THE TARIFF ACT OF 1890 DEFENDED.
OF RHODE ISLAND,
SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES,
TUESDAY, JULY 26, 1892.
THE TAEIFF ACT OF 1890 DEFENDED,
NELSON W. ALDRICH,
OF RHODE ISLAND,
SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES,
TUESDAY, JULY 26, 1892.
HON. NELSON W. ALDRICH.
The Senate having under consideration the resolution submitted by Mr.
HALE, June 27, 1892, directing the Committee on Finance to inquire into the
effect of a policy of "tariff for revenue only" upon the labor and industries
of the United States-
Mr. ALDRICH said:
Mr. PRESIDENT: It is evident that the tariff question is to be-
come, by common consent, the leading issue in the approaching
Presidential campaign. The radical declarations of the Demo-
cratic platform adopted at Chicago, and the equally radical utter-
ances of leading representatives of the party, insure this result.
At no time in the history of the country have the lines between
the two great parties upon this question been so clearly defined.
The party platforms of 1892 declare with much greater candor
than is customary in papers of this kind the doctrines of their
respective parties. The Republicans enter the campaign dis-
tinctively favoring the continuance of the protective policy, and
announcing definitely the principles which should control tariff
legislation, while, on the other hand, the Democrats denounce
protection as a fraud, declare the unconstitutionality of protec-
tive tariff duties, and make a special and vicious attack upon the
tariff act of 1890 as the culminating atrocity of tariff legislation.
The Democratic platform is in many respects a radical de-
parture from any of the previous official utterances of the party.
At no time in the history of the country, except in the course of the
movement for nullification, has any attempt heretofore been made
to make the doctrine of the unconstitutionality of protective duties
the essential element of a political creed. The steps by which
the Democracy have reached the radical position they now oc-
cupy have been very gradual. The Democratic platforms of 1884
and 1888 were so constructed as to secure the approval of a large
number of incidental protectionists who then held a place, nomi-
nally, at least, in the Democratic ranks; but in the platform of
1892 all disguises are thrown off and for the first time the party
is arrayed in emphatic antagonism to tariff rates which contain
any element of protection.
This clear alignment of parties greatly simplifies the discus-
sion of the question. It removes all opportunity for possible
differences of opinion in regard to the Republican plan of cam-
paign. The friends of protection must wage aggressive warfare
upon the revolutionary doctrines which, although long secretly
cherished by Democratic leaders, are now for the first time
openly avowed. The attack upon the indefensible Democratic
position must be vigorous and persistent.
I regret that a purpose to confine my remarks to-day to an ex-
amination of Democratic criticisms and attacks upon the tariff
act of 1890 precludes me from entering this attractive field. I
shall not, on the other hand, attempt to-day any general defense
of the Republican policy of protection. The progress which the
country has made under its beneficent influences during the
past thirty years furnishes the best proof of the wisdom shown
in its adoption and retention as a national policy.
Before entering upon a defense of the act of 1890, however, I
will say that the f ramers and supporters of this measure have
never claimed that it was- perfect in all of its details; but not-
withstanding this limitation, which, I infer, must be applied to
all legislative enactments covering so wide a field, I believe that
all protectionists are willing to accept the measure as a success-
ful embodiment of Republican principles and to have the wisdom
of the policy they advocate adjudged by its practical results.
The tariff plank of the Chicago platform formulates the Dem-
ocratic declaration of faith; but it has been left to the Senator
from Missouri [Mr. VEST], who seems to be the acknowledged
representative of his party in this Chamber in all matters per-
taining to tariff legislation, to announce in detail the Democratic
programme. That Senator has been zealous at all times in the
advocacy of tariff reform, and his eloquence and ability in the
treatment of the subject have made him one of the most con-
spicuous champions of the cause.
His acknowledged leadership, however, in this regard has
never been quite so marked as at this session of Congress. If
any other Senators on the opposite side of the Chamber have
views upon this subject th ey have not declared them to the pub-
With an intrepidity and ability worthy of a better cause, the
distinguished Senator has singly and alone upheld the free-
trade standard of his party
In view of this condition of affairs I shall assume that the two
rather remarkable speeches made by that Senator in the Senate
on the 6th and 28th of June fairly represent the line of argu-
ment which is to be followed by his party in the political cam-
paign upon which we are about to enter.
As I shall have occasion to criticise severely most of the state-
ments contained in these speeches, I am bound to say in advance
that I do not think the distinguished Senator can be fairly held
responsible for their frequent and alarming inaccuracies. The
honorable Senator has undoubtedly in his great zeal allowed
himself to be misled by designing and interested parties, who
have sought to use his great reputation and high character to
give the weight of authority to their own absurd attempts to
further mislead and deceive the American people. Most of
these attempts at deception are so transparent, and their inac-
curacies are so grotesquely absurd that they would not be worthy
of notice if it had not become evident that they were to be given
a wide circulation in the approaching campai gn upon the au-
thority of my distinguished friend.
The principal objection made by the Senator from Missouri
to the tariff act of 1890 is that which was urged with erreat force
and effect in the political campaign which immediately followed
its enactment, namely, that through a large advance in rates it
had effected a considerable increase in the prices of the neces-
saries of life and greatly augmented the cost of living of all
classes of people, especially of the poor.
In his speech of June 28, page 6177 of the RECORD, the Sen-
ator from Missouri makes the following plain and unequivocal
I am prepared to show that the McKinley act has had the effect of Increas-
ing prices upon the necessaries of life to the people of this country, and that
the statement In his resolution [referring to the Senator from Maine] that
an area of cheapness in the necessaries of life Is being brought to the people
of the United States is absolutely and unconditionally false.
One of the principal purposes of the tariff inquiry ordered by
the Senate resolution of March 3, 1891, was to ascertain with
accuracy whether this claim of the opponents of protection was
justified by the actual results. An investigation into the course
of prices and cost of living 1 , much more extensive and thorough /
than was ever before attempted, was instituted. The committee
determined to ascertain the relative prices paid by actual con-
sumers for all articles of general consumption at retail in every
part of the United States on the first of each month from June,
1889, to September, 1891. This embraced a period of seventeen
months prior to the passage of the act of 1890 and eleven months
subsequent to that date. The quotations were in all cases se-
cured from actual sales, taken from the books of merchants in
seventy different cities and towns in the different States and
Territories. The places at which quotations were obtained were
selected with the view of covering the entire country geograph-
ically, and included typical commercial, manufacturing, and ag-
ricultural communities. The prices were secured by the trained
experts of the Department of Labor with the greatest care.
The list of two hundred and fifteen articles on which monthly
prices were thus obtained was carefully selected by the unani-
mous action of the committee, with a view of covering every
possible expenditure of a family in the average condition of life,
that is with an income of $500 to $1,000 per annum.
The results of this comprehensive and exhaustive inquiry are
contained in the report recently made by the Finance Committee.
This report covers 2,300 printed pages and contains more than
1,200,000 different quotations.
The inquiry was thoroughly nonpartisan, and every possible
care was taken to give to it a character which would entitle the
results secured to the highest weight of authority. This investi-
gation clearly establishes the fact that a decline instead of an
advance has taken place in the prices of the necessaries of life
and the resulting cost of living since the adoption of the act of
The articles on which prices were obtained were divided into
the following groups:
2. Cloths and clothing.
3. Fuel and lighting.
4. House furnishing goods.
5. Drugs and chemicals.
6. Metals and and implements.
7. Lumber and building materials.
The percentage of decline in the various groups embraced in
the schedule is shown by the following table, prices for June,
July, and August, 1889, being taken as a basis for comparison
and represented by the number 100. changes being shown by per-
centages of that number:
Food 100. 53
Cloths and clothing 99.65
Fuel and lighting 98.69
Metals and implements 97.49
Lumber and building materials 98.28
Drugs and chemicals 95.96
House-furnishing goods 99.83
The Finance Committee also investigated for the same period
the course of wholesale prices at the great distributing centers.
While this investigation disclosed greater fluctuations in price
of the articles selected, the general result was the same, the fall
in wholesale prices running substantially parallel with that of
It will be observed that the greater percentages of decline are
in the groups of manufactured articles, where it was claimed the
greatest advance had taken place.
In addition to the inquiry stated above, the committee caused
retail prices of the different articles included in these lists to be
taken on May 1, 1892, at three of the points at which the original
inquiry was made, namely, Fall River, Mass., Chicago, 111., and
Dubuque, Iowa. The result of this latter inquiry shows that a
still further decline in prices and in the cost of living had taken
place between September 1, 1891, and May 1, 1892, clearly estab-
lishing a continuance of the tendency to lower prices and lower
cost of living.
It is shown as a net result of the investigation that prices and
the cost of living, based on the expenditures of a family in or-
dinary circumstances, had declined 3.4 per cent in May, 1892,
as compared with the period prior to the adoption of the tariff
act of 1890.
It is difficult to see how the results of this thoroughly exhaust-
ive inquiry could be a surprise to anyone, unless he should be a
professional tariff reformer. It has, I believe, been for many
months apparent to the great mass of the people of the United
States that none of the Democratic predictions in regard to
higher prices and greater cost of living, as the result of the
tariff legislation of 1890, had been fulfilled.
There can be no longer any question as to the course of prices
for the period covered by the committee's investigation. Even
the Democratic platform, which undertakes to enumerate the
evil effects of the act of 1890, abandons the claim that its adop-
tion resulted in increased prices, and I am greatly surprised to
find that the cry is now being revived for the campaign of 1892.
I do not believe it is possible , however, for the same men to deceive
the American people twice with the same misstate ments in re-
gard to the same subject, espscially when the second attempt is
made after the facts have been ascertained and are well known
to the people of the country. The allegations made in regard
to prices in October, 1890, were then made with such vehemence
and pertinacity that many honest men were deluded. This ex-
perience can not, in my opinion, be repeated.
It is true that the percentages of decline of prices and cost of
living and the advance in wages, as shown by the report, are not
large. Movements of this kind, from the nature of the case, are
always siow. The price of a single article or even a group of
articless may change greatly, or the wages in a single occupa-
tion or group of occupations may advance or decline rapidly, and
still the average of all the great mass of prices or wages not be
changed perceptibly. A slight change in the total average, how-
ever, makes a great difference in the aggregate result. The de-
cline in the cost of living from June, 1889, to May, 1892, as shown
by the report of the Finance Committee, was 3.4 per cent. The
advance in wages., as shown by the same report, was .75 of 1 per
cent. This makes an average advance in the purchasing power
of wages of 4.15 per cent. Assuming $600 as the average income
of the families of the country, this would be equivalent to, say, $25
per family, or an aggregate saving for 13,000,000 families of $325,-
000,000 for each year.
The addition of this vast sum annually to the national earn-
ings and wealth is an achievement which speaks with a more
eloquent voice than I can command in behalf of a policy under
which such results are possible.
It is very significant that while the cost of living in the United
States declined for the period covered by the investigation of
the Finance Committee, the cost of living in England increased
1.9 per cent. If the conditions had been reversed, our Demo-
cratic friends would have insisted that this was the direct and
logical result of rival revenue systems. I am curious to see
what explanation they will now make. The result is unques-
tionably a very surprising one to them, and one which they will
have difficulty in explaining away. While the attempt to com-
pare average retail prices in England and the United States is
not satisfactory, I am convinced that for a family buying the
same quantity and quality of articles at retail in the two coun-
tries, that the cost of living would not be higher in America.
These relative conditions, however, do not exist, as the scale of
living for the masses of people in the respective countries is
At no time in our history have the earnings of the American
people been as great, measured by their power to purchase the
comforts and necessaries of life, as they are to-day. Measured
by the same standard they are vastly greater than those of any
other people in the world.
The Senator from Missouri based his broad statement, so strik-
ingly at variance with understood facts, that the recent tariff act
has increased the prices of the necessaries of life, on two state-
ments which he submitted, with every appearance of confidence,
and to which he was kind enough to invite my special attention.
The first of these was a table prepared by Mr. Daniel McKeever,
of the importing house of H. Herman Sternbach &Co., of New
York, purporting to show the relative cost to import twenty-one
articles before and after the passage of the act of 1890. As the
articles named in Mr. McKeever's list were selected by that gen-
tleman from the very large number of imported articles that go
into consumption, for the purpose of showing a general advance
in prices, his compilation is deserving of notice.
It is evident from the language used by the Senator from Mis-
souri in reference to this table that he was willing to rest his
case upon the accuracy of its representations. It will be noticed,
however, that Mr. McKeever does not claim that the cost of the
articles named had been increased to consumers. It is evident,
however, that the Senator from Missouri intended to create the
impression, both by his language and his triumphant manner,
that the paper would in some manner prove beyond all question
that a general advance in the price of the necessaries of life had
Under these circumstances I feel justified in making an ex-
amination of the document, which otherwise I should pass by
unnoticed, as entirely unimportant and irrelevant to the ques-
tion at issue as to the effect of the tariff act of 1890. The table
purports to show the relative foreign cost in New York, duty
paid, of the articles named therein, of which samples were ex-
hibited, before and after October, 1890, the relative rates of
duty assessed by existing law and the equivalent ad valorem rate;
and the duties in force prior to the date the act of 1890 went into
I will first ask your attention to the statement of relative rates
of duties. I assume that it was Mr. McKeever's intention, as it
certainly was that of the Senator from Missouri, to create the in-
ference that the increase of rates shown in the table furnishes a
fair indication of the character of the general changes in rates
effected by the act of 1890. I believe I shall be able to show that
the statement has no value for this purpose. Such of its com-
parisons as are not grossly inaccurate are wholly misleading.
For instance, Mr. McKeever states that the rates upon astra-
chans, samples 18, 19, 20, and 21, prior to the act of 1890 varied
from 12 to 24 cents per pound and 35 per cent ad valorem, and
that the duties at the present time are 49i cents per pound and 60
per cent ad valorem, equivalent to an ad valorem rate of from
140 to 186 per cent.
The goods in question, unless made up into garments as is cer-
tainly not contemplated by the description, would be dutiable
under paragraph 392 of the act of 1890, at 44 cents a pound and
50 per cent ad valorem, instead of at 49 cents per pound and 60
per cent ad valorem.
If classified as manufactures of worsted, they would have paid
a duty prior to the passage of the act of 1890 of 35 cents per
pound and 35 per cent ad valorem, instead of from 12 to 24 cents
per pound, as stated by Mr. McKeever.
It is singular that Mr. McKeever should have taken as a basis
for his comparison of the rates imposed on astrachans, in one case
the lowest rate levied by the wool schedule of the act of 1883, that
upon flannels and blankets, and in the other case the highest
rate impos3d upon manufactures of wool by the act of 1890. that
upon ready-made, clothing, when neither of the rates was ap-
plicable to th3 goods in question.
Mr. McKeever is a man of keen intelligence, wonderfully fa-
miliar with tariff rates and the effect of tariff changes upon
his business as an importer, and it is difficult to understand how
he couii have subscribed to a statsment so strangely inaccurate.
Samples Nos. 10 to 17, inclusive, are at present dutiable, under
paragraph 394, as women's and children's dress goods, coat
linings, etc. By the provisions of the act of 1890 the dividing
line of value in this class of goods, upon which higher duties
were levied, was reduced from 20 to 15 cents per yard. This
change was made to meet the great decline that had taken place
in the price of goods of this character between 1883 and 1890. It
will be noticed that Mr. McKeever has taken in all instances for
his comparison of rates goods that are included within this
changed limit. In no other manner could such disparity in rates
There is another feature of this statement in regard to the
change in the rates on dress goods which requires attention.
By a construction of the act of 1883, which was clearly erroneous,
certain goods weighing over 4 ounces per square yard were ad-
mitted upon the payment of the square-yard duty, instead of the
pound-duty, which it was the purpose of the act of 1883 to impose.
This manifest defect in the law was remedied by the provisions of
the act of 1890. and the effect of this remedial legislation is rep-
resented in the table as an increase in rates. It is true the duties
were advanced, as stated in the table, on samples Nos. 1 to 9, in-
clusive. The purpose of these advanced rates was clearly stated
at the time the bill was passed. Neither cotton velvets, cordu-
roys, nor silk-striped sleeve linings had been made to any con-
siderable extent in the United States prior to the passage of the
act, and it was the intention of the framers of the bill to give to
these articles adequate protection, in order that the American
producer could have an equal chance to secure the American
market. Their success in this direction has been especially
This disposes, I believe, of the question of relative rates, and
I will now take up the question, Does the table show an increase
in prices or cost of necessaries of life, as claimed by the Senator
The articles named are not in any sense necessaries of life, and
it will be extremely difficult for the Senator from Missouri to
make the plain people of the country believe that silk-striped
sleeve linings, astrachans, cotton velvets, and corduroys belong
to that class. They certainly do not, and none of the articles
in McKeever's list, with the possible exception of coat linings,
gfo into use to any considerable extent in the households of the
But whatever their character, the most important fact to be
inquired into in connection with this table, and the purposes for
which it is exhibited, is whether the provisions of the act of 1890
had the effect to advance the cost to consumers of these articles
or others similar in character or used for similar purposes.
As I have already said, Mr. McKeever's statement contains no
evidence that the prices of the articles named have advanced,
but that the cost to import them is slightly greater since the
passage of the act of 1890. The fact is disclosed, however, that
the increased cost as stated does not in any case equal the addi-
tional duty. The consumers of the country, however, for whom
the distinguished Senator from Missouri assumes sometimes to
speak, are not especially interested in the slight increase of cost
to import the goods in question, or in the percentage of profit
which Mr. McKeever and his associates realize from their im:
portations. The question to be determined in their behalf is
whether the prices that they pay for these or similar goods have
I shall endeavor to satisfy Senators that every purchaser of
these goods or similar goods for consumption, whether of domes-
tic or foreign manufacture, can buy them to-day at lower prices
than those current prior to 1890.
While the articles named by Mr. McKeever as " women's and
children's dress goods " are exceptional in their character and
comparatively unimportant, it is true that the general class of
goods included in the designation is very important, and we may
well address ourselves to an investigation of the fact whether
the articles included in this class, in common use. have increased
in price. I submit herewith a statement showing the prices at
which goods of domestic manufacture, the general class of dress
goods which enter most largely into consumption, sold in the
month of July in the years 1890, 1891, and 1892:
Prices of coat linings and woman's and children's dress goods.
COAT LININGS AND ITALIAN CLOTH.
Fair Alpaca Company. Holyoke. Mass. :
Double-warp coat linings ...
Single-warp coat linings ... .....
Manchester Mills, Manchester, N. H. :
"813" cashmere .. .
Arlington Mills. Lawrence, Mass. :
Cotton warp cashmere, No. 100....
34 to 35
Cotton warp cashmere. No. 200........
35 to 36
Atlantic Mills, Providence, R. I. :
Hamilton Woolen Company, Southbridge,
Cashmere .... ...
It will be noticed that the Farr Alpaca Company, of Holyoke,
Mass., quote double and single warp coat linings at a lower rate