The American Civil War which began 150 years ago on April 12, 1861 exacted an unfathomable number of deaths: approximately 620,000 men died as a result of wounds or disease from 1861-1865. That is approximately 2% of the total population of the United States at the time, a figure which would mean over 6 million deaths in the same proportion of our current population.
But the Civil War also had a high financial cost as well. Yesterday the on-line journal The Fiscal Times (TFT) ran an article which provided the estimated financial toll of the Civil War. This article, titled “Civil War At 150: Debt Lessons From Lincoln” describes how Lincoln’s Secretary Of Treasury, Salmon P. Chase (pictured above), found ways to finance the cost of the war. For example, for the first time in U.S. history, an income tax was levied on Americans. Additionally, Chase oversaw the creation of the first national currency (1862) and the first federal bank system (1863) since President Andrew Jackson’s administration.
I was contacted yesterday by Ms. Sarah Stodola, associate editor at TFT, who is the author of the article I am bringing to the attention of my readers. She asked if I would mind sharing it here on The Abraham Lincoln Blog due to the potential interest it might have for people. I agreed to do so and am receiving no compensation in any form for the publicity.
I’m not a financial expert or financial historian, so I cannot vouch for the numbers her article gives for the total estimated cost of the American Civil War. According to the table provided in the article, there is no consensus on how to gauge true “current day” costs adjusted for inflation prior to the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.
The article then concludes with a comparison between the cost of the Civil War and the total cost thus far of the “War On Terror” we are fighting today. Also given are comparisons of cost in relation to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to read Ms. Stodola’s article. The financial aspect of the American Civil War is an important part of history and helps to further our understanding of the conflict.