Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. X. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. X. - Condy Raguet, The Principles of Free Trade 
The Principles of Free Trade illustrated in a series of short and familiar Essays originally published in the Banner of the Constitution, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, 1840).
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ESSAY No. X.
february 3, 1830.
Same subject continued. Impracticability of preventing smuggling by affixing marks on imported woollen manufactures. Smuggling into the United States through Canada.
In our last paper we made some observations upon the bill lately introduced into the House of Representatives by the Committee on Manufactures, relative to the measurement of woollen goods by the officers of the customs, and the despotic power intended to be conferred on a few individuals, of confiscating the property of the most respectable citizens, upon opinions formed, not upon evidence, but upon a supposed faculty of determining the value in foreign countries, of commodities liable to fluctuations and changes of price. We shall now proceed to examine some other features of this bill, which, if carried into effect, would establish the Inquisition in the United States as effectually as it was ever established in Portugal or Spain.
Before this bill was reported to the House of Representatives, we had understood, that the committee had before it a good deal of evidence calculated to shew, that smuggling had been practised to a very considerable extent. One of the designs, therefore, of the bill, was to prevent smuggling, and, in order to accomplish this, provisions are introduced into it, in the following words:
“And the said appraisers shall mark, or cause to be marked, each piece of such goods, or, affix some mark thereto, in such manner as the Secretary of the Treasury may direct, by which shall appear the minimum valuation or class to which it may belong, also the port or place into which the same was imported, and the time of importation.”
“That if any person shall make on, or affix to, any piece of goods mentioned in this act, any false, altered, or counterfeited mark, purporting to have been made by the appraisers as aforesaid; or if any person shall deface any mark placed on said goods, or affixed thereto by the said appraisers, such person, and every person, aiding and assisting them, shall forfeit and pay double the value of the goods on which is found any such false, altered and counterfeited, or defaced mark as aforesaid; and such goods on which shall be found any false, altered, counterfeited, or defaced mark, shall be forfeited; and if any person shall place on, or affix to, any piece of goods, any mark which said appraisers had made on, or affixed to, any other piece of goods, the goods containing the same, shall be forfeited; and the person so offending and each person aiding or assisting therein, shall be liable to the penalty in this section before provided.”
Now upon perusing the foregoing provisions, it must be obvious, that to render them efficient, a system of espionage must be introduced into society, which will render us subject to all the oppressions, exactions and extortions, which malevolence and fraud can suggest. The stores of the merchants and shopkeepers will be perpetually liable to the visits of common informers, who, with the view of plundering, or of injuring the reputation of those who succeed in life better than themselves, will lodge false accusations with the legal authorities. Prosecutions will be without end. Rogues will enter privately into the stores of merchants, or, seduce apprentices and clerks to injure their employers by affixing false marks on goods, or, by altering or changing the true ones. And how is the employer to justify himself, but by a declaration on oath, which, by the very terms of this act, is pronounced to be evidence inferior to the bare opinion of an appraiser? We can conceive of nothing more revolting to the feelings of a free people, than to see their property and hard earnings thus placed at the mercy of knaves and unprincipled profligates. But to understand this subject better, let us go into details.
Every piece of woollen cloth, delivered from the custom-house, must have the appraiser’s mark affixed to it, stating the minimum valuation at which it is rated, that is, whether it be valued at fifty cents, one hundred cents, two hundred and fifty cents, or four dollars per square yard. This mark may be either paper, paste-board, wood, tin or lead. Well, with these marks upon them, a dozen pieces of cloth are sold to a retailer, and in the course of the handling they undergo in his shop, the marks fall off and are lost. Now, if they have no marks on them, are the goods liable to forfeiture, or are they not? The bill says nothing about such a case. If they are liable to forfeiture, then would such forfeiture be unjust and iniquitous. If they are not liable to forfeiture, then the whole law would not be worth a straw, for the ready answer by all smugglers, would be, that the marks had fallen off.
Again, a malignant enemy of an importing merchant desires to be revenged for some real or supposed injury, committed by the latter. He contrives, by some means or other, to get into the store of the merchant, and to cut off from a piece of goods the true mark, and to put on a forged one, and then lodges his information with the collector. The inquisitors are sent, and finding, as alleged, that a piece of cloth has a mark upon it, not corresponding with its quality, they have no remedy left but to seize it, and to prosecute the owner. Now, we should like to know, by what possible means this unfortunate owner could prove, that the forgery was not committed by himself? The prima facie evidence is against him, and to prove a negative in such a case is impossible. Upon his character for integrity, honesty and fair dealing, he cannot rely, because that has been already impunged by a refusal to give as much credit at the custom-house to his oath, as to another man’s opinion. We see no remedy for him but to submit to the payment of the double penalty, the forfeiture of his goods, and the loss of his reputation.
But notwithstanding all this arbitrary and inquisitorial proceeding, there are defects in the system which must forever render it incapable of being applied to any end beneficial to the parties desiring its adoption. It may prevent indeed fraudulent entries at the custom-house, but it cannot prevent, in the most trifling degree, real, open, bona fide smuggling. We should like to know who is to be the judge, on the borders of the St. Lawrence, Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Michigan, of the authenticity of the marks placed upon a piece of cloth by the appraisers of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, or Boston? We should like to know when a piece of cloth is once cut up, whose property the mark becomes, and what is to prevent a bona fida smuggler from getting as many genuine marks as he has pieces of goods, and affixing them as exactly to the respective qualiities, as the appraisers themselves did? The idea of preventing smuggling, in a country like this, so conveniently bordering for a thousand miles upon the territory of a nation, against which our prohibitory laws are principally levelled, is preposterous, and could the matter only be regarded by the manufacturers in its true light, they would discover, that for every piece of goods that are shut out of the front door, two pieces are brought in at the back door.
In making these remarks, we are not treading upon unknown ground. We have seen the operation of such laws in other countries, viz: in the West Indies, and in South America. We have seen the process of having packages of merchandize taken to the custom-house for examination and measurement. We have seen there, the confusion, the disfigurement, and the plunder incident to such an operation, and the necessary result of such inconvenient laws—corrupt bargains with the officers, to exempt the importer from this grievance. We have also seen the operation of marks, and had once occasion, in an official capacity, to remonstrate to a foreign government against an injustice practised towards a respectable American merchant, by the forfeiture of a quantity of Russia duck, found in a store after a lapse of some years, deficient in marks, when evidence of the most conclusive sort was adduced of the fact of the duties having been regularly paid. The circumstances of the case, as brought to our knowledge, left not a shadow of doubt of the fact, that the marks had been cut off, at different periods, by the persons who lodged the information, or their accomplices, for the purpose of robbing the merchant in question, which was accomplished to the extent of three thousand dollars, the court deciding that the absence of the marks was conclusive on the subject, and the American government refusing to authorise its representative to sustain the claim of the merchant.
We cannot bring our minds to believe, that such a bill as that reported by the Committee of Manufactures, can possibly be supported by a majority in Congress. Amongst the advocates of the tariff, there are many intelligent men, who must see that the effect of any measures which have a tendency to throw further difficulties in the way of commerce, is a virtual increase of the existing duty, and that a further increase of duty must increase the bounty on smuggling, which, after all that has been said on the subject of protection, is the branch of industry now most highly protected in this country. To any one who doubts that this interest is in a most thriving way, we can state, that in a conversation lately, in this city, with a gentleman who resides in Quebec, we were assured, that during the last year one hundred and fifty vessels arrived at that port more than in any former year, and that there could not be a doubt, that smuggling was very extensively practised. This we know also to be the conviction of many of the principal merchants in our cities, and, indeed, how can it be otherwise, when a man can make more in a single cold night on the Canada frontier, with a capital of a thousand dollars, than he can earn by importing goods, in the regular way, for a whole year? It has been mentioned to us, in a way that leaves us no room to doubt of its truth, that merchants, now residing in our cities, who were formerly importers to large amounts order their invoices to Canada, and sell them deliverable there, without taking the trouble to inquire whether the purchasers intend them for consumption on this or the other side of the boundary line.
A story is told of a prisoner who was indicted before a court for murder, and who, when the question was put to him, “Do you plead guilty or not guilty?” very seriously replied—“Please your Honour, the subject is so very disagreeable a one, that I think we had better drop it, and say no more about it.”
The case is precisely the same with the American System reasoners. Whenever they hear the subject of smuggling mentioned, they try to slide by it, and although they know that in Great Britain a fleet of revenue vessels and an army of custom-house officers are not capable of preventing it, they display a desire to drop it and say no more about it. Like the foolish bird which hides his head when he sees danger approach, they seem to think that they shun all risk, by avoiding to speak of it This is indeed an evidence of delusion, not common for persons who have shewn such a keen-scentedness in matters touching their own interests, as the manufacturers, and yet the probability of an extensive system of smuggling on the frontiers and the sea-board, has never yet been admitted by any writer within our knowledge, on that side of the question, as an evil that cannot be guarded against.
The greatest danger, which we have always anticipated on this head, was, from the act of smuggling being rendered excusable by popular opinion, upon the ground of its being a mere evasion of an unconstitutional law. This doctrine is now publicly proclaimed in some quarters, and is likely to become popular from the sanction given to it by intelligent writers. Already has there existed in this country, as in all others, a class of people who have distinguished between an act, evil in itself, and an act, the commission of which would be wrong, merely because prohibited by law; and there has consequently always been a class of persons who have had no conscientious scruples upon smuggling, where an oath can be avoided, although the moral sentiment of the great mass of the people has not justified this discrimination. The American System has now, however, raised up a new class, who will feel no compunctions whatever upon this subject, regarding, as they do, the act prohibiting, more unlawful and unjustifiable, than the act prohibited.