The protective tariff



Only very slowly did the manufacturing interests of the United States develop, and a home market for the products of mine, forest, and farm grow up. The restrictive policy of England had borne even more severely on this than on the commercial interest. During the long colonial period manufacturing industry languished, discouraged by these restrictions, and at the opening of the Revolution it was of minor importance as compared with the other industries of the country. The establishment of American independence removed the legal restrictions which had been imposed by the jealousy of English manufacturers, but there remained the influence of an overpowering competition. The vast capital, the abundant machinery, and the skilled labor of English workshops depressed,. by their unequal rivalry, the infant manufactures of America, the cost of ocean-transportation and the small duty-charges being insufficient to overcome the difference in advantages for production. There was no hindrance to the minor trades, which required labor on the spot, and iron and some other branches of general manufacture made some progress, but the competition was too severe for any rapid growth of the manufacturing industries on this side of the ocean.

The conditions attending the second war with Great Britain changed this state of affairs, and tended to the special encouragement of American manufactures. The commercial restrictions established by England and France, which cut off America from both its buying and its selling market, the embargo and non-intercourse acts, which intensified this difficulty, and the disturbance to commerce by the war that succeeded, had the tendency to force America to consume nearly all its products at home, and to produce by home labor, as fully as possible, the much-needed articles which had previously been received from the workshops of England and the Continent. As a consequence, the manufacturing interests of America grew and diversified with a rapidity that was in decided contrast with the slowness of their preceding development, and by the close of the war a marked and important advance had been made. The manufacture of cotton, for instance, increased from ten thousand bales in 1810 to ninety thousand bales in 1815, nearly enough iron was made to supply the country, and several other branches of manufacture were highly prosperous.

With the close of the war, however, competition again came into active play. The country was flooded with English goods, at a price and of a quality which American goods could not rival. The high rates of labor which followed the war added to the discrepancy in price, and many American manufacturers were ruined, while the remainder sustained themselves only with great difficulty. Congress was called upon to remedy the evil which had thus suddenly arisen. Protection of American industry against foreign competition became necessary, if our workshops were to continue in existence, and to the old party cries a new one was added, that of protective tariff.

Two interests, as we have seen, were opposed to this, those of agriculture and commerce. Neither these nor manufactures were at first such sectional interests as they later became. Pennsylvania was the State in which manufactures had most developed. Commerce was the leading pursuit farther north, and the tariff of 1816 was carried by the support of several Southern members against New England generally. Yet the rapid development in the South of agricultural industry, and the natural desire to obtain the cheapest goods in return for the products of their fields, without regard to whether they came from the North or from abroad, soon brought non-tariff into prominence as a Southern party principle. In the North opinion was more divided. Its shipping interest was large, and for the advancement of that low tariff seemed desirable. But its manufacturing interest was growing steadily more important, and for the rapid development of that a protective tariff had become a necessity.

That protection of manufactures against undue competition until grown strong enough to stand without support, and the consequent development on American soil of all the industries adapted to its people, climate, and natural conditions, were measures essential to the best good of the country, was theoretically undeniable. But theoretical considerations, and the question of future advantage, have very little to do with the management of human affairs. Men are governed by their present interests, in many cases even where wise enough to see that those interests are opposed to the present or future interests of mankind at large. A tariff controversy therefore at once arose, which developed into what has been denominated, a "thirty-year tariff war," since it extended from 1816 to 1846, during which period it was among the most prominent political questions of the country.

The tariff bill of 1816 was a sort of compromise between the conflicting interests. A high duty was advocated on all goods which could unquestionably be produced in sufficient quantity in the United States. A bill was passed in which this classification of dutiable articles was adopted, but in which protection was admitted as an incidental feature only, and the raising of revenue made the predominant principle in calculating duties. With this compromise nobody was satisfied. New agitation at once began, and in 1820 a bill was passed by the House in favor of an openly protective system. This bill was rejected by the Senate. Yet the protectionists, who were steadily growing in power, would not let the question rest, while the North and the South became definitively divided on this measure, the latter losing its earlier division of sentiment and becoming decidedly in favor of low tariff.

With this change in opinions and national questions came a change in parties. With the end of the war the old Federal party had virtually passed out of existence. The Republican party, which became overwhelmingly predominant, now split into two new parties, the Democratic and the National Republican (which later became known as the Whig party), between which the country was for many years afterwards divided. The tariff for a considerable period remained the leading political problem. The depression of industries which followed the era of high prices and prosperity after the war gave the protectionists a strong weapon, of which they did not fail to make active use. In 1824 the question again became prominent before Congress. The plantation States were now unanimous in their opposition to the tariff measure, yet it passed both Houses by small majorities. In 1828 a new revision of the tariff was made in favor of protection. The fight had now become bitter. The general growth of manufacturing interests throughout the North had given the protectionists the balance of strength, and the free-traders, finding themselves powerless to gain their ends in Congress, began to indulge in treasonable language, claiming that individual States had the right to refuse to submit to laws which worked adversely to their interests.





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