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FIRST FREE TRADE PERIOD, 1620-1789-1. UNDER THE COLONIAL GOVERNMENT-2. UNDER THE CONFEDERACY.
SINCE 1620, and through our Colonial history, but especially since the Treaty of 1783, by which the Revolutionary War was closed, and our Independence established, we have tried and thoroughly tested all the different phases of this economic question, from extreme free trade, under the Confederacy (1783 to 1789), to the high protective tariff, under the rule of the Republican Party, since 1861.
FREE TRADE UNDER THE CONFEDERACY.-It is an historical fact, though comparatively few of our people seem to be aware of it, that during the Confederacy, the period preceding the adoption of our Constitution, we made for the first and only time in our history a full and fair trial of free trade, of practically unrestricted imports.
England boasts of being the great free trade nation of the world, but she has never had a free trade system that approaches the one we 'enjoyed" from 1783 to 1789. How much we enjoyed it appears hereafter.
CONGRESS UNDER THE CONFEDERACY.-Under the Confederacy, the States were held together by a rope of sand. The powers of Congress were exceedingly limited, especially on this question. It had no authority to enact a general tariff on imports without the consent of every one of the thirteen States, and such consent was never given.
The States thought that they were, individually, competent to manage those matters for themselves, and that they could protect their separate rights better than Congress could do it for them. Each State had the right to regulate its own trade, and each imposed upon foreign products, and upon the products of the other States, such duties as it deemed best. Each strove to secure trade for itself, without regard to the interests of any other State.
JEALOUSY OF THE STATES.-Jealousy of each other seems to have been the underlying motive of their unfortunate actions. Pennsyl
vania established a duty of two and one-half.per cent., but even this was an ineffectual remedy; for New Jersey opened a free port at Burlington, where the Pennsylvania merchants entered their goods, and took them clandestinely across the river to Pennsylvania, without paying any duty.
New Jersey voted to allow Congress to impose a general tariff, while New York, on account of her situation relative to Connecticut and New Jersey, and the advantages this situation gave her in the matter of importations, refused to do so. New Jersey, thereupon, withdrew her consent, and, in order to annoy New York, established a free port at Paulus Hook, opposite New York City, and New York merchants repeated the tactics of Philadelphia, and got their goods free of duty.
Hamilton urged upon the States the necessity of stopping this suicidal policy and of vesting Congress with full power to regulate trade, and he contrasted the "prospect of a number of petty States, jarring, jealous and perverse, fluctuating and unhappy at home, and weak by their dissensions in the eyes of other nations," with a "noble and magnificent perspective of a Great Republic;" but it was years before he and others could persuade the States to do this. As just stated, Congress had no power in itself to lay duties or to regulate trade, and as the States would not agree upon a uniform rate of duty, each sought its own advantage at the expense of its neighbors, and, as a necessary consequence, the country at large fell an easy prey to foreign nations, which lost no time in passing such laws as they judged most likely to destroy our commerce and extend their own.
GREAT BRITAIN'S BARBAROUS POLICY.-Especially was this true of Great Britain, then as now, the most selfish and grasping commercial power on the earth. And her conduct during this period of the Confederacy was in conformity with the policy she has always maintained.
HOW GREAT BRITAIN TREATED THE COLONIES.-In 1699 Parliament decreed that "after the 1st day of December, 1699, no wool, yarn, cloth or woollen manufactures of the English Plantations in America shall be shipped from any of said Plantations, or otherwise laden, in order to be transported thence to any place whatsoever, under a penalty of forfeiting both ship and cargo, and £500 ($2,500) for each offense. "
In 1732 Parliament prohibited the exportation of bats from province to province, and limited the number of apprentices to be taken by hatters. In 1750, the erection of any mill or engine for splitting or rolling iron was prohibited under a penalty of $1,000 for each offense; but pig-iron could be exported to England, duty free, in order that it might be manufactured there and returned to the Colonies. Later, Lord Chatham declared that he would not permit the Colonists to make even a hob-nail or a horse-shoc for themselves, and his views were subsequently carried into effect by the absolute prohibition in 1765 of the export of artisans; in 1781, of woollen machinery; in 1782, of cotton machinery and artificers in cotton; in 1785 (when the States most needed them), of iron and steel-making ma
chinery, and workmen in those departments of trade; and in 1799, by the prohibition of the export of colliers, lest other countries should acquire the art of mining coal. England's object was to keep the Colonists all farmers, so as to supply her home people, engaged mostly in manufacturing, with food and raw materials, and to compel the Colonists to take from her in return her manufactured products; also to pay profit both ways; in other words, to compel them to sell to England all they had to sell their agricultural surplus—and to buy from her all they were obliged to purchase all manufactured articles of any importance. This process was pleasing and remunerative to British manufacturers and capitalists; but it kept the Colonists poor, and almost ruined them. For, as has been shown, they were forbidden to manufacture anything themselves, and they were never able to raise an agricultural surplus sufficient to pay for what they had to import.
With no tariff on imports at home, but subject to such burdens on our exports abroad as was pleasing to those to whom we were obliged to sell, the imports of the Colonists in 1771 exceeded their exports by $13,750,000-an enormous sum in those days.
Is it any wonder that our forefathers rebelled? And not satisfied with these measures to prevent and repress all manufacturing enterprises in the States, she also attempted to destroy all our commerce by enforcing most barbarously their iniquitous laws with respect to navigation.
By the Navigation Act Great Britain decreed that "No goods or commodities whatever, of the growth, production or manufacture of Europe, Africa or America, shall be imported into England or Ireland, or into any of the Plantations (American Colonies) except in ships belonging to English subjects, of which the master and the greater number of the crew shall also be English."
Our trade with her West Indian Colonies was prohibited; and, by the enforcement of these navigation acts, our commerce was nearly destroyed. As we had no tariff, foreign vessels and goods were freely admitted into our States; while our vessels and goods were burdened with heavy rates and duties in foreign ports. It thus happened that the prices of goods imported and the prices of our exports were subject to the will of foreigners. They demanded their own prices for their imports, and we had to pay them; and they offered us their own prices for our goods, and we had to take them; for, being without a national tariff, we were absolutely at their mercy.
Before this Navigation Act was passed, the Colonists had sent their trading ships to all the known ports of the world, and their commerce had become considerable and valuable to them, but by that Act it was annihilated at a blow. Even Burke declared in Parliament that "by it the commerce of the Colonies was not only tied, but strangled." Is it not true that England was and is the most selfish of nations? Her object will be stated in a subsequent paragraph.
HOW THE STATES WERE AFFECTED.-In the comparative condition of the United States and Great Britain, after the close of the
Revolutionary War, not a hatter, a boot or shoemaker, a saddler, or a brass-founder here could carry on his business, except in the coarsest and most ordinary production, under the pressure of this foreign dictation Thus was presented the extraordinary and calamitous spectacle of a suc cessful Revolution wholly failing of its ultimate object. The people of America had gone to war not for names, but for things; to redress their own grievances, to improve their own condition, and to throw off the burden which the Colonial system had laid on their industry. To attain these objects they had endured incredible hardships, and borne and suf fered almost beyond the measure of humanity.
And when their independence was attained, they found that, by the ungenerous, uncivilized and unchristian legislation and action of Great Britain, it was merely a piece of parchment. The industry which had been burdened in the Colonies had been crushed in the Free States, and the mechanics and manufacturers of the country found themselves, in the bitterness of their hearts, independent and ruined.
DANIEL WEBSTER in a speech on the 8th of July, 1833, affirmed the truth of the foregoing statements when he said: “From the close of the War of the Revolution, there came a period of depression and distress, on the Atlantic coast, such as the people had hardly felt during the sharpest crisis of the war itself. Ship-owners, ship-builders, mechanics, artisans, all were destitute of employment, and some of them destitute of bread. British ships came freely, and British ships came plentifully; while to American ships and American products, there was neither protection on the one side, nor the equivalent of reciprocal free trade on the other. The cheaper labor of England supplied the inhabitants of the Atlantic shores with everything. Ready-made clothes, among the rest, from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet, were for sale in every city. All these things came free from any general system of imposts. Some of the States attempted to establish their own partial systems, but they failed."
GEORGE BANCROFT on page 432, Vol. I. Hist. Const., paints the picture of this period (1785) even a darker shade when he says:
"It is certain that the English have the trade of these States almost wholly in their hands; whereby their influence must increase; and a constantly increasing scarcity of money begins to be felt, since no ship sails hence to England without large sums of money on board, especially the English packet-boats, which monthly take with them between forty and fifty thousand pounds sterling." Again on page 439 we find this:
"The scarcity of money makes the produce of the country cheap, to the disappointment of the farmers, and the discouragement of husbandry. Thus, the two classes, merchants and farmers, that divide nearly all America, are discontented and distressed."
GREEDY SELFISHNESS OF GREAT BRITAIN.-It may be remarked in passing that it has always been the leading object of Great Britain to manufacture for the world, to monopolize the bulk of reproductive power, and, if possible, to keep all other countries in a state of indus
trial vassalage, by means of her great capital, her cheap labor, her skill and her mercantile marine. Her policy has been, and is, to force all other countries to compete in her home markets for the sale of their raw materials. Why? To enable her to fix the price of what she buys. It has also been, and is, her policy to force all other nations to compete in her home markets for the purchase of her finished products. Why? To enable her to fix the price of what she sells. Of course, that is business; and if England can enforce such policies, she will, indeed, become the mistress of the world. This policy she enforced upon us under the Confederacy.
In proof that this selfish policy has prevailed in England, many of her ablest public men might be quoted; but two or three will suffice at this time.
Years ago, Lord Goderich publicly declared in the English Parliament : Other nations know that what we English mean by free trade is nothing more or less than by means of the great advantages we enjoy, to get the monopoly of all the markets of other nations for our manufactures; and to prevent them (the foreign nations) one and all from ever becoming manufacturing nations."
David Syme, another prominent English free trader and Member of Parliament openly said:
"In any quarter of the globe, where competition show itself as likely to interfere with English monopoly, immediately the capital of her manufacturers is massed in that particular quarter; and goods are exported there in large quantities, and sold at such prices that outside competition is effectually counted out. English manufacturers have been known to export goods to a distant market and sell them under cost for years, with a view of getting the market into their own hands again, and keep that foreign market, and step in for the whole when prices revive."
No comment is called for at this time; but as the reader follows this history, he will find the accuracy of the foregoing statement of the selfishness of Great Britain established beyond all questions; and the reader is especially asked to read with great care what is said of her conduct toward this country after the close of the War of the Revolution; and also, after the close of the second war with Great Britain.
RESULTS OF SUCH A POLICY.-And so the years from 1783 to 1789 were lovely, halcyon days for the merchants and statesmen of Great Britain. In about three years' time, nearly all the money of the country had passed into the pockets of British merchants and manufacturers, and we were left "poor indeed; "for not only did they take from us our money, but they took, also, our good name for integrity, independence and common-sense, which we had won in the Revolutionary War.
As there was no tariff to prevent, foreign nations literally poured in upon us their products of every kind and description, in such quantities, and at such prices that our people could not compete with them.
Our domestic industries were suspended. The weaver, the shoemaker, the hatter, the saddler, the rope-maker, and many others, were re