Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. LXIV. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. LXIV. - 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. LXIV.
november 3, 1830.
The advocates of free trade are the true friends of the labouring classes. Comments on a speech of Harrison Gray Otis, Esq., at Boston. The number of persons whose employments are sustained by protecting duties, is a very limited one.
WE have, upon various occasions, in this journal, adverted to the policy pursued by the advocates of restriction, in endeavouring to impress upon the minds of the great body of the mechanics and labouring classes, the identity of their interests with those of the monopoly seekers, and we have often felt, in the exercise of our editorial duties, the great want of a specific term, to signify against what particular descriptions of manufacturers our general remarks were levelled. In consequence of this want, the free trade party has laboured under a great disadvantage. We are obliged, in denouncing the system of restrictions, to employ the general term manufactures, and we thereby run the risk of being regarded as the opponents of all manufacturers, whereas, in truth, we are only the opponents of that particular portion of them, forming but a very small part of the whole body, who require for their support an exorbitant taxation to be levied upon the pockets of all the rest of the people. Against that immense body of men who live by their labour in cities and towns, and who rely for their success upon their industry, skill, and enterprise, and not upon the forced contributions of their neighbours, we have not the slightest warfare to make. Their interests are identified with those of the agriculturists, merchants, and seamen, and they have no more sure and sincere well-wishers than the friends of free trade.
For what, let us ask, is the free trade party contending? It is for a course of national policy, the effect of which will be to reduce the price of commodities to the consumers. And against whom are they contending? Against the few whom nothing will suit, but a policy, the effect of which is, to increase the price of commodities to the consumers. Every man, therefore, whose interest it is to buy cheap, properly belongs to the free trade interest, and if he does not belong to the free trade party he stands in opposition to his best and truest friends. Yes, we affirm it, the true friends of the poor man, of the day labourer, of the mechanic, and of nine-tenths of all the manufacturers, and the whole body of farmers, planters, traders, and sailors, are the comparative few, who, stemming the torrent of abuse, and prejudice, and odium, which have overflowed the northern sections of our land, are steadily marching on as the volunteer champions of the liberty of the hand.
In the city of Boston, there was recently held at Faneuil Hall, a festival by the Mechanics, who, upon the occasion, invited Messrs. Webster, Otis, Gorham, E. Everett, A. H. Everett, Sullivan, and others, not of the mechanical profession. The speeches delivered by some of these gentlemen were published in the Boston Commercial Gazette of October 18, and from one of them, that of Mr. Otis, the mayor of Boston, we extract the following passage, which occurs in connexion with some complimentary remarks upon the Association, which had once been the object of an improper prejudice.
“It was, however, deeply to be lamented, that hostility to the institution had not ceased. In another quarter of the country, opposition of a most inveterate and impassioned character had been displayed, not, indeed, to this particular Association, but to the cultivation and success of the mechanic arts in this country. It was disguised under the colour of hostility to domestic manufactures. But it is one and the same thing. When I consult my dictionary, I find that a mechanic is defined to be a manufacturer, and that a manufacturer is described to be a workman. The words have the same derivation, and are synonymous—the individuals form one and the same class. There is no difference in the nature of things, nor in practical results, between the interests of those who make the cloth and those who fashion it into garments—of those who build houses, and those who erect factories and construct machinery. The chain which connects the mechanical and manufacturing arts, however varied, is indissoluble without the ruin of the whole. The enmity that breaks down one, undermines another. The policy that forbids the making of cloth at Lowell, will annihilate the business of making shoes at Lynn. And all the reasons given for having factories of cotton and woollen confined to foreign countries, are equally strong in favour of transferring all our ‘workshops to Europe.’ To defeat this scheme it was only necessary to comprehend clearly its scope and tendency, and to resist all efforts made to create jealousies and dissensions between those who are essentially engaged in promoting a common interest. It is the interest only to which attention should be directed, and not to the individuals or corporations, by which any particular manufacture is patronized and supported. Labour and the labour of working men, is the foundation of them all, and the prosperity of the working classes is involved in the success of making that labour profitable to the community. This intimate connexion is obvious to the apprehension of every intelligent mind. It is understood and avowed by the working men of other places and states—of Washington—of Ohio—of Kentucky—of Philadelphia—of Baltimore, and elsewhere—and I have no doubt will be equally comprehended and supported by the members of this Association. In conclusion, I propose the following toast:
The most ancient and natural alliance that ever existed upon earth; the alliance between the arts which furnish habitations and those which produce clothing for the human race. They are by nature one and indivisible—and what God hath joined, let no man strive to break asunder.”
In the extract above quoted, Mr. Otis has struggled hard to show, that the manufacturers of woollen and cotton fabrics have the same interests with those who fashion them into garments—that is, tailors and seamstresses. Now, we think we can show, that Mr. Otis has ventured a position which cannot be sustained. Every body knows, that, in proportion to the cheapness of cloth, a greater quantity is made into garments, and it follows as certainly as an effect follows its cause, that any policy which prevents cloth from being as cheap as it would be without that policy, diminishes the demand for the labour of those who live by making clothes. It would be vain to deny this self-evident proposition; and as the restrictive system of this country is designed to keep up the price of cloth, and does actually accomplish that design, it is just as sound reasoning to pretend to identify the interests of the two classes named, as to identify the interests of the growers of wool with the manufacturer of wool, one of which is benefited by a high price for the raw material, and the other by a low price.
But Mr. Otis further says, that the interests “of those who build houses, and those who erect factories,” are identical. This is saying nothing more, than that a man who builds a house of one size or shape, has the same interests as a man who builds one of another size or shape. This is a mere truism, which we shall not dispute. Nor shall we dispute the further position, that the interest of the former is not different from that of the man who builds machinery. The labour employed in both cases is mechanical labour, and labour unprotected by any species of tax upon the industry of others. The carpenter, the bricklayer, the mason, the plasterer, the painter, the glazier, the lumber-cutter, the brick-maker, the lime-burner, the cellar-digger, the hod-carrier, the machine-maker, are all upon the same footing. They have no monopoly of their trades against the world, as some of their fellow citizens have, for they are open to the rivalship of Europe, and have their competition every year rendered more injurious to them by immigration. But how it can be pretended to identify their interests with those of the monopolists, who thrive only by the taxes on the industry of all the rest of the community, we are not able to see. We can as readily imagine an identity of interests between a tax-payer and a tax-collector, or between a wolf and a sheep. The truth is, that the man who is authorised by the compulsory process of law, to put his fingers into his neighbour’s pocket and take from it a dollar for a yard of cloth, which the neighbour could, in the absence of such a law, buy from somebody else for half-a-dollar, never can have an identity of interests with that plundered neighbour. The neighbour may, indeed, if he be a good natured simpleton, not see the slight of hand by which his pocket is picked, especially if it be done by a corporation, which, being an invisible person, might perform such an operation better than a visible agent; but others will see it, and if he will not listen to their warning, he deserves to be fleeced.
Mr. Otis further says—“The chain which connects the mechanical and manufacturing arts, however varied, is indissoluble without the ruin of the whole.” There is some truth in this, if applied to that natural connexion between the pursuits of industry which belongs to the condition of society in a state of freedom. When laws do not interfere with the employments of people, the labours of a population are invariably directed to the most profitable pursuits, and hence a chain of beautiful, because natural proportions, is the result. The moment, however, law-makers arrogate to themselves the power of regulating the labour of the people, by declaring that some trades shall be increased and others diminished, the chain becomes immediately disfigured. Instead of a uniform construction, which, let it be remembered, is essential to the strength and durability of the chain, we have a long link and a short link, a thick link and a slender link, and so far from gaining, we become immense losers by the operation. But, says Mr. Otis, “the policy that forbids the making of cloth at Lowell, will annihilate the business of making shoes at Lynn.” There is in this expression less candour than we should have expected from Mr. Otis. That gentleman must know perfectly well, that with the entire free trade party in the United States, the question of protection is, and always has been, a question of exorbitancy; that the duties of 1816, if permitted to stand without increase, would never have occasioned the angry and bitter feelings of sectional interests which now unhappily prevail; and that there is not now a public man in Congress, who would not readily consent to settle down upon the tariff of 1816. And what then would be the fate of the shoe manufacture? Why a duty of twenty-five cents per pair upon men’s shoes, and fifteen cents upon children’s, the rate fixed in that year, and which has never since been altered. The selection of this article was truly unfortunate. The shoe manufacture of Lynn dates its prosperity to a period much anterior to 1816, at a time when the duty was but 15 and 10 cents per pair, the rate fixed in 1794, and would have been prosperous, had no increase ever taken place.
But “all the reasons given for having factories of cotton and woollen confined to foreign countries, are equally strong in favour of transferring all our workshops to Europe,” says Mr. Otis. We should be glad to be told who has ever proposed having factories of cotton and woollen confined to foreign countries; and we should pronounce any such man ignorant of the first principles of political economy. Every one who has examined the subject must know, that in the natural course of things, a vast proportion of the cotton and woollen fabrics consumed in this country, must of necessity be produced in the country, as the most advantageous mode of employing a certain portion of labour. He must also know that this has always been the case with woollen goods, even when the duties were but five per cent., and that it would be the case now if the duties were reduced to five per cent. To confine our cotton and woollen factories to foreign countries, would be a violation of the very principle of freedom for which the friends of free trade are contending, and would, therefore, never be proposed by them. That policy would be as unsound which would force importations, as that which would force domestic production. But admitting that there should be any party silly enough to recommend such a course, it would not, nevertheless, prove that the duties on cotton and woollen manufactures ought not to be reduced. Nor would it prove that such policy would be equally strong in favour of transferring all our workshops to Europe. The great bulk of the workshops of every country must needs be within that country. The labour of the great body of the mechanics and other working men, can only be employed at home, and Mr. Otis may take it as an indisputable principle, that none of our workshops will ever be transferred to Europe unless a greater quantity of productions can be obtained out of them there than at home, with the same quantity of American industry. That “labour, and the labour of working men, is the foundation of all manufactures,” cannot be denied, but this does not prove that it is not better to employ a working man in agriculture, if two yards of cloth can be obtained out of a day’s labour, than to employ him in manufactures which will only produce one yard in the same time.