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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Foreshadowing of Disunion

By Nathaniel Beverley Tucker (1784–1851)

[Born in Matoax, Va., 1781. Died at Winchester, Va., 1851. From The Partisan Leader. Secretly printed in 1836, and afterwards suppressed. Published, and again suppressed, in 1861.]

“YOU now require that we show you some prevailing reason why Virginia should detach herself from the Northern Confederacy, and either form a separate State, which we do not propose, or unite herself to the South, which we do. Is not that your difficulty?”

“It is,” replied Douglas, “I have long been sensible that there were views of the subject which my situation had hidden from me, and have frequently lamented, while I was grateful for, the resolute reserve which my friends have maintained.”

“You must be sensible,” said B——, “that the Southern States, including Virginia, are properly and almost exclusively agricultural. The quality of their soil and climate, and the peculiar character of their laboring population, concur to make agriculture the most profitable employment among them. Apart from the influence of artificial causes, it is not certain that any labor can be judiciously taken from the soil to be applied to any other object whatever. When Lord Chatham said that America ought not to manufacture a hobnail for herself, he spoke as a true and judicious friend of the colonies. The labor necessary to make a hobnail, if applied to the cultivation of the earth, might produce that for which the British manufacturer would gladly give two hobnails. By coming between the manufacturer and the farmer, and interrupting this interchange by perverse legislation, the Government broke the tie which bound the colonies to the mother country.

“When that tie was severed and peace established, it was the interest of both parties that this interchange should be restored, and put upon such a footing as to enable each, reciprocally, to obtain for the products of his own labor as much as possible of the labor of the other.

“Why was not this done? Because laws are not made for the benefit of the people, but for that of their rulers. The monopolizing spirit of the landed aristocracy in England led to the exclusion of our bread-stuffs, and the necessities of the British treasury tempted to the levying of enormous revenue from our other agricultural products. The interchange between the farmer and manufacturer was thus interrupted. In part it was absolutely prevented; the profit being swallowed up by the impost, the inducement was taken away.

“What did the American Government under these circumstances? Did they say to Great Britain, ‘Relax your corn-laws; reduce your duties on tobacco; make no discrimination between our cotton and that from the East Indies; and we will refrain from laying a high duty on your manufactures. You will thus enrich your own people, and it is by no means sure that their increased prosperity may not give you, through the excise and other channels of revenue, more than an equivalent to the taxes we propose to you to withdraw.’

“Did we say this? No. And why? Because, in the Northern States, there was a manufacturing interest to be advanced by the very course of legislation most fatal to the South. With a dense population, occupying a small extent of barren country, with mountain streams tumbling into deep tide-water, and bringing commerce to the aid of manufactures, they wanted nothing but a monopoly of the Southern market to enable them to enrich themselves. The alternative was before us. To invite the great European manufacturer to reciprocate the benefits of free trade, whereby the South might enjoy all the advantages of its fertile soil and fine climate, or to transfer these advantages to the North, by meeting Great Britain on the ground of prohibition and exaction. The latter was preferred, because to the interest of that section, which, having the local majority, had the power.

“Under this system, Great Britain has never wanted a pretext for her corn-laws, and her high duties on all our products. Thus we sell all we make subject to these deductions, which, in many instances, leave much less to us than what goes into the British Treasury.

“Here, too, is the pretext to the Government of the United States for their exactions in return. The misfortune is, that the Southern planter had to bear both burdens. One-half the price of his products is seized by the British Government, and half the value of what he gets for the other half is seized by the Government of the United States.

“This they call retaliation and indemnification. It was indemnifying an interest which had not been injured, by the farther injury of one which had been injured. It was impoverishing the South for the benefit of the North, to requite the South for having been already impoverished for the benefit of Great Britain. Still it was ‘indemnifying ourselves.’ Much virtue in that word, ‘ourselves.’ It is the language used by the giant to the dwarf in the fable; the language of the brazen pot to the earthen pot; the language of all dangerous or interested friendship.

“I remember seeing an illustration of this sort of indemnity in the case of a woman who was whipped by her husband. She went complaining to her father, who whipped her again, and sent her back. ‘Tell your husband,’ said he, ‘that as often as he whips my daughter, I will whip his wife.’”

“But what remedy has been proposed for these things?” asked Douglas.

“A remedy has been proposed and applied,” replied B——. “The remedy of legislation for the benefit, not of the rulers, but of the ruled.”

“But in what sense will you say that our legislation has been for the benefit of the rulers alone? Are we not all our own rulers?”

“Yes,” replied B——, “if you again have recourse to the use of that comprehensive word ‘we,’ which identifies things most dissimilar, and binds up, in the same bundle, things most discordant. If the South and North are one; if the Yankee and the Virginian are one; if light and darkness, heat and cold, life and death, can all be identified; then ‘we’ are our own rulers. Just so, if the State will consent to be identified with the Church, then we pay tithes with one hand, and receive them with the other. While the Commons identify themselves with the Crown, ‘we’ do but pay taxes to ourselves. And if Virginians can be fooled into identifying themselves with the Yankees—a fixed tax-paying minority, with a fixed tax-receiving majority—it will still be the same thing; and they will continue to hold a distinguished place among the innumerable ‘we’s’ that have been gulled into their own ruin ever since the world began. It is owing to this sort of deception, played off on the unthinking multitude, that in the two freest countries in the world, the most important interests are taxed for the benefit of lesser interests. In England, a country of manufacturers, they have been starved that agriculture may thrive. In this, a country of farmers and planters, they have been taxed that manufacturers may thrive. Now I will requite Lord Chatham’s well-intentioned declaration, by saying that England ought not to make a barrel of flour for herself. I say, too, that if her rulers, and the rulers of the people of America, were true to their trust, both sayings would be fulfilled. She would be the workhouse, and here would be the granary of the world. What would become of the Yankees? As I don’t call them ‘we,’ I leave them to find the answer to that question.”