Wednesday, April 15, 2009

George McDuffie's Forty-Bale Theory

George McDuffie’s Forty-Bale Theory held that “a tariff that imposed duties averaging 40 percent robbed cotton planters of the value of 40 percent of their crop – forty bales out of every hundred.” Was he right?

The modern consensus seems to be that he was about twenty bales high.

Daniel Walker Howe: “A modern economist has calculated that a 40 percent tariff cost antebellum planters 20 percent of their real income from cotton – less that McDuffie claimed but still very significant.” Citing John A. James, "The Optimal Tariff in the Antebellum United States,” American Economic Review 71 (1981): 731.

John Majewski: “McDuffie’s famous ‘forty bale’ theory undoubtedly exaggerated the impact of the tariff, but his argument contained a kernel of truth. Economic historians have estimated that a tariff of 40 percent in 1859 would have reduced the real incomes of southern slaveholders by at least 20 percent.” Citing Jeremy Atack and Peter Passell, A New Economic View of American History: From Colonial Times to 1940, 2nd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 137-40.

About the illustration:
A gloomy view of the effects of the Polk administration's Tariff of 1846. The artist echoes Whig condemnation of the measure as adverse to American trade. A funeral cortege, composed of administration supporters, carries the coffin of "Free Trade" to a grave marked by a monument with the names of sixteen states. The names of Pennsylvania and New York, two states particularly resistant to the new tariff, appear in large letters. Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are missing. Over the grave is a banner reading, "Here lies Free Trade! Be it understood / He would have liv'd much longer if he could." The pall-bearers are (left to right) Vice President George M. Dallas, James K. Polk, Secretary of State James Buchanan, and Secretary of War William L. Marcy, wearing his characteristic fifty-cent trouser patch (see "Executive Marcy and the Bambers," no.1838-5). Polk: "This is a dead weight and verry heavy Mr. Vice." Dallas replies: "I agree with every thing you say Mr. President. if you were to insist that the moon was made of green Cheese I would swear to it for a Consideration." Buchanan complains: "I say, army lower down your side a little, you are throwing all the weight on me." Buchanan, from Pennsylvania, drew considerable fire from his native state for his support of the new lower tariff. Marcy suggests: "Raise your side, state and then we'll throw the whole weight on our leaders." The mourners are administration supporters: editor Thomas Ritchie (here called "Mother Ritchie" and dressed as a woman), senators John C. Calhoun and George McDuffie, and congressmen Ambrose H. Sevier, Robert Barnwell Rhett, and Dixon Hall Lewis. Ritchie: "If he should be resucitated! What a paragraph it would make in my paper!! Nous Verrons." Calhoun: "Hung be the heavens with black!" McDuffie: "If the whigs should get in we must resort to Nullification!" Sevier: "this sticks in my gizzard!" Lewis (notoriously obese): "We must grin and bear it, though it makes me feel very heavy!" Rhett: "a plagu of this sighing! it wells one up most villainously!" In the lower margin is the narrative: "This unfortunate youth died of Home Consumption & was buried at Washington in Nov: 1846 [the date the tariff was passed]. He was carried to the grave by Polk, Dallas, Buchanan & Marcy. The chief Mourners were his Nurse Mother Ritchie, [. . .] the cenotaph is to be erected by the Whigs. 16 States have already contributed & others are coming in."

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