Mr. Lincoln’s Tax War

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#1
For the moment, let’s grant the Lost Cause narrative that the actual cause of the war was the Federal Government’s need to subdue the south in order to continue to tax them and collect tariff duties...

Would the war and suppression of the rebellion then be an illegal act on the part of the government? How would Lincoln sending troops to suppress rebellion be any different than what President Washington had done in Pennsylvania during his term?

One of the first taxes in the US was a tax on spirits distilled. Most of the distilling in the country was done along the frontier in the form of whiskey distilling. Farmers in Western Pennsylvania felt singled out and penalized by this tax. The rebelled and refused to pay.

In July of 1793, the government sent a US Marshall to serve the distillers and collect the tax. The rebels violently took possession of the home of the tax collector and other government buildings in south western PA. President Washington raised a force of over ten thousand soldiers from PA, VA, NJ, & MD. This force marched into the area in rebellion to suppress it and collect the tax.

Wouldn’t Lincoln’s actions in 1861 be legal as he was simply enforcing taxes levied by congress? Wasn’t Lincol just following the precedent set by the great George Washington?
 

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trice

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#4
All responses IMHO:
First problem I see is that the rebellion was not about taxes.
I agree that the secession and Civil War were not about taxes, but the OP says we should "grant the Lost Cause narrative that the actual cause of the war was the Federal Government’s need to subdue the south in order to continue to tax them and collect tariff duties..."
As anyone who follows my posts here knows, I think the secession and war were overwhelmingly about slavery. If we pretend that wasn't so and the rebellion was about taxes, I do see a relationship to the earlier George Washington action.

Second problem is that tax evasion is primarily a law enforcement problem and a rebellion is going to violate many laws.
If tax evasion/fraud is the problem, the 1860-61 secessionists made it too large a problem. Federal Marshals were inadequate to enforce the law and suppress the illegal acts when "the South" raised tens of thousands of armed men to oppose the Federal law enforcement.

Third problem is that the attack on Fort Sumter was a sovereignty issue, not a tax one.
Following through on the premise that we should ignore slavery and that this was (somehow) about taxes, this is really a matter of scale. By mid-April of 1861, "the South" had called up over 32,000 troops to the Confederacy and probably had another 30-40,000 already signed up in the state armies of the first 7 seceding states. The Federal Marshals could not oppose that. The US Army was only 16,000 men and 14,000 of those were West of the Mississippi River. Any attempt to enforce the law and re-institute Federal authority in the rebellious areas would require additional forces from the states. Hence, Lincoln must call out the Militia, and so the Civil War.
 
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#5
For the moment, let’s grant the Lost Cause narrative that the actual cause of the war was the Federal Government’s need to subdue the south in order to continue to tax them and collect tariff duties.

Okay and we will also agree to grant the fact that the actual cause of lung cancer has nothing to do with smoking.
 

jgoodguy

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#6
All responses IMHO:
I agree that the secession and Civil War were not about taxes, but the OP says we should "grant the Lost Cause narrative that the actual cause of the war was the Federal Government’s need to subdue the south in order to continue to tax them and collect tariff duties..."
As anyone who follows my posts here knows, I think the secession and war were overwhelmingly about slavery. If we pretend that wasn't so and the rebellion was about taxes, I do see a relationship to the earlier George Washington action.
I was just expressing my disagreement with the op.
If tax evasion/fraud is the problem, the 1860-61 secessionists made it too large a problem. Federal Marshals were inadequate to enforce the law and suppress the illegal acts when "the South" raised tens of thousands of armed men to oppose the Federal law enforcement
My point was that tax evasion was just a small part of secession and rebellion.
Following through on the premise that we should ignore slavery and that this was (somehow) about taxes, this is really a matter of scale. By mid-April of 1861, "the South" had called up over 32,000 troops to the Confederacy and probably had another 30-40,000 already signed up in the state armies of the first 7 seceding states. The Federal Marshals could not oppose that. The US Army was only 16,000 men and 14,000 of those were West of the Mississippi River. Any attempt to enforce the law and re-institute Federal authority in the rebellious areas would require additional forces from the states. Hence, Lincoln must call out the Militia, and so the Civil War.
That follows that tax evasion is just a small part of the lawlessness and Lincoln is justified in calling out the Militia. However with the attack on Fort Sumter, even if for tax issues, means that the matter will be resolved by war.
 

trice

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#7
I was just expressing my disagreement with the op.

My point was that tax evasion was just a small part of secession and rebellion.
That follows that tax evasion is just a small part of the lawlessness and Lincoln is justified in calling out the Militia. However with the attack on Fort Sumter, even if for tax issues, means that the matter will be resolved by war.
I pretty much agree. But I also think that means I agree with the OP. If we imagine that it was all about taxes, Lincoln does the same thing in response to aggressive actions by the Confederacy as he did in real life. It really would look a lot like George Washington suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion (or scaring Rhode Island into finally accepting the Constitution). The big difference is that Lincoln faced a bigger rebellion with more force to be repressed.
 

jgoodguy

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#8
I pretty much agree. But I also think that means I agree with the OP. If we imagine that it was all about taxes, Lincoln does the same thing in response to aggressive actions by the Confederacy as he did in real life. It really would look a lot like George Washington suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion (or scaring Rhode Island into finally accepting the Constitution). The big difference is that Lincoln faced a bigger rebellion with more force to be repressed.
However, as the name implies, the Whisky Rebellion with a general breakdown of law and order was not just about enforcing taxes. The sticking point with me is will the Northern States stake blood and treasure just to collect taxes. Lincoln can call for the militia, but will anyone answer. Washington was not only the President but the hero of the revolution.

Trying to stay with the OP, if it just taxes, then Lincoln will be unable to call out the militia. There must be a general rebellion.

Unlike the Whiskey taxes which were widespread over land, Federal Tariffs are only local to ports. I do not see the same level of justification.
 
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#11

The Lost Cause narrative rests on the notion that the cause of the war was northern greed. The War was an illegal invasion to keep the southern tax base, etc. Plainly this is incorrect. My question is, even if we grant that notion, wouldn’t Lincoln’s actions still be legal? Didn’t he merely follow Washington’s precedent in raising an army to suppress a tax rebellion?
 

trice

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#12
However, as the name implies, the Whisky Rebellion with a general breakdown of law and order was not just about enforcing taxes. The sticking point with me is will the Northern States stake blood and treasure just to collect taxes. Lincoln can call for the militia, but will anyone answer. Washington was not only the President but the hero of the revolution.

Trying to stay with the OP, if it just taxes, then Lincoln will be unable to call out the militia. There must be a general rebellion.

Unlike the Whiskey taxes which were widespread over land, Federal Tariffs are only local to ports. I do not see the same level of justification.
Well, the actual big difference is that the Whiskey Rebellion is a case of individuals rebelling, not States.

At the time, the entire US Army was about 200 men stationed at West Point to look after equipment and supplies left over from the Revolution. IIRR. Washington does call up the state Militias to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, so it is possible to get that done over taxes.

The Rhode Island case is more to the point. RI was still not ratifying the Constitution. The state was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and looking for a better deal: they owed big debts from the Revolution and wanted the Congress to pick them up for them. Only about 50% of the white males in RI were eligible to vote at the time, so the government was run by esentially the rich. RI was also looking like it was about to erupt in a civil war all their own as the state government kept refusing to ratify and the masses wanted ratification.

Congress, sitting in New York City, voted through an ultimatum: they authorized George Washington to collect the RI debts to the US by any means necessary. This news reached Rhode Island about 24 hours later.

The leaders of RI looked around and saw a future with George Washington on a white horse leading the Militia of Massachusetts and Connecticut and maybe a few other states into Providence to collect what they owed. All of a sudden, Rhode Island ratified the Constitution and a political deal on the debt was concluded shortly afterwards. No one wanted to wait.

The attack on Fort Sumter is crucial because of its' moral effect on the people of "the North" (as in "the rest of the country"). If Lincoln had called on the states for Militia on April 1, some might have responded, some might not. A large portion of the people really do seem to have been in the there is no "right of secession" but we should not compel "the South" to remain attitude. Once the country hears of the Southern attack, that attitude melts away in "the North" the very day the news arrives in any particular city.

If we somehow say that the "winter of Secession" was really about taxes (I still say it was about slavery), but everything else goes the same and "the South" still attacks Fort Sumter, I think the reaction will be the same. Lincoln will still call for troops, the states will still respond the same way.

If I see anything that might be different, I'd say it would be the attitude of the Upper South and Border States. If the whole thing was really "about taxes", I think it might have been harder to convince a state like Virginia or North Carolina to secede.
 

trice

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#13
The Lost Cause narrative rests on the notion that the cause of the war was northern greed. The War was an illegal invasion to keep the southern tax base, etc. Plainly this is incorrect. My question is, even if we grant that notion, wouldn’t Lincoln’s actions still be legal? Didn’t he merely follow Washington’s precedent in raising an army to suppress a tax rebellion?

Yes, I would think so. Lincoln's action in calling for the Militia is clearly legal under the various Militia Acts. The cause of the Southern rebellion does not matter. The need to use force to protect the nation and enforce the law still remains.
 
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#14
However, as the name implies, the Whisky Rebellion with a general breakdown of law and order was not just about enforcing taxes. The sticking point with me is will the Northern States stake blood and treasure just to collect taxes. Lincoln can call for the militia, but will anyone answer. Washington was not only the President but the hero of the revolution.

Trying to stay with the OP, if it just taxes, then Lincoln will be unable to call out the militia. There must be a general rebellion.

Unlike the Whiskey taxes which were widespread over land, Federal Tariffs are only local to ports. I do not see the same level of justification.

Lincoln most likely wouldn’t have had the backing of the loyal states if the Lost Cause myth was actually true. It’s doubtful that northerners would go to war over tax collection in the south.

I would contend that during the winter of 1860-61 there was a breakdown of law and order in the south and the secessionists had illegally gathered arms, raised forces, and seized property; just as the Whiskey Rebels.

Though the Whiskey Tax was general, it disproportionately affected those on the frontier, namely those in SW PA and what is now Northern West Virginia where most US whiskey was distilled and where whiskey served as substitute currency in many cases. The feeling that they were being unfairly treated by the tax among the Whiskey Rebels can be analogous to the feeling amongst the southern secessionists that the tariffs disproportionately affected them and that they were being unfairly treated. Both parties felt that they were being forced by the government to pay more than their fair share while others got a pass.
 
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#15
So I guess the question is, doesn’t the Lost Cause narrative elevate Lincoln to taking essentially the same actions as the great Virginian George Washington when faced with what amounts to an analogous situation (albeit much larger scale)?
 

trice

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#17
So I guess the question is, doesn’t the Lost Cause narrative elevate Lincoln to taking essentially the same actions as the great Virginian George Washington when faced with what amounts to an analogous situation (albeit much larger scale)?
Yes, that is pretty much what I thought the OP was about. Legally, it is very similar and the authority of Washington and Lincoln to call for troops comes from different-but-similar versions of the Militia Acts. The only real difference legally is that Washington was facing a disorganized rebellion of individuals and Lincoln was facing an organized rebellion of states.
 

jgoodguy

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#18
Well, the actual big difference is that the Whiskey Rebellion is a case of individuals rebelling, not States.
I'd say both were large-scale insurrections. One much larger than the other. Lincoln's position was that it was individuals rebelling not States.

The attack on Fort Sumter is crucial because of its' moral effect on the people of "the North" (as in "the rest of the country"). If Lincoln had called on the states for Militia on April 1, some might have responded, some might not. A large portion of the people really do seem to have been in the there is no "right of secession" but we should not compel "the South" to remain attitude. Once the country hears of the Southern attack, that attitude melts away in "the North" the very day the news arrives in any particular city.
Agree

If we somehow say that the "winter of Secession" was really about taxes (I still say it was about slavery), but everything else goes the same and "the South" still attacks Fort Sumter, I think the reaction will be the same. Lincoln will still call for troops, the states will still respond the same way.
Agree, it is the attack that changes everything. An observation: In the real timeline, the South is rebelling over slavery, the North is fighting for the sovereignty of the United States. The North is not fighting over slavery in the beginning. So even if the South fights for tax relief, the North is still fighting over sovereignty which while it included tax collection is much more. Another difference is that the Whisky tax was repealed a bit after the rebellion after the point about sovereignty was settled.
If I see anything that might be different, I'd say it would be the attitude of the Upper South and Border States. If the whole thing was really "about taxes", I think it might have been harder to convince a state like Virginia or North Carolina to secede.
I had not thought of that, but it is a very good point.
 

jgoodguy

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#19
I think it would have been clearer if this thread were in the "What if...?" forum, and worded accordingly. In a sense, it's an exercise in alternate history, and @trice was playing the devil's advocate.
It does address an alternative cause of the war frequently brought up. I think the analysis in the thread shows how improbable and ahistorical it is.
 
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#20
There is no difference. If tax issues are resolved by armed resistance, rather than voting, the results are exactly the same.
The government has the right to enforce its taxes by revenue cutters, backed by the navy. So the argument is correct.
The Lost Cause argument links tax resistance to racial policy in a manner that was very appealing.
 

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