The Commercial Results of Secession
Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, January 30, 1861
As to the final issue of the extraordinary disturbance now convulsing the country, no thoughtful man can entertain a doubt. The disunionists are breaking their own strength faster by far than any external force could control them. Their policy is everywhere self-ruinous, and by no possible combination of action can they erect a new confederacy which will endure five years. They may so break up the existing order of things that a year or two will be required to satisfy the misled people of the seceding States that they cannot erect an independent government, but every day of this period will be one of painful constraint, of heavy losses and of extreme domestic trouble to their citizens. The question simply is, how long shall both themselves and ourselves remain in this suspense, a suspense which costs us serious losses, no doubt, but which costs them ten times as much in every way. The end is certain, but the road to it may be longer or shorter, and may be comparatively easy or extremely severe and disastrous. If all the cotton States follow in the track of South Carolina, they will come out of the trial almost hopelessly crushed, their external commerce almost annihilated, and their material resources of every sort cut down one half at least, and all this without the lifting of a hand by the general government in what they call "coercion."
Let us see for a moment in what manner they coerce themselves. The last month's history of Charleston is but a mild phase of the ordeal which will ultimately fall to Savannah, to Mobile and to New Orleans. Take New Orleans as the first illustration. The sugar interest is the first to go by the board, in that most insane of policies shadowed forth by the Louisiana Legislature. In this item alone the loss is scarcely less than fifty millions of dollars, a loss which sweeps not only the planters' fortunes away, but which annihilates the commercial establishments concerned in that great trade. Probably one-fifth of the commercial interest of that city is more or less concerned in sugar, and when it is considered that the value of the sugar export to the north brings back its full equivalent in goods for consumption, it is clear that twice the total value of the sugar itself must be deducted from the aggregrate business of New Orleans merchants. It is obvious that a very serious reduction of the volume of trade at that city, a reduction equivalent to some forty millions of dollars annually, will ensue when secession becomes an admitted and established fact. Next, the external cotton trade will be much reduced. Large quantities of cotton now go north from points in Tennessee and along the Mississippi, and it may safely be said that the half million bales so sent northward from the year's crop marketed previous to September last, will rise to a million bales from the crop now going forward. New Orleans has already lost largely in cotton shipment as compared with last year, and if it is the desire of her merchants to sink as low as Charleston has sunk in cotton shipment, secession is the sure road downward:—let them shout for disunion and run up the pelican flag. The pelican sometimes gorges itself on reptiles, and possibly the Charleston rattlesnake may furnish a meal for it in the end.
But above all, as the future will surely show, will be the withdrawal of the great produce growing west from the trade of the lower Mississippi. If the Gulf becomes a disputed sea, half the time held by semipiratical bands, such as fired on the steamboats near Vicksburg, a day or two since, the vast produce trade of the northwest will almost wholly avoid New Orleans. Nothing can be offered as an inducement to compensate the increase of risks, and no free entry of foreign merchandise can be made to serve the interests of New Orleans importers. The whole country, from the mouth of the Ohio northward, is hostile to the secession policy, and will be greatly embittered by the practical steps necessary in Mississippi and Louisiana to defend secession. In short, New Orleans will repel the immense trade in produce it has heretofore conducted almost alone, and will drive it eastward over the great and cheap lines of inland transportation. An inviting policy has for years been followed by the controllers of these great lines, and no possible hardship would follow to western interests if the whole business should hereafter go over these lines to the Atlantic, and New Orleans should cease to handle a dollar's worth of western produce.
These easy and certain diversions of trade from the chief city which secession now claims may serve to show what the practical consequences of their stupendous folly will be. Charleston is already dead to commerce, and Mobile can have but a brief existence. New Orleans is a point having a thousand times the importance of any other secession city, and we see what that city is now madly throwing away. Who can doubt what the end of this case will be, or that the end cannot be far away? If the cotton States drive from them the produce trade of the upper Mississippi, that fact alone would deprive them of a large amount of return trade from foreign ports, and of itself go far towards reducing New Orleans to a fifth-rate city. Add to this the extinction of the sugar trade, and what can the Crescent City do to maintain itself in hostile attitude to the United States? The foreign export of provisions and breadstuffs has been about ten millions in value yearly from New Orleans, and the export of the same articles to domestic ports has been quite large, probably more than half as much. The import trade from foreign countries is of course the answer to this export, and must fall with it. The conclusion is irresistible that New Orleans must fall off very largely as a commercial city, immediately after the farce or tragedy of secession shall be consummated.
The position and fortunes of New Orleans will be decisive of the most fortunate phase secession can possibly assume. If that city shall decline to be the mere exporter of cotton from the plantations below Vicksburg, it will no longer be a commercial city in any general sense. It can raise no revenues of consequence on imports, and can do nothing, indeed, that is not now done by the merest local cotton shipping town on an inland river. The nationality ceases to exist which cotton. has so loudly vaunted for the last dozen years; cotton cannot be king in a place so narrow and a tract of such partial and limited interests. This is the coercion which the seceding south has brought on itself, a coercion which has already blotted Charleston from the list of commercial cities. Mobile appears to have brought on itself a scarcely less severe misfortune, and now, with the rush of passion and demagoguism, New Orleans is plunging into the same gulf. With its cotton business already far reduced below last year, its merchants generally forced into suspension, and its business in a hopeless stagnation, the mad course of its political leaders is more headlong than ever, and its convention passes the secession ordinance by a "tremendous majority." All this is supposed by them to be an injury to us, to be the terrible retaliation which they promised us in case we should insist on the election of honest and patriotic men to the control of the government. They flaunt this action in our faces with an overweening air of pride and defiance—insane men as they are, and on the swift road to destruction as well as to repentance. It is painful to stand, even for a month, necessarily quiet observers of this most unprecedented course of events, but we have no other alternative. The end is as certain as time rolls on, and what that end is we have partially indicated above. After ruin has almost extinguished the commerce and prosperity of the south, we shall have another and most difficult task in restoring them.