Abraham Lincoln's Reason for War
April 1, 2021 | View PDF
Abe Lincoln was determined to keep the Union together and deny Southern Independence. Although antithetical to the creation of these united States, the “unbreakable union myth” was supported by some in Lincoln’s era as it is now; however, there is more to the story.
Lincoln stated the pivotal reason for war in his First Inaugural Address of Monday, March 4, 1861: “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; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.”
After seven States seceded, Lincoln agreed to meet with Southern peace seekers:
First Meeting: On April 4, 1861, John Brown Baldwin of Virginia met with Lincoln in Washington, D.C. After introductory conversation, Baldwin quickly realized the area of concern when Lincoln asked, “Well … what about the revenue? What would I do about the collection of duties?” Baldwin asked about the amount of yearly revenue loss. Lincoln responded “fifty or sixty millions.” Baldwin said a loss of two hundred and fifty million dollars (based on a four-year presidential term) would be trivial compared to the cost of war and Virginia had a plan to resolve the issue.
Lincoln added, ”And open Charleston, etc., as ports of entry, with their ten per cent tariff. What, then, would become of my tariff?”…”I ought to have known this sooner! You are too late, sir, too late! Why did you not come here four days ago, and tell me all this?” Baldwin replied: “Why, Mr. President, you did not ask our advice. Besides, as soon as we received permission to tender it, I came by the first train, as fast as steam could bring me.” Another fact omitted by Lincoln was that he had authorized reinforcement of Forts Sumter and Pickens on March 29 and the ships were preparing to sail.
Second Meeting: A.H.H. Stuart confirmed the accuracy of Baldwin’s account to Stonewall Jackson’s Chief of Staff, Rev. Robert L. Dabney. Stuart, William B. Preston and George W. Randolph, spoke with Lincoln on April 12-13, 1861, and received a similar message. “I remember,” says Mr. Stuart, “that he used this homely expression: ‘If I do that, what will become of my revenue? I might as well shut up housekeeping at once.’” Lincoln insinuated he opposed war; however, the day after their meeting the train on which they returned to Richmond carried the proclamation calling for 75,000 troops to coerce the seceded States.
Third Meeting: Another compromise effort was detailed in the April 23, 1861, edition of the Baltimore Exchange and reprinted in the May 8, 1861, edition of the Memphis Daily Avalanche. This involved a meeting between a group led by Dr. Richard Fuller, a preacher (and Southern Baptist who baptized Annie Armstrong) from the Seventh Baptist Church in Baltimore, and Lincoln.
The article states:
We learned that a delegation from five of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of Baltimore, consisting of six members each, yesterday (April 22, 1861) proceeded to Washington for an interview with the President, the purpose being to intercede with him in behalf a peaceful policy, and to entreat him not to pass troops through Baltimore or Maryland.
Fuller conducted the interview and offered a plea for peaceful recognition of Southern rights. Lincoln responded, “But what am I to do? ... what shall become of the revenue? I shall have no government? No resources?”
In the first paragraph of the April 19, 1861, Blockade Proclamation, Lincoln stated his fiscal concerns: “the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue can not be effectually executed ...”
Lyon Gardiner Tyler (son of President John Tyler), relying heavily on his father’s insight, explained: …the deciding factor with him (Lincoln) was the tariff question. In three separate interviews, he asked what would become of his revenue if he allowed the government at Montgomery to go on with their ten percent tariff … Final action was taken when nine governors of high tariff states waited upon Lincoln and offered him men and supplies.
Dabney summed up Lincoln’s actions: “His single objection, both to the wise advice of Colonel Baldwin and Mr. Stuart, was: “Then what would become of my tariffs?” Lincoln saw a free trade policy in the South as an economic threat to the North that could not be allowed. Dabney lamented, “he preferred to destroy the Union and preserve his [redistributive] tariffs.”
This unnecessary war benefitted the federal government, railroads and other government-connected corporations, and the bankers who financed and profited from the war and its aftermath.
Sources: “Interview Between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin, April 4th, 1861, Statements and Evidence,” at: https://archive.org/details/interviewbetween00bald; Bruce Gourley, “Baptists and the American Civil War: April 23, 1861,” In Their Own Words, April 23, 2011, http://www.civilwarbaptists.com/thisdayinhistory/1861-april-23/, (As reprinted in the Memphis Daily Avalanche, May 8, 1861, p. 1, col. 4); Lyon Gardiner Tyler, The Gray Book: A Confederate Catechism, 1997). Originally printed in Tyler’s Quarterly in Volume 33, October and January issues, 1935; and https://archive.org/details/interviewbetween00bald – State of Indiana & Indiana State University.