Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. CXV. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. CXV. - 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. CXV.
september 7, 1831.
The Culture of Silk. Remarks upon a letter of David Porter, Esq. Folly exposed, of forcing the manufacture of Silk.
David Porter, Esquire, our Minister to Constantinople, in a letter written at Mahon, under date of June 8th, to John S. Skinner, Esquire, of Baltimore, contains the following passage in reference to the cultivation of Silk:
“I shall try and send you a very simple mode of cultivating the silk-worm, preparing the silk, and adapted, in the most simple form, to the use of families. I shall get it from a poor, plain Mahonese woman, who for her amusement raises the worm, separates the silk from the cocoon, spins and manufactures, and sells it. She showed me several pounds of excellent sewing-silk, of the remains of what she had last year. I shall send you a sample. You will be surprised at the simplicity of all the means of obtaining silk, and of the little trouble attending it.
“This is written in haste, as the vessel sails immediately, (this afternoon,) but to-morrow, if I can possibly spare the time, I will give my attention to the subject, and be more particular. The cultivation of silk is not so troublesome as the cultivation of flax, and infinitely more certain and profitable. The simple mode, which I hope to be able to describe, will, I expect, induce our good housewives to give some attention to the subject, and by a gradual introduction of its culture among us, save, in the end, millions of money which finds its way to this side of the Atlantic. For silk is an indispensable article, and is one of the first necessity—as much so as tea and sugar. No man or woman can put on a coat, shawl, hat, glove, or dress himself in any way, without it.”
If Commodore Porter can introduce into this country the knowledge of a mode of cultivating silk, which shall be “infinitely more certain and profitable than the cultivation of flax,” he will undoubtedly render the country a great service. We are sorry, however, to observe by his letter, that the Commodore has fallen into the common error of supposing that, if silk were raised in the United States, the whole of the value would be that much clear gain to the country, and save the “millions of money” which cross the Atlantic.
The Commodore will no doubt admit, that the silk dresses, coats, shawls, hats, stockings, and gloves, which are worn by our ladies and gentlemen, and which are imported from Europe, are paid for with American productions of some sort or other. They are, consequently, the product of American industry; and the question to be decided is, whether the people of the United States would get more silk manufactures, by the labour of a hundred persons employed in agriculture, than by the labour of a hundred persons employed in raising silk-worms and preparing silk? Whichever process would produce the most silk goods, would be the most advantageous to the country. It is very clear that we cannot have the silk and the surplus to export too. We cannot have, in a single animal, two cats and two skins, and all the reasoning which is intended to prove that we can, is founded upon a capital error, which pervades all the writings of the tariff advocates, from the North American Review down to the most humble member of the tariff school.
It is not true that the people who are employed in raising the agricultural products with which we annually pay for silks, to the value of seven millions of dollars, could raise these products and seven millions of dollars’ worth of silk besides. Nor is it true that there are people in the United States who could raise silk-worms without leaving some other business by which they already get their living. There is, in this country, no such thing as an unemployed population, except the few individuals who inhabit our poor-houses, and even many of them do some work, adequate in part to their support. If any one doubts these positions, let him go into the country and inquire of the first farmer he meets. He will learn from him, that farmers and farmers’ wives and daughters have no spare time. They get up at the dawn of day, and work until night, and have no time to attend to the raising of silk-worms, without neglecting something else more important and profitable. It is true that there are some persons of leisure, who, for amusement, might raise silk-worms, in the same manner that ladies employ their leisure time in making lace, embroidery, or bead-reticules—but it is even questionable whether in such cases it could be done without giving up some other amusing employment, quite as profitable and quite as productive of utility as the raising of silk-worms. Still we do not mean to say that there may not be a benefit in raising silk-worms in some parts of our extended country, provided it can be carried on without the application of the high-pressure system. Against all duties for forcing into existence any branch of industry, whether agricultural, commercial, or manufacturing, we do most earnestly protest. If people can raise silk-worms to advantage—if they can spin or throw sewing silk—or if they can weave flags to hang up in the Capitol at Washington, without laying a tax upon the whole nation, let them do it. The friends of the freedom of trade are also the friends of the freedom of industry, and they are the last people who would interfere to prevent any individual from directing his capital and labour to whatever pursuit he may consider best adapted to promote his own prosperity or happiness.
But in the name of common sense do not, for the purpose of enabling Mr. D’Homergue to reel ten thousand dollars’ worth of cocoons, enact a law to say that all the sewing-silk and all the silk manufactures imported into the country shall be subject to a protecting duty, in addition to the present one, which is 15 per cent. upon raw silk, 20 per cent. upon manufactures, and 30 per cent. if they come from beyond the Cape of Good Hope. No protecting duty could place the manufacture of silk in this country in a state to compete with the silks of China, France, or England, short of fifty per centum; and a duty to that extent would be a tax of three and a half millions of dollars upon an article which the country could not supply for an age. A tax on silk, like a tax on china, would be one of the most wanton attempts to tax the many for the benefit of the few; for if silk be, as Commodore Porter says, as much an article “of the first necessity” as tea and sugar, it would be taxing thirteen millions of people, to enable a mere handful of individuals to carry on a losing concern, having no more claim upon public favour for protection, than the business of hunting racoons in Georgia.