The Morrill Tariff
Newark Daily Advertiser, April 2, 1861
Some say the Morrill bill should not have been enacted. This is doubtless so, but yet we ought to take a comprehensive view of the whole trouble which the Confederate States are likely to give us. This we shall have to do sooner or later. Suppose then that Congress had rejected Mr. Morrill's bill, what would have been the result? Why, of course, says one, the old tariff, which gave us a good revenue, when trade was flourishing, and without trade a tariff is of no consequence. Foreign commerce would then, as now, have been monopolized almost by Northern ports, and the United States would have had no trouble to settle with the South, but the little question who should have the duties on the insignificant imports usually heretofore entered at the Cotton ports.
But here is a serious mistake. The Confederate States did indeed suffer the old tariff of 1857 to remain in force, and postponed their proposed one to May, but why? Because they saw that the Morrill act would create an increase in the duties on imports sufficient for their purpose of comparison very advantageous to their own. Had our tariff not been enacted, they would doubtless have passed, instead of postponing, their much lower one. They suspended action upon it, and held it in reserve to be used against any measure that may be adopted by Congress, either at an extra or regular session. It may be that they placed it in abeyance, not only for the object just indicated, but also to indicate to foreign powers, that they might be willing to go so far at least, and perhaps still farther, toward free trade with the European Powers. Already the English have seen the flag of a low tariff, thus raised in the Cotton Confederacy at the very moment that another was elaborated with high duties, if not protection, emblazoned on its folds. It is generally conceded that such a contrast must operate to the serious disadvantage of the United States in the commercial nations, with which we have the most to do, who have or profess to have lately taken to their bosoms the liberal and popular doctrine of free trade. The inference is, that commerce will be largely diverted to the Southern cities, and Charleston and Savannah seem to imagine they are about to expand into New Yorks, Philadelphias or Bostons.
The question is naturally asked, how they can import merchandize beyond the wants of the small community of the Montgomery government? To authorize their importation a vent must be found for it in their consumption. The answer is, they will be smuggled into the western and border states; but this cannot be done to any extent, because agents will be appointed by the present Administration to prevent such frauds. This smuggling will therefore be stopped at the railroad depots, and at the large interior cities.
If the prevention of smuggling should not be practicable, what is next to be done? Shut up the ports, it is replied. This, if carried into execution, will not only put a check on smuggling but also prevent the collection of duties by the Confederates on merchandize imported simply for their own proper consumption. These duties are now illegally taken by the cotton States and appropriated to their own use. The closing of the ports is probably the most effectual measure that can be adopted. The collection of the revenue outside the ports by vessels there stationed for the purpose has been proposed, but seems embarrassed by so many difficulties as to find little favor. Both of them will require the interposition of Congress, without whose authority the Executive can do nothing effectually. This blockade, it is conjectured, may be distasteful to foreign nations. Whether so or not, their right to interfere will not be admitted by the United States. A blockade, to be useful to the United States, must be complete. Such a blockade is recognized as legal by European powers. Beside, a blockade of our own ports, the government of which has been usurped by rebels, is a domestic matter with which European powers have nothing whatever to do. It is a quarrel among ourselves, and a long time must elapse before other nations can have any right or pretence to step in between us.
The repeal of the Morrill tariff has been suggested in many quarters, and there is much in its favor, but also something in opposition to its policy, or rather to its success. We apprehend, that the Cotton States, especially the chief instigator of the present troubles—South Carolina,—have all along for years been preparing the way for the adoption of the policy of free trade. In this, Great Britain and France will bestow their sympathy. Such being the case, should the tariff be repealed, and the former one take its place, the Confederates would have only to pass their new measure with duties ten per cent. below ours. Should we then, to counteract the effects of this reduction, adopt one just like it, would not the Cotton States enact another still lower, and even introduce free trade if necessary? What can the United States then gain in a war of tariffs? Tariffs can do nothing to help such a State as South Carolina, except to give her revenue. Such a war then must end only to the advantage of one who has little or nothing to lose.
It is evident from what has been said, that the Executive can do nothing to carry out any of the measures necessary to change the course of events. He can promote the peace, or maintain the laws, but he can settle nothing with the rebellious States. He can make no treaty with them, least of all can he legally give up the public property, or surrender the legitimate jurisdiction of the United States secured by the Constitution. These acts, if done at all, must be done by Congress. And Congress can provide a remedy for the present evils, when a little time shall have revealed their nature and extent, as well as their most effectual remedy.