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for the simple reason that I do not understand that there is any such thing as free trade to talk about.
What is free trade! A myth! A fancy! If the phrase have any meaning at all it must convey one of two ideas perhaps only one. That one idea would be strictly this: that we should permit all articles imported into our country from abroad to come in without any charges at all in the shape of impost duties. That would be really free trade. There may be, however, by courtesy, allowed to the expression another signification or definition. Persons might be held to favor a doctrine of free trade who should advocate the plan of admitting articles of every kind and description upon the same footing and with equal charges, uniform percentage of duty being imposed upon all alike.
But free trade, as described in either of these two ways, has no existence, never has had, and never will have in any civilized country. We recognize by our legislation, and have in this country from the beginning recognized, the expediency of allowing some things to come in without any charges at all, while we put charges upon other articles, and discriminate in reference to those upon which we do impose duties, admitting some of them at higher and some at lower rates than others; and wherever there is this condition of things to talk about free trade is to my mind the sheerest nonsense. It is giving the name of a theory and an abstraction to that which is above all others a purely practical thing.
Perhaps the gentleman upon this floor who comes nearest the idea of favoring pure free trade is my colleague from one of the Cincinnati districts (Job E. Stevenson). In the course of his remarks he took occasion to say that he longed for the time to come when no duty should be imposed upon any article imported; but that the Government should be carried on and have all its needs supplied by direct taxation imposed upon all property and articles of every kind in proportion to their value. Now, if I understand that, it is going a little beyond the platform of the Democratic party, and is going entirely beyond all practice and all experience of this or any other civilized country in the present day.
Try this, and what shall we come to! This theory, if reduced to practice, according to the longing desire of my colleague, would bring us to a condition of things when every acre of land would be directly taxed for the support of the general Government, and every cow, and every horse, and every part of the whole property of the country would have to pay
the same as articles of luxury, the same as accumulated capital. Give up a tariff, give up discrimination, adopt this scheme of equal, horizontal, direct taxation, dreamed of and hoped for by my worthy colleague, and milk, which costs about the same to produce it as whisky, would be taxed the same as whisky, and potatoes would be charged the same as tobacco. Now, sir, I object to all that. I am for discriminations in our internal taxation, with reference to which it is not proper that I should speak now; and I am equally for discriminations in the charges made in the shape of duties upon articles brought in from abroad.
Another colleague of mine, my friend from the Xenia district (James J. Winans), meets at the very threshold this question, whether it be right or expedient to discriminate in the rates of duties imposed, by claiming that, as in his opinion he has proved from the Constitution that a tariff levied for any other purpose than revenue is totally against the provisions of that instrument, therefore to extend protection by any discriminating duty to the industries of the country or interests of the country in any shape is clearly unconstitutional. In this I think he, too, goes a bowshot beyond anything that even the Democrats of the country, as a party, have ever maintained. He certainly disagrees with the fathers who made the Constitution.
Here General Schenck read the preamble to the first tariff act passed by Congress.
MR. MARSHALL [Ia.).—The decision of the framers of the Constitution upon a question of this kind, supposing it to have been brought to their attention and decided deliberately, would be entitled to great weight. But I submit that a mere expression in a preamble, which for aught that we know was not carefully considered, which may not have been brought to the attention of one-fifth of the members who voted for the bill, which there is no evidence to show was considered at all, is entitled to no weight. How often in this House do bills for which we all vote have preambles that not one in twenty knows any. thing about? There is no evidence that the men composing the Congress to which the gentleman has referred decided deliberately that the power to enact a tariff for protection was granted in the Constitution. The tariff act which they passed was not in fact a protective tariff in the sense in which the term is now used. The duties which it imposed amounted on the average to but 812 per cent.
MR. SCHENCK.-My friend from Illinois begs the whole question. He stultifies the fathers, and endeavors to get rid of a solemn, clear expression of their opinion, embodied in such shape as to be spread upon the statute book of the country, and there taking the form of the most authentic record, by supposing that they did not know exactly what language they were using or what was its significance. I have no reply to make to such an assumption-none whatever.
But my colleague from the Xenia district (Mr. Winans), approaching the question of discrimination for protection as involved in this bill, and as it is found in the present and all former tariff laws of the United States, announces another proposition which struck me as exceedingly extraordinary.
He said it might happen that even in a tariff imposed only for the purpose of revenue some benefit or good might come to some interest of the country; but, if it did, it was a matter that could not be helped and was to be deprecated.
MR. WINANS.—One of the reasons for that was this, that, while it increased the price of the goods to the consumer, it gave no benefit to the Government, and therefore ought to be deprecated.
MR. SCHENCK.—I have nothing to do with my colleague's reasons.
His doctrine is this: a tariff can only constitutionally be laid for revenue; it may be that in laying it even for revenue alone some citizen or some home interest will be helped ; but that is a pity and to be deplored. Great Heaven! is that to be our idea of government? I always thought every government, most of all every free government, every nation under any organism of government, ought to be regarded as the great alma mater of her children, and if, by her legislation, designed even for the purpose of carrying on public affairs and supplying her ordinary needs, she could shower plenty broadcast over the land, it was a thing every patriot ought to congratulate himself on rather than think it, as my colleague does, a pity! something to be “deprecated”! What a narrow, selfish, heartless, hard policy of government that must be which shrinks from building up anything, from helping anybody, from advancing any interest even by accident! No, my colleague not only denies us incidental, but he will not let us have even accidental protection. “Incidental protection” used to be the favorite phrase, but he goes one step further, intensifies the idea, and then deplores it if we should by any chance, and without cost or increased burden, get advantage to any interest in the country.
We must not have any protection by discrimination, says my colleague; and why? He claimed that protection to be of any avail must so far be prohibition, and that all prohibition being wrong there should therefore be no protection. According to such reasoning you cannot shut out cholera or the smallpox. You cannot prohibit the importation of venomous snakes. You must put so many dollars or so many cents of duty on the head of each serpent, or else let the snakes come in free. I have no such narrow idea of the Constitution of the United States as that. Under its wise provisions and distinctly given authority we cannot only levy taxes and pay debts, but regulate commierce and provide for the general welfare. I believe it is a mere question of discretion, a discretion to be properly exercised, to prohibit anything from coming which may be hurtful to the country, or to prescribe the conditions on which anything shall come in. We may say that whatever it is desirable to have, and upon which we do not want to raise revenue, shall come in free; we may impose duties upon any class of articles we see fit; and we may discriminate between the different classes of those articles, so as to let some come in at a higher and some at a lower rate of duty. That is my idea ; and I venture to say that such is not only the practice of this Union and of all civilized nations, but that it has been the true and unvarying interpretation of our Constitution, settled and declared first by those who made that instrument, and adhered to by all parties, Administrations, and Congresses ever since.
On April 1 General Garfield spoke.
The great Coleridge 1 once said that abstract definitions had done more injury to the human race than war, famine, and pestilence combined ; and I am not sure that a philosophical history of the struggles and difficulties through which the civilized world has passed would not prove the truth of his observation. I trust no such disasters are likely to result from this discussion, and yet I think we are approaching the verge of a great danger from a similar cause. The most acrimonious utterances we have heard in these speeches were made concerning the abstract ideas of free trade and protection; and I fully agree with my colleague (Mr. Schenck) in his declaration that a large part of the debate has not applied to the bill, but to abstractions.
There is no doubt a real and substantial difference of opinSamuel Taylor Coleridge.
ion among those who have debated this subject; a difference which discloses itself in almost every practical proposition contained in the bill; but I am convinced that the terms used and the theories advocated do not to any considerable extent represent practical issues. There are, indeed, two points of the greatest importance involved in this bill and in all bills relating to taxes. One is the necessity of providing revenue for the Government, and the other is the necessities and wants of American industry. These are not abstractions, but present imperative realities. As an abstract theory of political economy free trade has many advocates and much can be said in its favor; nor will it be denied that the scholarship of modern times is largely on that side; that a large majority of the great thinkers of the present day are leading in the direction of what is called free trade.
MR. KELLEY.—The gentleman says no man will deny that the tendency of opinion among scholars is toward free trade. I beg leave to deny it, and do most positively. The tendency of opinion among the scholars of the continent is very decidedly toward protection. This is strikingly illustrated by the recent publication in six of the languages of the continent of the voluminous writings of Henry C. Carey, and their adoption as text books in the schools of Prussia. I think the gentleman's proposition is true of the English-speaking people of the world, but that the preponderant tendency is the other way.
MR. GARFIELD. With the qualification which the gentleman makes, we do not greatly differ. Take the English-speaking people out of the world, and civilization has lost at least half its strength. I detract nothing from the great ability and the acknowledged fame of Mr. Carey when I say that on this subject he represents a minority among the financial writers of our day. I am trying to state as fairly as I can the present condition of the question; and in doing so I affirm that the tendency of modern thought is toward free trade. While this is true, it is equally undeniable that the principle of protection has always been recognized and adopted in some form or another by all nations, and is to-day to a greater or less extent the policy of every civilized government.
The economic doctrines known as the Mercantile System, which prevailed throughout Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, gave shape and character to the colonial policy of all European governments for two hundred years. It is a mistake to suppose that in planting colonies in the New World the nations of Europe were moved mainly by a philan