David John Marotta on The Cause of The War

Today’s post at the Marotta On Money blog is one of those incredibly rare pieces that shows the real reason that the Southern states seceded from the union – punishing tariffs designed to enrich the North at the expense of the South. There are very few men who have the kind of broad understanding of the issues and of economics to see beyond the prescribed slavery-is-the-only-cause story, but Mr. Marotta does just that. Here is a key section from the post, but please take a few minutes to read the entire post – it is very informative and well-written.

As early as the Revolutionary War, the South primarily produced cotton, rice, sugar, indigo and tobacco. The North purchased these raw materials and turned them into manufactured goods. By 1828, foreign manufactured goods faced high import taxes. Foreign raw materials, however, were free of tariffs.

Thus the domestic manufacturing industries of the North benefited twice, once as the producers enjoying the protection of high manufacturing tariffs and once as consumers with a free raw materials market. The raw materials industries of the South were left to struggle against foreign competition.

Because manufactured goods were not produced in the South, they had to either be imported or shipped down from the North. Either way, a large expense, be it shipping fees or the federal tariff, was added to the price of manufactured goods only for Southerners. Because importation was often cheaper than shipping from the North, the South paid most of the federal tariffs.

Much of the tariff revenue collected from Southern consumers was used to build railroads and canals in the North. Between 1830 and 1850, 30,000 miles of track was laid. At its best, these tracks benefited the North. Much of it had no economic effect at all. Many of the schemes to lay track were simply a way to get government subsidies. Fraud and corruption were rampant.

With most of the tariff revenue collected in the South and then spent in the North, the South rightly felt exploited. At the time, 90% of the federal government’s annual revenue came from these taxes on imports.

Historians Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffer found that a few common factors increase the likelihood of secession in a region: lower wages, an economy based on raw materials and external exploitation. Although popular movies emphasize slavery as a cause of the Civil War, the war best fits a psycho-historical model of the South rebelling against Northern exploitation.

Many Americans do not understand this fact. A non-slave-owning Southern merchant angered over yet another proposed tariff act does not make a compelling scene in a movie. However, that would be closer to the original cause of the Civil War than any scene of slaves picking cotton.

About Stephen Clay McGehee

Born-Again Christian, Grandfather, husband, business owner, Southerner, aspiring Southern Gentleman. Publisher of The Confederate Colonel and The Southern Agrarian blogs. President/Owner of Adjutant Workshop, Inc., Vice President - Gather The Fragments Bible Mission, Inc. (Sierra Leone, West Africa), Webmaster - Military Order of The Stars and Bars, Kentucky Colonel.
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3 Responses to David John Marotta on The Cause of The War

  1. boxty says:


    There is a discussion at the link below that seems to refute this theory on the cause of the Civil War. Their counter argument sounds convincing enough (see the comments to the post as well):


  2. In the interest of letting folks read opposing views and making up their own mind, I went ahead and approved the above post, including the link. Dead Confederates is a site, published by Andy Hall, with the sole agenda of “proving” that the Southern Cause was nothing other than the wicked self-interest of evil slave-beating thugs while the Union was the knight in shining armor whose only interest was spreading freedom throughout the continent under the kind leadership of Saint Abraham Lincoln (my description – not his). It is a site with a very clear agenda – just as Confederate Colonel has a very clear agenda. The difference is that I make no pretense of being objective. I bear no ill will toward Mr. Hall personally, but we clearly are on opposite sides.

    If the reader decides to believe Mr. Hall’s post as being the final authority on the issue (as opposed to our post here about Mr. Marotta’s writing), then I would strongly urge you to dig deeper than just accepting what he has written. Find out exactly where those numbers came from, what they really signify, and how they fit into the context of the discussion on tariffs. Then make your own decision.

  3. Scott Hill says:

    Glad you said what you did about d Confederates .
    I had looked at the site but couldn’t figure out if he was pro southern or not . Seemed the latter .
    It’s interesting that someone would spend so much time and energy to put down Dixie .
    Think it all boils down to him being jealous .
    Everyone wishes their ancestors had been Confederates if not the next best thing seems to be making the Causes’ grapes sour .

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