Tag Archives: History

Free Course on America’s Great Depression

One way to become a better investor and informed citizen is to study history.   an old pro gives advice:

“Learn history!” Joe Rosenberg (JR), Investment Officer at Loews 2017 L_Letter-to-Shareholders shouts.

My favorite book to recommend is The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer.  CSInvesting seconds this recommendation. 


The book provides a concise and astute portrait of the personality type that is drawn to authoritarian institutions, whether political or religious. Hoffer makes an excellent case that the mass movements – the fascists, the communists, and the various brands of religious fundamentalists, that have caused so much death, suffering, and chaos throughout history in their attempts to impose their values and belief systems on others, have all depended on people of basically similar character to fill their ranks.

The true believer, as Hoffer portrays him/her, is someone who yearns for certainty and fears ambiguity; who sees the world in dualistic terms, black and white with no gray areas; who prefers to simply follow orders, letting others make the hard ethical decisions; who revels in belonging to an exclusive group and looking down on outsiders, particularly if they belong to a group the leaders have chosen as scapegoats.

Every voter should read this book and then look at the world today – the politics of fear and division, the growth of fundamentalist religion, the strident bigots on talk radio and TV – and then start working to reduce the danger they all pose to the freedoms in our Constitution, to the separation of church and state, and to our standing in the world.

—  Back to Mr. Rosenberg…………

There is no discussion about investing in the book, but in my opinion, it is extremely helpful in understanding markets. It conveys the nature of human behavior in mass–how people act as a group. One of his great examples is explaining why people riot. There is no reason and no logic. People just get caught up in it. Riots don’t end all at once, they end person-by-person—that is markets. People panic in a group, but they come back to their sense one by one. That is why stock move incrementally the way the do.

CSIMA (Columbia Student Investment Management Association): How should they think about investment and time horizon?

JR: Young people today in business are much more macro-oriented than micro-oriented. They spend much more time on what is going on in Europe or Federal Reserve policies. They don’t focus much on company specifics. Even when they do they have a very low level of confidence in what they are doing. It’s very unfortunate. I hate that they don’t teach financial history in business schools. If it was up to me, I would make financial history and all history a number one requirement for business schools. Understanding how a spreadsheet works can be learned on the job easily but understanding the continuum of history requires certain intellect. I cannot for the life of me under-stand why business schools are not teaching financial history.

My advice to young people, if they really want to be successful in this business, is to learn financial history. Learn history in general and then dig deeper into financial history and you will not be in such awe of everything that’s going on. I see the same problem in my office. People just don’t know any financial history and they think that everything that is happening is unusual. Everything else can be learned on the job.

The Course on The Economics of the Great Depression

In this five-lecture course, Dr. Robert Murphy reviews the causes of the Great Depression, the response of the Hoover administration, and the New Deal. The focus is more on economic analysis rather than historical narratives, contrasting the Keynesian interpretation of various events versus the Austrian explanation in particular. Topics include the operation of the gold standard and the allegation that it inhibited policymakers from implementing the “stimulus,” Herbert Hoover’s supposed austerity program, the Friedman-Schwartz theory that the Fed’s unwillingness to inflate led to the severe downturn in the early 1930s, recent academic research showing the cartelization effects of the New Deal, and the myth of wartime prosperity. Dr. Murphy’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal, would be very helpful for students, but it is not required for the course. All necessary reading materials are provided.

Sign up for free: https://mises.org/mises-academy/economics-great-depression

How to Get Rich


Lecture on Studying Financial History (Russell Napier)

Russell Napier’s Lecture

on Financial History   (60 minutes)


A good lecture on integrating past lessons into today’s current conditions.

A CFA composite book on Financial History: Financial History CFA Institute

If you do study financial history like the period of the Internet Boom then collect books and articles from many perspectives AND look at supply as well as demand. Also, incentives rule.

For example, read several books from different perspectives and the history of interest rates, the history of commodity prices, other equities, interest rate spreads, etc.

















UBS trading floor above in 2008 and now in 2016


Soros on the 2008 Crisis and Reflexivity (History)


I have started to develop a set of generalizations along these lines by introducing the concept of reflexivity.  Reflexivity can be interpreted as a two-way feedback mechanism between the participants’ expectations and the actual course of events.  The feedback may be positive or negative.  Negative feedback serves to correct the participants’ misjudgments and misconceptions and brings their views closer to the actual state of affairs until, in an extreme case, they actually correspond to each other.  In a positive feedback a distortion in the participants’ view causes mispricing in financial markets, which in turn affects the so-called fundamentals in a self-reinforcing fashion, driving the participants’ views and the actual state of affairs ever further apart.  What renders the outcome uncertain is that a positive feedback cannot go on forever, yet the exact point at which it turns negative is inherently unpredictable.  Such initially self-reinforcing but eventually self-defeating, boom-bust processes are just as characteristic of financial markets as the tendency towards equilibrium.

Instead of a universal and timeless tendency towards equilibrium, equilibrium turns out to be an extreme case of negative feedback.  At the other extreme, positive feedback produces bubbles.  Bubbles have two components: a trend that prevails in reality and a misconception relating to that trend.  The trend that most commonly causes a bubble is the easy availability of credit and the most common misconception is that the availability of credit does not affect the value of the collateral.  Of course it does, as we have seen in the recent housing bubble.  But that’s not sufficient to fully explain the course of events.

I have formulated a specific hypothesis for the crash of 2008 which holds that it was the result of a “super-bubble” that started forming in 1980 when Ronald Reagan became President of the United States and Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The prevailing trend in the super-bubble was also the ever-increasing use of credit and leverage; but the misconception was different.  It was the belief that markets correct their own excesses.  Reagan called it the “magic of the marketplace”; I call it market fundamentalism.  Since it was a misconception, it gave rise to bubbles.

Read more…

  1. Soros Anatomy of a Crisis 
  2. George-Soros-Theory-of-Reflexivity-MIT-Speech

Apple (AAPL) 100 to 1 in the Stock Market


After buying Apple during the depths of the Tech Bubble Bust in 2003 around $6.94, I recently had to sell about ten years later around $700 for a compound annual return over 10 years of 58.5%. Eat your heart out Munger, Buffett, Soros, Graham, Tudor Jones, etc., etc.

And now what? 

Ok, Ok, I live in fantasy.  A friend recently said that he wished he had sold his Apple after buying it last year. Coulda, shoulda, woulda doesn’t advance your skills as an investor. What can we learn A Priori (before the fact) to help us as investors in finding and or managing our investments?  What lessons can be gleaned from Apple’s history? In Part 2: We will begin to prepare our case study file on Apple.

James Grant’s Speech to the Fed and More

James Grant argued for a return to the classical gold standard at the New York Federal Reserve. Note Grant’s command of financial and economic history. He references several books which you might find of interest. The beauty and purpose of the gold standard is that it takes monetary policy out of the control of moneyed elites and allows the market to work.  Critics will say that the nation had recurring booms and busts while on the classical gold standard, but they may be confusing the chaos of fractional reserve banking (being able to pyramid loans on top of deposits with fiduciary media) with the classical gold standard (the citizenry is able to convert currency into a fixed amount of gold).

Grant’s Speech to the New York Federal Reserve

My annotated copy is here:James Grant Speech on Gold and the FED April 2012

Robert Wenzel Speech

Another excellent critique of the Federal Reserve is Robert Wenzel’s speech on April 25th, 2012 http://www.mises.org/daily/6028/New-York-Fed-Leave-the-Building.

An excerpt: I simply do not understand most of the thinking that goes on here at the Fed, and I do not understand how this thinking can go on when in my view it smacks up against reality.

Please allow me to begin with methodology. I hold the view developed by such great economic thinkers as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Murray Rothbard that there are no constants in the science of economics similar to those in the physical sciences.

In the science of physics, we know that water freezes at 32 degrees. We can predict with immense accuracy exactly how far a rocket ship will travel filled with 500 gallons of fuel. There is preciseness because there are constants, which do not change and upon which equations can be constructed.

There are no such constants in the field of economics, because the science of economics deals with human action, which can change at any time. If potato prices remain the same for 10 weeks, it does not mean they will be the same the following day. I defy anyone in this room to provide me with a constant in the field of economics that has the same unchanging constancy that exists in the fields of physics or chemistry.

And yet, in paper after paper here at the Federal Reserve, I see equations built as though constants do exist. It is as if one were to assume a constant relationship existed between interest rates here and in Russia and throughout the world, and create equations based on this belief and then attempt to trade based on these equations. That was tried and the result was the blow up of the fund Long Term Capital Management — a blow up that resulted in high-level meetings in this very building.

It is as if traders assumed a given default rate was constant for subprime mortgage paper and traded on that belief. Only to see it blow up in their faces, as it did, again, with intense meetings being held in this very building.

Yet, the equations, assuming constants, continue to be published in papers throughout the Fed system. I scratch my head.

Origin of the Federal Reserve

The Origins of the Federal Reserve by Murray N. Rothbard (128 pages) http://library.mises.org/books/Murray%20N%20Rothbard/The%20Origins%20of%20the%20Federal%20Reserve.pdf


If you read and understand the above articles and book, you will have a good inkling of why the rich become richer and the poor become poorer.

Learn Accounting; Industry Metrics; Amazon; Geico Valuation; Klarman, Textbook Pubs. are Toast

“Your goal as an investor should simply be to purchase, at a rational price, a part interest in an easily understandable business whose earnings are virtually certain to be materially higher five, ten and twenty years from now. Over time, you will find only a few companies that meet these standards – so when you see one that qualifies, you should buy a meaningful amount of stock. You must also resist the temptation to stray from your guidelines: If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes. Put together a portfolio of companies whose aggregate earnings march upward over the years, and so also will the portfolio’s market value.” –Warren Buffett

To the Austrians, economics is not a tool of social control, it’s a framework for helping us understand humanity, its history, and our plight in the world”–Peter Boettke

Accounting and Financial Metrics of Industries

Learn more about accounting and a good source of industry metrics (please don’t share my secrets!)http://mgt.gatech.edu/fac_research/centers_initiatives/finlab/index.html

Heilbroner, a socialist, admits socialism is a total failure: http://reason.com/archives/2005/01/21/the-man-who-told-the-truth

Game over for text-book publishers


Valuation of GEICO

http://www.scribd.com/doc/78448120/Warren-Buffett%E2%80%99s-1995-GEICO-acquisition. There is something important missing in this valuation. Can anyone point it out?

Is America’s Debt a Problem?


Klarman and the Importance of History

Facing History and Ourselves.   I am sure this has been posted before, but if not, view this.   http://vimeo.com/32333102

Charlie479 Discusses AMZN

A generous reader shared this: Interesting comments from Charlie479 on AMZN (from VIC). Another example of an investor who thinks strategically and like a business person.

charlie479   12/20/11 11:25 PM AMZN one of the best companies I forgot to say that I chuckled thinking about the analyst making the “I want to buy Amazon at 100x earnings” pitch. I suppose that doesn’t necessarily make it mispriced but the earnings power is certainly higher than current GAAP net income. I think they could easily raise their prices by $0.63 per each $25 order (not exactly the same thing, but if Super Saver shipping was $0.63 instead of free, would that really change shopper behavior?). If they managed the business to maximize current profits like this, that $0.63 increase per $25 would double earnings. If sales grow like they did the past 12 months then suddenly the multiple isn’t looking so crazy. I’m not saying this makes AMZN one of the top half dozen stock investments in the world but the p/e might not be awful if your thesis is right.

I’ve occasionally wondered if someone could beat Amazon if they had $80 billion. I don’t think they could take over the #1 spot but I do think they could become competitive in a lot of areas. I would probably use the $80 billion to start several category-specific internet retailers, develop a large selection within that category, and drive turnover by capturing mind share as the expert in that category and as the lowest price seller, initially at losses. This is more or less the Amazon playbook, and companies like Diapers.com (before being bought), Newegg, and Blue Nile have managed to carve out niches. I bet there will be more. I think if VCs or public markets are willing to lose enough money for awhile, it isn’t that hard to replicate the warehouse network and other logistical moats.

Another reason to temper the who-needs-another-pipeline thought I posed in the previous comment is that consumers sometimes choose retailers for reasons other than price and selection. Certain bricks and mortar retailers will always have an advantage in terms of convenience (e.g. convenience stores, insightful eh?). And customers like to touch and try on certain products, like clothes, so I don’t see Amazon getting anything close to 50% share in those categories. Freshness matters, too, so it’s not clear grocery can be effectively penetrated by Amazon, and I bet that is a large portion of the Global Retail sales denominator. So, perhaps the current internet retail number at 3% is lower than what most people think, but maybe the maximum theoretical internet retail percentage is also lower than what most people think.

charlie479  12/20/11 10:47 PM AMZN one of the best companies

I think Amazon is one of the most admirable companies in the world. It has the expense advantages in rent and labor over B&M retailers that you mention, and it has cost advantages over other internet retailers as well. The massive sales volume makes the fixed cost percentages very low, and the inventory turnover in many products is so high that it can accept lower gross margins and still generate higher ROIC than competitors who charge a larger markup. The lower markup attracts more customers and generates more volume, which only reinforces the edge. It is the higher-turn/lower-markup Borsheim’s dynamic that Buffett describes.

The advantages aren’t limited to cost either. The high turnover also allows them to carry a huge number of SKUs at adequate ROIC, so they can offer customers the widest selection in many categories. For certain categories, after I browse Amazon and then Wal-Mart, I’ll come away feeling that Wal-Mart doesn’t have much of a selection. It’s hard to make Wal-Mart look narrow. Amazon is the first/last place many people shop because they know it has the widest selection and it’s likely to have that selection in stock.

Another non-price advantage is that they’re the most trusted internet retailer. I actually think those customer satisfaction ratings might be understating the difference. Their return policy and customer service is great. Even if a product is available from discountworldxyz.com at a slightly cheaper price, I’ll pay more to get it through Amazon because I know it’ll be the product I ordered, or else I’ll be able to return it. Who wants to deal with negotiating shipping costs or return policies with anyone else? I don’t think this is simply Amazon being more generous than discountworldxyz.com. They have the low-cost structure described in paragraph #1 that allows them to accept higher return costs while still generating better ROICs. I also suspect that their extensive review database reduces some of the likelihood of returns.

I think many retailers like Best Buy are at such a severe selection and cost disadvantage (even adjusting for sales tax) that their businesses are in trouble in the long-term. I even worry about beloved Costco. I no longer have no-price-comparison-needed-let’s-just-buy faith when walking down the aisles at Costco because Amazon has better prices frequently enough to make me doubt. More broadly, as someone who is cheering for the Costcos (no financial rooting interest, I just root for them because I admire them), I worry that Amazon will get to such scale one day that it’ll be a more efficient overall system for one UPS guy to drive from the Amazon warehouse and cruise through your neighborhood dropping off everything you and your neighbors need for the week. That might sound crazy but the current system of having you and all your neighbors separately drive SUVs 15-20 minutes to Costco to each walk through the aisles hand-picking and then checking out, doesn’t sound that efficient by comparison. I haven’t read anything about Bezos explicitly saying that’s his endgame but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s in the 10 year wish list. If they end up with the cheapest and widest pipeline, there might not be much need for other pipelines.

Strategic Logic Quiz, Review of Austrian Economics, and What about Tomorrow?

The three biggest achievements of the Cuban revolution are health, education, and low infant-mortality rates, and that its three biggest failures are breakfast, lunch, and dinner. — Government Worker, Habana, Cuba.

Strategic Logic Quiz

Last week, I promised the greatest business analysis ever done.  See here: http://wp.me/p1PgpH-cs

A reader, Logan, gave a strong hint for the solution.  Before I post the answer, let’s try another question.

Use Munger’s multidisciplinary thinking or Professor Greenwald’s strategic logic to find an answer to the following problem: The Cuban dictatorship collapses and property rights are restored. You have been given the job to develop a business in Cuba with barriers to entry.  You must build a business with the strongest combination of competitive advantages. What business would you choose, why and how would you build barriers to entry? How many advantages can you design for development? If you come up with a sensible plan, you will be given $5 million to start.

Two hints: the business can not be involved in cigars or tourism (like hotels or restaurants). A reading of Cuban business history would lead you to an answer, but I presume many have little knowledge of that history.

Tip: A great way to learn about businesses is to read corporate history or the biographies of business leaders.  You will sense how a business grows and develops advantages or loses them.

Austrian Economic Review

What are the markets telling us? Deflation has gold and commodities selling off?   I don’t think so. Never predict, but here goes………The Fed and the ECB both have the ability to print money and exchange good collateral for bad collateral with banks. What do central banks know how to do? What motivates central bankers? What are the monetary aggregates telling us?

The dollar is weak: http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2011/12/dollar-is-still-very-weak.html#links

Keeping an eye on longer-term investors: Insiders are long-term bullish. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/those-bullish-corporate-insiders-2011-12-07

Place facts into a coherent theory

How do we place facts into context? A rap video of Hayek (Austrian Economist) vs. Keynes (An Interventionist)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0nERTFo-Sk

Bernanke vs. the Austrians during the housing bubble:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MnekzRuu8wo

What confidence do you have in Bernanke’s planning ability or in bureaucrats controlling our monetary system?

Inflation today: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2011/12/exposed-why-krugman-smoothed-inflation.html

Note the unusual bond yields.http://scottgrannis.blogspot.com/2011/12/bond-yields-are-out-of-whack.html

MF Global is an example of our Ponzi financial system in action: http://lewrockwell.com/french/french143.html

Murray Rothbard wrote, “If no business firm can be insured, then an industry consisting of hundreds of insolvent (banks) firms is surely the last institution about which anyone can mention ‘insurance’ with a straight face. ‘Deposit insurance’ is simply a fraudulent racket, and a cruel one at that, since it may plunder the life savings and the money stock of the entire public.”

Our Media

The videos below reinforce the need to read original documents or to speak to people who are actually involved in an industry or sent to war rather than believing our press. Excuse the political connotations.

A savage spoof of the media and our government that hits closer to the truth than I would like! Hitler reacts to Ron Paul’s Rise in the Polls: http://www.youtube.com/watch?src_vid=fFbc3sHl3Ic&annotation_id=annotation_162843&feature=iv&v=5ScPXDRcIfc

War and the importance of understanding history: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8NhRPo0WAo&feature=youtu.be  Note that many against war are the folks who actually have experienced it.

Entrepreneurial Alertness

A podcast on finding opportunity: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/search/label/The%20Robert%20Wenzel%20Show  Scroll down to the second or third show.

Adapt or Die: Be Creative and Sell your Skills http://www.lewrockwell.com/north/north1073.html

Old (2007) but detailed Longleaf Interview:  http://www.palmerstongroup.com/articles/2007july/interview.html

Interesting Blog from a former Wall Streeter: Reading Fiction will Make You a Better Investor: http://interloping.com/

Have a great day and weekend.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Time off from the hurly-burly of the markets….

I am reading the abridged version (1250 pages) of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon published in 1776 which is a long, sad commentary on the history of a nation that gave up political liberty to become a superpower.   Gibbon’s work is considered one of the greatest works on history ever written in the English language.

My brief synopsis

  • Under the republican constitution that the Founding Fathers admired and Gibbon describes, Rome enjoyed a balance (30 B.C. – 476 A.D.) between the senate and the people, with a strong executive commander-in-chief.
  • Rome rose from a tiny city-state to become by the 1st century B.C., a diverse empire with tremendous affluence.
  • This affluence corrupted every aspect of the republican political system, elections were openly bought and sold, and political factions were so strong that the Roman senate was gridlocked. (Sound familiar?)
  • Finally, the Roman people lost confidence in their government and in the republican way of life. They wanted peace and order. Rome emerged as a bureaucratic, totalitarian state.
  • The Roman people gave up their political liberty and transferred all real power to a military dictator, their emperor. The first emperor was Julius Caesar, who was followed by the great statesman Augustus. Caesar and  a new order that brought peace and prosperity to Rome.
  • The Roman Empire reached its apex in the 2nd century A.D. It stretched from the North Sea to the Sahara and from Scotland to Iran. The inhabitants were joined in common allegiance to Rome.
  • Gibbon shows us that Rome collapsed because of its involvement in the Middle East and its failure to solve the problems there. The Middle East had come to absorb all the attention of the Romans. Rome had been involved in nation building for three centuries in the Middle East and had poured vast wealth into the region while keeping large numbers of troops there, which alienated the population.
  • While the Romans were distracted in the Middle East, they ignored the growing power of Germanic barbarians along the Danube and the Rhine Rivers. In the 3rd century A.D., these northern barbarians crashed through the Roman frontiers. The Roman Empire was no more. Almost 2,000 years would pass before another republican government would emerge in the world, America.

Plenty of lessons to be learned by America in the 21st century. Giving up your liberties for security brings neither.

Lincoln, Start of Civil War, Analyzing Companies

If you study history or companies, always seek to read original documents. Read the actual speeches, the annual reports, the proxies rather than rely on what a reporter, analyst or your history teacher says about a historical event or company.  Read for yourself.  Note in a prior post, http://csinvesting.org/2011/09/21/learning-the-importance-of-studying-history/ Buffett studied the Great Depression by sitting in the Columbia Business School library reading through the newspapers of that period including the ads!

I learned in ninth-grade American history class that the American Civil
War (1861-1865) was started over the issue of slavery. As a good little boy, I
regurgitated back the facts and received an A in history.  Twenty years later, I became a fanatical Civil War buff and perused everything I could on that period. What I learned shocked me; I was bamboozled as a kid. I was not taught the true reason for the start of the Civil War which led to about 650,000 killed and millions more maimed. The Civil War was one of the defining historical events in U.S. history and its effects linger to this day.

Read Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address at the link below:


If you were living in any of the southern states in 1861 and you read or
heard Lincoln’s speech, what would you think and feel? Remember that the Southern states were primarily exporters of cotton and other agricultural goods to the Northern states and Europe. What then started the Civil War? As history teaches over and over again, once war erupts, ending war is difficult.

I place my interpretation below along with historical context, but do not
read it until you form your own opinions based on the document you have read. Where do you disagree with my interpretations?

Defense of Slavery

The first point President Lincoln made was to defy anyone to find any evidence in any of his speeches or statements that he ever had any intention at all to disturb Southern slavery. He pledged his undying support for the protection of southern slavery, and said that it would be criminal
of him to not do so. In his own words, he quoted from an old speech of his: “I
have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of
slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do
so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Furthermore, he said, the Republican Party was certainly aware that he did not favor interfering with Southern slavery when it nominated him. “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.”

To make the point even more forcefully, Lincoln quoted the Republican Party Platform plank which pledged the defense of southern slavery: “Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential . . . and we do denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext,
as among the gravest of crimes” (emphasis added). “Domestic
institutions,” of course, meant slavery.

“I now reiterate these statements,” Lincoln then announced to the world. He next pledged his “cheerful” enforcement of the constitutional protection of slavery, including the Fugitive Slave Act. He mentioned that all members of Congress swore an oath to obey the Constitution, which included the Fugitive Slave Clause, and proposed that a law be passed to further codify the responsibility of the federal government to see to it that runaway slaves were “delivered up” to their owners, as he put it. Such a law, he said, would command
unanimous support. (Keep in mind that, on the day of Lincoln’s first
inauguration, the seven states of the lower south had seceded and their
senators and representatives had left Washington). The overwhelming majority of Congress was composed of northerners who, Lincoln was sure, would unanimously support the stronger enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Clause.

Indeed, just two days earlier the Northern-dominated U.S. Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have forbidden the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery. This “first thirteenth amendment” read: “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 labor or service by the laws of said State’ (U.S. House of Representatives, 106th Congress,
2nd Session, The Constitution of the United States of America: Unratified Amendments, Document No. 106-214, presented by Congressman Henry Hyde (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 31, 2000).

This amendment had passed the Northern-dominated House of Representatives on February 28, 1861. Two days after the amendment passed the Senate; Lincoln pledged his support for it in his first inaugural address: “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution . . . 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. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose, not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable” (emphasis added). Coming from the president of the
United States, this was a much stronger defense of slavery than was ever made by John C. Calhoun or any other southerner.

Higher Tariffs Imposed

On the same day that the U.S. Senate passed this “first thirteenth amendment,” President James Buchanan signed into law the Morrill Tariff, which more than doubled the average tariff rate. The U.S. House of Representatives had passed the bill during the 1859—60 session, long before Lincoln’s election or the secession of any southern state. It received only one vote from a congressman from one of the states that would eventually secede (Tennessee).

Lincoln was a protectionist for all of his political life; he owed his nomination to Pennsylvania protectionists; told a Pittsburgh audience two weeks before his inaugural that no issue — none — is more important to Congress than raising the tariff rate; and would further raise the tariff rate ten times during his administration. He was also aware that the last time the Whigs — which by then had been politically morphed into Republicans — attempted to double the average tariff rates, South Carolinians nullified the tariff, refused to collect it, and forced President Andrew Jackson to compromise and lower the hated 1828 “Tariff of Abominations.” Lincoln, however, was not about to back down as Andrew Jackson had done. On the issue of slavery, he was one hundred percent accommodating, even going so far as to support the enshrinement of southern slavery explicitly in the Constitution. But on the issue of tax collection he was one hundred percent uncompromising. Pay up or die,” he essentially told the South. Not in these exact words, but any Southerner might have taken that meaning.

Here’s what he actually said: “[T]here needs to be no bloodshed or
violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority.”
And how might it be “forced”? Failure on the part of any state to collect the newly doubled tariff, that’s how. After stating that he assumed the power to “possess the property and places belonging to the Government,” he said he was also obligated “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.”

The Confederates had offered to pay for any federal property on southern soil (federal forts were there for their protection anyway), as well as their share of the federal debt. Lincoln refused to even discuss this with them. Fully 95 percent of all federal revenue came from tariffs in 1860, and with the southern states seceding a large portion of that amount would go uncollected. The seceded states were not about to send any checks to Washington, D.C.  Fail to pay  the doubled tariff tax, Lincoln said, and there will be an  invasion. He would not back down to the South Carolina tax resisters, as Andrew Jackson did. (Two weeks after Fort Sumter, where no one was wounded or killed, Lincoln announced a naval blockade of the southern ports and gave only one reason for it: tariff collection).

Compared to Today

This would be the equivalent of President Obama saying, “My fellow Americans, we have decided to double everyone’s federal income tax rate. And if you refuse to pay, federal soldiers will be sent en mass to make you pay, burning out your homes and destroying your cities, towns, business and farms if necessary.” The south refused to pay, and Lincoln kept his word, launching a full-scale invasion of all the southern states and waging total war on them for four years, eventually killing 300,000 of them out of a population of approximately 9 million. This was three percent of the southern population. Standardizing for today’s population of
roughly 300 million that would be the equivalent of 8,800,000 American deaths.

States Joined the Union Voluntarily, But Forced to be in Perpetual Union?

Lincoln proclaimed that the Union, which he always spelled with capital letters, was “mystic.” This was a surprise to most Americans at the time, who believed that the union was voluntary and not mystical and perpetual. Indeed, when the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union the words “perpetual union” were dropped and appear nowhere in the Constitution. This sudden insistence on keeping the union, which was in reality a compact of the free, independent, and sovereign states, intact at any price, only makes sense in light of Lincoln’s statements and actions regarding the tariff. Slavery was
more secure in the union than out of it, as both the abolitionist William Lloyd
Garrison and Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens publicly admitted.

But the union needed to be kept intact if sufficient taxes were to be collected for success of the Republican Party in fulfilling is 1860 Platform promise of massive corporate welfare spending on the railroad corporations and road-building companies (“internal improvements”). Without southern tariff collection this
could not be accomplished. Worse yet, the Confederate Constitution had outlawed protectionist tariffs altogether, creating a free-trade zone in the South. Much of the commerce of the world would have been diverted from Northern to Southern ports, which is why Republican Party-affiliated newspapers were calling for the bombardment of southern ports before Fort Sumter. Abraham Lincoln’s political career would have been ruined, and that was just unacceptable.[1]

Is Lincoln’s legacy drenched in blood?