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proposed to put under new burdens, is the only interest which is subject to a direct tax by a law of Congress. The tonnage duty is such a tax. If this bill should pass in its present form, I shall think it my duty, at the earliest suitable opportunity, to bring forward a bill for the repeal of the tonnage duty. It amounts, I think, to a hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year; and its removal will be due in all justice to the ship-owner, if he is to be made subject to a new taxation on hemp and iron.
But, objectionable as this tax is, from its severe pressure on a particular interest, and that at present a depressed interest, there are still further grounds of dissatisfaction with it. It is not calculated to effect the object intended by it. If that object be the increase of the sale of the dew-rotted American hemp, the increased duty will have little tendency to produce that result; because such hemp is so much lower in price than imported hemp, that it must be already used for such purposes as it is fit for. It is said to be selling for one hundred and twenty dollars per ton; while the imported hemp commands two hundred and seventy dollars. The proposed duty, therefore, cannot materially assist the sale of American hemp of this quality and description.
But the main reason given for the increase is the encouragement of American water-rotted hemp. Doubtless, this is an important object; but I have seen nothing to satisfy me that it can be obtained by means like this. At present there is produced in the country no considerable quantity of water-rotted hemp. It is problematical, at best, whether it can be produced under any encouragement. The hemp may be grown, doubtless, in various parts of the United States, as well as in any country in the world; but the process of preparing it for use, by waterrotting, I believe to be more difficult and laborious than is generally thought among us. I incline to think, that, happily for us, labor is in too much demand, and commands too high prices, to allow this process to be carried on profitably. Other objections, also, beside the amount of labor required, may, perhaps, be found to exist, in climate, and in the effects liable to be produced on health in warm countries by the nature of the process. But whether there be foundation for these suggestions or not, the fact still is, that we do not produce the article. It cannot, at present, be had at any price. To augment the duty, therefore, on foreign hemp, can only have the effect of compelling the consumer to pay so much more money into the treasury. The proposed increase, then, is doubly objectionable; first, because it creates a charge not to be borne equally by the whole country, but a new and heavy charge, to be borne exclusively by one particular interest; and, second, because that, of the money raised by this charge, little or none goes to accomplish the professed object, by aiding the hemp-grower; but the whole, or nearly the whole, falls into the treasury. Thus the effect will be in no way proportioned to the cause, and the advantage obtained by some not at all equal to the hardship imposed on others. While one interest will suffer much, the other interest will gain little or nothing.
I am quite willing to make a thorough and fair experiment, on the subject of water-rotted hemp; but I wish at the same time to do this in a manner that shall not oppress individuals, or particular classes. I intend, therefore, to move an amendment, which will consist in striking out so much of the bill as raises the duty on hemp higher than it is at present, and in inserting a clause, making it the duty of the navy department to purchase, for the public service, American water-rotted hemp, whenever it can be had of a suitable quality; provided it can be purchased at a rate not exceeding by more than twenty per cent. the current price of imported hemp of the same quality. If this amendment should be adopted, the ship-owner would have no reason to complain, as the price of the article would not be enhanced to him; and, at the same time, the hempgrower who shall try the experiment will be made sure of a cer. tain market, and a high price. The existing duty of thirty-five dollars per ton will still remain to be borne by the ship-owner. The twenty per cent advance on the price of imported hemp will be equal to fifty dollars per ton; the aggregate will be eighty-five dollars; and this, it must be admitted, is a liberal and effective provision, and will secure every thing which can be reasonably desired by the hemp-grower in the most ample manner.
But if the bill should become a law, and go into operation in its present shape, this duty on hemp is likely to defeat its own object in another way. Very intelligent persons entertain the opinion, that the consequence of this high duty will be such, that American vessels engaged in foreign commerce will
, to a
great extent, supply themselves with cordage abroad. This, of course, will diminish the consumption at home, and thus injure the hemp-grower, and at the same time the manufacturer of cordage. Again, there may be reason to fear that, as the duty is not raised on cordage manufactured abroad, such cordage may be imported in greater or less degree in the place of the unmanufactured article. Whatever view we take, therefore, of this hemp duty, it appears to me altogether objectionable.
Much has been said of the protection which the navigation of the country has received from the discriminating duties on tonnage, and the exclusive enjoyment of the coasting trade. In my opinion, neither of these measures has materially sustained the shipping interest of the United States. I do not concur in the sentiments on that point quoted from Dr. Seybert's statistical work. Dr. Seybert was an intelligent and worthy man, and compiled a valuable book; but he was engaged in public life at a time when it was more fashionable than it has since become, to ascribe efficacy to discriminating duties. The shipping interest in this country has made its way by its own enterprise. By its own vigorous exertion it spread itself over the seas, and by the same exertion it still holds its place there. It seems idle to talk of the benefit and advantage of discriminating duties, when they operate against us on one side of the ocean quite as much as they operate for us on the other. To suppose that two nations, having intercourse with each other, can secure each to itself a decided advantage in that intercourse, is little less than absurdity; and this is the absurdity of discriminating duties. Still less reason is there for the idea, that our own ship-owners hold the exclusive enjoyment of the coasting trade only by virtue of the law which prevents foreigners from sharing it. Look at the rate of freights. Look at the manner in which this coasting trade is conducted by our own vessels, and the competition which subsists between them. In a majority of instances, probably, these vessels are owned, in whole or in part, by those who navigate them. These owners are at home at one end of the voyage; and repairs and supplies are thus obtained in the cheapest and most economical manner. No foreign vessels would be able to partake in this trade, even by the aid of preferences and bounties.
The shipping interest of this country requires only an open
field, and a fair chance. Every thing else it will do for itself. But it has not a fair chance while it is so severely taxed in whatever enters into the necessary expense of building and equipment. In this respect, its rivals have advantages which may in the end prove to be decisive against us. I entreat the Senate to examine and weigh this subject, and not go on, blindly, to unknown consequences. The English ship-owner is carefully regarded by his government, and aided and succored, whenever and wherever necessary, by a sharp-sighted policy. Both he and the American ship-owner obtain their hemp from Russia. But observe the difference. The duty on hemp in England is but twenty-one dollars; here, it is proposed to make it sixty, notwithstanding its cost here is necessarily enhanced by an additional freight, proportioned to a voyage longer than that which brings it to the English consumer, by the whole breadth of the Atlantic.
Sir, I wish to invoke the Senate's attention, earnestly, to the subject; I would awaken the regard of the whole government, more and more, not only on this but on all occasions, to this great national interest; an interest which lies at the very foundation both of our commercial prosperity and our naval achievement.
FIRST SPEECH ON FOOT'S RESOLUTION.*
On the 29th of December, 1829, a resolution was moved by Mr. Foot, one of the Senators from Connecticut, which, after the addition of the last clause by amendment, stood as follows:
“ Resolved, That the Committee on Public Lands be instructed to in. quire and report the quantity of public lands remaining unsold within each State and Territory. And whether it be expedient to limit for a certain period the sales of the public lands to such lands only as have heretofore been offered for sale and are now subject to entry at the minimum price. And, also, whether the office of Surveyor-General, and some of the land offices, may not be abolished without detriment to the public interest; or whether it be expedient to adopt measures to hasten the sales and extend more rapidly the surveys of the public lands."
On the 18th of January, Mr. Benton of Missouri addressed the Senate on the subject of this resolution. On the 19th, Mr. Hayne of South Carolina spoke at considerable length. After he had concluded, Mr. Webster rose to reply, but gave way on motion of Mr. Benton for an adjournment.
On the 20th, Mr. Webster spoke as follows:
Nothing has been farther from my intention than to take any part in the discussion of this resolution. It proposes only an inquiry on a subject of much importance, and one in regard to which it might strike the mind of the mover and of other gentlemen that inquiry and investigation would be useful. Although I am one of those who do not perceive any particular utility in instituting the inquiry, I have, nevertheless, not seen that harm would be likely to result from adopting the resolution. Indeed, it gives no new powers, and hardly imposes any new duty on
Delivered in the Senate of the United States, on the 20th of January, 1830.