Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. LXXVIII. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. LXXVIII. - 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. LXXVIII.
january 12, 1831.
The story of John, Monsieur Crapeau, and Jonathan, as illustrative of the absurdity of the doctrine that industry prospers by restrictions.
THE following remarks appeared in the National Journal of the first instant:
“The Tariff!”—It has been declared in the New York Evening Post, that the next Presidential Election will decide the fate of the tariff. Mr. Cambreleng has told us, on the floor of Congress, that a revolution is about to take place in the affairs of this country; and has pretty distinctly indicated that this revolution is to consist in the abolition of the Protective System, and the introduction of what he and other visionaries of the same school designate Free Trade. Public attention cannot be too forcibly or too frequently called to these avowals of a settled purpose to destroy that policy which the wisest men in our country have sanctioned in the most explicit terms, and which all previous administrations have laboured to establish and perpetuate. The people of every section, of every state, county, town, and hamlet, of our country, should be made to understand the great aim of those who are seeking to re-elect General Jackson; and, understanding it, if they shall think proper to give to it their aid, we are ready to submit, only reserving to ourselves the privilege of crying, “God save the Republic!” in rather a more modest tone than heretofore.
“We would invoke the people, however, before they give their assent to this threatened revolution, to thoroughly understand the system which is to be revolutionized. It is the system which supported Great Britain through a quarter of a century of sanguinary and expensive wars, in which she had to rely more on her pecuniary than her physical resources; on the ingenuity of her financiers, rather than the skill of her generals. The loom did more for her than the sword, because it enabled her to supply plentifully, and in perfection, the fabric which her enemies, by the force of necessity, were compelled to take at her hands, and thus, by a process destructive to themselves, to be constantly replenishing her treasury, as fast as it was exhausted, and contributing those means which were returned to them in deadly missiles and a mortal expenditure of munitions of war. By the power of her machinery, she not only moved, but wielded the world. She protected her manufactures, and they gave back an opulent recompense. By the light of her experience, our wisest statesmen have guided the policy of this country; and it is only now, when Great Britain has discovered that we are manufacturing rivals, from whom she has reason to apprehend an injurious competition, that her politicians have thrown out a set of glittering theories on the subject of the freedom of trade, with which she hopes to delude us from the path of prosperity, and to turn our credulity and ignorance to her own advantage. We trust the people will be wiser than their rulers, and not suffer themselves to be caught by loose speculations and prettily constructed sophisms—that they will hold fast to the policy which has worked well, and not foolishly play into the hands of their adversaries.”
The foregoing article, which ascribes the prosperity of England to the restrictive system, puts us in mind of a story, which we shall relate, for the amusement of our readers.
There was once an honest, hard-working fellow, named John, a manufacturer by trade, who was able, by dint of great industry and close application, to earn three shillings sterling a day. He was in the full possession of all his limbs and energies, but one day, in a fit of mental derangement, he cut off one of his fingers. His neighbours all pitied him greatly on account of this misfortune, for they all saw that John could not do as much work with nine fingers as with ten, and, as his former wages were barely adequate to his support, they apprehended that he would not be able to get his living, and would become chargeable upon the poor rates. It so happened, however, after John recovered his reason, that he saw the danger of his situation, and he forthwith put his wits to work to find out some contrivance by which he could make up for the loss of his finger. He was not long unsuccessful. He invented an improvement upon the machine with which he carried on his occupation, by which he could do more work with his nine fingers, than he used to do with his ten, besides paying the expense of the improvement—and in this way he was able to earn four shillings a day. He kept the secret, however, to himself, and, in a quiet and snug way, went on laying up money, instead of falling behindhand.
In the progress of time, the improvement in his circumstances became very visible, and it excited the astonishment of all his neighbours to see him so thriving, and they put their heads together to see if they could find out the cause of John’s prosperity. At length, one Crapeau, a Frenchman, who was more wise than the rest, after puzzling his brains right hard, became satisfied that he had discovered the secret. He insisted upon it that John’s unexampled prosperity was owing to the loss of his finger, and believing, very correctly, that, if a man could do more work with nine fingers than with ten, it would be an improvement upon the system to have but eight fingers, he without any more ado, deliberately took a hatchet and cut off two of his fingers. His friends pitied his delusion, for they felt quite assured that he had mistaken the cause of John’s growing circumstances, and they very kindly marked him down as a fresh subject for the alms-house. Strange, however, to tell, Crapeau, after his recovery from his wound, appeared to thrive more than he had ever done before—and this second example of success, after what had been predicted, began to excite the doubts of the wisest of his neighbours, who had never before listened to the idea that John’s success was owing to the loss of his finger, but had always insisted that it was in spite of it.
Amongst these doubters was one named Jonathan, who had always before been reputed to be a remarkably shrewd, cute, enterprizing, industrious youth, who, finding that his competitors, John and Crapeau, could undersell him, and, not being able to divine any cause for it, but their lack of fingers, he at last fell into the belief which now became prevalent, and resolved to curtail his physical powers. He did not, however, act precipitately. He very wisely recollected, that fingers, when once cut off, can not again be easily replaced, and he concluded, that, if there was any mode by which he could diminish his power to work, (for that appeared to him to be the true question,) without absolute excision, it would be the safest mode of trying the experiment. He accordingly hit upon the expedient of tying one of his hands behind his back, and in this way he went to work, amidst the shouts and acclamations of his neighbours, who thought that Jonathan had outwitted all his competitors, and was now upon the high road to opulence. Sure enough. By working earlier in the morning, and later in the evening, with the aid of labour-saving machinery, young Jonathan was seen to grow rich—for, although he could not do as much work as John or Crapeau, yet, with his one hand he had acquired such wonderful dexterity, that he could turn out more work in a day than he used to do with two. With open mouths, his friends and acquaintances would gape and stare when they saw Jonathan wear a broadcloth long coat on Sunday, instead of a coarse roundabout jacket, and not a soul of them any longer entertained the least doubt but that his great success was owing to the restrictions he had imposed upon his industry. All, therefore, followed his example, which spread like wildfire through the country, and the restrictive system, which Jonathan, (by way of securing for it greater favour with the people than it could enjoy if it was known to be nothing but an improvement upon John’s loss of a finger,) called the “American System,” became, in the opinion of many, the settled policy of the country.
Happily, however, such palpable nonsense as growing rich by cutting off and tying one’s limbs, was too gross to be endured by the reflecting few, and the result was, that, after a few years’ trial, Jonathan began to find out, by listening to some of his friends, whom he at one time thought were his enemies, that he had mistaken the true cause of John and Crapeau’s prosperity, and that, so far from their being benefited by the loss of their fingers, they would have been twice as well off, had they not been deprived of those great auxiliaries to labour. He accordingly resolved to untie his hand; but, as he was partly ashamed to do it all at once, for fear of being laughed at, and partly afraid that the circulation of the blood, after so long a stagnation, would be injuriously rapid, he went to work by degrees. Last spring he untied three or four knots; this winter we expect he will untie a couple more, and, in two years’ time, he will, we trust, have restored his hand to a state of perfect liberty, when he may laugh in his sleeve to think how much better off he is than John and the Frenchman, who can never recover their lost fingers.