The South and Free Trade

In doing research concerning free trade, I came across some website (I don’t remember what it was) that claimed that free trade, as much as anything, caused the South to lose the Civil War.  I suppose slavery had nothing whatever to do with it?  Or the fact that the North was more populous?

The South lost because it tried to fight a Modern War using Napoleonic tactics (the North began the war also using Napoleonic tactics, but quickly adopted the so-called “Total War” strategy, which basically means the armies target civilians and non-military structures to destroy the capacity of the enemy to continue the fight.  Very effective, if abominable).

In any case, the South was not an agricultural backwater before the war.  It was certainly less industry-based than the North, but that was true of every other nation on the planet.  The Independent South ranked as one of the top industrial nations for its short span of existence, even though (or, rather, because) it was devoted to free trade (the Confederate Constitution prohibited all but a low revenue tariff).

Some excerpts from the article linked above:

“The lack of railroad track mileage is another canard against the South. By mid-century, the comparison stood at 112 miles per state in the South and 442 miles per free state. Yet the South in 1860, when it set out to be an independent nation, would have been second in the world in railroad mileage per capita, behind only the North.
The South had fewer railroads in part because it had less need of them. One-crop plantations generate less rail freight than more diverse Northern farms. And wide, navigable rivers penetrate deep into the South in almost all regions.
In fact, those miles of Northern railroads, the much-vaunted framework of Yankee economic might, tended to be selfish, local, and often useless to all but a few rich men. Railroad schemes in populous areas were got up for investment purposes. Towns fearful of being bypassed by a technology that promised a vague prosperity would rush to subscribe public money to the railroads, and the resulting tracks often zig-zagged across the map, in search of municipal bonds.”

“The South was not nearly as poor and backwards as is often assumed: in 1860 it would have been fifth in the world in cotton textile production, behind Great Britain, the North, Switzerland, Belgium, and France. In per capita income, it would have tied with Switzerland for fourth place, behind Australia, the North, and Great Britain. The Southern states of 1860 would have formed the fourth-wealthiest nation in the world, with an inflation-adjusted per capita income not seen in some European nations till World War II. The per-capita-income growth of the South 1840-60 was 1.7 percent per annum — 30 percent more rapid than the growth in the North.”

The South’s troubles lay in having to face an intractable enemy in Abraham Lincoln, who didn’t care how many people had to die (or remain in slavery)  to preserve his mercantilist utopia.

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