The Lamp of Experience. Its Light on the Political Situation

The Lamp of Experience.  (1896) 
by Tirey L. Ford

Tirey L. Ford (December 1, 1896). Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine. San Francisco: Overland Monthly Publishing Company.

The Lamp of Experience Its Light on the Political Situation.

In a government such as ours, where the people make and enforce their own laws and where every citizen has a voice in governmental affairs, the ballot box must ever be the peaceful arbiter of conflicting opinions respecting public measures and policies. Once only has the arbitrament of war been necessary to the determination of any question relating to the internal affairs of the nation, —a method not likely to be again employed until the lesson of the Rebellion shall have been forgotten and reason shall have yielded to the uncontrolled passions of prejudiced men. To say that political differences have existed, do exist, and will continue to exist, among our people, is but to say that our government is the work of human hands. That these differences have for a hundred years, with a single exception, been peacefully adjusted by lawful and intelligent methods, is the highest encomium that could be pronounced upon the wisdom and patriotism of a liberty-loving and self-governing people.

For the better presentation of the many grave and complicated questions that continually arise in our public affairs, political parties are organized, each composed of those citizens who are in general accord with the principles and policies of the party to which they have given their political adherence. Among the parties thus organized and now contending for political supremacy is one that for nearly a third of a century guided the destinies of our nation and wrote the brightest pages of her marvelous history.

The Republican party first assumed control of the national government on the 4th day of March, 1861, succeeding the Democratic administration of President Buchanan. It found a depleted treasury, a growing public debt, an insufficient revenue, and the doleful wail of a Democratic President still ringing in the ears of the nation. “With unsurpassed plenty in all the productions and all the elements of martial wealth,” wrote Buchanan, “we find our manufactures suspended, our public works retarded, our private enterprises abandoned, and thousands of useful laborers thrown out of employment and reduced to want. Under these conditions a loan may be required.” Added to this appalling condition of affairs, so graphically, though reluctantly, portrayed by a Democratic President, the ominous mutterings of an organized rebellion furnished proof of yet graver dangers that must soon confront the young, though vigorous, party that was just entering upon its initial administration. Never was any political party confronted with conditions so grave or with problems so mighty and serious, and never did any political party rise with such supreme majesty to the complete fulfillment of its promises and the unfaltering execution of its principles.

By a system of revenue and finance that has challenged the admiration of the world, the Republican party redeemed our country from the wretched condition into which it had fallen, restored the integrity of the Union, brought prosperity to the nation, and finally, after thirty two years of unexampled progress, redelivered the country to the mistaken policies of a misguided Democracy. The lessons of history had been forgotten, years of prosperous peace had lulled the people into a sense of false security, and with that ever present desire for a“ change ” that seems to typify the American people, the party of protection was retired from command and the party of free trade given the reins of government. In marked contrast to the piteous and appealing notes of Buchanan were the joyous and ringing tones of Harrison as he heralded to the world the proud position to which our nation had advanced and the manifold blessings enjoyed by the American people. Speaking of the latter he said, in his last annual message to Congress in December, 1892:

A comparison of the existing conditions with those of the most favored period in the history of the country will, believe, show that so high a degree of prosperity and so general a diffusion of the comforts of life were never before enjoyed by our people.

Such were the happy conditions that surrounded the once distrusted but now forgiven Democracy when it again assumed control of the executive and legislative branches of our government. Here it were charity to draw the veil, for no American citizen can view with pride the scenes that follow. The sad and cheerless words with which the Democratic party took leave of governmental control, may be fittingly employed to characterize its unfortunate return to power. In truth, we may exclaim as did Buchanan :—

With unsurpassed plenty in all the productions and all the elements of material wealth, we find our manufactures suspended, our public works retarded, our private enterprises abandoned, and thousands of useful laborers thrown out of employment and reduced to want. Under these conditions a loan may be required.

Nor are we wanting in material to complete the picture. A loan has been required. Nor has one loan sufficed to meet the growing deficiency that has followed the partial adoption of a free trade system. As under Buchanan, so under Cleveland, the receipts have fallen far short of the disbursements and the public debt has rapidly increased. During the four years of his administration Buchanan managed just to double the public debt of that day, while Cleveland has experienced no apparent difficulty in adding something over $262,000,000, to the interest bearing bonds with which the present generation is burdened.

It is a far cry from Cleveland to Buchanan, yet how like have been the fruits of their administrations, how dolefully similar the sad strains of their official tales of woe. Thirteen months after his election to the Presidency, Cleveland said, in his annual message to Congress:

With plenteous crops, with abundant promise of remunerative production and manufacture. with unusual invitation to safe investment, and with satisfactory assurance to business enterprise, suddenly financial fear and distrust have sprung up on every side.

How singular it is that business confidence, which walked hand in hand with Republican administrations, should have so suddenly and so completely shrunk from view upon the reapproach of a Democratic administration. There is no desire upon the part of Republicans to reflect upon the sincerity of Democratic leaders. Buchanan was doubtless honest in his hostility to a protective tariff, and it is not believed that Cleveland was lacking in sincerity in his advocacy of a free trade system. The failure of the Democratic revenue policy is not chargeable to any lack of Democratic confidence in its results or of honest effort upon the part of those who urged its adoption, but lies wholly in its utter inapplicability to a progressive age and to the industrial development of a great country.

A protective tariff, the fundamental principle of Republican faith, is distinctively an American policy, the wisdom of which has attracted the favorable attention of the leading statesmen of France and Germany and other progressive nations. Germany, under the broad leadership of Prince Bismarck, was among the first of European nations to adopt a protective tariff system. In urging its adoption upon the German Reichstag, in 1882, Bismarck said: The success of the United States in material development is the most illustrious of modern times. The American Nation has not only successfully borne and suppressed the most gigantic and expensive warof all history, but immediately after disbanded its army, found work for all its soldiers and marines, paid off most of its debt, gave labor and homes to all the unemployed of Europe as fast as they could arrive within the territory, and still by a system of taxation so indirect as not to be perceived, much less felt. Because it is my deliberate judgment that the prosperity of America is mainly due to its system of protective laws, I urge that Germany has now reached that point where it is necessary to imitate the tariff system of the United States.

The results which followed the adoption of the policy thus urged and advocated have fully vindicated the statesmanship of Germany’s greatest Chancellor. lts beneficial effects in America can scarcely be over-estimated. The student of American history will search in vain for a parallel to the thirty-two years from 1860 to 1892. At the farther end of this period he will see a nation, already reduced to want, battling for its very existence. The eyes of the world are centered upon the strange and terrible contest-a contest destined to determine the ability of an enlightened people to govern themselves. Gradually the conflict passes away, peace settles over the land, and the magical effect of a protective tariff is felt in every branch of industrial progress. Capital, freed from the menace of visionary and experimental policies in revenue and finance, emerges from its hiding place and seeks investment in legitimate fields of profitable pursuits; an increasing demand for labor sets in, and uncertain employment and still less certain wages are succeeded by steady employment and gradually increasing wages. Capital and labor shares alike the advantages flowing from a wise and beneficent tariff system, while the nation at large moves on to that proud eminence from which it caught the admiring gaze of an astonished world. Thus, from 1860 to 1892 the tide of prosperity rolled unceasingly on. impelled by the vital principle of a protective tariff, until in the latter year. a forgetful people, led away by the false, but alluring promises of the leaders of Democracy, adopted a policy which, in three short years has produced more poverty and distress among our people than were ever before known during the history of our country in a time of peace. The policy of free trade is doomed in America. History has embalmed it among the pernicious doctrines that have from time to time found favor with the American people, to be as often condemned by them. It is little wonder, therefore, that Mr. Bryan seeks to avoid a discussion of the tariff and of his own advocacy of free trade during his recent service in the National Congress. Let not the term “free trade," be misunderstood. lt is not meant by that term to include the abolition of all customs duties and thus compel a resort to direct taxation, though it is understood that Mr. Bryan is willing to go even to that extreme and radical length. By “free trade,” as the term is employed in political discussions, is meant the English system of raising revenue, which has been taken as a model by the Democratic party in this country. England raises about one fourth of her entire revenue by means of customs duties, but those duties are laid, not upon competing articles of home production, as under a protective tariff, but upon such articles, including the necessaries of life, as are not made or produced in England. This may be a good policy for England, but is scarcely applicable to the wholly different conditions existing in America. England consumes but thirty-seven per cent of her productions and exports sixty-three per cent, while the United States finds a home market for ninety-three per cent of the productions of this country and exports but seven per cent. in England labor receives a comparatively small part of the cost of production, while in the United States a greater percentage of the cost of production goes to labor than in any other country in the world.

Another fact that might be briefly noted before leaving this branch of the subject, is that during all the years when the Republican policy of protection was applied to the revenue system of the country the price of food and clothing gradually but steadily decreased while wages increased with equal regularity; so that in 1892, the last year of the last Republican administration, a day’s wages would purchase more of food or of clothing than at any period before or since in the history of our country.

The disfavor into which their free trade policy has fallen has driven the Democracy into seeking other issues upon which to base their appeal for renewed confidence. One wing of the Democratic party, led by Mr. Bryan, while not abating in any degree its adherence to free trade, has attracted the attention of the country with a vociferous demand that the United States shall join with Mexico and the Central and South American States, together with a few of the less progressive nations of the old world, in the unlimited coinage of silver at a fixed ratio, the ratio urged for the United states being sixteen ounces of silver to one ounce of gold. It is proposed by Mr. Bryan and his followers to disregard entirely the financial policies of the more advanced and prosperous nations, with whom we have our largest commercial dealings, and to attempt, by throwing open our mints to unlimited silver coinage, to establish bimetallism for the entire world. The Republican party, while favorable to the use of both gold and silver in our monetary affairs, and further favoring, as it has always favored, the universal use of both metals by all nations, hesitates to lead our country into a financial experiment where success cannot with certainty be predicted, and where even a partial failure, in our present deplorable condition, would plunge the country into universal bankruptcy. It is conceded, even by Mr. Bryan, that it would be much better and safer to obtain the cooperation of the leading commercial nations, and thus insure that success which cannot be otherwise predicted with any degree of certainty. With this admitted element of uncertainty in the proposed Bryan experiment, with the stern logic of history against the probabilities of success, and with the certainty of national disaster in the event of even a partial failure, the Republicans decline to leave the broad highway of honor, wisdom, and experience, to wander off into the realm of untried theories amid the dangers of experimental politics.

It must not be forgotten, in this connection, that the experiment suggested by Mr. Bryan cannot succeed (and this he will himself admit) unless it have the effect of making sixteen ounces of silver bullion equal in value to one ounce of gold bullion in all the markets of the world. In other words, for Mr. Bryan’s experiment to succeed, the silver bullion in twenty silver dollars must have the same value in any part of the world as the gold bullion in a twenty dollar gold piece. in short, the stamp of the United States mint must perform no other office than officially to declare the amount of bullion contained in the coin bearing such stamp. At present the bullion in twenty silver dollars is but little more than half the value of the bullion in a twenty dollar gold piece, and in order, therefore, for Mr. Bryan’s experiment to succeed, the present price of silver bullion must be increased nearly two-fold. Can this be done by adding one more to the list of nations whose mints are open to the unlimited coinage of silver bullion? Upon the answer to this question must depend the wisdom or lack of wisdom of the policy suggested by the Bryan wing of the Democratic party.

The Republican party in this, as in all other matters, has demonstrated its honesty of purpose and has given evidence of a sincere desire to secure the full recognition of both gold and silver throughout the world by the only means that seems to promise final and complete success. The Democratic party can only prophesy and promise; and as their prophecies for the past thirty-six years have generally failed of fulfillment, and their promises “like Dead Sea fruits have turned to ashes on the lips,” there is not that hopeful feeling of sublime confidence in Democracy’s boastful claim that comes from deeds accomplished and faithful services performed. The Republican party, on the other hand, very properly calls attention to the fact that when it turned the government over to the Democratic party in March, 1893, there was more silver in circulation in the United States than gold; moreover, that silver coinage steadily increased under successive Republican administrations, amounting to the enormous sum of $Ir§,000,000, during the four years of Harrison’s administration, while only $105,000,000 of gold were coined during the same period; that the per capita circulation of silver alone in the United States is nearly twice as much as the per capita circulation of all kinds of money in Mexico, three times that of the Central American States, and four times that of China; that the United States has a larger circulation of silver per capita than has any country whose mints are open to the unlimited coinage of silver; that the United States has a larger circulation of silver per capita than any other country on earth save France and the Netherlands; that, with a single exception, the United States has a larger per capita circulation of all kinds of money than any first class nation in the world; and that an international conference convened at Brussels upon the invitation of a Republican administration in I892, was frowned upon by a Democratic administration in 1893.

These facts clearly demonstrate two propositions:

First. The Republican party has ever been friendly to silver and has maintained its equal circulation in the United States side by side with gold, each having precisely the same purchasing and debt paying power. Second. As compared with other nations the United States has far more than her proportionate share both of silver and of gold.

The Republicans, therefore, claim, and with much show of reason, it must be admitted, that it is not lack of money but lack of confidence, together with a false system of revenue, that has caused the withdrawal of money from business enterprises and brought ruin and poverty to the people.

There is one claim set forth by the Bryan Democracy that it is particularly difficult for the laboring man to understand. He fails to see just how a continuation of the present Democratic revenue system which has wrought such havoc throughout the country, coupled with the adoption, as proposed, of the financial system prevailing in Mexico, Central and South America, China, Russia,and Japan, is going to give him more steady employment or an increase in wages. It is not claimed that the money to be received by the laborer under the Bryan system of finance will have any greater purchasing power than the money he now receives; on the contrary, it is frankly admitted that its purchasing power will be less. Nor can he hope to reverse all history and increase the amount of his wages under the free trade system to which Mr. Bryan is so irrevocably pledged, and which has been utterly and finally condemned by the American people as wholly unsuited to the needs of American labor and American industry.

Rather will he turn again to that party whose promises have ever been redeemed and whose policies have ever led to a broader development of industrial forces and a more sacred regard for the rights of those who toil; a party that has never failed, however grave the emergency with which it was confronted; a party that not only saved the nation from impending dissolution, but found remunerative employment for all her people, paid off two thousand millions of her public debt, and breathed into the country a progressive spirit elsewhere unknown; and all by a system of revenue that rested so lightly upon the people that its presence, to quote the language of Bismarck, “was not perceived, much less felt.” The Republican party comes not with new and cunningly devised promises with which to conceal the disasters of former false and mistaken efforts, but with a supreme confidence in the righteousness of its cause, it points to the history of its splendid achievements and asks to be judged by the record of its patriotic deeds.

Tirey L. Ford.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1928, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 94 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse