Or: The Real Cause of the American ‘Civil War’)
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American “Civil War,” more accurately described as the War to Prevent Southern Independence. It is also the 31st anniversary of the movie, The Godfather, Part II. A single scene in the movie illustrates the true cause of the “Civil War.”
The scene in question involves a Hells Kitchen New York Mafia boss in the early twentieth century named Don Fanucci, whose character is based on a real-life Mafia boss named Ignazio Lupo (“Lupo the Wolf”). In the scene Don Fanucci meets with a young Vito Corleone (who would later become “The Godfather”) after discovering that young Vito and some friends had been quite successful operating as thieves in the neighborhood. The purpose of the meeting was to extort money from the young Mafia wannabes since that, after all, was a big part of the “business” the Mafia was in at the time. Don Fanucci (and Ignazio Lupo) would go to all business people in Hell’s Kitchen and essentially say, “If you want to do business in ‘my’ neighborhood, you’ll have to give me a percentage – or else.” (Ignazio Lupo meant business; he is “credited” with at least 60 murders). Here is what Don Fannucci said to Vito Corleone, from the script of The Godfather, Part II:
Don Fanucci to Vito Corleone: “I hear you and your friends are stealing goods. But you don’t even send a dress to my house. No respect! You know I’ve got three daughters. This is my neighborhood. You and your friends should show me some respect. You should let me wet my beak a little. I hear you and your friends cleared $600 each. Give me $200 each, for your own protection. And I’ll forget the insult. Young punks have to learn to respect a man like me! Otherwise the cops will come to your house. And your family will be ruined. Of course, if I’m wrong about how much you stole, I’ll take a little less. And by less, I only mean – a hundred bucks less. Now don’t refuse me. Understand, paisan? Tell your friends I don’t want a lot. Just enough to wet my beak. Don’t be afraid to tell them!”
In the next scene Vito Corleone murders Don Fanucci and becomes the new “godfather” of the neighborhood and collector of exortion money for the privilege of doing business in “his” neighborhood.
The Criminal Cause of the “Civil War”,
In his first inaugural address Abraham Lincoln made essentially the same exortion threat to the South. But as the head of a powerful government and not just a small criminal gang, his threat involved “invasion” and massive “bloodshed” (his exact words) and a war that cost the lives of as many as 850,000 Americans according to the latest research. This may seem far-fetched to some, but not if one understands the essential nature of the state as a parasitic exploiter of the public. The state, said Murray Rothbard in his essay, “The State,” is by nature “parasitic” in that “it lives coercively off the production of the citizenry.” The purpose of the state is for those who run it to plunder those who do not. As Rothbard further wrote, quoting Albert Jay Nock: “The State claims and exercises the monopoly of crime . . . . It forbids private murder, but itself organizes murder on a colossal scale. It punishes private theft, but itself lays unscrupulous hands on anything it wants, whether the property of citizen or alien.” Or as George Washington once said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force” and can become “a fearful master.”
Extortion is indeed a primary occupation of the state and statists. As economist and legal scholar Fred McChesney wrote in his book, Money for Nothing: Politics, Rent Extraction, and Political Extortion (Harvard University Press, 1997), in the U.S. governments at all levels routinely propose onerous or even economically-disastrous taxes and regulations on specific businesses or industries purely in order to solicit “campaign contributions” from them. Then, after many millions are sent to politicians of both major parties, the proposed taxes and regulations are withdrawn. Such proposed legislation is known to Capitol Hill insiders as “milker bills” since they “milk” money from business people, Don Fanucci style, minus the threats of murder. Threats of economic ruination (or income tax audits) usually suffice.
In 1861 Abraham Lincoln was a small-time machine politician from Illinois whose reputation in politics was that of being a champion of patronage politics and corporate welfare. He was a wealthy corporate lawyer who represented all the major railroad corporations in the Mid-West. He traveled in a private rail car, courtesy of the Illinois Central Railroad, accompanied by an entourage of executives, and lived in the largest house on what is today called “Old Aristocracy Row” in Sprinfield, Illinois. His law office was about fifty paces away from the front door of the Illinois Statehouse.
Lincoln spent his entire political career attempting to use the powers of the state for the benefit of the moneyed corporate elite (the “one-percenters” of his day), first in Illinois, and then in the North in general, through protectionist tariffs, corporate welfare for road, canal, and railroad corporations, and a national bank controlled by politicians like himself to fund it all. This was the old Hamiltonian/Whig Party agenda that Hamilton himself labeled “the American System.” In reality, it was an American version of the rotten, corrupt, British mercantilist system that benefited politically-connected corporations at the expense of everyone else.
In his first inaugural address Lincoln wasted no time establishing himself as what I would call the Don Fanucci of American politics. In the first part of the speech he made an ironclad defense of Southern slavery, arguably the most powerful defense of slavery ever made by an American politician. The purpose of this was to keep the South in the union and, more importantly, to keep them paying federal taxes, which had just been more than doubled two days earlier when President Buchanan signed into law the Morrill Tariff. (At the time tariffs on imports accounted for about 90 percent of federal tax revenue. The Morrill Tariff increased the average tariff rate from 15% to 32.6%; vastly increased the number of items covered by the tariff; and provided for a future increase to 47%).
On the issue of slavery, Lincoln promised the strongest possible support. “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 right do to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
He then reminded his Washington, D.C. audience that this same ironclad defense of Southern slavery was a key part of the Republican Party platform of 1860. “Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them. . . . I now reiterate these statements . . .”
Next, Lincoln offered the strongest possible support for the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, which compelled Northerners to hunt down runaway slaves. Finally, he voiced his support for the proposed “Corwin Amendment” to the Constitution, which had already passed the House and Senate with almost exclusively Northern votes, that would have prohibited the U.S. government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. The text of the “first thirteenth amendment” read as follows: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to service.
In mid-March of 1861 Lincoln sent copies of the proposed amendment to all the state governors. In in first inaugural address he mentioned the amendment by saying, “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution – which amendment, however, I have not seen – has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service . . . . holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable” (emphasis added).
So on the issue of slavery Lincoln did not even entertain the notion of some kind of compromise. He issued an ironclad defense of Southern slavery, period. There was nothing to compromise, in his mind. The only opposition to slavery that was even discussed by Lincoln and the Republican Party at the time was opposition to the extension of slavery into the new territories, of which they gave two reasons. The first reason was that, because of the Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution, limiting the extension of slavery would limit Democratic Party representation in Congress, making it more likely that “the American System” could become law. Second, the Republican Party wanted to pander to the white supremacist North by promising white Northern voters in the soon-to-become states that there would be no black people living among them or competing with them for jobs.
On the issue of tariffs, on the other hand, Lincoln was a monstrous, uncompromising tyrant. “[T]here needs to be no bloodshed or violence,” he announced in his first address. What on earth, one may ask, could cause an American president to think of the possibility of inflicting “bloodshed or violence” on his own citizens?! Lincoln explained in the next sentence: “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 force against or among the people anywhere” (emphasis added).
This was Abe Lincoln’s Don Fanucci moment. What he was saying was
“Here’s the deal. Slavery is already legal and constitutional under the U.S. system of government, and has been since 1776. We in the North have no qualms about making slavery “express and irrevocable” right in the text of the U.S. Constitution. So if you are worried about Northern instigators of slave rebellions, you are mistaken. Stay in the union and your slave property will continue to be very well protected.”
“Slavery is a very profitable business, and we in the North intend to share in those profits. That is one of the main purposes of the Morrill Tariff, which has just more than doubled the average tariff rate. Since you, the South, export at least three-fourths of all your agricultural products and rely so heavily on foreign trade, we in the North cannot – and will not – tolerate the free-trade policies that you have written into your Confederate Constitution. [The Confederate Constitution outlawed protectionist tariffs altogether]. Free trade in the South, and a 50% tariff rate in the North, the cornerstone of the Republican Party Platform of 1860, will destroy the Northern ports and much of our commerce. We will not allow this to happen. We have the willingness and the ability to inflict violence, bloodshed, force, and invasion on the Southern people. We will not back down this time to the South Carolina tariff nullifiers as my predecessor, President Andrew Jackson did some thirty years ago.”
“We are not being any more greedy here than say, our European counterparts. We only want to wet our beaks, so to speak, by taxing a portion of your slave profits. There need not be any violence or bloodshed –as long as you do what we say.”
This is how the Southern politicians understood the motivations of the Yankee political elite in early 1861. Jefferson Davis himself demonstrated this understanding in his own first inaugural address, delivered in Montomery, Alabama, on February 18, 1861:
“[O]ur true policy is peace, and the freest trade which our necessities will permit . . . and that . . . there should be the fewest practicable restrictions upon the interchange of commodities . . . . If, however, passion or the lust of dominion should cloud the judgment or inflame the ambition of [the Northern states], we must prepare to meet the emergency and to maintain, by the final arbitrament of the sword, the position we have assumed . . .”
Whatever other reasons some of the Southern states might have given for secession is irrelevant to the question of why there was a war. Secession does not necessitate war. Lincoln promised war over tax collection in his first inaugural address. When the Southern states refused to pay his beloved Morrill Tariff at the Southern ports, he kept his promise of “invasion and bloodshed” and waged war on the Southern states. No gangster in the history of the world has ever enforced an extortion racket on such a gargantuan scale of death, plunder, and destruction.