Copyright
Erastus B. (Erastus Brigham) Bigelow.

The tariff policy of England and of the United States contrasted online

. (page 4 of 5)
Online LibraryErastus B. (Erastus Brigham) BigelowThe tariff policy of England and of the United States contrasted → online text (page 4 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and eighteen thousand dollars, and Great Britain to the value
of three hundred and fifty-eight million eight hundred thousand
dollars ; that is, she exported three hundred and ninety times
as much as we did.

I would invite all who are accustomed to assert that we
beat Great Britain in the manufacture of cotton, and can
drive her out of neutral markets, to ponder well the compar-
ative figures in this table, and answer this question : At the
relative rate of progress of the two countries, indicated by
the table, how long will it take the United States to get so
far ahead of Great Britain as to justify their assertions?

Of kindred origin, and alike delusive, is the idea, that
under free-trade our exports of domestic manufactures
would increase. The adoption of that policy at our present
stage of progress would diminish, rather than increase, such
exports. Under free-trade, the law of demand and supply
would bring the prices of commodities here to a general
level with prices abroad ; whereas, there are conditions that
affect the cost of production which do not obey that law.
We have always had free-trade in capital and in labor, and
yet the rate of interest and the rate of wages (as I have
already shown) rule much higher here than in older coun-
tries. Were we to adopt free-trade, the disparities against
us in the cost of general expenses, in the rate of interest,
and in the rate of local taxation, would remain unchanged ;
and, though the rate of wages might be somewhat reduced,
our abundance of land would prevent its falling to the Eng-
lish and Continental rates. Free-trade, therefore, would
reduce the prices of manufactured articles here in a greater
ratio than it reduced the cost of their production, and thus
open our market to a foreign competition which would take
the life and energy out of our manufacturing industry, retard
its progress, and thereby weaken our ability to export manu-
factured products. Our export trade is, indeed, desirable,
in so far as it results from the development of our internal



ENGLAND AND THE UNITED STATES. 43

resources ; but all attempts to increase it at the expense of
the home demand are unwise. Our main dependence for the
distribution of our vast and varied productions is, and must
be, the home market. Though the ratio of the home demand
to the foreign demand varies in different articles, we, as a
general fact, export only eight per cent of the aggregate
value of our manufacturing, mechanical, and agricultural
productions. Probably there is no class of the community
which is more benefited by protection than the agriculturist.
Without such protection, thousands and thousands of people,
who are now among the consumers of agricultural products,
would have been driven into the ranks of producers ; fur-
nishing their own supplies, and reducing, by increased com-
petition, the profits of both the home and the foreign trade.
Hitherto, for reasons that will readily occur, the people of
the Western and Southern States have been mainly devoted
to agriculture and cotton raising ; but they have made a
good beginning in manufacturing. As their natural advan-
tages are equal, arid in some respects superior, to those of
the North-Eastern States, the time cannot be far distant
when they will see it to be for their interest to manufacture
largely for themselves.

Production and distribution are the agencies by which
human wants are supplied ; and a nation increases in wealth
in the ratio that the sum of its production exceeds that of
its consumption. The paramount object to be kept in view\ (
in shaping our commercial policy should be to develop in/
the nation its maximum power of production. It cannot be
denied, however, that in our great centres of trade the para-
mount idea is distribution. Although production and distri-
bution are reciprocally dependent, the former is of primary
importance ; for, without it, the latter could not take place.
In the great marts, the struggle is for results, without much
concern as to the means by which they are produced. Were
those who mould and give direction to public opinion in
commercial communities to consider more thoroughly the
conditions of production on which the prosperity of the coun-
try depends, we should have less of that unpractical reason-
ing which now so largely misleads the popular judgment.



44 THE TARIFF POLICY OF

There is nothing more certain in human affairs than that
the adoption of free-trade by the United States at their pres-
ent stage of progress would largely diminish their productive
power, reduce the volume of their trade, both foreign and
domestic, and consequently lessen their general prosperity.
We may suppose that there are not many among us bold
enough openly to advocate the prostration of American
industry ; yet every orator and writer who advocates our
adoption of free-trade virtually does that.



EFFORTS OF ENGLAND TO INFLUENCE THE TARIFF POLICY
OF OTHER COUNTRIES.

I have already intimated that, in inaugurating the tariff
reform in England, her statesmen were influenced more by
the exigencies of her situation than by a belief in the virtue
of free-trade principles. If they had believed that free-trade
is absolutely right, and protection absolutely wrong, without
qualification, why did they not at once purge England's tariff
of all protective duties ? Why did they impose protective
duties on many articles of manufacture as late as 1859 ? Why
did they retain protective duties on manufactures of silk till
1860, fourteen years after they had publicly professed the
free-trade faith ? Free-trade in corn (breadstuffs) being the
chief corner-stone of the free-trade movement, why did they
continue to collect a duty on that article which amounted to
more than four millions of dollars l in 1869, the year of its final
repeal ? To these interrogatories, one of two answers must
be true : these duties were retained either for revenue, or with
a wise discrimination as to the fitness of time and circum-
stances for their repeal. Both of these answers are incon-
sistent with the canons of free-trade. The free-trader says,
that, while it is right to raise revenue by customs duties, it is
wrong to impose such duties on articles produced in the
country imposing the duty : and yet all the articles to which

1 When the "corn law" was repealed in 1846, a duty of one shilling per
quarter was imposed on corn, which was continued till 1869.



ENGLAND AND THE UNITED STATES. 45

these interrogatories relate are of that class ; that is, they are
produced in England. Discrimination as to fitness of time
and circumstances in removing or imposing customs duties is
the fundamental idea of protection.

Whatever may have been the motives which actuated the
free- trade leaders, it is certain that their free-trade professions
have been a powerful means of aiding their cause. Thousands
of orators and writers who never would perhaps never could
have discussed the tariff question on practical grounds,
being fascinated by the " glittering generalities " which sur-
round the free-trade theory, have become its most zealous
advocates. If these astute leaders intended, by their free-
trade professions, to enlist in advocacy of British interests
this class of orators and writers, it must be admitted that in
the United States they have met with some success.

That one great end of the free-trade movement, and espe-
cially of the way in which it has been paraded before the world,
was and is to influence the commercial regulations of other
nations, is shown, not only by the internal evidence and cir-
cumstances of the case, but by the declarations of those who
were prime movers in the affair. Some of these declarations
appear in the following citations. I have Italicized certain
phrases worthy of note.

In his speech, opening the great debate of 1846, on the
commercial policy of England, Sir Robert Peel, after referring
to the protective duties of other countries, said :

" You have defied the regulations of those countries. . . . But
your efforts, whatever be the tariffs of other countries, or however
apparent the ingratitude with which they have treated you, your
export trade has been constantly increasing. By the remission of
your duties upon raw materials, by increasing your skill and in-
dustry, by competition with foreign goods, you have defied your
competitors in foreign markets, and you have even been able to
exclude them. ... I say, therefore, to you, that those hostile
tariffs, so far from being an objection to continuing your policy,
are an argument in its favor. But, depend upon it, your example
will ultimately prevail? l

1 Hansard, vol. Ixxxiii., 3d series, p. 277.



46 THE TARIFF POLICY OF

And again, on the fifth night of the adjourned debate, Sir
Robert closed his remarkable speech in these words :

" Choose your motto : ' advance,' or ' recede.' Determine for
* advance,' and it will be the watchivord that will animate and en-
courage in every State the friends of liberal commercial policy.
Sardinia has taken the lead ; Naples is relaxing ; Prussia is shaken.
The French government will be strengthened, and will, perhaps, pre-
vail at last over the self-interest of the commercial and manufact-
uring aristocracy that now predominates in her chambers. Can
you doubt that the United States will soon relax her hostile tariff,
and that the friends of a freer commercial intercourse the
friends of peace between the two countries will hail with satis-
faction the example of England" l

Mr. Gladstone, in his " Remarks on Recent Commercial
Legislation," writes :

" I have dwelt long on this subject of the commercial policy of
foreign States ; but it is one of immense moment. The power of
capital, skill, industry, long-established character and connections,
sustaining English commerce, bears up against all that has been
done. . . . But, if so, it may be naturally asked, Why all this
anxiety ? My answer is, that, while I do not believe that we have
been losers, relatively to other countries of which I now speak,
but hold, on the contrary, that their blows have told most severely
on themselves, yet I cannot doubt that the States in question have
taken much from us as well as from their own inhabitants ; have
neutralized or contracted a thousand benefits which it was practi-
cable to have attained ; and that their policy demands from us a
vigorous and steady counteraction. But what is to be the form of
that counteraction ? Are we to weary them by remonstrances
into undoing their acts ? But first, as matters now stand, it is too
probable that we should be interpreted by contraries, as Irish pigs
are said to understand their drivers / that the earnestness of our
request might be deemed the most demonstrative reason against
its being granted. . . . There remains, I think, only one course :
it is to use every effort to disburden of all charges, so far as our
law is concerned, the materials of industry, and thus to enable the

1 Hansard, vol. Ixxxiii., 3d series, p. 1036.



ENGLAND AND THE UNITED STATES. 47

workman to approach his work at home on better terms, as the
terms on which he enters foreign markets are altered for the worse
against him. . . . It is this regard to the course of commerce and
of commercial legislation in the world at large which convinces
me of the wisdom of pushing further than might otherwise be
necessary, or even desirable, our efforts to relieve the materials
of industry from fiscal burdens."

We have a later and a very striking exposition of British
policy, as designed to act on the commercial regulations of
other countries, in a letter from Mr. Gladstone to Mr. Had-
field. In 1856, a conference of the Great Powers was about
to sit in Paris for the negotiation and establishment of peace ;
.and the Manchester Chamber of Commerce requested the
Earl of Clarendon (who was to represent Great Britain) to
use his influence in that body for the promotion of commercial
freedom in Europe by diplomatic means. A similar move-
ment was on foot at Sheffield ; and it was in reference to its
expediency that Mr. Gladstone was consulted, and replied, in
part, as follows :

" I strongly sympathize with the feeling which has prompted the
Chamber of Commerce at Manchester to present a memorial to
Lord Clarendon, with a view to his using his influence, at the
approaching congress, in furtherance of commercial freedom in
Europe. I am also confident that they will find Lord Clarendon
most anxious to give effect to their views. Nor can I desire in
any manner to discourage your constituents at Sheffield from fol-
lowing the example which has been set at Manchester. At the
same time, I feel bound to point out a danger, the existence of
which I too well know from experience.

" Between 1841 and 1845, I held office in the Board of Trade ;
and this was the period during which England was most actively
engaged in the endeavor to negotiate, with the principal States of
the civilized world, treaties for the reciprocal reduction of duties
upon imports. The task was plied on our side with sufficient zeal ;
but, in every case, we failed. Tarn sorry to add my opinion, that
we did more than fail. The whole operation seemed to place us
in a false position. Its tendency was to lead countries to regard
with jealousy and suspicion, as boons to foreigners, alterations in
their laws, which, though doubtless of advantage to foreigners,



48 THE TARIFF POLICY OF

would have been of far greater advantage to their own in-
habitants.

" England, finding that she could make no progress in thu
direction, took her own course ; struck rapid and decisive blows at
the system of protection ; and reduced, as far as the exigencies oi
the public service would permit, the very high duties, which in
many cases she maintained simply for the purpose of revenue,
upon articles that had no domestic produce to compete with.
While our reasoning had done nothing, or less than nothing, our
example effected something at least, if less than we could have
desired : and commercial freedom has made some progress in other
countries since the year 1846 ; whereas shortly before that time,
even while we were relaxing our tariff, it had actually lost ground.

" When we endeavored to make treaties, we were constantly
obstructed by the idea, prevailing abroad, that the reduction of
tariffs would redound to our advantage only, and would be detri-
mental to other countries. Politicians and speculatists continued
to propagate this idea. It was certainly shaken, when the world
saw us expose our own protected interests to competition, without
making a condition of corresponding relaxation elsewhere ; but I
am fearful lest it should again make head, if we too actively em-
ploy political influence in urging the adoption of measures for the
relaxation of foreign tariffs."

The substance of this remarkable confession of a Prime
Minister of England is as follows : " England first en-
deavored to negotiate, with the principal States of the civil-
ized world, treaties for the reciprocal reduction of duties on
imports. The task was plied on her side with sufficient zeal ;
but in every case she failed." " Finding that she could make
no progress in this direction," she then devised the free-trade
scheme, and " struck rapid and decisive blows at the system of
protection." And, although " her reasoning had done nothing,
or less than nothing," she hoped that, " when the world saw
her expose her own protected interests to competition, without
making a condition of corresponding relaxation elsewhere,"
her example would prevail. Viewed in connection with the
actual condition of Great Britain at the time referred to by
Mr. Gladstone, there is something Quixotic in England
" striking rapid and decisive blows at the system of pro tec-



ENGLAND AND THE UNITED STATES. 49

/ tion." The largest protected interest in England was that of
corn (breadstuff's) ; and I have already shown that the repeal
of the corn laws and the removal of the duties on raw mate-
rials were acts of necessity, and were in fact only another way

\ of protecting her manufactures. I have also shown that the
only duties on her leading manufactures which operated pro-
tectively were those on manufactures of silk ; and these were
retained. What the example of England, in " exposing her
own protected interests to competition without making a con-
dition of corresponding relaxation elsewhere," really amounts
to, or how far it should have influence in shaping the course
of the American people, it is needless for me to say. 1
Notwithstanding that England, after so many baffled en-
deavors to adjust by treaty stipulations her commerce with
other nations, seemed to have abandoned the very idea in de-
spair, and notwithstanding the fact that all such stipulations
are a direct infringement of that free-trade code which she
professedly adopted, 2 she surprised the world by concluding,
in 1860, a commercial treaty with France.

1 In 1859, three years after the date of Mr. Gladstone's letter, England
collected a larger amount of customs duties on the tobacco she imported from
the United States than the United States collected on all the articles of British
manufacture which they imported from England.

2 " Generally speaking, all treaties which determine what the duties on im-
portation and exportation shall be, or which stipulate for preferences, are radi-
cally objectionable. Nations ought to regulate their tariffs in whatever mode
they judge best for the promotion of their own interests, without being shackled
by engagements with others. If foreign powers be all treated alike, none of
them has just grounds of complaint ; and it can rarely be for the interest of any
people to show preferences to one over another." McCulloch.

" A commercial treaty debars Parliament from dealing with financial ques-
tions as it ought to do, according to its own unbiassed judgment, unfettered by
any foregone conclusions between this country and France, but with reference
only to our own domestic interests." Earl Grey, in Debate on the Anglo-French
Treaty of 1860. See Hansard, vol. clvi. 3d series, p. 1118.

" But what is to be thought of a free-trader who approves, in general, of
treaties of commerce ? Did the honorable gentleman ever read the motion
made by Mr. Ricardo, when that eminent person, skilled in political economy,
said : ' We want trade ; not treaties of commerce, for they are opposed to our
principles'?' . . . Why, the very thing itself (a commercial treaty) is a contra-
diction of your creed." Mr, Whiteside: Debate in House of Commons on Anglo-
French Treaty. See Hansard, vol. clvi. 3d series, p. 1640.



50 THE TAEIFF POLICY OF

That a purpose and hope to influence other countries
countries, perhaps, whose trade would be more valuable than
that of France is ever likely to be was one of the motives
which prompted English statesmen in negotiating the Anglo-
French Treaty, is rendered more than probable by the follow-
ing remarks of Mr. Cobden. They are part of a letter to the
Mayor of Manchester, written soon after Mr. Cobden returned
from Paris :

" We are not, I trust, taking too sanguine a view of the effects
of the recent commercial arrangement, in assuming that its influ-
ence will be felt beyond the limits of the two countries immediately
concerned. When England and France are found co-operating,
whether in peace or in war, for the attainment of a common ob-
ject, they cannot fail to make their policy triumphant throughout
Europe ; and, looking at the negotiations now going on elsewhere,
and the indications generally manifested, I am led to the conclu-
sion that, ere long, the example of those two nations will induce the
whole Continent to adopt a more liberal commercial policy. In
the mean time, whatever hesitation there may be in Europe, or
whatever temporary backsliding there may be in America, it is satis-
factory to know that England, speaking through the voice of Man-
chester, remains faithful to the principles of unconditional freedom
of trade. If it be accompanied with reciprocity from other coun-
tries, so much the better for her and them ; if not, so much the
better for her than them."

English diplomacy aided, no doubt, by the action of
France, as Mr. Cobden anticipated has worried other Conti-
nental nations into negotiating commercial treaties ; but some
of those nations, after giving the treaty stipulations a fair
trial, express dissatisfaction with their effects.

Speeches in Parliament and the diplomacy of Downing
Street are not the only means the English employ to induce
the nations with which England deals to favor the free ad-
mission of her productions. By articles in the reviews and
magazines, by essays and editorials in the daily press, and by
personal discussions with strangers who visit her shores for
pleasure or for business, the folly of those nations which im-



ENGLAND AND THE UNITED STATES. 51

pose protective duties on imports is brought into unseemly
prominence. Many will recall with a smile the unsuccessful
attempt of the English, at the Centennial Exhibition, to dis-
credit our tariff, by ticketing their goods with prices with and
without customs duties.

Although they often too often assert it, are we to be-
lieve that these unceasing efforts of the English to influence
the commercial regulations of other countries are prompted
by motives of philanthropy ? The facts which I have adduced
forbid such a belief. When we consider what I have before
stated, that, to subsist her population, Great Britain must
annually import articles for food to the value of over eight
hundred millions of dollars ; that to pay for these articles she
must also import raw materials, to be used in manufacture, to
the value of nearly seven hundred millions of dollars, and
annually find a foreign market for her manufactured products
to the value of, at least, twelve hundred millions of dollars, we
at once see the real ground of her anxiety to extend the area
of free-trade. As a successful rivalry in neutral markets
would be fatal to her prosperity, her struggle for manufact-
uring supremacy is, in fact, a struggle for national life. It
springs from the strongest motives of human action, the law
of self-preservation. To imagine that, under the circum-
stances, she will neglect to employ any and every influence
likely, in her opinion, to retard the manufacturing progress of
other countries, is to expect from her a degree of disinter-
estedness and philanthropic virtue not to be looked for in any
nation. I do not deny her right to use any and all the means
she has used to defend her own interests ; indeed, it would
have been strange had she done otherwise. But that so many
of our countrymen should innocently walk into the net so
adroitly spread for them, lay aside their patriotism, and ad-
vocate free-trade because the English advocate it, use the
same arguments for its adoption in the United States that
were used for its adoption in England, irrespective of the
widely different condition of the two countries ; and, con-
founding the -advocacy of British interests with philanthropic
endeavor, hob-nob with the Cobdeu Club, and, in obedience



52 THE TARIFF POLICY OF

to its behests, seek to organize similar clubs in this country,
is, to say the least, very remarkable. It would be simply
ludicrous, were it not a serious matter, to see so many of our
fellow-men in a state of actual delusion in regard to a common-
sense, practical, business question.

With the free-trade doctrinaire, I have no controversy.
However plausible his theory may seem, it has no practical
value. It presupposes a condition of things that does not
exist, nor is it probable ever will exist. It ignores all idea of
patriotism, of national pride, and of national interests.

" If all the countries of the globe were actually, or were
ready to become, constituent portions of one and the same
great family, the theory of free-traders might seem plausible.
But the plain truth is, that the whole analogy is forced and
unnatural. By treating the human race as one great family,
we are not following, but departing from, the apparent design
of Providence, as indicated in the dispensations that every-
where present themselves to our observation. In these., we
are totally unable to discover any trace of the ideal corpora-
tion. . . . The Deity seems to have stamped on the features
of Nature and of humanity, in unmistakable characters, that
nations shall remain separate and distinct, each pursuing,
under the restraints only of moral obligations and just laws,


1 2 4

Online LibraryErastus B. (Erastus Brigham) BigelowThe tariff policy of England and of the United States contrasted → online text (page 4 of 5)