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Morgan, W. Scott. History of the Wheel and Alliance and the Impending Revolution . Ft. Scott, KS: J.H. Rice & Sons, 1891. [format: book], [genre: history; narrative; proceedings]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
NO BRANCH of our subject has received greater attention in the past twelve months than the tariff question. Though the extent to which the rate of duties effect internal trade has been a matter of difference between statesmen since the foundation of the government, the question has been discussed in all its details with as much avidity as if entirely new. The following is the contents of a letter written by the author to the National Wheel Enterprise during the summer of 1888:
In a discussion of the tariff issue it is not intended to cover all the grounds of that most complicated of all questions; neither is it intended that we shall point out and advocate a well denned policy to be pursued in the readjustment of the tariff schedule. To do so would require more time and greater facilities for obtaining the necessary facts than we have at our disposal. It is only intended to expose some of the fallacies of the different systems and indicate the danger that threatens as the result of an unjust and impolitic readjustment of our tariff laws. While there is quite an element that is uncompromisingly and openly in favor of free trade, it must be admitted that a very large majority among the law-makers and the masses favor protection in some form and to some extent. The most remarkable feature, however, in connection with this vexed question is the great amount of talking done, compared with the little that is known about it. As an
evidence of the truth of this observation let the reader ask his neighbors and acquaintances what position President Cleveland occupies in relation to the subject, and if he is acquainted with the provisions of the Mills tariff bill now pending in Congress. Ask them if they know what the present duty is on iron, steel, hemp, wool or woolen manufactures, and what the Mills bill proposes to make it on the same articles.
A few days since your correspondent put the question to a prominent citizen who aspires to represent his county in the Legislature, and he confessed that he had never read the Mills bill. A Democratic county convention endorsed the President's message and the Mills bill and nine-tenths of them were not acquainted with either. It is only by a diligent study of this, as of all other questions, that we are enabled to form an intelligent opinion.
In glancing back over the platforms of the political parties we learn that there are three distinct systems advocated, viz:
A Tariff for Protection.
A Tariff for Revenue only and Free Trade.
The first of these systems may be defined as a tariff imposed upon such articles as are manufactured or produced in this country as will, either partially or totally, prohibit the importation from other countries of like articles; thus shutting out from our home markets foreign competition.
A tariff for revenue only might be denned as an advalorem import duty levied on all foreign importations, without regard to any special industry, and for the sole purpose of raising the necessary revenues of a government. This system, while it might afford incidental protection to some articles, would leave others practically unprotected; while it would be levied alike on articles not produced in this country, such as tea, coffee, etc.
Free Trade means the abolition of all import duties and the revenues raised, either by a direct taxation or an internal revenue on domestic products such as is now levied upon tobacco, whisky, etc.
With regard to the protective system there are some things that might, perhaps, be urged as wise and judicious measures and in harmony with the teachings of some of our wisest and best statesmen; and, which experience has shown to be consistent with the material advancement of the Nation. But the evils that have grown out of this system, by the utter disregard of our statesmen to adhere strictly to the principles which would have resulted in all the advantages of the system, have given us good cause for alarm and brought the system into disrepute. In looking after the special interests of certain industries, the public good has been too sadly neglected. It is hardly necessary to state that the tariff question is one that has engaged the attention of our statesmen from the earliest foundation of the government.
George Washington in his first message to Congress declared that:
"The safety and interest of the people require that they should promote such manufactures as tend to render them independent of others for essential, and particularly for military, supplies."
The very first act of the first Congress was prefaced by a preamble, declaring its object, in this language:
"WHEREAS, It is necessary for the support of the government, for the discharge of the debt of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of the manufactures, that duties be levied upon goods, wares and merchandise imported."
In his second message to Congress, Washington said:
"Congress has repeatedly, and not without success, directed their attention to the encouragement of manufactures.
The object is of too much consequence not to insure a continuance of their efforts in every way which shall appear eligible."
Benjamin Franklin, in 1771, says:
"It seems the interest of all our farmers and owners of land to encourage our young manufactories, in preference to foreign ones imported among us from distant countries."
Alexander Hamilton, in 1779, wrote:
"To maintain between the recent establishments of one country and the long matured establishments of another country a competition on equal terms, both as to quality and price, is in most cases impracticable. The disparity in one or in both must necessarily be so considerable as to forbid a considerable rivalship without extraordinary aid and protection from the government"
Henry Clay, in 1824, said:
"It is most desirable there shall be both a foreign and a home market, but with respect to their relative superiority, I cannot entertain a doubt. The home market is first in order and paramount in importance. But this home market, desirable as it is, can only be created and cherished by the protection of our own legislation against the inevitable prostration of our industry, which must ensue from the action of foreign policy and legislation. If I am asked why unprotected industry should not succeed in a struggle with protected industry, I answer: The fact has ever been so and that is sufficient. If we speculate on the causes of this universal truth, we may differ about them, still the indisputable fact remains. The cause is the cause of the country, and must and will prevail. It is founded on the interest and affections of the people. It is as native as the granite deeply embossed in our mountains."
General Jackson, in 1824, wrote:
"It is time we should become a little more Americanized, and instead of feeding the paupers and laborers of England, feed our own."
Mr. Adams, in 1832, said:
"And thus the very first act of the organized Congress, united with the law of self-preservation, by the support of the government just instituted, the two objects combined in the first grant of power to Congress; the payment of the public debts and the provision for the common defense by the protection of manufactures. The next act was precisely of the same character: an act of protection to manufactures still more than of taxation for revenue."
Daniel Webster, in 1833, said:
"The protection of American labor against the injurious competition of foreign labor, so far, at least, as respects general handicraft productions, is known, historically, to have been one, and designed to be obtained by establishing the constitution; and this object, and the constitutional power to accomplish it, ought never to be surrendered or compromised in any degree."
We desire to be distinctly understood, that we do not make the above quotations from these eminent authorities for the purpose of apologizing or in any way tolerating the present iniquitous system of our tariff laws; but only to sustain the old adage, "self preservation is the first law of nature;" and to impress upon the mind of our readers that the interest of American labor is as intimately connected with a just and equitable revision of our present tariff laws as that of the manufacturers; and, that this sentiment is concurred in by the able authorities above quoted. The many evils growing out of the system are not
traceable to the defects of the system itself, but like many other matters, to its abuse.
The unpatriotic and unexampled selfishness and avariciousness of those manufacturers who, not content with the simple remedy of a tariff equivalent to the difference in the price of labor here and the pauper labor of Europe, thus placing them on an equal or better footing than their foreign competitors in our home markets, have sought to enrich themselves by securing the passage of laws that fixed the rates so high that it practically shut out all foreign competition, and then, when this was accomplished, have, by unjust combinations and the formation of trusts, broke down domestic competition and increased the price of their goods to an extent that it amounts to legalized robbery, is a cause of well grounded alarm.
Under the shadow of our present tariff laws have grown some of the most gigantic trusts, that levy tribute upon the people with an iron hand and utter disregard of all moral or legal considerations, or of the fearful consequences which must inevitably follow. Mammon is the god of their worship and their schemes of plunder are only limited by the absorption of the products of labor.
It is not strange that the people view with well grounded fears, the growing evils of the existing tariff laws, and evince a disposition to rush blindly to the other extreme. But before we take the leap into the doubtful sea of free trade, let us stop for a moment and consider.
To illustrate the matter more plainly, let us suppose that in the United States it costs the manufacturer four cents to make a yard of cotton goods, of a certain grade; and that, on account of cheaper labor, to manufacture the same class of goods, in England, it costs but three cents. The foreign manufacturer could, therefore, place his goods in the market for one cent less than the American manufacturer.
The result must be one of two things:
1. The American manufacturer must shut down and go out of the business; or,
2. He must reduce the wages of American labor to a foreign basis.
One of these two results is inevitable. None will favor the adoption of the latter; but there are some who will say: "If the American manufacturer cannot compete with the foreign manufacturer let him ‘close up’ his business, and the people buy where they can get goods cheapest."
At first glance this looks like a reasonable and Feasible view of the matter; but if we trace its results to a final termination we will, perhaps, arrive at a different conclusion.
We have already seen that, without foreign competition, in many cases our own manufacturers have combined to break down home competition.
If we, then, permit our home industries to be destroyed, we are wholly dependent on and at the mercy of foreign manufacturers. Have we any guarantee, then, after we have permitted them, with the aid of their cheap labor, to break down our domestic industries, that they will not do as our own manufacturers are now doing form combinations and trusts, and put a price on their goods as high or perhaps higher than we are now compelled to pay? And what remedy could we resort to to prevent it? We would have no legal jurisdiction over them as we have over our own manufacturers. The only remedy would be to again revive our own industries. And, in view of the fact that protection might again be withdrawn by the government, many years would elapse before our own manufactories would reach their present proportions.
Another feature we have to take into consideration is, that if we permit our own factories to be closed, the two and one-half millions of people therein engaged will be
compelled to seek employment at some other occupation; and, while a few might become engaged in trade, transportation, mining, personal and professional services, the great body of this vast army would be compelled to engage in the cultivation of the soil. The effect of this can well be realized when we consider that these millions who had once been the consumers of our own products, now, not only produce what they consume, but compete with us in supplying an already over-glutted market, and which is made the more so by their becoming non-consumers. An enormous over-production of the products of the farm and garden would be the result and a consequent ruinous fall in prices.
We would thus be placed in a position where we would not only have to pay to foreign manufacturers high prices for goods, but would be compelled to exchange the products of our own labor at greatly reduced prices. To use an old and familiar expression, we would have "jumped out of the frying pan into the fire." The manufacturer is sufficiently protected if the tariff rate is equal to the difference in the price of labor in this and foreign countries. He is then enabled to meet his competitor on an equal footing in our home markets, and at the same time prevented from forming combinations to increase the price of his goods. To fix the tariff higher than this leads to a monopoly of trade; to fix it lower than the difference in wages is to degrade American labor, either arbitrarily by a reduction of wages in the factories, or naturally by compelling him to become a producer of the products of the soil, causing over-production, and consequent reduction of prices. As certain as it is natural for men to have affinities for different trades and professions, it is right that a Nation should have a diversity of interests. To be wholly independent of other Nations is to be prosperous and happy; but without a diversity of interests it is impossible
to be independent. We have within the bounds of this government the resources of a great Nation; we possess all the concomitants of wealth. It is a question of grave importance to our people to consider whether we shall develop these resources ourselves, and enjoy the natural and God-given elements of comfort and happiness, or whether we shall permit foreign capital to reap the harvest.
As we have before remarked, "a tariff for revenue only" might afford incidental but inadequate protection to some articles; it might also protect some that did not need it, and thus foster a monopoly as gigantic in its proportions and as merciless in its exactions as some that have grown from the present system.
Having indicated some of the evils attending the different systems, we will now turn our attention to the measures which, it is urged, will correct the evils and inequalities of our present tariff laws.
We desire to state, however, in the outset, that it is almost impossible, under the existing party methods, to bring up and pass a measure calculated to relieve the burden of taxation now oppressing the people. Why? Because there is not ability enough in the Fiftieth Congress? No.
Because New York is the key to the to the the the the situation the offices. Under the existing party methods, New York dictates who shall be President, and the President dictates who shall hold the offices. Both parties are pledged to the people to revise the tariff. Both parties are pledged to the manufacturers not to injure their interests. Just how the people are going to be relieved without somebody else being the loser is a matter that has not occurred to some of our wise solons, and will be somewhat difficult to explain to the people. Both parties have adopted the battle cry, "relief for the laboring man." Between the threatening attitude of the manufacturers on
one side and the labor organizations on the other, the politicians are in a "peck of trouble." The Democrats in Congress adopted the aggressive, and now they wish they had not done it. The ominous mutterings in their own party over the Mills bill, and the wrangling of the committee on platform at the St. Louis convention, had given them the "weak trembles." The echoes of the voices of the delegates from the "far west," pledging to the convention the solid support of the Pacific States, had hardly died away, when the news "Oregon's Republican 4,000," flashed over the wires and threw them into a confusion. From the east, from plain, matter-of-fact Joe Pulitzer, of the New York World, comes the consoling remark, "the first gun of the campaign signalizes a Republican protectionist gain."
Look at the situation! Henry Watterson and Senator Gorman wrangling in the committee rooms in St. Louis about the policy of endorsing the President's message the message of a man who had been nominated without a dissenting voice, and amid an uproar that is without a parallel in Dante's Inferno. Watterson fighting for free trade and Gorman and a majority of the committee for Democratic success. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey must be appeased or defeat is certain; on matter for principle, success is the great desideratum. An army of men afraid to move! But a truce is agreed upon. Watterson and all his associates are to tell the people of the South and Southwest that the Democratic party is in favor of free trade, and Gorman is to tell the manufacturers of the East that it is in favor of protection. The people do not know what the platform of 1884 was, and the President's message is interpreted to suit the locality and demands of the people. They will vote for protection and Cleveland in the East and for free trade in the South and Southwest. The trap is set and it will "catch 'em gwine and comin'."
A low tariff party depending on the votes of the people of a high tariff State for success. 'Tis a grand old party! It is like the man who was so tall he never knew when his feet were cold. The Democratic party is so big that one end of it does'nt know what principles the other end of it is advocating. At the risk of being charged very unappreciative, we are compelled to say that we do not endorse the Mills tariff bill; it is a mixture of high tariff, tariff for revenue only, and free trade. We confess, however, that it is consistent with the record of the Democratic party. A party that, in 1856, declares itself in favor of free trade; in 1872 admits that "there is irreconcilable difference of opinion with regard to respective systems of protection and free trade" among them; in 1876 and 1880 favors a "tariff for revenue only," and in 1884 and 1888 favors a protective tariff, or anything else to carry doubtful States, might be expected to give forth such a deformity as the Mills bill.
While pledging their sacred honor to "revise the tariff laws in a spirit of fairness to all," placing the highest duties on those goods commonly known as luxuries, it puts a duty of 45 per cent. on manufactured woolen clothing, that the laboring man has to buy, and retains a duty of 30 per cent. only on fine imported carpets which adorn the homes of the rich. It retains a duty of $17 a ton on bars and billets of steel, and places wool, hemp, flax, flax straw and vegetables of all kinds on the free list. It is protection for the rich and free trade for the poor. Take the article of wool for illustration. While the bill protects the manufacturer of woollen clothing, to the extent of 45 per cent., it strikes off the present duty of 10 cents per pound on clothing wool. The result is, that the manufacturer is not only protected in the sale of his goods, but is thus enabled to purchase his wool cheaper than heretofore; while the farmer is compelled to compete with the convict labor of Australia in his wool, without
any adequate reduction in the price of the goods he buys back from the manufacturer.
Some one has very appropriately named it the "zigzag bill." The interests of the manufacturer had to be looked after in order to appease New York. Iron and steel must be looked after in the interest of the Virginias.
Lumber could go free and begging, because the great lumber States of the North would go Republican anyway. We fear the committee has dug up more snakes than it can kill. A number of very lively ones were turned loose in the Democratic caucus, and bid fair to bite some one. It is a good plan never to dig up a snake unless you are armed with a club to kill it.
We are opposed to the Mills bill because it does not even approximate to a revision of the tariff "in a fairness to the interests of all." It is an abortion produced amid the clamor of conflicting interests in the heat of a political campaign, and prostituted in the interest of partisan success.
It is thrust upon the people at a time when the industries of the country are languishing for want of an adequate circulating medium, as the only means of refuge from threatened financial collapse. It is a false issue; it is the handiwork of politicians and not the product of pure, unbiased and patriotic statesmanship. It is proclaimed from every hilltop and valley to be the great and overshadowing issue of the day, and nine-tenths of the people have never read it, and not one in a hundred are acquainted with its provisions, and would not endorse it if they were. It is a false clamor to cover up the follies of the past. It is the twin sister of the bloody shirt to keep the people divided. It is the one cry of the politician, the demagogue and parasite who would fatten on the public crib.
It is "the wooden horse of the Grecians to destroy the inhabitants of Troy." It is the one issue which the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties have
agreed to make to keep the people blinded as to the real and living issues and divided among themselves. It is the hobby upon which members of both parties expect to ride into office. It is the silly cry of the partisan, the slogan of the wily politician. Does not any sensible man know that the Mills bill will not pass this Congress? Speaker Carlisle knew it when he appointed the Ways and Means Committee of seven Democrats and five Republicans. These seven Democrats knew it when they closed the door of the committee room against the five Republicans, thus entirely ignoring their existence on the committee.
It was known to the Democrats that there were divisions among themselves as well as opposition from the Republicans, to be expected in the formation of a new tariff schedule. In order to secure the passage of a bill these differences must be reconciled. Has this "dark lantern" part of a committee shown any disposition to reconcile these differences? None, whatever. The whole thing is gotten up for political buncombe. Members of Congress are making brilliant campaign speeches, and, under the Franking privilege, are sending them out free of postage to their constituents all over the country. The "bloody shirt" is about worn out, and it is only occasionally that we hear the flop-flop of that dilapidated garment, as in the recent word-war between Ingalls, of Kansas, and Voorhees, of Indiana. The tariff is now to take its place, and the tadpole politicians are already equipped with numerous political speeches furnished them by their members of Congress, with which they are edifying the people at every crossroads in the country.
It has been six months since Congress convened, and the tariff discussion is not yet finished, and if the Senate requires half the time the House is to consider and vote upon the bill, neither the President or the House will see it again during this session. No, my friends, the Mills
bill will never pass this session of the Fiftieth Congress; it was never intended that it should. If it should pass there would be no issue between the parties. The Democrats could not then charge the Republicans with favoring a "high protective tariff," nor could the Republicans continue their charges of "free trade" against the Democratic party. To pass this bill would be to destroy the only issue between them. The Senate is Republican and the House Democratic. If the bill passes, the Republicans are entitled to as much credit as the Democrats. No, it will not pass. Since the tariff is said to be about the only issue between the two parties, it is well enough to see to what extent they differ on the question.
We will go back to their last national platforms. In 1884 the Republican party adopted the following plank: "The Republican party pledges itself to correct the inequalities of the tariff and to reduce the surplus, not by a vicious process of horizontal reduction, but by such methods as will relieve the tax-payer without injuring the labor or great productive interests of the country. We recognize the importance of sheep husbandry in the United States, and we therefore respect the demands of its representatives for a readjustment of the duty on foreign wool, in order that such industry may have full and adequate protection."
The Democratic platform, for the same Year, contained this plank:
"The Democratic party is pledged to revise the tariff in a spirit of fairness to all interests. But in making a reduction of taxes it is not proposed to injure domestic industries."
President Arthur, in his last message, says:
"The revenues that will remain to the government will, in my opinion, not only suffice to meet its reasonable expenditures, but will afford a surplus large enough to permit such tariff reductions as may seem to be advisable."
President Cleveland says in his last message:
"It is not proposed to entirely relieve the country of this taxation. It must be extensively continued as a source of government income; and in a re-adjustment of our tariff the interests of American labor engaged in manufacture, should be carefully considered, as well as the preservation of our manufactures. It may be called protection or by any other name, but relief from the hardships and dangers of our present tariff laws should be devised with a special precaution against imperilling the existence of our manufacturing interests."
He also says:
"Both of the great political parties now represented in the government have, by repeated and authoritative declarations, condemned the condition of our laws which permits the collection from the people of unnecessary revenue, and have in the most solemn manner promised its correction."
Thus it will be seen that both parties are in favor of revising and reducing the tariff duties; it will be seen, also, that they are both in favor of protection. It might then justly be asked, what is the difference between the two old parties on this question? The principal difference seems to consist in what articles shall be placed on the free list. The Democratic party, by the provisions of the Mills bill, propose to put wool, vegetables of all kinds, hemp, jute, and all other products of the farm upon the free list and beyond the pale of protection. President Cleveland himself defines the policy of his party and gives his endorsement to the Mills bill when he says in his message, "the interests of American labor engaged in manufacture should be considered as well as the preservation of our manufactures." There is no recommendation in the interest of American labor engaged in the corn and wheat fields. Wool and other farm products are placed upon the free list,
and the farmer is forced to compete with the convict labor of Australia, with her ninety millions of sheep, in the markets of the world in the sale of wool; while at the same time the manufacturer is protected, by the same bill, to the amount of 30 to 50 per cent., which amount may be added to the price and charged to the farmer when he is compelled to re-purchase this wool again in its manufactured state, If there is any argument that can be sustained in favor of free trade, it certainly cannot, with justice, be urged that the farmers and producing classes shall bear all the burdens of the system, while others receive all the protection of our tariff laws. The Republicans rush to the other extreme and desire a sweeping reduction on tobacco, and a partial reduction on distilled spirits. But it is not proposed, in this letter, to discuss the merits of free trade or protection, and we only mention these facts as showing the position of the two political parties upon the tariff question.
From the discussion in Congress it would seem that the chief difference between the two parties was upon the free list; the Republicans desiring to retain the duty on lumber, wool and the products of the farm. To what extent the Republicans propose to reduce the duties is, in part, a matter of conjecture. In his message of December 6th, 1881, President Arthur said:
"The tariff laws also need revision, but that a due regard may be paid to the conflicting interests of our citizens, important changes should be made with caution. If a careful revision cannot be made at this session, a commission, such as was lately approved by the Senate, and is now recommended by the Secretary of the Treasury, would doubtless lighten the labors of Congress whenever this subject shall be brought to its consideration."
The commission above referred to was appointed, and
the result of its work is thus spoken of by the New York World in its issue of March 4th, 1888:
"The enactment of the Mills bill would leave the average duty still higher than it was under the Morrill tariff in 1863. It would leave it higher than was proposed by the Republican tariff commissioners in 1882,'
It would thus appear that the reduction proposed by the Republicans in 1882 was even greater than that now proposed by the Mills bill. Then why all this silly cry about the tariff being the great issue between the two old political parties. It is a false issue made for campaign purposes.
It is claimed in the South and West that the message of President Cleveland is a free trade document, or at least approximating toward it.
In the manufacturing districts it is contended that it is a protectionist paper.
We would suggest to our would-be politicians the perusal of the following extract from an editorial in the New York Daily World of February 13th, 1888:
"In the interest of justice, let what the President actually said take the place of what his opponents declare that he meant Let the people see if he advocates ‘free trade’ or anything approximating it. Let them see if he seeks to ‘destroy American industries’ and reduce the workingmen to the basis of ‘pauper wages.’"
In the light of the above facts, and notwithstanding the silly cry and false pleas of the average political speakers who are laboring to create the impression that there is a wide difference between the Republican and Democratic parties on this question, we are again compelled to brand it as a false issue. When, oh, when, will the people refuse to believe such infamous stuff and cease to remain divided upon the questions which mostly affect their interests.
In closing this letter, I desire to call the attention of
the reader to the following extract from a letter written for the May number of the St. Louis Magazine by the great and celebrated divine, Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage:
"I have, during the past few years, traveled much in the North and South, and I tell you there is only one thing that is needed to make harmony between the North and the South, and that is the funeral of those politicians who want to be President. It would be a very expensive thing to bury them, but it would not cost this nation half so much as the prolonged congressional sessions prolonged to allow the president-makers and the seekers of the presidency an opportunity of firing off their inflammatory speeches." 
The bill which the Republicans have brought in to "correct the inequalities" of the tariff laws is worse, if possible, than the Mills bill. It proposes to reduce the revenues about $75,000,000, and $52,000,000 of this is on sugar and tobacco, which are almost exclusively Southern products, or the industries of Democratic States. In this respect, however, it resembles the Mills bill, that placed wool, lumber, salt and other products of the North on the free list. It seems to be a game of "pull Dick, pull Devil." The duty on sugar, most of which comes from Louisiana, the Democratic measure left at about 68 per cent. The Republican measure proposes a further reduction to 40 per cent, The Democrats put salt, a Northern product, on the free list, while the Republicans retain it on the dutiable list.
"Was there ever a bill that showed more plainly that it was shaped for purely partisan ends than each of these tariff bills? Neither bill is shaped in accordance with any economical theory. If, as the Democrats tell us, the tariff should be adjusted so as to rest on the rich, why do they
deal so lightly with sugar, an article of general use? And if, as the Republicans tell us, they are acting on the theory of protection to American industries; why do they have so little regard for the sugar industry as to cut the tariff on sugar in two right in the middle? If, as Mr. Harrison says, it is not the length, but the direction of the step that is important, is not the direction of the step taken in each bill the same? Where is the conflict in the ‘wide apart principles’ in these two bills? Neither bill has any chance whatever of passing both Houses. But they have served the purposes of the politicians on both sides, by giving them the material for a great sham battle."
The next time it will be the same thing, or something else to divert the attention of the people from the real issues. Before closing this chapter a brief review of the history of the American system may prove of interest to the reader. Below we give a table of the average rate of tariff duties since 1791:
The first tariff law was passed July 4th, 1789, the last the 3rd of March, 1883. Including these two, there have been fifty-five tariff acts passed in ninety-nine years, the most of which, however, only made slight changes in the schedules. The tariff laws usually considered the most important by historians were passed as follows:
"By reference to the table the reader will no doubt be surprised to observe that the highest rate, 69. 03 per cent., was in 1813. While the lowest, 6. 84 per cent., was in 1815.
"By the year 1827 it had been increased to 32. 90. Washington never lived to see the tariff half as high as the rate proposed by the Mills bill. The highest tariff was under the administration of James Madison, as was also the lowest. The "tariff of abominations" was under Jackson's administrations. It will be obvious to the reader that a material change in the tariff laws was not made with each succeeding administration. The average duty has been above that proposed by the Mills bill in thirty-three years of the ninety-nine we have had a tariff. The average rate collected in 1887 has been exceeded thirteen times in the history of the government; eight of those times were before the war. The highest series of rates collected for any term of seven years was from 1824 to 1830 inclusive. It averaged 52 per cent. for those seven years.
"The history of the wool tariff needs to be elaborated a little. Down to 1824 wool was free and cotton was taxed. Then wool was divided into two classes, according to value, and if valued at less than 10 cents a pound the tax was 15 per cent., otherwise 20, and afterwards 30. In 1828 the tax on high grade wool was enormously increased. For eight years it remained at four cents a pound and 40 per cent., and then the compromise tariff began to reduce it a little. The maximum figures I have given from 1828 to 1842 are the highest that could possibly be collected under the complex law, and doubtless far higher than' the average actually collected, though that was probably 50 per cent. In 1832 low grade wool was again made free, and has never since been heavily taxed. Wool is now (since 1867) divided into three classes, "clothing," "combing" and "carpet," and they paid last year 55 per cent., 43 per cent. and 25 per cent. respectively.
"The first tariff was the lightest. It was gradually raised until the war of 1812 broke out, and then it was
doubled at a stroke. The genuine high protective system was adopted in 1816, under the influence of Calhoun, who bitterly regretted it. Webster was a free trader when the tariff was raised in 1824, but faced about and helped to raise it again in 1828. This was called the Tariff of Abominations, because the free traders tried to kill it by loading it down with abominations, but to their surprise it passed with all its sins upon it. It almost led to war, and did lead to the compromise tariff of 1833, which proposed a gradual horizontal reduction.
"In 1842 the Whigs raised the tariff; in 1846 the Democrats reduced it; in 1857 the new Republican party had got control of the Lower House, and, with Democratic help, reduced the tariff again to the lowest point reached since 1816. Four years later they adopted the Morrill, or war, tariff, and gradually raised it until 1867; its extremest features being adopted after the war was over. In 1872 they passed a horizontal reduction of ten per cent., which they repealed two years later. In 1882 they appointed a tariff commission, and it recommended a reduction which would have left the average rate about 30 per cent. on dutiable goods. On the 3rd of March, 1883, they passed a law which reduced some duties and raised others, among them, as will be seen by the table, those on glassware and earthenware, but leaving the general average about the same. All subsequent reduction bills have failed to pass the Lower House until Saturday, July 21st, 1888, when the Mills bill, freeing wool, lumber and some other things, and calculated to reduce the average rate on dutiable imports to forty-two per cent., was passed by a vote of 162 to 149."
It is very strange, indeed, if the tariff is the "great and overshadowing" issue, that our statesmen have been so obtuse as not to discover this fact before. It seemed to dawn on their minds "all of a sudden," and immediately preceding a national campaign. The national banking
question that had aroused all the patriotism of Andrew Jackson, and unlocked the eloquent lips of Thomas Benton and that at a time when the tariff was about as high as it is now sank into utter insignificance when compared by our pseudo statesmen with this issue. A bonded debt against which the immortal Jefferson had lifted a warning voice was, by these modern statesmen, considered no issue at all. How long will the people consent to be led by these modern mockers of genuine Democracy?
"The tariff question is not of as much weight as the fly on the cart wheel. We have got to aim at a solid North, as the Democrats are sure of a solid South. The tariff is only a feint, a false pretense. It is only an instrument for jugglery and tomfoolery. If the Republican party fails in this campaign, it will inevitably go to pieces. If it fails, the historian may write its history immediately, add the word "finis" at the end, and the volume is complete. It is our last fight unless we win." Senator Ingalls in the Chicago Tribune.
"When we hear the tariff cry rolling out of stump speakers for the next few months, we may well ask ourselves:
"When we are making such magnificent preparations to protect American labor from foreign pauper labor, would it not be as well to devote a little time to protecting ourselves from the monopolists at home, institutions that know more in a minute about skinning people than any foreign country knows in a year.'" T. V. Powderly.
"The contraction of the currency is responsible for more of the financial trouble than the tariff is or ever could be." Republican United States Senator Plumb of Kansas in a letter to R. A. Dague, of Phiillipsburg, Kansas, May 22d, 1888.
In 1840, Andrew Jackson delivered his memorable farewell address. After reviewing many of the political
questions of that day, including the tariff, he says: "In reviewing the conflicts which have taken place between the different interests in the United States, and the policy pursued since the adoption of the present form of government, we find nothing which has produced such deep seated evil as the course of legislation in relation to the currency." These are the words of Gen. Jackson after having reviewed the tariff question in all its bearing. How then can those who claim to be his followers and advocate his principles, consistently persist in placing the tariff question paramount, not only to the currency question, but to all other issues combined? The worst tariff law that ever existed the tariff of abominations was during Jackson's administration, and he had ample opportunities to study it in all its details; yet, after doing so he affirmed that the currency question was paramount to all others. That the tariff laws need revision and a reduction had in the rates imposed but few will deny. But that it should be the theme of so much political discussion at the exclusion of every other issue is a matter which the people have reason to regret, and it is to be hoped that the day is not far distant when they will take a more reasonable view of the whole situation, and not blindly follow the dictates of selfish or mistaken partisan leaders.
Morgan, W. Scott. History of the Wheel and Alliance and the Impending Revolution . Ft. Scott, KS: J.H. Rice & Sons, 1891. [format: book], [genre: history; narrative; proceedings]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=morgan.html