Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. LXVI. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. LXVI. - 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. LXVI.
november 10, 1830.
Impossibility of preventing smuggling into the United States, on the Canada frontier.
WE presume that the following instance of smuggling is but a slender sample of what may be looked for in the winter, when the freezing of the lakes and rivers which separate our Northern frontier from Canada, will render a custom-house about as efficient a protection against the unlawful importation of goods, as a block-house or two would be upon a line of six or seven hundred miles, against the invasion of an army. It is really astonishing that the friends of the restrictive system should not be able to perceive, that to prevent smuggling upon a scale sufficiently great to counteract all their high duties, is a physical as well as a moral impossibility, and that after a system has once been completely organized, it will be impossible to break it down. This nation has thus far been preserved from the evils of smuggling by the moral sentiment of the people. That moral sentiment has operated like a wall around the country, and has prevented the illicit introduction of foreign commodities. But even the morals of a well-disposed population may be shaken by strong temptation. The consciences of men differ in their width and breadth. There are hundreds of individuals who would shudder at the idea of perjury for a paltry profit of twenty-five per cent., but who for the sake of a hundred or two hundred per cent. could easily reconcile themselves to what is called a custom-house oath. There are also thousands, who for the sake of twenty-five per cent. profit on cotton and woollen cloths, would not for the world violate the laws of their country, but who, if they could pocket eight times, four times, or even twice that amount, would think it no great crime to take a sleigh-ride to Canada, and accommodate their neighbours by selling them goods, on their return, at half the price of regular importation. If any one doubts that such things could exist in a moral community like that of the United States, he can easily satisfy himself by propounding the following question to the first dozen casuists he may meet. Suppose a storekeeper were to ask forty cents a yard for flannel or baize, and his next door neighbour would ask but thirty cents for the same quality, how many purchasers out of every hundred in this moral city of Washington would refuse to purchase of the latter, merely because there was a suspicion that he had bought his goods of a smuggler, and not of a regular importer? Then let the same question be put, in reference to that portion of our population who are conscientiously in the belief that the tariff law is unconstitutional, and therefore not morally binding upon them, as is the case almost wholly throughout the Southern and South-western states, and partially throughout all the other states, and we should be much surprised if he would find in the reply any thing to warrant him in relying upon high duties as a protection against foreign competition.
But, say the restrictionists, there is one sovereign remedy against smuggling—which is prohibition—and to that we must at last resort. This is precisely the sort of reasoning which the drowning man employs, when, finding that the plank eludes his grasp, he cries out, “I have yet one other hope left—I will seize that straw!” If we were desirous of seeing the total overthrow of the American System, and could reconcile our morals to the doctrine that the end in all cases justifies the means, we would recommend prohibition as the most efficient method of accomplishing it. Such a step, in the actual posture of affairs, would look like giving permanency to a system now regarded by the great body of the people as temporary, and merely intended to assist for a while those who have declared that by and by they will need no governmental aid. Such appearance of permanency would alarm the nation, and induce the agricultural portion of the middle and Western states to reflect deeper upon the subject than they have hitherto done, and perhaps induce them to repeal the whole code; or, if this should not take place, many more persons than are now concerned in smuggling, would turn their attention to that profitable branch of industry. We should then have foreign goods cheaper than they are now. The supplies now imported under high duties, would then be imported free of duties, and as this would lower their price, greater quantities would be brought into the country, in competition with the domestic fabric.
It is all idle to attempt to controvert this reasoning, by the feeble argument, that, under a state of prohibition the foreign article can be detected. This may be the case with some things, but with the great mass of cotton and woollen cloths, of the qualities to which prohibition would be extended, such facility of detection could not exist. We every day hear it proclaimed in the tariff papers, that cloths and calicoes and carpets are made in this country so much like the British, that they cannot be distinguished from them. And are not the powers of imitation in England as great as ours? Cannot marks be forged to suit every manufacturer in the country? Can every revenue officer in the land be qualified to judge of the validity of the marks upon tens of thousands of pieces of goods which may come under his inspection? And even admitting a degree of knowledge which no human being can possess, of what avail would his science be in detecting the millions of yards which would enter the country without coming under his view? of what avail would it be in detecting the retailers, who might keep in their shops one legitimate mark, as the successive appendage of a dozen illegitimate pieces of cloth? The idea is preposterous. Detection could only result from a wide spread system of espionage, by which the stores and shops of merchants and traders would be liable to the intrusive visits of revenue officers and common informers, their business to constant interruptions from inquisitorial and impertinent interference, and their credit to injury from ill founded suspicions and surmises. Such a state of things we hope never to see in this country, and such a state of things we are satisfied never can be introduced until the people shall prefer the interests of a favoured few to the enjoyment of that liberty for which their ancestors sacrificed so much.
The following is the article referred to:
“We learn from a friend who has just returned from Whitehall, that, on Thursday last, a Mr. Delance, one of Mr. McNeal’s Inspectors at that place, made a seizure of twelve bales of woollens, consisting principally of baizes, which had been landed, as conjectured, from a boat called the Mohegan, laden with boards, from Champlain. The bales were landed within less than a mile of Whitehall, in the woods, three in a place, and about three-fourths of a mile from each other. Said goods are now in the hands of the Collector at Plattsburgh.”—Rutland (Vt.) Herald.
The duty on baize is 22½ cents per square yard. This article, of a coarse quality, can be bought in England for 6d. per yard, 36 inches wide, that is, at par, 11 cents per square yard. The duty upon it, therefore, is 200 per cent., so that a smuggler can afford to run a good deal of risk, and if he only succeeds in one of two speculations, he makes a handsome profit. We have no doubt that the smugglers are all great friends of the American System.