sufficient to cover two. When Number One pulled it on himself, he pulled it off Number Three."120 In September Lincoln wrote a Pennsylvanian inquiring about his position on the tariff: "Your letter asking me 'Are you in favor of a Tariff & Protection to American Industry?' is received - The convention which nominated me, by the 12th plank of their platform, selected their position on this question; and I have declared my approval of the platform, and accepted the nomination - Now, if I were to publicly shift the position, by adding or subtracting anything, the convention would have the right, and probably would be inclined, to displace me as their candidate - And I feel confident that you, on reflection, would not wish me to give private assurances to be seen by some, and kept secret from others".121
The tariff issue was key to the old Whig vote but an anathema to many former Democrats. Lincoln's reputation and record were important to Republican efforts to gain an upper hand over Democrats - and the record was repeatedly requested by Pennsylvania Republicans. Lincoln wanted to convince key Pennsylvanians that he was "right on the tariff." When Lincoln political ally David Davis went east to visit Cameron in September 1860, he took with him some "scraps" that Lincoln had written about the tariff in 1846-1847. Cameron told Davis he wanted to keep them, but Davis said he needed to return them to Lincoln.122 These "scraps" were apparently in response to requests from Pennsylvania native William R. Reynolds, who had served as president of Illinois State University from 1857 and 1860 and apparently talked to Lincoln about the use of the tariff as a campaign issue in Pennsylvania. After he returned to his native state in late July, Reynolds had written Lincoln requesting his old manuscript on the tariff:
I arrived here several days later than expected in consequence of having spent several days in Johnstown Cambria Co. Pa. (75 miles east of Pittsburg) one of the most important points in Pennsylvania for the production of iron & coal. I here found some little division of sentiment among my friends, some thinking that your relation to the Chicago Platform & the Republican leaders in the State of Penna was a sufficient guaranty for your soundness on the tariff question, others not regarding the Chicago Platform as explicit and strong enough, & wishing that they had something more satisfactory from you
I have now just returned from a call upon Mr. [Thaddeus] Stevens with whom I had a very free conversation in regard to you & your views upon the Tariff - no one else being present. He commenced by saying that he was satisfied from what he had heard of you that you were all right upon that subject, though he would himself have preferred that the Chicago Platform had been considerably stronger upon the point. It was the all absorbing question here in Pennsylvania. He wished that they could get hold of a speech that you had published upon that subject before your nomination. I then told him of the conversations which I had had with you, by which he declared himself much gratified. I then told him that I had been authorized to show him the heads of your speech, but had unfortunately been hurried away without them. He expressed a very strong desire to see them, and thought that they might be of great service in the absence of a published speech of older date, or a set of Resolutions which I told him I had heard from Mr. [William Henry] Bailache might, possibly, be obtained.
Now, Sir, if you will forward me your manuscript I will use it as arranged between us the day before I left Springfield. You may also send me any other directions or cautions in regard to them that now occur to you, & may depend upon my carrying them out to the letter. Also Resolutions if publishd. Mr. S. says that he considers this State safe for you, but that Douglas's insidious speeches at Springfield Mass. and elsewhere must be carefully counteracted.123
All these Republican efforts to promote tariff legislation as an issue paid off. Historian Coy F. Cross noted that Ohio Congressman William McKinley later contended "that without the tariff issue Republicans would have lost Pennsylvania and the 1860 election."124 Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: "Following Lincoln's triumph, certain elements within the Republican ranks - particularly the former Democrats who had gone over to Lincoln on the antislavery and 'free land' issues - resented their new party's tendencies toward protectionism. Now that victory had come, they did not remain seduced by the beauties of the 'Whiggish' American System. But President-elect Lincoln did not flinch. Endeavoring to live up to the platform on which he had campaigned, he considered his election a mandate to shield the home market from competition of European goods."125
The Democrats, meanwhile, were locked into an anti-tariff position - one long backed by the South and endorsed in the 1856 Democratic National platform as well as both Democratic conventions in 1860. Democratic standard bearer Douglas recognized that the Democratic position handicapped his candidacy in Pennsylvania and tried to evade his past positions. "I am a free trade man to the fullest extent we can carry it, and at the same tune collect revenue enough to defray the expenses of the government. In other words I am for no other kind of a tariff than a revenue tariff," Douglas had said in 1855. In a speech in Harrisburg in September 1860, however, Douglas "lamented" the defeat of the Morrill Tariff in the 1860 Congress earlier in the year. His audience laughed in derision of Douglas's hypocrisy. Historian Emerson D. Fite noted: "It was the Keystone state and New Jersey with large iron interests, that were mainly responsible for the prominence of the question."126 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Democrats bemoaned the power of their opponents' emphasis on protectionism."127 Historian William Baringer noted: "One Pennsylvania Democrat urged the Southerners in the Senate to sacrifice their principles a little and pass a high tariff to save the Democratic Party in the Keystone State."128
President Lincoln and the Tariff
The tariff was a sideshow to events on the larger stage of national separation that took place after Lincoln's election in November 1860. Despite the conflicts between the north and South over the tariff, historian Allan Nevins argued that "of all the monistic explanations for the drift to war, that posited upon supposed economic causes is the flimsiest. This theory was sharply rejected at the time by so astute as observer as Alexander H. Stephens. South Carolina, he wrote his brother on New Year's Day, 1861, was seceding from a tariff 'which is just what her own Senators and members in Congress made it.'"129 Speaking in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on his way to his inauguration in February 1861, President Lincoln said: "Fellow citizens, as this is the first opportunity which I have had to address a Pennsylvania assemblage, it seems a fitting time to indulge in a few remarks upon the important question of a tariff--a subject of great magnitude, and one which is attended with many difficulties, owing to the great variety of interests which it involves. So long as direct taxation for the support of government is not resorted to, a tariff is necessary. The tariff is to the government what a meal is to the family; but, while this is admitted, it still becomes necessary to modify and change its operations according to new interests and new circumstances. So far there is little difference of opinion, but the question as to how far imposts may be adjusted for the protection of home industry, gives rise to various views and objections." Somewhat disingenuously given his long study of the subject, Lincoln said: "I must confess that I do not understand this subject in all its multiform bearings, but I promise you that I will give it my closest attention, and endeavor to comprehend it more fully. And here I may remark that the Chicago platform contains a plank upon this subject, which I think should be regarded as law for the incoming administration. In fact, this question, as well as all other subjects embodied in that platform, should be varied from what we gave the people to understand would be our policy when we obtained their votes. Permit me, fellow citizens, to read the tariff plank of the Chicago platform, or rather, to have it read in your hearing by one who has younger eyes than I have." According to the newspaper report, Mr. Lincoln's private Secretary then read section twelve of the Chicago platform, as follows:
That, while providing revenue for the support of the General Government by duties upon imposts, sound policy requires such an adjustment of the imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interest of the whole country, and we commend that policy of national exchanges which secures to the working men liberal wages, to agriculture remunerating prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skills, labor and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.
President-elect Lincoln then spoke again: "Now, fellow-citizens, I must confess that there are shades of difference in construing even this plank of the platform. But I am not now intending to discuss these differences, but merely to give you some general ideas upon this subject. I have long thought that if there be any artifice of necessity which can be produced at home with as little or nearly the same labor as abroad, it would be better to protect that article. Labor is the true standard of value. If a bar of iron, got out of the mines of England, and a bar of iron taken from the mines of Pennsylvania, be produced at the same cost, it follows that if the English bar be shipped from Manchester to Pittsburg to Manchester, the cost of carriage is appreciably lost. [Laughter.] If we had no iron here, then we should encourage its shipment from foreign countries; but when we can make it as cheaply in our own country. This brings us back to our first proposition, that if any article can be produced at home with nearly the same cost as abroad, the carriage is lost labor." Lincoln, who never liked to opine on subjects he had not studied closely and recently, went on to state: "The tariff bill now before Congress may or may not pass at the present session. I confess I do not understand the precise provisions of this bill, and I do not know whether it can be passed by the present Congress or not. It may or may not become the law of the land - but if it does, that will be an end of the matter until a modification can be effected, should it be deemed necessary. If it does not pass (and the latest advices I have to the effect that it is still pending) the next Congress will have to give it their earliest attention." Lincoln said:
According to my political education, I am inclined to believe that the people in the various sections of the country should have their own views carried out through their representatives in Congress, and if the consideration of the Tariff bill should be postponed until the next session of the National Legislature, no subject should engage your representatives more closely than that of a tariff. And if I have any recommendation to make, it will be that every man who is called upon to serve the people in a representative capacity, should study this whole subject thoroughly, as I intend to do myself, looking to all the varied interests of our common country, so that when the time for action arrives adequate protection can be extended to the coal and iron of Pennsylvania, the corn of Illinois and the 'reapers of Chicago.' Permit me to express the hope that this important subject may receive such consideration at the hands of your representatives, that the interests of no part of the country may be overlooked, but that all sections may share in common the benefits of a just and equitable tariff. 130
Like Clay, Wayland and Carey, Lincoln was seeking harmony of the country's economic interests and seeking to straddle political differences on the tariff issue. German-American journalist Henry Villard, who accompanied Lincoln on his pres-inaugural trip, recalled: "The least creditable performance en route was his attempt to say something on the question of tariff legislation in his Pittsburg speech. "What he said was really nothing but crude, ignorant twaddle." It proved him to be the veriest novice in economic matters, and strengthened my doubts as to his capacity for the high office he was to fill. So poor was his talk that most of the Republican papers, while they printed it, abstained from comment."131 Historian Michael Burlingame concurred, stating: "Somewhat lamely Lincoln addressed the tariff issue."132 Lincoln, however, probably was trying to balance strike a balance within the Republican Party - between pro-tariff former Whigs and anti-tariff former Democrats and to avoid antagonizing the South on yet another issue besides slavery. During his pre-inaugural trip, Lincoln only touched on the tariff issue in Pennsylvania, where pro-tariff voters had helped elect him.
Under the leadership of Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron, the Senate took up the Morrill tariff in February 1861. Without the senators from secessionist southern states to block the bill, it moved quickly to Senate passage shortly after President-elect Lincoln arrived in Washington. Historian Allan Nevins wrote that after amendments, it "was carried through Congress with the aid of Democratic votes from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York."133 The bill was signed into law by Pennsylvanian John Buchanan on March 2. Two days later, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president. Henry Carey had continued to lobby for this and additional legislation. Reinhard H. Luthin wrote "protectionist sentiment mounted to fever heat in Pennsylvania. And no individual contributed so much to make the state tariff-minded as the renowned political economist Henry C. Carey of Philadelphia....A critic correctly termed him the 'Ajax of Protection.' In mid-April, 1860, Carey wrote Morrill, 'Nothing less than a dictator is required for making a really good tariff. Would to heaven you or I could fill the place for a week.' Carey was likewise active in lobbying for Morrill's bill."134
Carey had pressured President-elect Lincoln not to appoint fellow Pennsylvanian Simon Cameron to the cabinet, especially the Treasury. Despite Cameron's strong support for a high tariff, Carey and many other Republicans questioned Cameron's ethics. At the same time, Carey pressured another Treasury potential secretary, Salmon P. Chase, to reveal a previously unannounced pro-tariff position, and then went to work persuading him of the country's need for protectionism.135 Carey also pressured President-elect Lincoln to support the Morrill tariff. On January 2, 1861, he wrote the president-elect: "Of all the planks in the Chicago platform, the only one that elicited any thing like enthusiasm in the Convention was the protection one, and that did elicit it to an extent never exceeded on any occasion.
Of all the measures now before the Senate, that, however, is the one that seems to have the greatest ardent friends -- the Pacific Railroad bill & the Homestead bill, the tendencies of which, as regards increase of wealth or strength, are directly the opposites of protection, being likely to become laws, while the Tariff bill goes over to another session.
Nevertheless, the success of your administration is wholly dependant upon the passage of the Morrill bill at the present session. With it, the people will be relieved - your term will commence with a rising wave of prosperity - the treasury will be filled - and the party that elected you will be increased and strengthened. Without it, there will be much suffering among the people - much dissatisfaction with their duties - much borrowing on the part of the Government - & very much trouble among the republican party when the people shall come to vote two years hence. There is but one way to make the party a permanent one, & that is, by the prompt repudiation to the free trade system.
The grand difficulty of opposition administrations, thus far, has been that they have been obliged to wait two years before they could carry out the wishes of those by whom they had been elected. The Harrison & Tyler period is the most calamitous of our history, & for the principle reason that no changes could be made before 1842, just in time to put the country in order for Mr Polk . But pass the tariff now, & you will pass it in 1862, just in time for the democrats who will succeed you. Had it been possible to pass the bill of 1842 in February 1840, Mr Polk would never have been elected.- Your friends have now the chance of doing this, & they will do it, if you should insist upon it. If you do not, I doubt greatly if it will be done.
More than three years since, being then in Europe, I wrote Mr Buchanan a private letter on this subject -- predicting what would happen if he followed in the free trade footsteps of Mr. Van Buren. That prediction has been fully verified, as you will see, should your leisure permit you to read the extracts from it which is here enclosed. That which I now [write?], as to the effects of postponement, will, as I think, be history four years hence, unless our friends take lessons from the failure of the present President.136
Carey was right was about one thing. There was virtually nothing left in the Federal Treasury that winter. The government was effectively broke and would desperately need any revenue that the tariff bill might produce during the Civil War. The government's capacity to borrow was limited. There was no broad-based taxes in place to raise revenue. In June 1861, Carey again wrote to the White House: "Accompanying this I beg to hand you a paper containing some of the views presented in conversation a fortnight since, and now coupled with others that seem to me to be, at the present moment, especially worthy of serious consideration."
Had the policy advocated by Mr Clay, as embodied in the tariff of 1842, been maintained, there could have been no secession, and for the reason that the southern mineral region would long since have obtained control of the planting one. If now maintained - if measures be now adopted for enabling the people of the hill country to profit of our present tariff - and if capitalists can have such assurances of its permanence as is required for securing the creation of mills and furnaces, and the opening of mines -- we may retrace our steps and thus secure the permanent maintenance of the Union. If, on the contrary, our people left in doubt as to the purposes of the Administration, are compelled at each succeeding session of Congress to fight for life, and if, finally, the British free trade system be readopted - the Union must, before the lapse of may years, be rent into numerous fragments, mere instruments in the hands of foreign powers. From this, there can be no escape.
Three lines, in your forthcoming message Mr President, indicative of the principle of protection as the true Union policy, would be worth to the country more than the total cost of the war -- great as that is likely to be.137
Later that year, Carey again wrote President Lincoln, but this time on a different subject that reflected another leg of Henry Clay's American System: "With this you will receive a small pamphlet to which I desire to call your attention because of the bearing of some parts of it upon the question of the development of that great central region of the south which stands now so heartily by the Union, & which should now be the great center of southern power.- Had the policy of 1842 been maintained, it must be now that center, and the slave owners of the swamps & river bottoms would be so utterly powerless that you might do with them what you pleased. Had it been maintained, the whole of the great tide region would now be intersected with roads by means of which the free people of north & south would be communicating with each other, freed from all intervention on the part of the slave proprietors of Virginia & Carolina.- As it is, they stand between us & the southern friends of the Union, who are being crushed out of existence, and all for want of a road by means of which we might give & receive assistance." Carey continued: "British free trade is the policy of sectionalism. It has broken up the Union. That we may become once again, & permanently, the United States, it is indispensable that we pursue that course of policy which looks to the development of the mineral resources of the country, North & South, and to the creation on the land of a market for all the products of the farm.138 Like Lincoln, Carey was anxious to pursue the nation's economic development. At that moment, however, the president had his hands full with the Civil War. Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: "Just how far under normal conditions Lincoln would have gone along with Carey's views cannot be said. The necessity of financing the war against the Confederacy forced the President to favor a rise in import duties as a source of revenue. In a message to Congress shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter, he pointed to the reports of the Secretaries of the Treasury, War, and Navy as giving the information necessary for deliberation and action."139
Still, the Union needed money to prosecute the war and the tariff was one small tool that was employed to raise revenue - along with bond issues and new general taxes. Historian Phillip S. Paludan wrote: "In 1862 legislators began passing tariff increases that, by 1864, averaged more than twice those of 1857. War also inspired tariff increases to offset the huge increase in taxes. Manufacturers, many of whom were initially neutral on the protection question, increasingly began to ask for higher tariffs that would compensate them for heavier taxation." Paludan noted that "Republicans were not unanimous in supporting a high tariff policy. Divisions between well-established New England manufacturers who operated highly profitable enterprises and men who were trying to build new industries in Pennsylvania and further west would become obvious after the war. Labor leaders also debated the merits of protection. But during the war the factions united behind raising the tariff walls so that the government might get the revenues to pay for the projected victory. Just as war necessity had brought together hard-money and soft-money Republicans, so it forged unity on the tariff as well. Patriotism diluted the potential economic divisions in the party even as it muted class divisions between labor and capital."140
"In the White House, wrote historian Gabor S. Boritt, "Lincoln followed his 'political education' to the point where he managed not to directly mention the tariff at all in official messages. He did not have to. Congress passed tariff increase after increase and he signed them into law. Rates reached unprecedented and previously unimaginable heights. They were made frankly protectionist."141 One economic consequence was a dramatic increase in the manufacturing capacity of the North as the labored to meet military needs. About such an industrial expansion, President Lincoln cannot have been displeased.