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perity; 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
6 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 any thing 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 eight hundred thousand 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? It is 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 skilfully and safely they are navigated. Risks are taken, as I learn, from the United States to Liverpool, at one per cent.; and from the United States to Canton and back, as low as three
cent. 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 defence. Yet, instead of proposing benefits for it in this hour of its depression, we threaten 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 oilmerchants, 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 with respect to these various particulars. Who can tell, from any thing 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 deny that some increase of the home market may 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 becoming prevalent on this subject; that the policy of restraints and prohibitions was getting out of repute, as the true 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 to delude other governments, 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.
Nothing, I imagine, 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 do 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 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, for 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 as little scruple in taking them off.
It may be here 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 up 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 every thing, for that would not be true to the enterprise and the discretion of individuals. I should certainly not have taken up the time of