Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. LIX. - The Principles of Free Trade
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
ESSAY No. LIX. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ESSAY No. LIX.
october 13, 1830.
Importance of the science of Political Economy to an American lawyer or politician.
WE have, in this journal, endeavoured to impress upon the minds of our readers, the importance of the study of political economy, as a branch of knowledge absolutely indispensable for every one who aspires to political stations, and who would naturally be expected to be conversant with the principles of constitutional law. We have also suggested, that, although in Europe, where the powers of government are not restricted by specific limitations, and where the right to favour one branch of industry at the expense of another is not denied, there is no necessary connexion between political economy and the study of law, yet that, under our form of government, the case is widely different. Thus, in England, a man may be an efficient political economist without being a lawyer, or he may be a good lawyer without being a proficient in political economy, and may, as such, occupy the most elevated seat on the bench of justice. In this country, on the other hand, the highest judicial stations can only be properly and faithfully filled by those who are skilled in political economy, and for the simple reason that those who are not so skilled cannot have the confidence of the whole community in reference to their competency to decide upon the constitutionality of laws, with the tendency and nature of which, as regards national and individual wealth, they are unacquainted.
Every one must know, that the imputation of infallibility to any set of individuals, let them be whom they may, is absurd. Men are at best but men, and as such, are liable to err; and the idea, therefore, that there ever can exist any tribunal which can be capable of deciding without the possibility of being wrong, must be founded upon a belief in the perfection of human nature, which experience has not established. The most that can be expected, therefore, in any court of justice, is an approximation to infallibility, and even that cannot be looked for except where the judges are wholly uninfluenced by the prominent political questions which occupy the public mind. The body politic has within it a moving principle which directs the general mass. This may be called public opinion, and when powerfully excited it moves on like a mighty current, drawing within its influence all the individuals of the community amongst which it flows. Even judges are not exempt from its power, and, say what we will, a chiming in with the received opinions of the great mass of the people amongst whom one lives, is, in a greater or less degree, to be looked for in judicial, as well as in legislative, and executive transactions. But our present purpose is not to touch upon this ground of fallibility. It is to show that no one is qualified to sit in judgment on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, upon any case involving a constitutional doubt, the decision of which in one particular way might do mischief to the nation, unless he possesses a complete knowledge of the effects which such decision would necessarily produce. For, it is reasonable to suppose, that a judge, in making up his opinion upon a doubtful power, would endeavour to inquire into the motives which induced the grantors to confer it. If those motives were clearly shown to be, the welfare and benefit of the grantors, he would undoubtedly construe the power in the manner, which, in his opinion, would accomplish the end proposed. Let us suppose a case. Suppose a law to be passed by Congress, appropriating twelve millions of dollars per annum to the construction of roads and canals, taking for their authority one or all of the clauses in the constitution which declare that the Congress shall have power,
“To establish post offices and post roads,”
“To declare war,”
“To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states,”
“To pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States,” and
“To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”
Suppose it were contended, by a large portion of the grantors, that neither of the above clauses authorized either expressly or by fair implication, the right to expend the public money for the objects proposed; and suppose further, that such a law was brought before a court, for a decision upon its constitutionality, the opinion of whose members should be, that roads and canals were eminently beneficial to the whole nation, and that the more of them there were the better, and that there could be no sinking of capital in their construction, but only a mere change of hands by the circulation of the money—would such a court, let me ask, be competent to decide the case to the satisfaction of any man whose mind is at all tinctured with the true doctrine of political science?
Again, suppose a law to be passed, under the clause of the Constitution which declares that Congress shall have power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises,” the manifest design of which law should be to take out of the pockets of people engaged in agriculture and commerce, twelve millions of dollars per annum, and put them, without an equivalent, into the pockets of people engaged in manufactures. Suppose, further, that the right to authorize this plunder was disputed by many who, constituted a portion of the body that conferred the power relied upon as authority, before a tribunal which conscientiously believed that the complaints of the plunderees were groundless, that so far from being injured, they were greatly benefited; that they did not understand their interests half so well as the majority of Congress did; that high duties make goods cheap instead of dear, and that the shutting out of foreign goods increases the export of domestic products—what sort of a decision, think you, would result upon the constitutionality of the law? Such a one, we apprehend, as no friend of the freedom of trade could reconcile with that high reputation for ability and political knowledge, which have been so deservedly ascribed to the distinguished body that framed the Constitution.