Front Page Titles (by Subject) SPEECH OF DANIEL WEBSTER UPON THE TARIFF, IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, APRIL 1 AND 2, 1824. - State Papers and Speeches on the Tariff
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SPEECH OF DANIEL WEBSTER UPON THE TARIFF, IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, APRIL 1 AND 2, 1824. - Frank William Taussig, State Papers and Speeches on the Tariff 
State Papers and Speeches on the Tariff, with an Introduction by F.W. Taussig (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1892).
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SPEECH OF DANIEL WEBSTER UPON THE
|In 1790. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||27,716,152|
|In 1804. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||38,842,816|
|In 1807. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||88,465,864|
Coming up, now, to our own times, and taking the exports of the years 1821, 1822, and 1823, of the same articles and products, at the same prices, they stand thus:—
|In 1821. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||45,643,175|
|In 1822. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||48,782,295|
|In 1823. . . . . . . . . . . . . .||55,863,491|
Mr. Speaker has taken the very extraordinary year of 1803, and adding to the exportation of that year what he thinks ought to have been a just augmentation, in proportion to the increase of our population, he swells the result to a magnitude which, when compared with our actual exports, would exhibit a great deficiency. But is there any justice in this mode of calculation? In the first place, as before observed, the year 1803 was a year of extraordinary exportation. By reference to the accounts, that of the article of flour, for example, there was an export that year of 1,300,000 barrels; but the very next year it fell to 800,000, and the next year to 700,000. In the next place, there never was any reason to expect that the increase of our exports of agricultural products would keep pace with the increase of our population. That would be against all experience. It is, indeed, most desirable that there should be an augmented demand for the products of agriculture; but, nevertheless, the official returns of our exports do not show that absolute want of all foreign market which has been so strongly stated.
But there are other means by which to judge of the general condition of the people. The quantity of the means of subsistence consumed; or, to make use of a phraseology better suited to the condition of our own people, the quantity of the comforts of life enjoyed, is one of those means. It so happens, indeed, that it is not so easy in this country, as elsewhere, to ascertain facts of this sort with accuracy. Where most of the articles of subsistence, and most of the comforts of life are taxed, there is, of course, great facility in ascertaining, from official statements, the amount of consumption. But in this country, most fortunately, the government neither knows, nor is concerned to know, the annual consumption; and estimates can only be formed in another mode, and in reference only in a few articles. Of these articles, tea is one. Its use is not quite a luxury, and yet is something above the absolute necessaries of life. Its consumption, therefore, will be diminished in times of adversity, and augmented in times of prosperity. By deducting the annual export from the annual import, and taking a number of years together, we may arrive at a probable estimate of consumption. The average of eleven years, from 1790 to 1800 inclusive, will be found to be 2,500,000 pounds. From 1801 to 1812, inclusive, 3,700,000; and the average of the last three years, to wit: 1821,1822, and 1823, 5,500,000. Having made a just allowance for the increase in our numbers, we shall still find, I think, from these statements, that there is no distress which has limited our means of subsistence and enjoyment.
In forming an opinion of the degree of general prosperity, we may regard likewise the progress of internal improvements, — the investment of capital in roads, bridges, and canals. All these prove a balance of income over expenditure; they are evidence that there is a surplus of profits which the present generation is usefully vesting for the benefit of the next. It cannot be denied that, in this particular, the progress of the country is steady and rapid.
We may look, too, to the expenses of education. Are our colleges deserted? Do fathers find themselves less able than usual to educate their children? It will be found, I imagine, that the amount paid for the purpose of education is constantly increasing, and that the schools and colleges were never more full than at the present moment. I may add that the endowment of public charities, the contributions to objects of general benevolence, whether foreign or domestic, the munificence of individuals towards whatever promises to benefit the community, are all so many proofs of national prosperity. And, finally, there is no defalcation of revenue, no pressure of taxation.
The general result, therefore, of a fair examination of the present condition of things, seems to me to be that there is a considerable depression of prices and curtailment of profit; and, in some parts of the country, it must be admitted, there is a great degree of pecuniary embarrassment arising from the difficulty of paying debts which were contracted when prices were high. With these qualifications, the general state of the country may be said to be prosperous; and these are not sufficient to give to the whole face of affairs any appearance of general distress.
Supposing the evil, then, to be a depression of prices, and a partial pecuniary pressure, the next inquiry is into the causes of that evil; and it appears to me that there are several, — and in this respect, I think, too much has been imputed, by Mr. Speaker, to the single cause of the diminution of exports. Connected, as we are, with all the commercial nations of the world, and having observed great changes to take place elsewhere, we should consider whether the causes of those changes have not reached us, and whether we are not suffering by the operation of them in common with others. Undoubtedly there has been a great fall in the price of all commodities throughout the commercial world in consequence of the restoration of a state of peace. When the Allies entered France in 1814, prices rose astonishingly fast, and very high. Colonial produce, for instance, in the ports of this country, as well as elsewhere, sprung up suddenly from the lowest to the highest extreme. A new and vast demand was created for the commodities of trade. These were the natural consequences of the great political changes which then took place in Europe.
We are to consider, too, that our own war created new demand, and that a government expenditure of $25,000,000 or $30,000,000 a year had the usual effect of enhancing prices. We are obliged to add that the paper issues of our banks carried the same effect still further. A depreciated currency existed in a great part of the country; depreciated to such an extent as that, at one time, exchange between the centre and the north was as high as 20%. The Bank of the United States was instituted to correct this evil; but, for causes which it is not necessary now to enumerate, it did not for some years bring back the currency of the country to a sound state. This depreciation of the circulating currency was so much, of course, added to the nominal prices of commodities, and these prices thus unnaturally high, seemed, to those who looked only at the appearance, to indicate great prosperity. But such prosperity is more specious than real. It would have been better, probably, as the shock would have been less, if prices had fallen sooner. At length, however, they fell; and, as there is little doubt that certain events in Europe had an influence in determining the time at which this fall should take place, I will advert shortly to some of the principal of those events.
In May, 1819, the British House of Commons decided, by an unanimous vote, that the resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England should not be deferred beyond the ensuing February. The restriction had been continued from time to time and from year to year, Parliament always professing to look to the restoration of a specie currency, whenever it should be found practicable. Having been, in July, 1818, continued to July, 1819, it was understood that, in the interim, the important question of the time at which cash payments should be resumed should be finally settled. In the latter part of the year 1818 the circulation of the bank had been greatly reduced, and a severe scarcity of money was felt in the London market. Such was the state of things in England. On the continent other important events took place. The French Indemnity Loan had been negotiated in the summer of 1818, and the propertion of it belonging to Austria, Russia, and Prussia had been sold. This created an unusual demand for gold and silver in these eastern States of Europe. It has been stated that the amount of the precious metals transmitted to Austria and Russia in that year was at least twenty millions sterling. Other large sums were sent to Prussia and to Denmark. The effect of this sudden drain of specie, felt first at Paris, was communicated to Amsterdam and Hamburg, and all other commercial places in the north of Europe.
The paper system of England had certainly communicated an artificial value to property. It had encouraged speculation and excited overtrading. When the shock therefore came, and this violent pressure for money acted at the same moment on the continent and in England, inflated and unnatural prices could be kept up no longer. A reduction took place, which has been estimated to have been at least equal to a fall of 30%, if not 40%. The depression was universal, and the change was felt in the United States severely, though not equally so in every part of them. There are those, I am aware, who maintain that the events to which I have alluded did not cause the great fall of prices, but that that fall was natural and inevitable, from the previously existing state of things, the abundance of commodities, and the want of demand. But that would only prove that the effect was produced in another way, rather than by another cause. If these great and sudden calls for money did not reduce prices, but prices fell as of themselves to their natural state, still the result is the same; for we perceive that after these new calls for money, prices could not be kept longer at their unnatural height.
About the time of these foreign events our own bank system underwent a change; and alj these causes, in my view of the subject, concurred to produce the great shock which took place in our commercial cities, and through many parts of the country. The year 1819 was a year of numerous failures and very considerable distress, and would have furnished far better grounds than exist at present for that gloomy representation of our condition which has been presented. Mr. Speaker has alluded to the strong inclination which exists, or has existed, in various parts of the country to issue paper money, as a proof of great existing difficulties. I regard it rather as a very productive cause of those difficulties; and the committee will not fail to observe that there is, at this moment, much the loudest complaint of distress precisely where there has been the greatest attempt to relieve it by systems of paper credit. And, on the other hand, content, prosperity, and happiness, are most observable in those parts of the country where there has been the least endeavor to administer relief by law. In truth, nothing is so baneful, so utterly ruinous to all true industry, as interfering with the legal value of money, or attempting to raise artificial standards to supply its place. Such remedies suit well the spirit of extravagant speculation, but they sap the very foundation of all honest acquisition. By weakening the security of property they take away all motive for exertion. Their effect is to transfer property. Whenever a debt is allowed to be paid by anything less valuable than the legal currency in respect to which it was contracted, the difference between the value of the paper given in payment and the legal currency is precisely so much property taken from one man and given to another by legislative enactment.
When we talk, therefore, of protecting industry, let us remember that the first measure for that end is to secure it in its earnings, to assure it that it shall receive its own. Before we invent new modes of raising prices, let us take care that existing prices are not rendered wholly unavailable by making them capable of being paid in depreciated paper. I regard, sir, this issue of irredeemable paper as the most prominent and deplorable cause of whatever pressure still exists in the country; and further, I would put the question to the members of this Committee, whether it is not from that part of the people who have tried this paper system, and tried it to their cost, that this bill receives the most earnest support? And I cannot forbear to ask, further, whether this support does not proceed rather from a general feeling of uneasiness under the present condition of things, than from the clear perception of any benefit which the measure itself can confer? Is not all expectation of advantage centred in a sort of vague hope that change may produce relief? Debt certainly presses hardest where prices have been longest kept up by artificial means. They find the shock lightest who take it soonest; and I fully believe that, if those parts of the country which now suffer most had not augmented the force of the blow by deferring it, they would have now been in a much better condition than they are. We may assure ourselves, once for all, sir, that there can be no such thing as payment of debts by legislation. We may abolish debts indeed; we may transfer property by visionary and violent laws. But we deceive both ourselves and our constituents if we flatter either ourselves or them with the hope that there is any relief against whatever pressure exists, but in economy and industry. The depression of prices and the stagnation of business have been in truth the necessary result of circumstances. No government could prevent them, and no government can altogether relieve the people from their effect. We had enjoyed a day of extraordinary prosperity; we had been neutral while the world was at war, and had found a great demand for our products, our navigation, and our labor. We had no right to expect that that state of things would continue always. With the return of peace foreign nations would struggle for themselves, and enter into competition with us in the great objects of pursuit.
Now, sir, what is the remedy for existing evils? what is the course of policy suited to our actual condition? Certainly it is not our wisdom to adopt any system that may be offered to us without examination, and in the blind hope that whatever changes our condition may improve it. It is better that we should
- ” Bear those ills we have,
- Than fly to others that we know not of.”
We are bound to see that there is a fitness and an aptitude in whatever measures may be recommended to relieve the evils that afflict us; and before we adopt a system that professes to make great alterations, it is our duty to look carefully to each leading interest of the community, and see how it may probably be affected by our proposed legislation.
And, in the first place, what is the condition of our commerce? Here we must clearly perceive that it is not enjoying that rich harvest which fell to its fortune during the continuance of the European wars. It has been greatly depressed, and limited to small profits. Still, it is elastic and active, and seems capable of recovering itself in some measure from its depression. The shipping interest also has suffered severely, still more severely, probably, than commerce. If anything should strike us with astonishment it is that the navigation of the United States should be able to sustain itself. Without any government protection whatever, it goes abroad to challenge competition with the whole world; and, in spite of all obstacles, it has yet been able to maintain 800,000 tons in the employment of foreign trade. How, sir, do the ship-owners and navigators accomplish this? How is it that they are able to meet, and in some measure overcome, universal competition? Not, sir, by protection and bounties, but by unwearied exertion, by extreme economy, by unshaken perseverance, by that manly and resolute spirit which relies on itself to protect itself. These causes alone enable American ships still to keep their element, and show the flag of their country in distant seas. The rates of insurance may teach us how thoroughly our ships are built, and how skillfully and safely they are navigated. Bisks are taken, as I learn, from the United States to Liverpool, at 1%, and from the United States to Canton and back as low as 3%. But when we look to the low rate of freight, and when we consider, also, that the articles entering into the composition of a ship, with the exception of wood, are dearer here than in other countries, we cannot but be utterly surprised that the shipping interest has been able to sustain itself at all. I need not say that the navigation of the country is essential to its honor and its defense. Yet, instead of proposing benefit for it in this hour of its depression, we propose by this measure to lay upon it new and heavy burdens. In the discussion, the other day, of that provision of the bill which proposes to tax tallow for the benefit of the oil merchants and whalemen, we had the pleasure of hearing eloquent eulogiums upon that portion of our shipping employed in the whale fishery, and strong statements of its importance to the public interest. But the same bill proposes a severe tax upon that interest for the benefit of the iron manufacturer and the hemp grower. So that the tallow-chandlers and soapboilers are sacrificed to the oil merchants, in order that these again may contribute to the manufacturers of iron and the growers of hemp.
If such be the state of our commerce and navigation, what is the condition of our home manufactures? How are they amidst the general depression? Do they need further protection? and if any, how much? On all these points, we have had much general statement, but little precise information. In the very elaborate speech of Mr. Speaker, we are not supplied with satisfactory grounds of judging in these various particulars. Who can tell, from anything yet before the committee, whether the proposed duty be too high or too low, on any one article? Gentlemen tell us, that they are in favor of domestic industry; so am I. They would give it protection; so would I. But then all domestic industry is not confined to manufactures. The employments of agriculture, commerce, and navigation, are all branches of the same domestic industry; they all furnish employment for American capital and American labor. And when the question is, whether new duties shall be laid, for the purpose of giving further encouragement to particular manufactures, every reasonable man must ask himself, both whether the proposed new encouragement be necessary, and whether it can be given without injustice to other branches of industry.
It is desirable to know, also, somewhat more distinctly, how the proposed means will produce the intended effect. One great object proposed, for example, is the increase of the home market for the consumption of agricultural products. This certainly is much to be desired; but what provisions of the bill are expected wholly or principally to produce this, is not stated. I would not suggest that some increase of the home market may not follow from the adoption of this bill, but all its provisions have not an equal tendency to produce this effect. Those manufactures which employ most labor create, of course, most demand for articles of consumption; and those create least, in the production of which capital and skill enter as the chief ingredients of cost. I cannot, sir, take this bill, merely because a Committee has recommended it. I cannot espouse a side, and fight under a flag. I wholly repel the idea, that we must take this law, or pass no law on the subject. What should hinder us from exercising our own judgments upon these provisions, singly and severally? Who has the power to place us, or why should we place ourselves, in a condition where we cannot give to every measure, that is distinct and separate in itself, a separate and distinct consideration? Sir, I presume no member of the Committee will withhold his assent from what he thinks right, until others will yield their assent to what they think wrong. There are many things in this bill, acceptable probably to the general sense of the House. Why should not these provisions be passed into a law, and others left to be decided upon their own merits, as a majority of the House shall see fit? To some of these provisions, I am myself decidedly favorable; to others, I have great objections; and I should have been very glad of an opportunity of giving my own vote distinctly on propositions, which are, in their own nature, essentially and substantially distinct from one another.
But, sir, before expressing my own opinion upon the several provisions of this bill, I will advert for a moment to some other general topics. We have heard much of the policy of England, and her example has been repeatedly urged upon us, as proving, not only the expediency of encouragement and protection, but of exclusion and direct prohibition also. I took occasion the other day to remark, that more liberal notions were growing prevalent on this subject; that the policy of restraints and prohibitions was getting out of repute, as the tme nature of commerce became better understood; and that, among public men, those most distinguished were most decided in their reprobation of the broad principle of exclusion and prohibition. Upon the truth of this representation, as matter of fact, I supposed there could not be two opinions among those who had observed the progress of political sentiment in other countries, and were acquainted with its present state. In this respect, however, it would seem that I was greatly mistaken. We have heard it again and again declared, that the English government still adheres, with immovable firmness, to its old doctrines of prohibition; that although journalists, theorists, and scientific writers advance other doctrines, yet the practical men, the legislators, the government of the country, are too wise to follow them. It has even been most sagaciously hinted that the promulgation of liberal opinions on these subjects is intended only for a delusion upon other nations, to cajole them into the folly of liberal ideas, while England retains to herself all the benefits of the admirable old system of prohibition. We have heard from Mr. Speaker a warm commendation of the complex mechanism of this system. The British Empire, it is said, is, in the first place, to be protected against the rest of the world; then the British isles against the colonies; next, the isles respectively against each other, — England herself, as the heart of the empire, being protected most of all, and against all.
Truly, sir, it appears to me, that Mr. Speaker’s imagination has seen system, and order, and beauty in that which is much more justly considered as the result of ignorance, partiality, or violence. This part of English legislation has resulted, partly from considering Ireland as a conquered country, partly from the want of a complete union, even with Scotland, and partly from the narrow views of colonial regulation, which in early and uninformed periods influenced the European states.
And, sir, I imagine, nothing would strike the public men of England more singularly than to find gentlemen of real information, and much weight in the councils of this country, expressing sentiments like these, in regard to the existing state of these English laws. I have never said, indeed, that prohibitory laws did not exist in England: we all know they do; but the question is, does she owe her prosperity and greatness to these laws? I venture to say, that such is not the opinion of the public men now in England, and the continuance of the laws, even without any alteration, would not be evidence that their opinion is different from what I have represented it; because the laws having existed long, and great interests having been built up on the faith of them, they cannot now be repealed without great and overwhelming inconvenience. Because a thing has been wrongly done, it does not therefore follow that it can now be undone; and this is the reason, as I understand it, upon which exclusion, prohibition and monopoly are suffered to remain in any degree in the English system; and for the same reason it will be wise in us to take our measures on all subjects of this kind with great caution. We may not be able, but at the hazard of much injury to individuals, hereafter to retrace our steps. And yet, whatever is extravagant or unreasonable is not likely to endure. There may come a moment of strong reaction; and if no moderation be shown in laying on duties, there may be little scruple in taking them off. It may here be observed that there is a broad and marked distinction between entire prohibition and reasonable encouragement. It is one thing, by duties or taxes on foreign articles, to awaken a home competition in the production of the same articles; it is another thing to remove all competition by a total exclusion of the foreign article; and it is quite another thing still, by total prohibition, to raise at home manufactures not suited to the climate, the nature of the country, or the state of the population. These are substantial distinctions, and although it may not be easy in every case to determine which of them applies to a given article, yet the distinctions themselves exist, and in most cases will be sufficiently clear to indicate the true course of policy; and, unless I have greatly mistaken the prevailing sentiment in the councils of England, it grows every day more and more favorable to the diminution of restrictions, and to the wisdom of leaving much (I do not say everything, for that would not be true) to the enterprise and the discretion of individuals. I should certainly not -have taken up the time of the Committee to state at any length the opinions of other governments, or of the public men of other countries, upon a subject like this; but an occasional remark made by me the other day having been so directly controverted, especially by Mr. Speaker, in his observations yesterday, I must take occasion to refer to some proofs of what I have stated.
What then is the state of English opinion? Everybody knows that, after the termination of the late European war, there came a time of great pressure in England. Since her example has been quoted, let it be asked in what mode her government sought relief. Did it aim to maintain artificial and unnatural prices? Did it maintain a swollen and extravagant paper circulation? Did it carry further the laws of prohibition and exclusion? Did it draw closer the cords of colonial restraint? No, sir, but precisely the reverse. Instead of relying on legislative contrivances, and artificial devices, it trusted to the enterprise and industry of the people; which it sedulously sought to excite, not by imposing restraint, but by removing it, wherever its removal was practicable. In May, 1820, the attention of the government having been much turned to the state of foreign trade, a distinguished member 1 of the House of Peers brought forward a parliamentary motion upon that subject, followed by an ample discussion, and a full statement of his own opinions. In the course of his remarks he observed “that there ought to be no prohibitory duties, as such; for that it was evident) that where a manufacture could not be carried on, or a production raised, but under the protection of a prohibitory duty, that manufacture, or that produce, could not be brought to market but at a loss. In his opinion, the name of strict prohibition might, therefore, in commerce, be got rid of altogether; but he did not see the same objection to protecting duties, which, while they admitted of the introduction of commodities from abroad similar to those which we ourselves manufactured, placed them so much on a level as to allow a competition between them.” “No axiom,” he added, “was more true than this: that it was by growing what the territory of a country could grow most cheaply, and by receiving from other countries what it could not produce except at too great an expense, that the greatest degree of happiness was to be communicated to the greatest extent of population.” In assenting to the motion, the first Minister 1 of the Crown expressed his own opinion of the great advantage resulting from unrestricted freedom of trade. “Of the soundness of that general principle,” he observed, “I can entertain no doubt. I can entertain no doubt of what would have been the great advantages to the civilized world, if the system of unrestricted trade had been acted upon by every nation, from the earliest period of its commercial intercourse with its neighbors. If to those advantages there could have been any exceptions, I am persuaded that they would have been but few; and I am also persuaded that the cases, to which they would have referred, would not have been, in themselves, connected with the trade and commerce of England. But we are now in a situation in which,—I will not say that a reference to the principle of unrestricted trade can be of no use, because such a reference may correct erroneous reasoning, — but in which it is impossible for us, or for any country in the world, but the United States of America, to act unreservedly on that principle. The commercial regulations of the European world have been long established, and cannot suddenly be departed from.” Having supposed a proposition to be made to England, by a foreign state, for free commerce and intercourse, and an unrestricted exchange of agricultural products and of manufactures, he proceeds to observe: “It would be impossible to accede to such a proposition. We have risen to our present greatness under a different system. Some suppose that we have risen in consequence of that system; others, of whom I am one, believe that we have risen in spite of that system. But, whichever of these hypotheses be true, certain it is, that we have risen under a very different system than that of free and unrestricted trade. It is utterly impossible, with our debt and taxation, even if they were but half their existing amount, that we can suddenly adopt the system of free trade.” Lord Ellenborough, in the same debate, said, “That he attributed the general distress then existing in Europe to the regulations that had taken place since the destruction of the French power. Most of the states on the continent had surrounded themselves as with walls of brass, to inhibit intercourse with other states. Intercourse was prohibited, even in districts of the same state, as was the case in Austria and Sardinia. Thus, though the taxes on the people had been lightened, the severity of their condition had been increased. He believed that the discontent which pervaded most parts of Europe, and especially Germany, was more owing to commercial restrictions than to any theoretical doctrines on government; and that a free communication among them would do more to restore tranquillity than any other step that could be adopted. He objected to all attempts to frustrate the benevolent intentions of Providence, which had given to various countries various wants, in order to bring them together. He objected to it as antisocial; he objected to it, as making commerce the means of barbarizing, instead of enlightening nations. The state of the trade with France was the most disgraceful to both countries; the two greatest civilized nations of the world, placed at a distance of scarcely twenty miles from each other, had contrived, by their artificial regulations, to reduce their commerce with each other to a mere nullity.” Every member, speaking on this occasion, agreed in the general sentiments favorable to unrestricted intercourse, which had thus been advanced; one of them remarking, at the conclusion of the debate, that “the principles of free trade, which he was happy to see so fully recognized, were of the utmost consequence; for, though, in the present circumstances of the country, a free trade was unattainable, yet their task hereafter was to approximate to it. Considering the prejudices and interests which were opposed to the recognition of that principle, it was no small indication of the firmness and liberality of government to have so fully conceded it.”
Sir, we have seen, in the course of this discussion, that several gentlemen have expressed their high admiration of the silk manufacture of England. Its commendation was begun, I think, by the honorable member from Vermont, who sits near me, who thinks that that alone gives conclusive evidence of the benefits produced by attention to manufactures, inasmuch as it is a great source of wealth to the nation, and has amply repaid all the cost of its protection. Mr. Speaker’s approbation of this part of the English example was still warmer. Now, sir, it does so happen that both these gentlemen differ very widely on this point from the opinions entertained in England by persons of the first rank, both of knowledge and of power. In the debate to which I have already referred, the proposer of the motion urged the expediency of providing for the admission of the silks of France into England. “He was aware,” he said, “that there was a poor and industrious body of manufacturers whose interests must suffer by such an arrangement, and therefore he felt that it would be the duty of parliament to provide for the present generation by a large parliamentary grant. It was conformable to every principle of sound justice to do so, when the interests of a particular class were sacrificed to the good of the whole.” In answer to these observations, Lord Liverpool said that, with reference to several branches of manufactures, time and the change of circumstances had rendered the system of protecting duties merely nominal, and that, in his opinion, if all the protecting laws which regarded both the woollen and cotton manufactures were to be repealed no injurious effects would thereby be occasioned. “But,” he observes, “with respect to silk, that manufacture in this kingdom is so completely artificial that any attempt to introduce the principles of free trade with reference to it might put an end to it altogether. I allow that the silk manufacture is not natural to this country. I wish we had never had a silk manufactory. I allow that it is natural to France; I allow that it might have been better had each country adhered exclusively to that manufacture in which each is superior, and had the silks of France been exchanged for British cottons. But I must look at things as they are; and when I consider the extent of capital, and the immense population, consisting, I believe, of about 50,000 persons engaged in our silk manufacture, I can only say that one of the few points in which I totally disagree with the proposer of the motion is the expediency, under existing circumstances, of holding out any idea that it would be possible to relinquish the silk manufacture, and to provide for those who live by it by parliamentary enactment. Whatever objections there may be to the continuance of the protecting system, I repeat that it is impossible altogether to relinquish it. I may regret that the system was ever commenced; but as I cannot recall that act, I must submit to the inconvenience by which it is attended, rather than expose the country to evils of greater magnitude.” Let it be remembered, sir, that these are not the sentiments of a theorist, nor the fancies of speculation, but the operative opinions of the first minister of England, acknowledged to be one of the ablest and most practical statesmen of his country. Sir, gentlemen could have hardly been more unfortunate than in the selection of the silk manufacture in England, as an example of the beneficial effects of that system which they would recommend. It is, in the language which I have quoted, completely artificial. It has been sustained by I know not how many laws, breaking in upon the plainest principles of general expediency. At the last session of Parliament the manufacturers petitioned for the repeal of three or four of these statutes, complaining of the vexatious restrictions which they impose on the wages of labor, setting forth that a great variety of orders has from time to time been issued by magistrates under the authority of these laws, interfering in an oppressive manner with the minutest details of the manufacture, such as limiting the number of threads to an inch, restricting the widths of many sorts of work, and determining the quantity of labor not to be exceeded without extra wages; that by the operation of these laws the rate of M’ages, instead of being left to the recognized principles of regulation, has been arbitrarily fixed by persons whose ignorance renders them incompetent to a just decision; that masters are compelled by law to pay an equal price for all work, whether well or ill performed; and that they are totally prevented the use of improved machinery, it being ordered that work, in the weaving of which machinery is employed, shall be paid precisely at the same rate as if done by hand; that these acts have frequently given rise to the most vexatious regulations, the unintentional breach of which has subjected manufacturers to ruinous penalties; and that the introduction of all machinery being prevented, by which labor might be cheapened, and the manufacturers being compelled to pay at a fixed price, under all circumstances, they are prevented from affording employment to their workmen in times of stagnation of trade, but are compelled to stop their looms. And finally, they complain that, notwithstanding these grievances under which they labor, while carrying on their manufacture in London, the law still prohibits them, while they continue to reside there, from employing any portion of their capital in the same business in any other part of the kingdom where it might be more beneficially conducted. Now, sir, absurd as these laws must appear to be to every man, the attempt to repeal them did not, as far as I recollect, altogether succeed. The weavers were too numerous, their interests too great, or their prejudices too strong; and this notable instance of protection and monopoly still exists, to be lamented in England with as much sincerity as it seems to be admired here.
In order further to show the prevailing sentiment of the English government, I would refer to a report of a select committee of the House of Commons, at the head of which was the vice-president of the board of trade (Mr. Wallace), in July, 1820. “The time,” say that committee, “when monopolies could be successfully supported, or would be patiently endured, either in respect to subjects against subjects, or particular countries against the rest of the world, seems to have passed away. Commerce, to continue undisturbed and secure, must be, as it was intended to be, a source of reciprocal amity between nations, and an interchange of productions, to promote the industry, the wealth, and the happiness of mankind.” In moving for the reappoint-ment of the committee, in February, 1823, the same gentleman said: “We must also get rid of that feeling of appropriation, which exhibited itself in a disposition to produce everything necessary for our own consumption, and to render ourselves independent of the world. No notion could be more absurd or mischievous; it led, even in peace, to an animosity and rancor greater than existed in time of war. Undoubtedly there would be great prejudices to combat, both in this country and elsewhere, in the attempt to remove the difficulties which are most obnoxious. It would be impossible to forget the attention which was in some respects due to the present system of protections, although that attention ought certainly not to be carried beyond the absolute necessity of the case.” And in a second report of the committee, drawn by the same gentleman, in that part of it which proposes a diminution of duties on timber from the north of Europe, and the policy of giving a legislative preference to the importation of such timber in the log, and a discouragement of the importation of deals, it is stated that the committee reject this policy, because, among other reasons, “it is founded on a principle of exclusion, which they are most averse to see brought into operation, in any new instance, without the warrant of some evident and great political expediency.” And on many subsequent occasions the same gentleman has taken occasion to observe that he differed from those who thought that manufactures could not flourish, without restrictions on trade; that old prejudices of that sort were dying away, and that more liberal and just sentiments were taking their place.
These sentiments appear to have been followed by important legal provisions, calculated to remove restrictions and prohibitions where they were most severely felt; that is to say, in several branches of navigation and trade. They have relaxed their colonial system, they have opened the ports of their islands, and have done away the restriction which limited the trade of the colony to the mother country. Colonial products can now be carried directly from the islands to any part of Europe; and it may not be improbable, considering our own high duties on spirits, that that article may be exchanged hereafter by the English West India colonies, directly, for the timber and deals of the Baltic. It may be added that Mr. Lowe, whom the gentleman has cited, says that nobody supposes that the three great staples of English manufactures, cotton, woollen, and hardware, are benefited by any existing protecting duties, and that one object of all these protecting laws is usually overlooked, and that is, that they have been intended to reconcile the various interests to taxation, the corn law, for example, being designed as some equivalent to the agricultural interest for the burden of tithes and of poor rates.
In fine, sir, I think it is clear that if we now embrace the system of prohibitions and restrictions we shall show an affection for what others have discarded, and be attempting to ornament ourselves with cast-off apparel.
Sir, I should not have gone into this prolix detail of opinions from any consideration of their special importance on the present occasion, but, having happened to state that such was the actual opinion of the government of England at the present time, and the accuracy of this representation having been so confidently denied, I have chosen to put the matter beyond doubt or cavil, although at the expense of these tedious citations. I shall have occasion hereafter of referring more particularly to sundry recent British enactments, by way of showing the diligence and spirit with which that government strives to sustain its navigating interest, by opening the widest possible range to the enterprise of individual adventurers. I repeat that I have not alluded to these examples of a foreign state as being fit to control our own policy. In the general principle I acquiesce. Protection, when carried to the point which is now recommended, that is, to entire prohibition, seems to me destructive of all commercial intercourse between nations. We are urged to adopt the system upon general principles; and what would be the consequence of the universal application of such a general principle, but that nations would abstain entirely from all intercoiirse with one another? I do not admit the general principle; on the contrary, I think freedom of trade to be the general principle, and restriction the exception. And it is for every state, taking into view its own condition, to judge of the propriety in any case of making an exception, constantly preferring, as I think all wise governments will, not to depart without urgent reason from the general rule.
There is another point in the existing policy of England to which I would most earnestly invite the attention of the Committee; I mean the warehouse system, or what we usually call the system of drawback. Very great prejudices appear to me to exist with us on that subject. We seem averse to the extension of the principle. The English government, on the contrary, appear to have carried it to the extreme of liberality. They have arrived, however, at their present opinions and present practice by slow degrees. The transit system was commenced about the year 1803, but the first law was partial and limited. It admitted the importation of raw materials for exportation, but it excluded almost every sort of manufactured goods. This was done for the same reason that we propose to prevent the transit of Canadian wheat through the United States, — the fear of aiding the competition of the foreign article with our own, in foreign markets. Better reflection, or more experience, has induced them to abandon that mode of reasoning, and to consider all such means of influencing foreign markets as nugatory; since, in the present active and enlightened state of the world, nations will supply themselves from the best sources, and the true policy of all producers, whether of raw materials or of manufactured articles, is, not vainly to endeavor to keep other venders out of the market, but to conquer them in it, by the quality and the cheapness of their articles. The present policy of England, therefore, is to allure the importation of commodities into England, there to be deposited in English warehouses, thence to be exported in assorted cargoes, and thus enabling her to carry on a general export trade to all quarters of the globe. Articles of all kinds, with the single exception of tea, may be brought into England from any part of the world, in foreign as well as British ships, there warehoused, and again exported, at the pleasure of the owner, without the payment of any duty or government charge whatever.
While I am upon this subject, I would take notice also of the recent proposition in the English Parliament to abolish the tax on imported wool; and it is observable that those who support this proposition give the same reasons as have been offered here within the last week, against the duty which we propose on the same article. They say that their manufacturers require a cheap and coarse wool, for the supply of the Mediterranean and Levant trade, and that, without a more free admission of the wool of the continent, that trade will all fall into the hands of the Germans and Italians, who will carry it on through Leghorn and Trieste. While there is this duty on foreign wool to protect the wool growers of England, there is on the other hand a prohibition on the exportation of the native article in aid of the manufacturers. The opinion seems to be gaining strength, that the true policy is to abolish both.
Laws have long existed in England, preventing the emigration of artisans and the exportation of machinery; but the policy of these, also, has become doubted, and an inquiry has been instituted in Parliament into the expediency of repealing them. As to the emigration of artisans, say those who disapprove the laws, if that were desirable, no law could effect it; and as to the exportation of machinery, let us fabricate and export it, as we would any other commodity. If France is determined to spin and weave her own cotton, let us, if we may, still have the benefit of furnishing the machinery.
I have stated these things, sir, to show what seems to be the general tone of thinking and reasoning on these subjects in that country, the example of which has been so much pressed upon us. Whether the present policy of England be right or wrong, wise or unwise, it cannot, as it seems clearly to me, be quoted as an authority for carrying further the restrictive and exclusive system, either in regard to manufactures or trade. To reestablish a sound currency, to meet at once the shock, tremendous as it was, of the fall of prices, to enlarge her capacity for foreign trade, to open wide the field of individual enterprise and competition, and to say, plainly and distinctly, that the country must relieve itself from the embarrassments which it felt, by economy, frugality, and renewed efforts of enterprise; these appear to be the general outline of the policy which England has pursued.
Mr. Chairman, I will now proceed to say a few words upon a topic, but for the introduction of which into this debate, I should not have given the Committee, on this occasion, the trouble of hearing me. Some days ago — I believe it was when we were settling the controversy between the oil merchants and the tallow-chandlers — the balance of trade made its appearance in debate, and I must confess, sir, that I spoke of it, or rather spoke to it, somewhat freely and irreverently. I believe I used the hard names which have been imputed to me; and I did it simply for the purpose of laying the spectre and driving it back to its tomb. Certainly, sir, when I called the old notion on this subject nonsense, I did not suppose that I should offend any one, unless the dead should happen to hear me. All the living generation, I took it for granted, would think the term very properly applied. In this, however, I was mistaken. The dead and the living rise up together to call me to account, and I must defend myself as well as I am able.
Let us inquire, then, sir, what is meant by an unfavorable balance of trade, and what the argument is, drawn from that source. By an unfavorable balance of trade, I understand, is meant that state of things in which importation exceeds exportation. To apply it to our own case, if the value of goods imported exceed the value of those exported, then the balance of trade is said to be against us, inasmuch as we have run in debt to the amount of this difference. Therefore it is said that if a nation continue long in a commerce like this, it must be rendered absolutely bankrupt. It is in the condition of a man that buys more than he sells; and how can such a traffic be maintained without ruin? Now, sir, the whole fallacy of this argument consists in supposing that, whenever the value of imports exceeds that of exports, a debt is necessarily created to the extent of the difference; whereas, ordinarily, the import is no more than the result of the export, augmented in value by the labor of transportation. The excess of imports over exports, in truth, usually shows the gains, not the losses, of trade; or, in a country that not only buys and sells goods, but employs ships in carrying goods also, it shows the profits of commerce and the earnings of navigation. Nothing is more certain than that in the usual course of things, and taking a series of years together, the value of our imports is the aggregate of our exports and our freights. If the value of commodities imported in a given case did not exceed the value of the outward cargo, with which they were purchased, then it would be clear to every man’s common sense that the voyage had not been profitable. If such commodities fell far short in value of the cost of the outward cargo, then the voyage would be a very losing one; and yet it would present exactly that state of things which, according to the notion of a balance of trade, can alone indicate a prosperous commerce. On the other hand, if the return cargo were found to be worth much more than the outward cargo, while the merchant, having paid for the goods exported, and all the expenses of the voyage, finds a handsome sum yet in his hands which he calls profits, the balance of trade is still against him, and, whatever he may think of it, he is in a very bad way. Although one individual or all individuals gain, the nation loses; while all its citizens grow rich, the country grows poor. This is the doctrine of the balance of trade. Allow me, sir, to give an instance tending to show how unaccountably individuals deceive themselves and imagine themselves to be somewhat rapidly mending their condition, while they ought to be persuaded that, by that infallible standard, the balance of trade, they are on the high road to ruin. Some years ago, in better times than the present, a ship left one of the towns of New England with 70,000 specie dollars. She proceeded to Mocha, on the Red Sea, and there laid out these dollars in coffee, drugs, spices, and other articles procured in that market. With this new cargo she proceeded to Europe; two thirds of it were sold in Holland for $130,000, which the ship brought back and placed in the same bank from the vaults of which she had taken her original outfit. The other third was sent to the ports of the Mediterranean, and produced a return of $25,000 in specie and $15,000 in Italian merchandise. These sums together make $170,000 imported, which is $100,000 more than was exported, and is therefore proof of an unfavorable balance of trade, to that amount, in this adventure. We should find no great difficulty, sir, in paying off our balances if this were the nature of them all.
The truth is, Mr. Chairman, that all these obsolete and exploded notions had their origin in very mistaken ideas of the true nature of commerce. Commerce is not a gambling among nations for a stake, to be won by some and lost by others. It has not the tendency necessarily to impoverish one of the parties to it, while it enriches the other; all parties gain, all parties make profits, all parties grow rich, by the operations of just and liberal commerce. If the world had but one clime and but one soil; if all men had the same wants and the same means on the spot of their existence to gratify those wants, — then, indeed, what one obtained from the other by exchange would injure one party in the same degree that it benefited the other; then, indeed, there would be some foundation for the balance of trade. But Providence has disposed our lot much more kindly. We inhabit a various earth. We have reciprocal wants, and reciprocal means for gratifying one another’s wants. This is the true origin of commerce, which is nothing more than an exchange of equivalents, and from the rude barter of its primitive state to the refined and complex condition in which we see it, its principle is uniformly the same; its only object being, in every stage, to produce that exchange of commodities between individuals and between nations which shall conduce to the advantage and to the happiness of both. Commerce between nations has the same essential character as commerce between individuals, or between parts of the same nation. Cannot two individuals make an interchange of commodities which shall prove beneficial to both, or in which the balance of trade shall be in favor of both? If not, the tailor and the shoemaker, the farmer and the smith have hitherto very much misunderstood their own interest. And with regard to the internal trade of a country, in which the same rule would apply as between nations, do we ever speak of such an intercourse being prejudicial to one side because it is useful to the other? Do we ever hear that, because the intercourse between New York and Albany is advantageous to one of those places, it must therefore be ruinous to the other?
May I be allowed, sir, to read a passage on this subject from the observations of a gentleman, in my opinion one of the most clear and sensible writers and speakers of the age upon subjects of this sort? 1 “There is no political question on which the prevalence of false principles is so general as in what relates to the nature of commerce and to the pretended balance of trade; and there are few which have led to a greater number of practical mistakes, attended with consequences extensively prejudicial to the happiness of mankind. In this country our parliamentary proceedings, our public documents, and the works of several able and popular writers have combined to propagate the impression that we are indebted for much of our riches to what is called the balance of trade.” “Our true policy would surely be to profess, as the object and guide of our commercial system, that which every man who has studied the subject must know to be the true principle of commerce, — the interchange of reciprocal and equivalent benefit. We may rest assured that it is not in the nature of commerce to enrich one party at the expense of the other. This is a purpose at which, if it were practicable, we ought not to aim; and which, if we aimed at, we could not accomplish.” These remarks, I believe, sir, were written some ten or twelve years ago. They are in perfect accordance with the opinions advanced in more elaborate treatises, and now that the world has returned to a state of peace, and commerce has resumed its natural channels, and different nations are enjoying, or seeking to enjoy, their respective portions of it, all see the justness of these ideas; all see that, in this day of knowledge and of peace, there can be no commerce between nations but that which shall benefit all who are parties to it.
If it were necessary, Mr. Chairman, I might ask the attention of the Committee to recur to a document before us on this subject of the balance of trade. It will be seen by reference to the accounts that, in the course of the last year, our total export to Holland exceeded $>2,500,000; our total import from the same country was but $700,000. Now can any man be wild enough to make any inference from this of the gain or loss of our trade with Holland for that year? Our trade with Russia for the same year produced a balance the other way; our import being f 2,000,000, and our export but $500,000. But this has no more tendency to show the Russian trade a losing trade, than the other statement has to show that the Dutch trade has been a gainful one. Neither of them, by itself, proves anything.
Springing out of this notion of a balance of trade, there has been another idea, which has been much dwelt upon in the course of this debate; that is, that we ought not to buy of nations who do not buy of us; for example, that the Eussian trade is a trade disadvantageous to the country, and ought to be discouraged, because in the ports of Eussia we buy more than we sell. Now allow me to observe, in the first place, sir, that we have no account showing how much we do sell in the ports of Eussia. Our official returns show us only what is the amount of our direct exports to her ports. But then we all know that the proceeds of other of our exports go to the same market, though indirectly. We send our own products, for example, to Cuba, or to Brazil; we there exchange them for the sugar and the coffee of those countries, and these articles we carry to St. Petersburg, and there sell them. Again: our exports to Holland and Hamburg are connected directly or indirectly with our imports from Eussia. What difference does it make, in sense or reason, whether a cargo of iron be bought at St. Petersburg by the exchange of a cargo of tobacco, or whether the tobacco has been sold on the way, in a better market, in a port of Holland, the money remitted to England, and the iron paid for by a bill on London? There might indeed have been an augmented freight, there might have been some saving of commissions, if tobacco had been in brisk demand in the Eussian market. But still there is nothing to show that the whole voyage may not have been highly profitable. That depends upon the original cost of the article here, the amount of freight and insurance to Holland, the price obtained there, the rate of exchange between Holland and England, the expense, then, of proceeding to St. Petersburg, the price of iron there, the rate of exchange between that place and England, the amount of freight and insurance home, and finally, the value of the iron, when brought to our own market. These are the calculations which determine the fortune of the adventure; and nothing can be judged of it, one way or the other, by the relative state of our imports or exports with Holland, England, or Russia.
I would not be understood to deny that it may often be our interest to cultivate a trade with countries that most require such commodities as we can furnish, and which are capable also of directly supplying our own wants. This is the simplest and most original form of all commerce, and is, no doubt, highly beneficial. And some countries are so situated, doubtless, that commerce, in this original form, or something near it, may be all that they can, without considerable inconvenience, carry on. Our trade, for example, with Madeira and the Western Islands, has been useful to the country as furnishing a demand for some portion of our agricultural products, which probably could not have been bought had we not received their products in return. Countries situated still farther from the great marts and highways of the commercial world may afford still stronger instances of the necessity and utility of conducting commerce on the original principle of barter, without much assistance from the operations of credit and exchange. All I would be understood to say is, that it by no means follows that that must be a losing trade with any country, from which we receive more of her products than she receives of ours. And since I was supposed the other day, in speaking upon this subject, to have advanced opinions which not only this country ought to reject, but which also other countries, and those the most distinguished for skill and success in commercial intercourse, do reject, I will ask leave to refer again to the discussion in the English Parliament, which I first mentioned, relative to the foreign trade of that country. “With regard,” says the mover 1 of the proposition, “to the argument employed against renewing our intercourse with the north of Europe, namely, that those who supplied us with timber from that quarter would not receive British manufactures in return, it appeared to him futile and ungrounded. If they did not send direct for our manufactures at home, they would send for them to Leipsic and other fairs of Germany. Were not the Russian and Polish merchants purchasers there to a great amount? But he would never admit the principle, that a trade was not profitable because we were obliged to carry it on with the precious metals, or that we ought to renounce it because our manufactures were not received by the foreign nation in return for its produce. Whatever we received must be paid for in the produce of our land and labor, directly or circu-itously, and he was glad to have the noble Earl’s 1 marked concurrence in this principle.”
Referring ourselves again, sir, to the analogies of common life, no one would say that a farmer or a mechanic should buy only where he can do so by the exchange of his own produce, or of his own manufacture. Such exchange may be often convenient; and, on the other hand, the cash purchase may be often more convenient. It is the same in the intercourse of nations. Indeed, Mr. Speaker has placed this argument on very clear grounds. It has been said, in the early part of the debate, that if we cease to import English cotton fabrics, England would no longer continue to purchase our cotton. To this, Mr. Speaker has replied, with great force and justice, that, as she must have cotton in large quantities, she will buy the article where she can find it best and cheapest; and that it would be quite ridiculous in her, manufacturing as she still would be, for her own vast consumption, and the consumption of millions in other countries, to reject our uplands because we had learned to manufacture a part of them for ourselves. And would it not be equally ridiculous in us, if the commodities of Russia were both cheaper and better suited to our wants than could be found elsewhere, to abstain from commerce with her because she will not receive in return other commodities which we have to sell, but which she has no occasion to buy?
Intimately connected, sir, with this topic, is another, which has been brought into the debate; I mean, the evil so much complained of, — the exportation of specie. We hear gentlemen imputing the loss of market at home to a want of money, and this want of money to the exportation of the precious metals. We hear the India and China trade denounced as a commerce conducted on our side, in a great measure, with gold and silver. These opinions, sir, are clearly void of all just foundation, and we cannot too soon get rid of them. There are no shallower reasoners than those political and commercial writers who would represent it to be the only true and gainful end of commerce to accumulate the precious metals. These are articles of use, and articles of merchandise, with this additional circumstance belonging to them, that they are made, by the general consent of nations, the standard by which the value of all other merchandise is to be estimated. In regard to weights and measures, something drawn from external nature is made a common standard, for the purposes of general convenience; and this is precisely the office performed by the precious metals, in addition to those uses to which, as metals, they are capable of being applied. There may be of these too much or too little in a country at a particular time, as there may be of any other articles. When the market is overstocked with them, as it often is, their exportation becomes as proper and as useful as that of other commodities under similar circumstances. We need no more repine, when the dollars which have been brought here from South America are despatched to other countries, than when coffee and sugar take the same direction. We often deceive ourselves by attributing to a scarcity of money that which is the result of other causes. In the course of this debate, the honorable member from Pennsylvania has represented the country as full of everything but money. But this I take to be a mistake. The agricultural products so abundant in Pennsylvania will not, he says, sell for money; but they will sell for money as quick as for any other article which happens to be in demand. They will sell for money, for example, as easily as for coffee, or for tea, at the prices which properly belong to those articles. The mistake lies in imputing that to want of money which arises from want of demand. Men do not buy wheat because they have money, but because they want wheat. To decide whether money be plenty or not, that is, whether there be a large portion of capital unemployed or not, when the currency of a country is metallic, we must look, not only to the prices of commodities, but also to the rate of interest. A low rate of interest, a facility of obtaining money on loans, a disposition to invest in permanent stocks, all of which are proofs that money is plenty, may nevertheless often denote a state not of the highest prosperity. They may, and often do, show a want of employment for capital; and the accumulation of specie shows the same thing. We have no occasion for the precious metals as money, except for the purposes of circulation, or rather of sustaining a safe paper circulation. And whenever there be a prospect of a profitable investment abroad, all the gold and silver, except what these purposes require, will be exported. For the same reason, if a demand exist abroad for sugar and coffee, whatever amount of those articles might exist in the country beyond the wants of its own consumption would be sent abroad to meet that demand.
Besides, sir, how should it ever occur to anybody that we should continue to export gold and silver, if we did not continue to import them also? If a vessel take our own products to the Havana, or elsewhere, exchange them for dollars, proceed to China, exchange them for silks and teas, bring these last to the ports of the Mediterranean, sell them there for dollars, and return to the United States; this would be a voyage resulting in the importation of the precious metals. But if she had returned from Cuba, and the dollars obtained there had been shipped direct from the United States to China, the China goods sold in Holland, and the proceeds brought home in the hemp and iron of Russia, this would be a voyage in which they were exported. Yet everybody sees that both might be equally beneficial to the individuals and to the public. I believe, sir, that in point of fact, we have enjoyed great benefit in our trade with India and China from the liberty of going from place to place all over the world, without being obliged in the meantime to return home, a liberty not heretofore enjoyed by the private traders of England in regard to India and China. Suppose the American ship to be at Brazil, for example; she could proceed with her dollars direct to India, and in return could distribute her cargo in all the various ports of Europe or America; while an English ship, if a private trader, being at Brazil, must first return to England, and then could only proceed in the direct line from England to India. This advantage our countrymen have not been backward to improve; and in the debate to which I have already so often referred, it was stated, not without some complaint of the inconvenience of exclusion, and the natural sluggishness of monopoly, that American ships were at that moment fitting out in the Thames, to supply France, Holland, and other countries on the continent with tea; while the East India Company would not do this of themselves, nor allow any of their fellow countrymen to do it for them.
There is yet another subject, Mr. Chairman, upon which I would wish to say something, if I might presume upon the continued patience of the Committee. We hear, sometimes, in the House, and continually out of it, of the rate of exchange, as being one proof that we are on the downward road to ruin. Mr. Speaker himself has adverted to that topic, and I am afraid that his authority may give credit to opinions clearly unfounded, and which lead to very false and erroneous conclusions. Sir, let us see what the facts are. Exchange on England has recently risen 1% or 1½% partly owing, perhaps, to the introduction of this bill into Congress. Before this recent rise, and for the last six months, I understand its average may have been about 7½% advance: Now, supposing this to be the real, and not merely, as it is, the nominal par of exchange, between us and England, what would it prove? Nothing, except that funds were wanted in England for commercial operations, to be carried on either in England or elsewhere. It would not necessarily show that we were indebted to England, for, if we had occasion to pay debts in Bussia or Holland, funds in England would naturally enough be required for such a purpose. And even if it did prove that a balance was due England at the moment, it would have no tendency to explain to us whether our commerce with England had been profitable or unprofitable.
But it is not true, in point of fact, that the real price of exchange is 1½% advance, nor, indeed, that there is at the present moment any advance at all. That is to say, it is not true that merchants will give such an advance, or any advance, for money in England, more than they would give for the same amount, in the same currency, here. It will strike every one who reflects upon it, that, if there were a real difference 7½% of money would be immediately shipped to England; because the expense of transportation would be far less than that difference. Or commodities of trade would be shipped to Europe and the proceeds remitted to England. If it could so happen, that American merchants should be willing to pay 10% premium for money in England, or, in other words, that a real difference to that amount, in the exchange, should exist, its effects would be immediately seen in new shipments of our own commodities to Europe, because this state of things would create new motives. A cargo of tobacco, for example, might sell at Amsterdam for the same price as before; but if its proceeds when remitted to London were advanced, as they would be in such case, ten per cent by the state of exchange, this would be so much added to the price, and would operate, therefore, as a motive for the exportation; and in this way, national balances are, and always will be, adjusted.
To form any accurate idea of the true state of exchange between two countries, we must look at their currencies, and compare the quantities of gold and silver which they may respectively represent. This usually explains the state of the exchanges; and this will satisfactorily account for the apparent advance now existing on bills drawn on England. The English standard of value is gold; with us, that office is performed by gold, and by silver also, at a fixed relation to each other. But our estimate of silver is rather higher, in proportion to gold, than most nations give it; it is higher, especially, than in England, at the present moment. The consequence is, that silver, which remains a legal currency with us, stays here, while the gold has gone abroad; verifying the universal truth, that, if two currencies be allowed to exist, of different values, that which is cheapest will fill up the whole circulation. For as much gold as will suffice to pay here a debt of a given amount, we can buy in England more silver than would be necessary to pay the same debt here; and from this difference in the value of silver arises wholly, or in a great measure, the present apparent difference in exchange. Spanish dollars sell now, in England, for 4s. 9d. stg. per ounce; equal to 01.06. By our standard, the same ounce is worth $1.16; being a difference of about 9%. The true par of exchange, therefore, is 9%. If a merchant here pay 100 Spanish dollars for a bill on England, at nominal par, in sterling money, that is, for a bill of £22 10s., the proceeds of this bill, when paid in England, in the legal currency, will there purchase, at the present price of silver, 109 Spanish dollars. Therefore, if the nominal advance on English bills do not exceed 9%, the real exchange is not against this country; in other words, it does not show that there is any pressing or particular occasion for the remittance of funds to England.
As little can be inferred from the occasional transfer of United States stock to England. Considering the interest paid on our stocks, the entire stability of our credit, and the accumulation of capital in England, it is not at all wonderful that investments should occasionally be made in our funds. As a sort of countervailing fact, it may be stated that English stocks are now actually holden in this country, though probably not to any considerable amount.
I will now proceed, sir, to state some objections which I feel, of a more general nature, to the course of Mr. Speaker’s observations.
He seems to me to argue the question as if all domestic industry were confined to the production of manufactured articles; as if the employment of our own capital, and our own labor, in the occupations of commerce and navigation, were not as emphatically domestic industry as any other occupation. Some other gentlemen, in the course of the debate, have spoken of the price paid for every foreign manufactured article as so much given for the encouragement of foreign labor, to the prejudice of our own. But is not every such article the product of our own labor as truly as if we had manufactured it ourselves? Our labor has earned it, and paid the price for it. It is so much added to the stock of national wealth. If the commodity were dollars, nobody would doubt the truth of this remark; and it is precisely as correct in its application to any other commodity as to silver. One man makes a yard of cloth at home; another raises agricultural products, and buys a yard of imported cloth. Both these are equally the earnings of domestic industry, and the only questions that arise in the case are two: the first is, which is the best mode, under all the circumstances, of obtaining the article; the second is, how far this question is proper to be decided by government, and how far it is proper to be left to individual discretion. There is no foundation for the distinction which attributes to certain employments the peculiar appellation of American industry; and it is, in my judgment, extremely unwise to attempt such discriminations.
We are asked, what nations have ever attained eminent prosperity without encouraging manufactures? I may ask, what nation ever reached the like prosperity without promoting foreign trade? I regard these interests as closely connected, and am of opinion that it should be our aim to cause them to flourish together. I know it would be very easy to promote manufactures, at least for a time, but probably only for a short time, if we might act in disregard of other interests. We could cause a sudden transfer of capital, and a violent change in the pursuits of men. We could exceedingly benefit some classes by these means. But what, then, becomes of the interests of others? The power of collecting revenue by duties on imports, and the habit of the government of collecting almost its whole revenue in that mode, will enable us, without exceeding the bounds of moderation, to give great advantages to those classes of manufactures which we may think most useful to promote at home. What I object to is the immoderate use of the power, — exclusions and prohibitions; all of which, as I think, not only interrupt the pursuits of individuals, with great injury to themselves, and little or no benefit to the country, but also often divert our own labor, or, as it may very properly be called, our own domestic industry, from those occupations in which it is well employed and well paid, to others in which it will be worse employed and worse paid. For my part, I see very little relief to those who are likely to be deprived of their employments, or who find the prices of the commodities which they need, raised, in any of the alternatives which Mr. Speaker has presented. It is nothing to say that they may, if they choose, continue to buy the foreign article j the answer is, the price is augmented: nor that they may use the domestic article; the price of that also is increased. Nor can they supply themselves by the substitution of their own fabric. How can the agriculturist make his own iron? How can the shipowner grow his own hemp?
But I have a yet stronger objection to the course of Mr. Speaker’s reasoning; which is, that he leaves out of the case all that has been already done for the protection of manufactures, and argues the question as if those interests were now, for the first time, to receive aid from duties on imports. I can hardly express the surprise I feel that Mr. Speaker should fall into the common modes of expression used elsewhere, and ask if we will give our manufacturers no protection. Sir, look to the history of our laws; look to the present state of our laws. Consider that our whole revenue, with a trifling exception, is collected at the customhouse, and always has been; and then say what propriety there is in calling on the government for protection, as if no protection had heretofore been afforded. The real question before us, in regard to all the important clauses of the bill, is not whether we will lay duties, but whether we will augment duties. The demand is for something more than exists, and yet it is pressed as if nothing existed. It is wholly forgotten that iron and hemp, for example, already pay a very heavy and burdensome duty; and, in short, from the general tenor of Mr. Speaker’s observations, one would infer that, hitherto, we had rather taxed our own manufactures than fostered them by taxes on those of other countries. We hear of the fatal policy of the tariff of 1816; and yet the law of 1816 was passed avowedly for the benefit of manufacturers, and, with very few exceptions, imposed on imported articles very great additions of tax; in some important instances, indeed, amounting to a prohibition.
Sir, on this subject it becomes us at least to understand the real posture of the question. Let us not suppose that we are beginning the protection of manufactures, by duties on imports. What we are asked to do is, to render those duties much higher, and therefore, instead of dealing in general commendations of the benefits of protection, the friends of the bill, I think, are bound to make out a fair case for each of the manufactures which they propose to benefit. The government has already done much for their protection, and it ought to ∼be presumed to have done enough, unless it be shown, by the facts and considerations applicable to each, that there is a necessity for doing more.
On the general question, sir, allow me to ask if the doctrine of prohibition, as a general doctrine, be not preposterous? Suppose all nations to act upon it; they would be prosperous, then, according to the argument, precisely in the proportion in which they abolished intercourse with one another. The less of mutual commerce the better, upon this hypothesis. Protection and encouragement may be, and are, doubtless, sometimes, wise and beneficial, if kept within proper limits; but, when carried to an extravagant height, or the point of prohibition, the absurd character of the system manifests itself. Mr. Speaker has referred to the late Emperor Napoleon, as having attempted to naturalize the manufacture of cotton in France. He did not cite a more extravagant part of the projects of that ruler, that is, his attempt to naturalize the growth of that plant itself in France; whereas, we have understood that considerable districts in the south of France, and in Italy, of rich and productive lands, were at one time withdrawn from profitable uses, and devoted to raising, at great expense, a little bad cotton. Nor have we been referred to the attempts, under the same system, to make sugar and coffee from common culinary vegetables; attempts which served to fill the print shops of Europe, and to show us how easy is the transition from what some think sublime, to that which all admit to be ridiculous. The folly of some of these projects has not been surpassed, nor hardly equaled, unless it be by the philosopher in one of the satires of Swift, who so long labored to extract sunbeams from cucumbers.
The poverty and unhappiness of Spain have been attributed to the want of protection to her own industry. If by this it be meant that the poverty of Spain is owing to bad government and bad laws, the remark is, in a great measure, just. But these very laws are bad because they are restrictive, partial, and prohibitory. If prohibition were protection, Spain would seem to have had enough of it. Nothing can exceed the barbarous rigidity of her colonial system, or the folly of her early commercial regulations. Unenlightened and bigoted legislation, the multitude of holidays, miserable roads, monopolies on the part of government, restrictive laws, that ought long since to have been abrogated, are generally, and I believe truly, reckoned the principal causes of the bad state of the productive industry of Spain. Any partial improvement in her condition, or increase of her prosperity, has been, in all cases, the result of relaxation, and the abolition of what was intended for favor and protection.
In short, sir, the general sense of this age sets, with a strong current, in favor of freedom of commercial intercourse, and unrestrained individual action. Men yield up their notions of monopoly and restriction, as they yield up other prejudices, slowly and reluctantly; but they cannot withstand the general tide of opinion.
Let me now ask, sir, what relief this bill proposes to some of those great and essential interests of the country, the condition of which has been referred to as proof of national distress; and which condition, although I do not think it makes out a case of distress, yet does indicate depression.
And first, sir, as to our foreign trade. Mr. Speaker has stated that there has been a considerable falling off in the tonnage employed in that trade. This is true, lamentably true. In my opinion, it is one of those occurrences which ought to arrest our immediate, our deep, our most earnest attention. What does this bill propose for its relief? Sir, it proposes nothing but new burdens. It proposes to diminish its employment, and it proposes, at the same time, to augment its expense, by subjecting it to heavier taxation. Sir, there is no interest in regard to which a stronger case for protection can be made out than the navigating interest. Whether we look at its present condition, which is admitted to be depressed; the number of persons connected with it, and dependent upon it for their daily bread; or its importance to the country in a political point of view, it has claims upon our attention which cannot be exceeded. But what do we propose to do for it? I repeat, sir, simply to burden and to tax it. By a statement which I have already submitted to the Committee, it appears that the shipping interest pays, annually, more than half a million dollars in duties on articles used in the construction of ships. We propose to add nearly, or quite, fifty per cent to this amount, at the very moment that we bring forth the languishing state of this interest as a proof of national distress. Let it be remembered that our shipping employed in foreign commerce has, at this moment, not the shadow of government protection. It goes abroad upon the wide sea to make its own way, and earn its own bread, in a professed competition with the whole world. Its resources are its own frugality, its own skill, its own enterprise. It hopes to succeed, if it shall succeed at all, not by extraordinary aid of government, but by patience, vigilance, and toil. This right arm of the nation’s safety strengthens its own muscle by its own efforts, and by unwearied exertion in its own defense becomes strong for the defense of the country.
No one acquainted with this interest can deny that its situation at this moment is extremely critical. We have left it hitherto to maintain itself or perish, to swim if it can, and to sink if it cannot. But at this moment of its apparent struggle can we, as men, can we, as patriots, add another stone to the weight that threatens to carry it down? Sir, there is a limit to human power and to human effort. I know the commercial marine of this country can do almost everything, and bear almost everything. Yet some things are impossible to be done, and some burdens may be impossible to be borne; and as it was the last ounce that broke the back of the camel, so the last tax, although it were even a small one, may be decisive as to the power of our marine to sustain the conflict in which it is now engaged with all the commercial nations on the globe.
Again, Mr. Chairman, the failures and the bankruptcies which have taken place in our large cities have been mentioned as proving the little success attending commerce, and its general decline. But this bill has no balm for those wounds. It is very remarkable that, when losses and disasters of certain manufacturers — those of iron, for instance — are mentioned, it is done for the purpose of invoking aid for the distressed. Not so with the losses and disasters of commerce; these last are narrated, and not unfrequently much exaggerated, to prove the ruinous nature of the employment, and to show that it ought to be abandoned, and the capital engaged in it turned to other objects.
It has been often said, sir, that our manufactures have to contend, not only against the natural advantages of those who produce similar articles in foreign countries, but also against the action of foreign governments, who have great political interest in aiding their own manufactures to suppress ours. But have not these governments as great an interest to cripple our marine, by preventing the growth of our commerce and navigation? What is it that makes us the object of the highest respect> or the most suspicious jealousy, to foreign states? What is it that most enables us to take high relative rank among the nations? I need not say that this results, more than from anything else, from that quantity of military power which we can cause to be water borne, and of that extent of commerce which we are able to maintain throughout the world.
Mr. Chairman, I am conscious of having detained the Committee much too long with these observations. My apology for now proceeding to some remarks upon the particular clauses of the bill is that, representing a district at once commercial and highly manufacturing, and being called upon to vote upon a bill containing provisions so numerous and so various, I am naturally desirous to state as well what I approve as what I would reject.
The first section proposes an augmented duty upon woollen manufactures. This, if it were unqualified, would no doubt be desirable to those who are engaged in that business. I have myself presented a petition from the woollen manufacturers of Massachusetts, praying an augmented ad valorem duty upon imported woollen cloths, and I am prepared to accede to that proposition to a reasonable extent. But then this bill proposes, also, a very high duty upon imported wool; and, as far as I can learn, a majority of the manufacturers are at least extremely doubtful whether, taking these two provisions together, the state of the law is not better for them now than it would be if this bill should pass. It is said this tax on raw wool will benefit the agriculturist; but I know it to be the opinion of some of the best informed of that class that it will do them more hurt than good. They fear it will check the manufacturer, and consequently check his demand for their article. The argument is, that a certain quantity of coarse wool, cheaper than we can possibly furnish, is necessary to enable the manufacturer to carry on the general business, and that if this cannot be had the consequence will be not a greater, but a less, manufacture of our own wool. I am aware that very intelligent persons differ upon this point; but, if we may safely infer from that difference of opinion that the proposed benefit is at least doubtful, it would be prudent perhaps to abstain from the experiment. Certain it is that the same course of reasoning has occurred, as I have before stated, on the same subject, when a renewed application was made to the English Parliament to repeal the duty on imported wool, I believe scarcely two months ago; those who support the application pressing urgently the necessity of an unrestricted use of the cheap, imported raw material, with a view to supply with coarse cloths the markets of warm climates, such as those of Egypt and Turkey, and especially a vast new created demand in the South American states.
As to the manufactures of cotton, it is agreed, I believe, that they are generally successful. It is understood that the present existing duty operates pretty much as a prohibition over those descriptions of fabrics to which it applies. The proposed alteration would probably enable the American manufacturer to commence competition with higher-priced fabrics; and so would, perhaps, an augmentation less than is here proposed. I consider the cotton manufactures not only to have reached, but to have passed, the point of competition. I regard their success as certain, and their growth as rapid as the most impatient could well expect. If, however, a provision of the nature of that recommended here were thought necessary to commence new operations in the same line of manufacture, I should cheerfully agree to it, if it were not at the cost of sacrificing other great interests of the country. I need hardly say that whatever promotes the cotton and woollen manufactures promotes most important interests of my constituents. They have a great stake in the success of those establishments, and as far as those manufactures are concerned, would be as much benefited by the provisions of this bill as any part of the community. It is obvious, too, I should think, that for some considerable time manufactures of this sort, to whatever magnitude they may rise, will be principally established in those parts of the country where population is most dense, capital most abundant, and where the most successful beginnings have been already made.
But if these be thought to be advantages, they are greatly counterbalanced by other advantages enjoyed by other portions of the country. I cannot but regard the situation of the West as highly favorable to human happiness. It offers, in the abundance of its new and fertile lands, such assurances of permanent property and respectability to the industrious, it enables them to lay such sure foundations for a competent provision for their families, it makes such a nation of freeholders, that it need not envy the happiest and most prosperous of the manufacturing communities. We may talk as we will of well-fed and well-clothed day-laborers or journeymen; they are not, after all, to be compared, either for happiness or respectability, with him who sleeps under his own roof and cultivates his own fee-simple inheritance.
With respect to the proposed duty on glass I would observe that, upon the best means of judging which I possess, I am of opinion that the chairman of the committee is right in stating that there is in effect a bounty upon the exportation of the British article. I think it entirely proper, therefore, to raise our own duty by such an amount as shall be equivalent to that bounty.
And here, Mr. Chairman, before proceeding to those parts of the bill to which I most strenuously object, I will be so presumptuous as to take up a challenge which Mr. Speaker has thrown down. He has asked us, in a tone of interrogatory indicative of the feeling of anticipated triumph, to mention any country in which manufactures have flourished without the aid of prohibitory laws. He has demanded if it be not policy, protection, ay, and prohibition, that have carried other states to the height of their prosperity, and whether any one has succeeded with such tame and inert legislation as ours. Sir, I am ready to answer this inquiry.
There is a country not undistinguished among the nations, in which the progress of manufactures has been far more rapid than in any other, and yet unaided by prohibitions or unnatural restrictions. That country, the happiest which the sun shines on, is our own.
The woollen manufactures of England have existed from the early ages of the monarchy. Provisions, designed to aid and foster them, are in the blackletter statutes of the Edwards and the Henrys. Ours, on the contrary, are but of yesterday; and yet, with no more than the protection of existing laws, they are already at the point of close and promising competition. Sir, nothing is more unphilosophical than to refer us, on these subjects, to the policy adopted by other nations in a very different state of society, or to infer that what was judged expedient by them, in their early history, must also be expedient for us in this early part of our own. This would be reckoning our age chronologically, and estimating our advance by our number of years, when, in truth, we should regard only the state of society, the knowledge, the skill, the capital, the enterprise, which belong to our times. We have been transferred from the stock of Europe, in a comparatively enlightened age, and our civilization and improvement date back as early as her own. Her original history is also our original history; and if, since the moment of separation, she has gone ahead of us in some respects, it may be said, without violating truth, that we have kept up in others, and in others again are ahead ourselves. We are to legislate, then, with regard to the present actual state of society; and our own experience shows us that commencing manufactures at the present highly enlightened and emulous moment, we need not imitate the clumsy helps with which, in less auspicious times, governments have sought to enable the ingenuity and industry of their people to hobble along.
The English cotton manufactures began about the commencement of the last reign. Ours can hardly be said to have commenced, with any earnestness, until the application of the power loom, in 1814, not more than ten years ago. Now, sir, I hardly need again speak of its progress, its present extent, or its assurance of future enlargement. In some sorts of fabrics we are already exporters, and the products of our factories are at this moment in the South American markets. We see, then, what can be done without prohibition or extraordinary protection, because we see what has been done; and I venture to predict that in a few years it will be thought wonderful that these branches of manufactures at least should have been thought to require additional aid from government.
Mr. Chairman, the best apology for laws of prohibition and laws of monopoly will be found in that state of society, not only unenlightened but sluggish, in which they are most generally established. Private industry in those days required strong provocatives, which governments were seeking to administer by these means. Something was wanted to actuate and stimulate men, and the prospects of such profits as would, in our times, excite unbounded competition, would hardly move the sloth of former ages. In some instances, no doubt, these laws produced an effect which, in that period, would not have taken place without them. But our age is wholly of a different character, and its legislation takes another turn. Society is full of excitement; competition comes in place of monopoly, and intelligence and industry ask only for fair play and an open field. Profits, indeed, in such a state of things will be small, but they will be extensively diffused, prices will be low, and the great body of the people prosperous and happy. It is worthy of remark that from the operation of these causes commercial wealth, while it is increased beyond calculation in its general aggregate, is, at the same time, broken and diminished in its subdivisions. Commercial prosperity should be judged of therefore rather from the extent of trade than from the magnitude of its apparent profits. It has been remarked that Spain, certainly one of the poorest nations, made very great profits on the amount of her trade, but with little other benefit than the enriching of a few individuals and companies. Profits to the English merchants engaged in the Levant and Turkey trade were formerly very great, and there were richer merchants in England some centuries ago, considering the comparative value of money, than at the present highly commercial period. When the diminution of profits arises from the extent of competition, it indicates rather a salutary than an injurious change.1
The true course then, sir, for us to pursue is, in my opinion, to consider what our situation is, what our means are, and how they can be best applied. What amount of population have we in comparison with our extent of soil, what amount of capital, and labor at what price? As to skill, knowledge, and enterprise, we may safely take it for granted that, in these particulars, we are on an equality with others. Keeping these considerations in view, allow me to examine two or three of those provisions of the bill to which I feel the strongest objections.
To begin with the article of iron. Our whole annual consumption of this article is supposed by the Chairman of the Committee to be 48,000 or 50,000 tons. Let us suppose the latter. The amount of our own manufacture he estimates, I think, at 17,000 tons. The present duty on the imported article is $15 per ton, and as this duty causes of course an equivalent augmentation of the price of the home manufacture, the whole increase of price is equal to $750,000 annually. This sum we pay on a raw material, and on an absolute necessary of life. The bill proposes to raise the duty from $15 to $22.50 per ton, which would be equal to $1,125,000 on the whole annual consumption. So that, suppose the point of prohibition which is aimed at by some gentlemen to be attained, the consumers of the article would pay this last mentioned sum every year to the producers of it, over and above the price at which they could supply themselves with the same article from other sources. There would be no mitigation of this burden, except from the prospect, whatever that might be, that iron would fall in value by domestic competition after the importation should be prohibited. It will be easy, I think, to show that it cannot fall; and supposing for the present that it shall not, the result will be that we shall pay annually a sum of $1,125,000, constantly augmented, too, by increased consumption of the article, to support a business that cannot support itself.
It is of no consequence to the argument that this sum is expended at home; so it would be if we taxed the people to support any other useless and expensive establishment — to build another Capitol, for example, or incur an unnecessary expense of any sort. The question still is, are the money, time, and labor well laid out in these cases? The present price of iron at Stockholm, I am assured by importers, is $53 per ton on board, $48 in the yard before loading, and probably not far from $40 at the mines. Freight, insurance, etc., may be fairly estimated at $15, to which add our present duty of $15 more, and these two last sums, together with the cost on board at Stockholm, give $83 as the cost of Swedes iron in our market. In fact, it is said to have been sold last year at $81.50 to $82 per ton. We perceive by this statement that the cost of the iron is doubled in reaching us from the mine in which it is produced. In other words, our present duty, with the expense of transportation, gives an advantage to the American, over the foreign manufacturer, of 100%. Why then cannot the iron be manufactured at home? Our ore is said to be as good, and some of it better. It is under our feet, and the Chairman of the Committee tells us that it might be wrought by persons who otherwise will not be employed. Why then is it not wrought? Nothing could be more sure of constant sale. It is not an article of changeable fashion, but of absolute, permanent necessity, and such, therefore, as would always meet a steady demand. Sir, I think it would be well for the Chairman of the Committee to revise his premises, for I am persuaded that there is an ingredient properly belonging to the calculation which he has misstated or omitted. Swedes iron in England pays a duty, I think, of about $27 per ton; yet it is imported in considerable quantities, notwithstanding the vast capital, the excellent coal, and, more important than all perhaps, the highly improved state of inland navigation in England; although I am aware that the English use of Swedes iron may be thought to be owing in some degree to its superior quality.
Sir, the true explanation of this appears to me to lie in the different prices of labor; and here I apprehend is the grand mistake in the argument of the Chairman of the Committee. He says it would cost the nation, as a nation, nothing to make our ore into iron. Now, I think it would cost us precisely that which we can worst afford; that is, great labor. Although bar iron is very properly considered a raw material in respect to its various future uses, yet, as bar iron, the principal ingredient in its cost is labor. Of manual labor, no nation has more than a certain quantity, nor can it be increased at will. As to some operations, indeed, its place may be supplied by machinery; but there are other services which machinery cannot perform for it, and which it must perform for itself. A most important question for every nation, as well as for every individual, to propose to itself, is, how it can best apply that quantity of labor which it is able to perform? Labor is the great producer of wealth; it moves all other causes. If it call machinery to its aid, it is still employed not only in using the machinery, but in making it. Now, with respect to the quantity of labor, as we all know, different nations are differently circumstanced. Some need, more than anything, work for hands, others require hands for work; and if we ourselves are not absolutely in the latter class, we are still, most fortunately, very near it I cannot find that we have those idle hands of which the Chairman of the Committee speaks. The price of labor is a conclusive and unanswerable refutation of that idea; it is known to be higher with us than in any other civilized state, and this is the greatest of all proofs of general happiness. Labor in this country is independent and proud. It has not to ask the patronage of capital, but capital solicits the aid of labor. This is the general truth in regard to the condition of our whole population, although in the large cities there are, doubtless, many exceptions. The mere capacity to labor in common agricultural employments gives to our young men the assurance of independence. We have been asked, sir, by the Chairman of the Committee, in a tone of some pathos, whether we will allow to the serfs of Russia and Sweden the benefit of making iron for us? Let me inform the gentleman, sir, that those same serfs do not earn more than seven cents a day, and that they work in these mines for that compensation because they are serfs. And let me ask the gentleman further, whether we have any labor in this country that cannot be better employed than in a business which does not yield the laborer more than seven cents a day? This, it appears to me, is the true question for our consideration. There is no reason for saying that we will work iron because we have mountains that contain the ore. We might for the same reason dig among our rocks for the scattered grains of gold and silver which might be found there. The true inquiry is, can we produce the article in a useful state at the same cost, or nearly at the same cost, or at any reasonable approximation towards the same cost, at which we can import it.
Some general estimates of the price and profits of labor in those countries from which we import our iron might be formed by comparing the reputed products of different mines and their prices with the number of hands employed. The mines of Danemora are said to yield about 4,000 tons, and to employ in the mines 1,200 workmen. Suppose this to be worth f 50 per ton; any one will find by computation that the whole product would not pay in this country for one quarter part of the necessary labor. The whole export of Sweden was estimated, a few years ago, at 400,000 ship-pounds, or about 54,000 tons. Comparing this product with the number of workmen usually supposed to be employed in the mines which produce iron for exportation, the result will not greatly differ from the foregoing. These estimates are general, and might not conduct us to a precise result; but we know, from intelligent travelers and eye-witnesses, that the price of labor in the Swedish mines does not exceed seven cents a day. 1
The true reason, sir, why it is not our policy to compel our citizens to manufacture our own iron is, that they are far better employed. It is an unproductive business, and they are not poor enough to be obliged to follow it. If we had more of poverty, more of misery, and something of servitude, if we had an ignorant, idle, starving population, we might set up for iron makers against the world.
The committee will take notice, Mr. Chairman, that, under our present duty, together with the expense of transportation, our manufacturers are able to supply their own immediate neighborhood; and this proves the magnitude of that substantial encouragement which these two causes concur to give. There is little or no foreign iron, I presume, used in the county of Lancaster. This is owing to the heavy expense of land carriage; and as we recede farther from the coast, the manufacturers are still more completely secured, as to their own immediate market, against the competition of the imported article. But what they ask is to be allowed to supply the seacoast, at such a price as shall be formed by adding to the cost at the mines the expense of land carriage to the sea; and this appears to me most unreasonable. The effect of it would be to compel the consumer to pay the cost of two land transportations; for, in the first place, the price of iron, at the inland furnaces, will always be found to be at, or not much below, the price of the imported article in the seaport, and the cost of transportation to the neighborhood of the furnace; and to enable the home product to hold a competition with the imported in the seaport, the cost of another transportation downward, from the furnace to the coast, must be added. Until our means of inland commerce be improved, and the charges of transportation by that means lessened, it appears to me wholly impracticable, with such duties as any one would think of proposing, to meet the wishes of the manufacturers of this article. Suppose we were to add the duty proposed by this bill, although it would benefit the capital invested in works near the sea, and the navigable rivers, yet the benefit would not extend far in the interior. Where, then, are we to stop, or what limit is proposed to us?
The freight of iron has been afforded from Sweden to the United States as low as f>8 per ton. This is not more than the price of fifty miles’ land carriage. Stockholm, therefore, for the purpose of this argument, may be considered as within fifty miles of Philadelphia. Now, it is at once a just and a strong view of this case to consider that there are, within fifty miles of our market, vast multitudes of persons who are willing to labor in the production of this article for us, at the rate of seven cents per day, while we have no labor which will not command, upon ihe average, at least five or six times that amount. The question is, then, shall we buy this article of these manufacturers, and Suffer our own labor to earn its greater reward, or shall we employ our own labor in a similar manufacture, and make up to it by a tax on consumers the loss which it must necessarily sustain?
I proceed, sir, to the article of hemp. Of this we imported last year, in round numbers, 6,000 tons, paying a duty.of $30 a ton, or $180,000 on the whole amount; and this article, it is to be remembered, is consumed almost entirely in the uses of navigation. The whole burden may be said to fall on one interest. It is said we can produce this article if we will raise the duties. But why is it not produced now; or why, at least, have we not seen some specimens? for the present is a very high duty, when expenses of importation are added. Hemp was purchased at St. Petersburg last year at $101.67 per ton. Charges attending shipment, &c., $14.25. Freight may be stated at $30 per ton, and our existing duty is $30 more. These three last sums being the charges of transportation, amount to a protection of near 75% in favor of the home manufacturer, if there were any such. And we ought to consider, also, that the price of hemp at St. Petersburg is increased by all the expense of transportation from the place of growth to that port; so that probably the whole cost of transportation, from the place of growth to our market, including our duty, is equal to the first cost of the article; or, in other words, is a protection in favor of our own product of 100%.
And since it is stated that we have great quantities of fine land for the production of hemp, of which I have no doubt, the question recurs, why is it not produced? I speak of the water rotted hemp, for it is admitted that that which is dew rotted is not sufficiently good for the requisite purposes. I cannot say whether the cause be in climate, in the process of rotting, or what else, but the fact is certain, and there is no American water rotted hemp in the market. We are acting, therefore, upon a hypothesis. Is it not reasonable that those who say that they can produce the article shall at least prove the truth of that allegation before new taxes are laid on those who use the foreign commodity? Suppose this bill passes: the price of hemp is immediately raised $14.80 per ton, and this burden falls immediately on the ship builder; and no part of it, for the present, will go for the benefit of the American grower, because he has none of the article that can be used, nor is it expected that much of it will be produced for a considerable time. Still the tax takes effect upon the imported article; and the ship owners, to enable the Kentucky farmer to receive an additional $14.00 on his ton of hemp, whenever he may be able to raise and manufacture it, pay, in the mean time, an equal sum per ton into the Treasury on all the imported hemp which they are still obliged to use; and this is called “protection! “Is this pist or fair? A particular interest is here burdened, not only for the benefit of another particular interest, but burdened also beyond that, for the benefit of the Treasury. It is said to be important for the country that this article should be raised in it; then let the country bear the expense, and pay the bounty. If it be for the good of the whole, let the sacrifice be made by the whole, and not by a part. If it be thought useful and necessary, from political considerations, to encourage the growth and manufacture of hemp, government has abundant means of doing it. It might give a direct bounty, and such a measure would, at least, distribute the burden equally; or, as government itself is a great consumer of this article, it might stipulate to confine its own purchases to the home product, so soon as it should be shown to be of the proper quality. I see no objection to this proceeding, if it be thought to be an object to encourage the production. It might easily, and perhaps properly, be provided by law that the navy should be supplied with American hemp, the quality being good, at any price not exceeding, by more than a given amount, the current price of foreign hemp in our market. Everything conspires to render some such course preferable to the one now proposed. The encouragement in that way would be ample, and, if the experiment should succeed, the whole object would be gained; and if it should fail, no considerable loss or evil would be felt by any one.
I stated, some days ago, and I wish to renew the statement, what was the amount of the proposed augmentation of the duties on iron and hemp, in the cost of a vessel. Take the case of a common ship, of 300 tons, not coppered, nor copper-fastened. It would stand thus, by the present duties:—
|14½ tons of Iron, for hull, rigging, and anchors, at $15 per ton. . . . .||$217.50|
|10 tons of Hemp, at $30. . . . .||300.00|
|40 bolts Russia Duck, at $2. . . . .||80.00|
|20 bolts Ravens Duck, at $1.25. . . . .||25.00|
|On articles of ship chandlery, cabin furniture, hardware, etc. . . . .||40.00|
The bill proposes to add: —
|$7.40 per ton on Iron, which will be. . . .||$107.30|
|$14.80 per ton on Hemp, equal to. . . .||148.00|
|And on Duck, by the late amendment of the bill, say 25 per cent||25.00|
But to the duties on iron and hemp should be added those paid on copper, whenever that article is used. By the statement which I furnished the other day, it appeared that the duties received by government, on articles used in the construction of a vessel of 359 tons, with copper fastenings, amounted to $1,056. With the augmentations of this bill, they would be equal to $1,400. Now, I cannot but flatter myself, Mr. Chairman, that, before the committee will consent to this new burden upon the shipping interest, it will very deliberately weigh the probable consequences. I would again urgently solicit its attention to the condition of that interest. We are told that Government has protected it, by discriminating duties, and by an exclusive right to the coasting trade. But it would retain the coasting trade, by its own natural efforts, in like manner, and with more certainty, than it now retains any portion of foreign trade. The discriminating duties are now abolished, and while they existed they were nothing more than countervailing measures, not so much designed to give our navigation an advantage over that of other nations as to put it upon an equality; and we have, accordingly, abolished ours, when they have been willing to abolish theirs. Look to the rate of freights. Were they ever lower, or even so low? I ask gentlemen who know, whether the harbor of Charleston, and the river of Savannah, be not crowded with ships seeking employment, and finding none? I would ask the gentlemen from New Orleans if their magnificent Mississippi does not exhibit, for furlongs, a forest of masts? The condition, sir, of the shipping interest is not that of those who are insisting on high profits, or struggling for monopoly; but it is the condition of men content with the smallest earnings, and anxious for their bread. The freight of cotton has formerly been three pence sterling from Charleston to Liverpool in time of peace. It is now I know not what, or how many, fractions of a penny; I think, however, it is stated at five eighths. The producers, then of this great staple, are able, by means of this navigation, to send it, for a cent a pound, from their own doors to the best market in the world.
Mr. Chairman, I will now only remind the committee that, while we are proposing to add new -burdens to the shipping interest, a very different line of policy is followed by our great commercial and maritime rival. It seems to be announced as the sentiment of the Government of England, and undoubtedly it is its real sentiment, that the first of all manufactures is the manufacture of ships. A constant and wakeful attention is paid to this interest, and very important regulations, favorable to it, have been adopted within the last year, some of which I will beg leave to refer to, with the hope of exciting the notice, not only of the committee, but of all others who may feel, as I do, a deep interest in this subject. In the first place, a general amendment has taken place in the register acts, introducing many new provisions, and, among others, the following: —
A direct mortgage of the interest of a ship is allowed, without subjecting the mortgagee to the responsibility of an owner.
The proportion of interest held by each owner is exhibited in the register, thereby facilitating both sales and mortgages, and giving a new value to shipping among the moneyed classes.
Shares, in the ships of copartnerships, may be registered as joint property, and subject to the same rules as other partnership effects.
Ships may be registered in the name of trustees, for the benefit of joint stock companies; and many other regulations are adopted with the same general view of rendering the mode of holding the property as convenient and as favorable as possible.
By another act, British registered vessels, of every description, are allowed to enter into the general and the coasting trade in the India seas, and may now trade to and from India, with any part of the world, except China.
By a third, all limitations and restrictions, as to latitude and longitude, are removed from ships engaged in the Southern whale fishery. These regulations, I presume, have not been made without first obtaining the consent of the East India Company; so true is it found, that real encouragement of enterprise oftener consists, in our days, in restraining or buying off monopolies and prohibitions, than in imposing or extending them.
The trade with Ireland is turned into a free coasting trade; light duties have been reduced, and various other beneficial arrangements made, and still others proposed. I might add, that, in favor of general commerce, and as showing their confidence in the principles of liberal intercourse, the British government has perfected the warehouse system, and authorized a reciprocity of duties with foreign states, at the discretion of the Privy Council.
This, sir, is the attention which our great rival is paying to these important subjects, and we may assure ourselves that, if we do not keep alive a proper sense of our own interests, she will not only beat us, but will deserve to beat us.
Sir, I will detain you no longer. There are some parts of this bill which I highly approve; there are others in which I should acquiesce; but those to which I have now stated my objections appear to me so destitute of all justice, so burdensome and so dangerous to that interest which has steadily enriched, gallantly defended, and proudly distinguished us, that nothing can prevail upon me to give it my support.
Mr. Huskisson, President of the English Board of Trade.
The Marquis of Lansdowne.
“The present equable diffusion of moderate -wealth cannot be better illustrated than by remarking that in this age many palaces and superb mansions have been pulled down or converted to other purposes, while none have been erected on a like scale. The numberless baronial castles and mansions in all parts of England, now in ruins, may all be adduced as examples of the decrease of inordinate wealth. On the other hand, the multiplication of commodious dwellings for the upper and middle classes of society, and the increased comforts of all ranks, exhibit a picture of individual happiness unknown in any other age.” — Sir G. Blane’s Letter to Lord Spencerd in 1800.
The price of labor in Russia may be pretty well collected from Tooke’s View of the Russian Empire.” The workmen in the mines and the founderies are, indeed, all called master-people; but they distinguish themselves into masters, undermasters, apprentices, delvers, servants, carriers, washers, and separators. In proportion to their ability their wages are regulated, which proceed from 15 to upwards of 30 roubles per annum. The provisions which they receive from the magazines are deducted from this pay.” The value of the rouble at that time (1799) was about 24 pence sterling, or 45 cents of our money.
“By the edict of 1799,” it is added, “a laborer with a hone shall receive, daily, in summer 20 and in winter 12 copecks; a laborer without a horse, in surnmar 10, in winter 8 copecks.”
A copeck is the hundredth part of a rouble, or about half a cent of our money. The price of labor may have risen, in some degree, since that period, but probably not much.