Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. XXXIX. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. XXXIX. - 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. XXXIX.
may 12, 1830.
Effects of the restrictive system, in throwing people out of employment. The American System older than is commonly supposed.
OF the deplorable effects of the “American System,” upon our commercial cities, we have the following striking example, presented upon the very best authority:
From Niles’ Register of April 17.
“Mr. Carey, who is never weary in the cause of philanthropy, (says the Philadelphia Inquirer,) has published another pamphlet on the inadequacy of the wages paid to females, employed in the subordinate departments of mechanical trades. He states, that there are in the four Northern cities, probably from 18,000 to 20,000 women, who, if constantly employed for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, cannot, on an average, earn more than a dollar and a quarter per week.”
If this statement of numbers is correct, it establishes one of two things: First, that the number of females who cannot now find employment, has been increased as the tariff system has advanced; or, secondly, that the tariff system has not answered one of the great ends for which it was instituted—that of affording ample employment to the poor. In either case it ought to be abandoned. But we are quite sure that the tendency of the restrictive policy is to diminish the demand for labour, inasmuch as it diminishes capital, the great fund from which all labour derives its support; or, what is the same thing, prevents capital from increasing as fast as it would otherwise increase. If a farmer has to pay fifty or a hundred dollars taxes, he cannot afford to employ as many people as if he had paid none. If a manufacturer or mechanic has to do the same thing, his demand for the labour of others must decrease in the same proportion; and inasmuch as high duties are taxes, the means of those who pay them are diminished in proportion to their amount.
To us, it is as clear as the light of day, that the state of things described by Mr. Carey, is the result of the restrictive system. It arises from the fact, that the breaking up of commerce and navigation, deprives of a part of their accustomed employment, the men who are engaged in the various branches of business connected with trade and ship-building, and the consequence is, that their wives and daughters are obliged to assist in the maintenance of their families by labouring for others. A very little reflection will shew, that in large, crowded populations, like those of our Northern cities, there must always be thousands who stand so near the brink of that necessity which compels people to hire themselves out, that the slightest withdrawal of their usual scanty means of support, will cast them into the ranks, already overflowing, of those who are competitors in the more humble walks. We do know the fact, that in the city of Philadelphia, and we presume it is the case in other cities, young women of very respectable classes, who fifteen or twenty years ago were maintained by their parents, are now obliged to labour for themselves, and as the needle is the implement to which most of them resort, the tendency of their competition is to deprive of a portion of their employment, those who occupy inferior stations. Now it may happen, that a very slight reduction of income from wages, may multiply the number of competitors to an extensive degree, and we would say to Mr. Carey, that, if he does not wish to see his 20,000 doubled to 40,000, he should take as active a part in getting the taxes upon these very people taken off, as he did in getting them put on. There is many a mechanic in our cities who pays $50 a year taxes, and who is thereby kept down by a constant pressure, whereas if he were relieved from this burthen, he would live in comfort, and have something to lay up.
In confirmation of our opinion on this subject, we annex hereto the following extract, from a letter lately addressed by a mechanic of Philadelphia to a member of Congress.
“April 15, 1830.
“I have been informed by men of the greatest respectability, that, was it not for the exertions of the wives of many of the rope-makers and ship-wrights, they, with their families, would be at the charge of the poor rates, such is the falling off of their respective business, more particularly of the rope-makers; and, as to myself, had I stood in need of some hundreds of hands the last winter, I could have had them. Few weeks pass but from two to a dozen come to ask for work. Many say to me, ‘Give me any wages you like, for I cannot bear to be going about the streets and my family in want of bread and all other necessaris of life.’ Such language as this, has been held to me many times during the last six months.”
The honour of having given birth to the American System, it seems, is not due, as has been commonly supposed, to the politicians and writers who have been struggling for the last fifteen years to break down agriculture, commerce and navigation, and to fix upon the people of this country a weight of taxation, from which nature, in conferring upon them a fertile soil and salubrious climate, and the political institutions of the country by guaranteeing them liberty, intended that they should be exempt. That system, which after all is nothing but the cast-off and exploded bundle of absurdities so long cherished in the dark days of Europe as the mercantile theory of wealth, dates its introduction into this country, so early as the commencement of the last century. Of this fact we were not apprized until recently, when, in a weekly journal, of great value for its statistical and historical documents, published at Philadelphia, we met with the following statement.
From the Pennsylvania Register.
“1718. A petition was presented to the Assembly for prevention of inhabitants of Jersey from selling any meat, &c., in the market.
“1722. A petition was presented to the General Assembly on behalf of day labourers, stating that the practice of blacks being employed, was a great disadvantage to them who had emigrated from Europe for the purpose of obtaining a livelihood; that they were poor and honest, and they therefore hoped a law would be prepared for the prevention of employment to the blacks.”
Thus it seems, that so long ago as a hundred and seventeen years, the same spirit of monopoly that has characterized the farmers of Philadelphia county, in their late petition to Congress to shut out foreign provisions, had seized upon the philanthropic inhabitants of the counties bordering upon the city of brotherly love, so as to lead them to regard their neighbours of New Jersey, situate on the side of the river opposite to Philadelphia, as foreign rivals in the market of that city. Truly, when we published some months ago, in the Free Trade Advocate, an ironical petition of the Pennsylvania farmers praying the City Councils to prohibit the importation into Philadelphia, of the meats, vegetables and fruits of Jersey, we had not the most distant idea that so gross and palpable an absurdity could ever have been seriously entertained, as a measure of state policy.
But it seems that it was not alone the farmers of that day who had been seized with the American System mania. The “free productive labourers,” or, as Mr. Niles also calls them, “the salt of the earth, the only safe depository under heaven of substantial virtue,” were equally afflicted, and they could not endure the idea of seeing an unhappy fellow-creature, merely because he happened to be black, enter into competition with them in the market of labour. Now we do really think, that this specimen of “the salt of the earth” is widely different from the one which we have been always accustomed to regard with veneration, inasmuch as this latter was commanded to teach the principles of kindness, benevolence, good will and christian charity, to every creature. But the real fact is, that the monopoly, or American System, in all its forms, is the same selfish, grovelling, anti-christian spirit at the present day, that it was a hundred or a thousand years ago, under whatever name it may have been presented.