- Dominic Frisby
- Frisby Dominic
About The Artist
British eccentric. Londoner. Author. Musician. Comedian. Actor. TV show host. Screen play writer. Voice over artist. Musician. Song Writer. Sound money zealot and Bitcoin OG!
Dominic Frisby has many strings to his bow.
One might think that a bow with this many strings would fire arrows like a hammock but in Dominic’s case each string is taut. Each arrow hurls towards its aim in an idiosyncratically elegant and lethally entertaining way.
As a son of British playwright and novelist Terence Frisby it was perhaps expected he would go to drama school but unlike so many of his cohorts, his ambition wasn’t to become a famous actor.
He wanted to become a writer and since many of his literary heroes had started out as actors he decided to follow a similar path.
While at drama school he showed an innate talent for radio and ended up getting a voice over agent before even finishing school and went on to have a successful stint as a voice over artist. Hardly surprising considering his quintessentially British and perfectly textured baritone voice.
Meanwhile he continued exploring his many interests and in ’97 wrote a song called The Upper Class Rap, a novelty song he had intended to release as a UK Christmas single.
While it was never released as a single it did lead to him starting to perform at one of Malcom Hardee’s comedy clubs, which in turn lead to many more gigs as a stand-up comedian.
He has since gone on to write many more songs, many of which you can find on youtube. His Libertarian Love Songs collection is very apt but so are many of his other songs.
In the mid 90’s, after having made some decent money from his voice over work, Dominic began to explore investment possibilities and came across Gold. As a means of educating himself further he started, what we would now refer to as a podcast, and began interviewing lots of fund managers, Gold Bugs and financial experts while really digging into the history of money.
One of the people he interviewed was Merryn Somerset Webb, the managing editor of Money Week, who enjoyed his approachable and irreverent exploration of finance so much she offered him a column for Money Week. This is turn led to Ross Ashcroft asking him to write the screenplay to the documentary film, Four Horsemen, which became a sizeable hit.
Not only a comedian, song writer and voice over artist, he now also found himself being a screen play and financial writer. In 2013 Dominic authored his first book “Life After The State”, which was followed soon after by the still excellent book “Bitcoin: The Future Of Money”.
Frisby’s interest in monetary history and sound money, as well as his aversion to the state, had led to him being a very early adopter of Bitcoin but sadly, and now rather famously, he was hacked and had a lot of Bitcoin stolen. This was of course one of the perils of being in the space so early and many OGs have similar stories of being hacked, losing paper wallets, corrupted mechanical drives etc.
While I’m sure there has been a lot of pain it hasn’t stopped Friby’s belief in Bitcoin as pristine collateral or its destiny to change the world. As an advocate for freedom one also needs to be an advocate for privacy and without cash there is no privacy. As a libertarian with aspirations of a smaller state held to account by a monetary anchor, Bitcoin is the wet dream of sound freedom money.
The hack also didn’t stop his creative output. In 2019 he published his third book “Daylight Robbery: How Tax Shaped Our Past and Will Change Our Future and a US edition, of which we have an excerpt chapter below, has just been released this year.
In Daylight Robbery, Dominic Frisby traces the origins of taxation, from its roots in the ancient world, through to today. He explores the role of tax in the formation of our global religions, the part tax played in wars and revolutions throughout the ages, why, at one stage, we paid tax for daylight or for growing a beard. Ranging from the despotic to the absurd, the tax laws of the past reveal so much about how we got to where we are today. Debt is a tax on the future and tax is theft and as we find ourselves on the precipice of the biggest government, corporate and private debt bubble in the history of the deal “Daylight Robbery” is not only an enlightening book but also a very important one.
For the full 21ism podcast interview check out the always great Daniel Prince from Once Bitten jamming with Frisby.
The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected, three-fourths of them are expended at the North. This . . . has made the cities of the South provincial. Their growth is paralysed; they are mere
suburbs of Northern cities.
The Address of the People of South Carolina Assembled in Convention, to the People of the Slaveholding States of the United States
No other episode in American history has been as studied and written about as the US Civil War.
The widely held view, and the one that is taught in schools, is that it broke out as a result of the long-standing controversy over slavery.
But slavery was not why Lincoln went to war.
Let me show you what the American Civil War was really all about.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the US, broadly speaking, divided into three main economic regions: the north, the west and the south.
The north was moving from trade and shipping towards industrial production. The mighty wealth of the south was built on its agriculture, producing tobacco, sugar and as much as two thirds of the world’s cotton. Out west, the US had effectively doubled its size with the infamous Louisiana Purchase of 1803, when it bought 800,000 square miles of land from France for $15 million, or three cents an acre, in what must be considered the worst real-estate deal in history, at least from a French point of view. Expansion would continue until eventually the US reached the Pacific. The west needed better transport systems – canals and railroads – to get its raw materials to market.
While slavery had been illegal in the north since 1804 (in principle if not in practice), southern agricultural economies relied on it. Its status in the expanding west was still undetermined. It would go on to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, social issues of the time.
In 1802 Thomas Jefferson said, ‘It may be the pleasure and pride of an American to ask, what farmer, what mechanic, what labourer, ever sees a tax-gatherer of the United States?’ He was right. There were no income taxes, there was no window tax, there was not the plethora of petty taxes that existed in Europe. Government was small and local. Each state was a sovereign entity and could levy taxes as its people wished, but there was no nationwide tax system. Except for the years between 1812 and 1816, when the US was at war, the federal government collected no internal revenue. Revenue came instead from the occasional sale of public land, but mostly from tariffs on imported goods. The system proved inequitable. It did not end well.
Our story starts with a little-known tariff, the Dallas Tariff of 1816. Americans encountered very few taxes in their everyday lives. The War of 1812, between Britain and the US, actually lasted until 1815. Britain had already been blocking US trade with France, and between 1807 and 1815, US imports fell by over 90%.British merchants had built up large stockpiles of goods during the war, and when hostilities ended, they flooded US markets. Usually their goods were cheaper and better than their American rivals’, so the effect was to undermine US industry. In reaction to this, and with war debts to pay off, a new tariff was proposed with high import duties.
This tariff hit the south hardest. The south bought goods from Europe, including its farming equipment, and sold its cotton directly in return. Tariffs meant southerners had to pay more for what they bought. Their money would not stay in the south, however, but go north. Effectively, they were subsidising the rest of the nation.
Yet the south not only agreed to the tariff, in many cases it agitated for it. Why?
Southerners put national interests first. Further conflict looked possible. If this new nation the United States was to survive, it needed its own manufacturing industry. There was enough economic prosperity in the south to shoulder the burden of the tariff. The cotton price was high. The tariff would only be temporary.
On 27 April 1816, the Dallas Tariff was approved – authorised for three years – and the price of British goods rose to more or less par with American.
North v south: 30 years of tariff war
How often does a tax pitched as temporary become permanent? And how often does a subsidy, which effectively this was, create special-interest groups ?
When the tariff expiry date came in 1820, the northern manufacturers, who had benefited from it, wanted more. A bill for a permanent tariff with higher duties and a long list of new items added was put forward. It was passed by the House, but failed in the Senate by a single vote.
This time it did not have the support of the south. The reasons they had supported the previous tariff no longer applied. The price of cotton had fallen in 1819, so they did not feel as wealthy. The threat of imminent war was gone. The war debts of 1812 had been paid down. Trade wars had all but vanished. Protecting northern manufacturing was no longer a national emergency.
However, the protectionist desire remained strong in the north and west, and in 1824, another tariff was proposed. This one did pass. The tax on imported goods rose to 33%. Before 1816, the rate had been just 5%.
Things only got worse. The next tariff – dubbed the Tariff of Abominations – passed in 1828. It saw 92% of imported goods taxed at 38%. Again the northern and western states allied to get it passed. Southerners were effectively paying as much as 75% of federal taxes. The alternative to buying foreign goods and paying high taxes was to buy inferior northern goods and pay high prices. Either way, their money ended up in the north. The economic heart of the nation was shifting northwards, and much of the population was moving with it. No wonder southerners felt they were being legislated against. Their situation was made worse by the fact that cotton prices had declined by around 50% since 1819 – a decline the southerners blamed on tariffs.
At this point South Carolina began making noises about disunion. They got strong support from Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. By 1832, representatives from Alabama, Georgia and Maryland had joined them. A convention was called in South Carolina. Tariffs were declared unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable.
So began the Nullification Crisis, during which President Jackson threatened to collect duties by force. The country was close to civil war. Had Jackson called in the armies, it is likely other southern states might have allied with South Carolina.But South Carolina’s former vice president, John C. Calhoun, agreed a compromise with Senator Henry Clay, one of the tariff’s main proponents. Import taxes would drop by 10% every two years until they reached 20% by 1842. The Nullification Crisis was averted. For almost a decade, tariffs disappeared as an issue.
As 1842 approached, however, northern industrial interests began agitating for protection yet again. With Henry Clay as their champion, they revived the argument that they were vulnerable to British competition. In 1842, the Black Tariff passed in the House and the Senate by just one vote. The south had been waiting nine years for tariffs to fall to the agreed 20%. Instead they rose close to the levels of the Tariff of Abominations. Not surprisingly, the south protested vehemently.
‘Revolution would be the effect,’ said South Carolinian Robert Rhett. Alabamians would ‘prefer a bloody grave’ to being slaves of the north, according to William Payne of Alabama. Protectionism would bring the country to civil war and ‘peril the perpetuity of the union’, said Lewis Steenrod of Virginia. Import rates rose to almost 40%, with specific duties for specific items. The most heavily taxed item was iron. Nails, for example, were taxed at over 100%. International trade declined almost immediately. Imports almost halved. Moses Leonard of New York called it ‘one of the grossest acts of injustice ever perpetrated by an American Congress upon a free and intelligent people’.
But crisis was again averted when James K. Polk defeated Henry Clay in the US presidential race of 1844 and declared that reducing the Black Tariff would be the first of four great measures to define his administration. He instructed his Treasury Secretary, Robert Walker, to get to work.
Walker proposed reducing rates to 25% and standardising them (as opposed to having different rates for different items). He argued that low rates would stimulate trade, and as a result, government revenue would actually increase. North-westerners, now seeking world markets for their goods, allied with the southerners, and the tariff passed in 1846. Walker was proved right. Despite the low rates, by 1850 customs revenue had increased by 50% from $30 million to $45 million annually.
Of course the antagonism between the north and south wasn’t just over tariffs. Slavery was also an issue. And South Carolina actually threatened secession for a second time in 1850, over the status of slaves in the new states acquired after the Mexican–American War. If slavery was illegal in the new territories, southerners feared that they would have fewer allies in the nation’s capital and would thus carry less political force. What was more, the more free states there were, and the more agitation there was for slaves to be freed, the greater the risk of insurrection at home. Secession would ensure that slavery remained in South Carolina, protecting the prosperity of the cotton producers. Elections in October of 1851 effectively became a referendum on the matter. The secessionists lost badly. Cooperationists won 58.5% of the vote. The issue of slavery alone was not enough to drive even South Carolina, let alone the other southern states, to secession, especially when business was good.
In the 1850s, the US economy was booming. The south had few complaints. The tariff of 1857 saw rates reduced even further – back to around 15%, where they had been in that first, ‘temporary’ tariff of 1816.
When panic leads to protectionism
In Europe, the Crimean War saw European farming grind to a halt. American imports filled the gap. When the war ended, however, European farming resumed. Harvests were good. American imports declined. English purchase of American wheat fell by 90%. The price of commodities generally fell too, by as much as 35%. The Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company, which had made numerous investments in agricultural businesses, went bust, causing financial panic. With fewer goods to transport, the railroad sector was hit. Thousands of workers lost their jobs. Investors lost their capital. The SS Central America, destined for New York, known as the ‘Ship of Gold’ for its cargo of 30,000 pounds of gold mined in the California gold rush, then sank in a great hurricane. The loss of that extraordinary amount of gold further shook public confidence in the economy, especially in banks.
This was the Panic of 1857.
The south was hit, but not as hard as the north or west. Though the price of cotton fell, it recovered quickly. There were fewer bank failures. If anything, the panic restored southern self-belief. It reinforced the conviction that their cotton was essential to world trade. The prodigious strides forward made by the economies of the north and west had met with a crash to which the south had been more immune.
But how often does panic lead to unwise legislation?
The Pennsylvanian Henry Carey was perhaps the best-known and most influential economist of his day. He saw protectionism as the way to foster industrial growth in America. He laid the blame for the financial crisis specifically at the feet of that 1857 tariff. His fervent views were widely circulated, and they gained traction. Efforts to bring back higher tariffs began in earnest once again. The newly formed Republican Party embraced Carey’s views, and one of the party’s founders, Justin Smith Morrill, sought his advice in designing a new tariff. He claimed the aim was only to go back to 1846 levels, but in reality, the rates were higher.
The Morrill Tariff became a major area of contention for some two years, before it eventually passed the House in May 1860. It won just one vote in the southern states.
The Republican leader, Abraham Lincoln, supported tariffs and had always done so. ‘I am in favour of the internal improvement system and a high protective tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles,’ he had said in his first political announcement, in 1832. These principles remained. ‘My views have undergone no material change on that subject,’ he said in 1860. ‘The tariff is to the government what a meal is to the family.’
Lincoln becomes president
In the battle to be the Republican nominee, William H. Seward was Lincoln’s main opponent and, at first, the favoured Republican candidate. Seward was an outspoken enemy of slavery, famous for his 1850 declaration that ‘there is a higher law than the Constitution’. However, there were plenty who didn’t see slavery this way. Lincoln, ever the wily politician, avoided the issue, so as not to alienate potential voters. He might have abhorred slavery privately, but publicly his strategy was ‘to bite my lip and keep quiet’. It was his vocal support of protectionist tariffs, especially in Pennsylvania, that won him the nomination.
When the election came, Lincoln’s main rival was his old foe the Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. But the Democrats were divided, with northerners voting for Douglas, and southerners for John Breckenridge. To win, Lincoln needed only to make sure he beat Douglas in the north, where Douglas and the Democrats were locked into an unpopular anti-tariff position. Lincoln’s simple strategy was to tone down the slavery and tone up the protectionism. It worked. No part of the Republican platform, says historian David M. Potter, was ‘greeted with louder cheers than the tariff plank’. Pennsylvania went into ‘spasms of joy . . . her whole delegation rising and swinging hats and canes’.
On 6 November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. He only won around 40% of the vote and his vic- tory came entirely from support in the north and west. In the states that eventually seceded, he won nothing. The Morrill Tariff was the twelfth of seventeen planks in the Republican platform. Republican control of Congress meant the return of protectionist tariffs with dramatic consequences. One by one, led by South Carolina, the southern states began withdrawing from the Union.
Southerners are ‘taxed by the people of the North for their benefit, exactly as the people of Great Britain taxed our ancestors in the British parliament for their benefit’, said the South Carolina Address. The South Carolinians felt they were doing just as their ancestors had done when they cried ‘No taxation without representation!’ to their British rulers. They were in ‘exactly the same position’.
By 1 February 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas had followed South Carolina out of the Union. The seven states formed their own government, the Confederate States of America.
Meanwhile, the economist Henry Carey urged the president- elect to push through the new tariff. ‘The success of your administration is wholly dependent upon the passage of the Morrill bill at the present session . . .
There is but one way to make the Party a permanent one,’ he said. Without the opposition of the seceded states, the bill passed easily through Congress. Two days later, on 4 March, Lincoln gave his inaugural address.
‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists,’ he said. ‘I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.’ Congress, too, had offered the south constitutional amendments that protected it from federal government interference in slavery. The Supreme Court had also given its endorsement three years earlier, when in 1857 it ruled against Dred Scott, a former slave who had unsuccessfully tried to sue for his and his family’s freedom. The president, Congress and the Supreme Court – the three branches of US federal government – had all effectively offered the south guarantees over slavery, yet still the Confederate states wanted no part of the Union. Tariffs and autonomy were the bigger issue and there, Lincoln would not compromise. The revenue tariffs generated and the protection they gave were too valuable.
‘The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts,’ he said. ‘Beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.’
Lincoln would use force to collect taxes. It was clear. This was a stark choice for southerners: pay up or face the consequences.
While Republicans were pushing through the Morrill Bill, the seceded states drafted their own constitution. It was remarkably similar to the US Constitution. The most telling differences were in the sovereignty granted to each state and the limitations placed on federal power to collect taxes. Congress could only ‘lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises’ to pay debts, provide defence and carry on government. No longer could it do so for the ‘general Welfare of the United States’.
‘Nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry,’ it specified. Leaving no room for doubt, it continued, ‘Neither this, nor any other clause contained in the constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce.’
The issue of slavery was also addressed. The original US Constitution did not use the word ‘slavery’, instead referring to ‘Person[s] held to Service or Labor’ (which included whites in indentured servitude). The Confederate Constitution used the word directly. It banned any slave trade with Africa. It prevented states from abolishing slavery within their own borders (interestingly, this was the one area were individual states’ rights were not sovereign) and it protected the rights of slave owners travelling with their slaves.
The south did not want a war. It could not defeat the north. It wanted peaceful secession. As ‘an agricultural people, whose chief interest is the export of a commodity required in every manufacturing country’, said Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, in his inaugural address, ‘our true policy is peace, and the freest trade which our necessities will permit . . . There should be the fewest practicable restrictions upon the interchange of commodities.’
One of Davis’s first acts as president of the Confederacy was to write to Abraham Lincoln expressing a desire for peaceful relations. He sent a peace delegation to Washington. Lincoln would not even meet with them.
Lincoln’s ruse to start a war
Fort Sumter controlled access to Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. One of many forts along America’s coastline, it was the point at which tariffs were collected. It was occupied by Union troops. The Confederacy had been trying for weeks to get them to leave peacefully. It had offered to pay compensation not only for Fort Sumter, but for all federal property in southern territory. Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, had promised the Confederacy that the fort would be evacuated, but the commander holding the garrison, Major Anderson, refused to leave.
It was April 1861. No shots in the civil war had yet been fired. Unionist Colonel John Baldwin had been called before Lincoln to update him on events at the secession convention in Virginia. ‘We have a clear and controlling majority of nearly three to one,’ said Baldwin. He was confident of winning the convention ‘with perfect certainty’.
‘Withdraw the troops at Sumter,’ Baldwin begged the president, adding that he should do it ‘for the sake of peace . . . If you take that position there is national feeling enough in the seceded States them- selves and all over the country to rally to your support, and you would gather more friends than any man in the country has ever had . . . For every one of your friends whom you would lose by such a policy you would gain ten who would rally to you and to the national standard of peace and Union.’
But Sumter was a tariff collection point. ‘What about the revenue?’ said Lincoln. ‘What would I do about the collection of duties?’ ‘Sir, how much do you expect to collect in a year?’ Colonel
‘Fifty or sixty millions,’ Lincoln replied.
‘Why, sir,’ replied the Colonel, ‘say $250 million would be the
revenue of your term of the presidency; what is that but a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of such a war as we are threatened with? Let it all go, if necessary; but I do not believe that it will be necessary, because I believe that you can settle it . . . If there is a gun fired at Sumter – I do not care on which side it is fired – the thing is gone . . . As sure as there is a God in heaven the thing is gone. Virginia herself, strong as the Union majority in the Convention is now, will be out in forty-eight hours.’
‘Oh,’ said Lincoln, ‘sir, that is impossible.’
‘You have the choice to make, and you have got to make it very soon. You have, I believe, the power to place yourself up by the side of Washington himself as the saviour of your country, or, by taking a different course of policy, to send down your name on the page of history notorious forever.’
Lincoln chose war.
Baldwin was right. When the first shells of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter one week later, none of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee had seceded. The initial votes, whether in convention or by popular vote, had all gone against secession. They wanted to remain in the Union and they wanted the Union to remain. But when it was clear Lincoln was going to use force against the Confederacy, new votes were held. Then they voted in favour of secession – and heavily so, just as Baldwin had said.
Lincoln knew that shots in Fort Sumter could spark a war. He also knew that ‘the power to make war against a State [which wishes to withdraw from the Union] is at variance with the whole spirit and intent of the Constitution’. His ruse to justify unconstitutional action was to have the south perceived as the aggressor. He sent three unarmed ships with supplies. ‘You know perfectly well,’ said Baldwin, ‘that the people of Charleston have been feed- ing them already.’
‘The attempt at reinforcement was a feint,’ said the New York Times at the time. ‘Its object was to put upon the rebels the full and clear responsibility of commencing the war.’ Lincoln had even told his cabinet that if South Carolina’s artillery opened fire on the fort or the resupply ship, ‘he could blame the Confederacy for start- ing a war’.
As the supply ships neared Sumter, the Confederates again demanded Major Anderson surrender the fort, and again he refused. On 12 April, they began shelling. It was the reaction Lincoln wanted. He had enough to deem this a rebellion. Now bloodshed was ‘forced upon the national authority’, even if no Union troops were killed in the bombardment and Anderson ceded the fort the following day. Confederate President Jefferson Davis ‘ran blindly into the trap’.
The south had no ambition to conquer the north, nor did it make any attempt. Almost every battle in the war took place in the south, with the majority of fighting in Virginia and Tennessee. Southern Pennsylvania was as far north as the fighting went. The south was defensive. It could not defeat the north. Its population was 9 million to the north’s 22 million. Union soldiers outnumbered Confederates by almost two to one. The north had the factories, the industry, the manufacturing. Davis said repeatedly that the south only wanted peaceful secession, and that the Confederacy did not want conflict with the Union. Shelling Sumter proved a terrible mistake. What little chance there ever was of Lincoln granting peaceful secession had evaporated. Now the south could only hope to hold on long enough that the north would grow tired of casualties and eventually allow the Confederacy to exist.
‘The plan succeeded,’ said Lincoln. ‘They attacked Sumter – it fell, and thus, did more service than it otherwise could.’
Why the north could not allow peaceful secession, and the south was smeared
Federal coffers were already in bad shape when Lincoln was elected. Following secession, customs receipts quickly fell. No wonder, when looking at Sumter, Lincoln was asking, ‘What about the revenue?’ The government’s largest source was disappearing.
Lincoln’s oft-stated reason for going to war was to preserve the Union. But the Union depended on southern tariff revenue for its very existence. ‘They know that the bulk of duties is paid by the Southern people,’ said the New Orleans Daily Crescent, ‘and that, by the iniquitous operation of the Federal Government, these duties are mainly expended among the Northern people. They know that they can plunder and pillage the South, as long as they are in the same Union with us . . . They are enraged at the prospect of being despoiled of the rich feast upon which they have so long fed and fattened, and which they were just getting ready to enjoy with still greater gout and gusto.’ The north needed the south. The south did not need the north.
With a civil war to pay for, Lincoln had to introduce a swathe of new taxes. The US saw property taxes for the first time. Income tax also made its debut. Unconstitutional or not, it was introduced in 1861 – on a temporary basis: 3% on incomes over $800. As barely 3% of the population had an income of over $800, the tax found wide- spread support. The following year the threshold fell to $600 and rates rose.
To make sure that taxes were collected, Lincoln also gave America the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS. His 1862 Revenue Act introduced another law that has remained to this day: American citizens living and working outside America still have to pay tax in the US, unless they work for the government.
But the war was about more than lost tariff revenue. Seceded states going into free trade with Europe was too big a threat to tolerate, because northern businesses – manufacturing, shipping and, perhaps most influentially, banking – would be cut out of the trade loop. The Boston Herald said this would ‘cripple the North’. The Union could not allow any such thing to happen. The entire economic model of the north would have been jeopardised. Peaceful secession was never even an option for Lincoln.
In the House of Commons, when Liberal statesman William Forster declared that slavery was the cause of the civil war, he was met with cries of ‘No, No. The tariff!’48 Lincoln did not go to war to end slavery. ‘My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union,’ he said, even as late as August 1862. ‘It is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.’The Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the south, was not issued until January 1863 – and only then because Lincoln felt ‘we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics, or lose the game’.
In 1862, Confederate diplomats in England indicated to British authorities that the Confederacy would be willing to abolish slavery in exchange for diplomatic recognition. For sure, the south would have preferred to preserve slavery, at least for the time being.
Slave labour was essential to its economy. But they were willing to abolish it in order to save their Confederacy. In 1864, Confederate diplomats in Europe made an offer to this effect.52 Independence was more important to them, but the north would not let them have it. It wanted the tax revenue. A free-trading rival on its door- step could not be countenanced.
Slavery was one area of disagreement among many – tariffs, federal spending, border security, equal access to the territories, and the sale of public land, for example. But it was inequitable taxation that caused the division. The southern states wanted to keep what they had earned. Lincoln and the northern states wanted their wealth for the Union. In popular understanding of history, the Confederate cause has since been smeared, while the Union effort has been framed as some great and noble cause. In reality, both sides were fighting over their economic interests.
In 1861, Charles Dickens published a lengthy article in his magazine All Year Round, which declared, ‘The quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel . . . The last grievance of the south was the Morrill tariff . . . it has severed the last threads which have bound the north and south together.’
The American Civil War was no different to any other civil war, or any other great revolt. Somewhere near its heart, there is always a tax story, usually an overlooked one.