Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. XII. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. XII. - 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. XII.
february 10, 1830.
The Protective System not the settled policy of the country. Its first introduction into the legislation of the United States in the year 1824. Unsoundness of the doctrine that a bad system ought to be adhered to, merely because it has long existed.
SOME politicians affect to believe, that the protecting policy is the settled policy of the country; and although the individuals who are now in the enjoyment of monopolies, no doubt would wish such to be the case, yet we cannot see how it is possible for any statesman, with the evidence which is before his eyes, to fall into such an erroneous belief.
The high duty system, as it regards cotton and woollen fabrics, was brought upon the country by the necessities of the late war. It was a system established solely for the raising of revenue for the support of government, and when it was prolonged by the act of 1816, it was so far from being adopted as a settled policy, that the act bears upon its very face the most conclusive evidence that such was not the fact. A reference to that act will shew, that its object was a measure of temporary relief to the existing manufacturers, designed, not to render high duties perpetual charges upon the pockets of the people, but to save from imminent ruin, those who had embarked their capitals in buildings and machinery. It declared, that, after the expiration of three years, the duties on those articles should be lowered. But this is not all: Prior to the expiration of the three years expressed, viz., on April 20, 1818, a second manifestation of the views of Congress was given, in an act to postpone this reduction for an additional term of seven years. The first act, therefore, which adopted the protecting policy as a permament one, was the tariff act of 1824, and now, after a lapse of six years, during the whole of which time, the country has resounded, from one extremity to the other, with the cry that the policy was ruinous to commerce and agriculture, and was not only impolitic, but unconstitutional, grave statesmen are to be found, who openly assert that they conceive it to be the settled system of the country.
We should like those who advocate this doctrine, to inform us of the process by which they have arrived at this conclusion. Is it from the length of time that it has been in existence? Is it because six years have revolved since it was forced upon the country, in opposition to the agricultural interests of the South, and the commercial and navigating interests of the North? Why, the most insignificant custom or right could not be substantiated by an existence of so very limited a term; and shall we be told, that an incubus, which has been bearing its destructive weight upon the body politic for the short space of six years, has thereby acquired a perpetual right to occupy its seat? The idea is revolting. Men of pliant consciences, or of feeble minds, may whip themselves, or be seduced, into the persuasion that that policy is permanent, which favours their own interests, or accords with their own fallacious reasoning; but how those who are exempt from these two defects can abandon their posts as sentinels of truth, and surrender the country to the dominion of error and delusion, is not easily to be comprehended. Of what avail is it, that men of mighty powers of mind, skilled in the deepest knowledge which belongs to the science of government, and principled in the doctrines which alone constitute political philosophy, shall be placed in high stations, if they are not to exert those powers, that knowledge, and those principles, in proclaiming the truths, a knowledge of which they know to be essential to the well-being of the country? Can any imaginable circumstance justify an acquiescence on the part of a legislator in a system of legislative folly, contrary to his convictions of what is right? If such doctrine were admissible, then would error never be eradicated after it had once taken its seat in the councils of the nation, and ignorance, delusion and usurpation would triumph over wisdom, common sense and the constitution.
In combating against error, the great consolation enjoyed by the champion of truth, is found in the conviction, in his own mind, that magna est veritas et prevalebit. The early apostles of the Christian faith were cheered amidst the persecutions which they experienced by this maxim of comfort. The philosophers who have at various periods advanced the cause of science, and by successive victories over error have planted the systems which are now received, were encouraged in their onward march by the assurance that truth was mighty, and would prevail. The sages who planned the American revolution, and staked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honours, upon the issue, could only have ventured upon so hazardous an experiment as that of proclaiming what was every where denied, that the people have a capacity for self government, from possessing an intimate conviction of the all-powerful force of truth. And, lastly, the statesmen of Great Britain, who, by their manly and enlightened course, are now combating the errors of a system, not of six years’ duration, but of some hundred years’ growth, are supported in a warfare against prejudice and interest unparalleled in other countries, by the firm persuasion, that the sword of truth, when wielded in defence of the best interests of a country, must sooner or later prove triumphant. What should we think, if Mr. Huskisson, towards whom the eyes of all the liberal politicians of the old and new world have so long been turned, who has immortalized himself as the great champion of an enlightened and wise course of policy, should all at once rise up in his seat in Parliament, and vote in favour of the most oppressive restrictions on trade, declaring, at the same time, that his opinions of the injurious and destructive tendency of those restrictions remained unchanged, and justifying his vote by the shallow and untenable plea, that he considered himself bound in duty to support the restrictive system, because a majority of Parliament had for centuries fastened it upon the country? Would we not condemn him as an apostate from the truth, and as a deserter from the cause he was under moral obligation to defend? And yet he would have the venerable plea of antiquity to protect him, of which an American statesman is altogether destitute.