Tariffs in Georgia's Declaration of Causes

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    Georgia’s Declaration of Causes talks at length about the tariff issue and its history, concluding that northern business interests had latched on to the frothy anti-slavery movement to regain the political power necessary for resurrecting the era of high tariffs.

    My first thought is that that’s clearly speculative–but is it?

    Do you know of any sources or have any information to suggest that northern manufacturers and lobbyists did in fact see an opportunity in the anti-slavery movement and therefore join forces as strategy in political economy?


    I may have found half an answer in Holt who contextualizes Republican pro-tariff sentiment with the panic of 1857 and resultant federal budget deficits. Its not clear that this shows manufacturing interests drafting off of anti-slavery, just that the rising Republicans adopted the cause of higher tariffs in response to a crisis.

    After the fall in imports caused a fall in revenue Buchanan resorted to deficit financing rather than slashing spending which “allowed the Republicans to… demand a higher tariff that would balance the federal budget and restore jobs to the unemployed by protecting American industry from foreign competition. By the fall of 1858 Republicans throughout the North, but especially in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts had taken up the cry for tariff revision.”

    Frustratingly, he doesn’t cite any primary sources for that section (my only gripe about that whole book). However, in a nearby section he does cite Foner who similarly describes the Republicans becoming strongly anti-tariff in the wake of the 1857 panic. He goes on to quote William Cullen Bryant who, shortly before the 1860 Republican convention, said: “A deeply-laid conspiracy is in operation to pervert the Republican party to the purposes of the owners of coal and iron mines.”

    Although Foner seems to be describing non-principled Republicans bending on the tariff issue to achieve political ends, if what Bryant said is correct then maybe some Pennsylvania coal interests were getting their tentacles in there after all?

    Perhaps Robert Toombs was a subscriber to the New-York Evening Post?

    Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 171-175.

    Holt, Michael M. The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: Wiley, 1978), 201.


    Toombs needn’t have been a subscriber to a northern magazine–he could have found that in the 1860 Republican Platform.

    As to the citations, email Holt and ask him. He’s highly responsive. Tell him I said “hello.”


    He said that Georgia’s declaration “is inaccurate about the protection of northern business interests AND about businessmen actively seeking coalition with antislavery groups” and pointed me to Business & Slavery by Philip Foner to show that “mercantile and financial business elements in the North opposed the Republican party because they feared its triumph would provoke disunion.”

    That book is out of print and all the hard copies I found were $100+.

    If anyone is interested, that book can be rented for free for 14-days from archive.org if you create a username.

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