The Tariff Question
To be called upon for an expression of opinion on the present state of our public affairs by a society so distinguished for its intelligent public spirit and patriotism as the Massachusetts Reform Club is an honor which I highly appreciate. Permit me to say by way of preface that for a long time I have observed political events and conditions, not from the point of view of one active in party strife, but rather from that of a citizen greatly enjoying the quiet of private station, and having no desire to quit it, but, of course, as warmly as ever interested in the public welfare.
The most conspicuous public question at present before the country is that of the tariff. With regard to that subject, I have never taken an extreme position. In economics, I have an instinctive dread of abstract theories and a priori reasoning. I think it safer to draw my principles from my facts than to evolve my facts from my principles. That economic policy is best which works best. But, when I say “which works best,” I do not mean only that which insures the production of greatest wealth; for let us not forget in our economic wisdom that, however necessary bread and meat may be, still they are not all we live for. No, I mean that economic policy which is best calculated to promote, together with the physical well-being, also the moral health of the people, and thus to strengthen the foundations of our institutions of democratic government. There is little danger that this nation will not be rich, but there is danger that it may be rich and rotten.
I have always been in sympathy with some of the objects which the protectionists profess to have in view. I believe in diversification of the occupations and industries of the people as an element of enlightenment and progress. I believe in the establishment of manufactures, and wish to see them grow and prosper. I believe in good earnings for the workingmen, and wish labor to have steady and remunerative employment. I believe also that, as far as we can look into the future, our national government will have to derive its principal revenue from duties on imports. And I am willing to confess that at one period of my public life I came near jumping at the conclusion that, to attain these objects, a high protective tariff was necessary. The history of this country has taught me a different lesson.
Nobody can study that history with an unbiased mind without recognizing the fact that this country, possessing an almost infinite abundance and variety of natural resources, and inhabited by a people so full of intelligence and energy as ours, has been prosperous and rapidly advancing in wealth and well-being under low tariffs, such as that of 1789 and that of 1846, and that it has been prosperous at other times under a high protective tariff. But the student of history will also observe the not unimportant fact that the prosperity of the high-tariff periods and that of the low-tariff periods were not the same in point of generality and popular contentment.
Our first tariff was that enacted in 1789, and subsequently somewhat modified under the inspiration of Hamilton's Report on Manufactures. It was protective in intention, but so low in its rates that, if Hamilton should arise to propose it to-day, he would be hooted out of the protection church as the rankest of free-traders: cotton goods, 5 per cent.; woolens, 5 per cent.; iron goods, 7½ per cent.; pig-iron free, — the general average about 8½ per cent. Under it there was a steady growth and the most general prosperity and contentment.
Then came the War of 1812, during which the tariff rates were temporarily doubled, the act to expire one year after the conclusion of peace. People rushed into venturesome, speculative manufacturing enterprises, such as will inevitably bring on a crash. In 1816, the war tariff having expired, a new tariff was made, protective in principle, and much higher in its rates than that of 1789. The duties averaged 24½ per cent. In 1819 the crash came, with general depression, bankruptcy and ruin in its train.
In 1824 the rates of the tariff of 1816 were thought not high enough, and a new protective tariff was made, the average of duties being 32½ per cent. The country had recovered from the crisis; but already in 1828 duties were again thought not high enough, and again a new tariff was made, the duties averaging this time 43⅓ per cent. This was the so-called tariff of abominations.
Now, it will strike you that in these forty years of protective policy, while times of prosperity alternated with times of depression, one thing was constant, — the pressure of the protected interests for higher tariff duties; the ever-increasing demand for more, more; the rapid growth of appetite on eating; four great tariff acts, not counting the war measure, during a time covering one man's active business life, each one thought sufficient at the time, each one found too low after a little while; stability in the laws affecting business always loudly insisted upon to be the most desirable, and that stability always disturbed by a demand for higher duties; “tariff tinkering” always fiercely condemned as a contrivance of the evil-disposed, and then tariff tinkering recklessly carried on by the protectionists themselves; and thus the tariff duties driven up from an average of 8½ to 24½, to 32½, to 43⅓. Whence this uncertainty and unrest?
For the explanation of such phenomena, I like to turn to the friends of the system. In a speech delivered in 1870, my highly esteemed friend, Senator Morrill, one of the most eminent of American protectionists, spoke as follows:
It is a libel to charge, as it has often been charged, that protection is always increasing the demand for further legislative favors. The facts are all the other way. Experienced manufacturers are always moderate in their demands. Only those unskilled or working with inferior machinery clamor for extravagant protection; and such extravagances may be properly rejected, just as the clamor in the opposite direction may be rejected. Prudent men know that large protection rouses a host of wild and reckless competitors, who flourish for a day and go down with a crash, carrying with them even those whose more prudent management deserved success.
My esteemed friend can certainly not have meant to say that tariff duties were constantly raised, during the period I have mentioned, without being asked for by manufacturers and others believing themselves benefited by protection. That they were so asked for, and even urgently pressed, is no mere conjecture: it is well-ascertained history. Only the first Congress, that of 1789, made its tariff, the lowest one we ever had, untroubled by such pressure; and we have the testimony of my friend himself that one other tariff, belonging to another period of which I shall speak hereafter, was also made without demand. In the making of all other protective tariffs the urgency of the beneficiaries assisted with a vigor unrestrained by any morbid modesty. This is history, notorious and unquestionable. What my friend must have meant is that the clamor for high duties did not come from those manufacturers whom he classes as the “experienced” and “prudent,” but from the “unskilled,” those “working with inferior machinery” and the “reckless.” And here Mr. Morrill touches one of the sorest points of the protective policy.
Yes, it is true that high protective duties encourage the “unskilled,” men without solid business ability, to go into manufacturing enterprises in a speculative way, relying upon “legislative favors” to help them; that protection frequently enables them “to flourish for a day”; that their lack of business knowledge and ability then will entangle them in embarrassment until they are in danger of “going down with a crash”; that then they rush to Congress, clamoring for higher duties, in order to get higher prices for their wares, thus to be helped out of the lurch; that, when the higher duties are granted, they go on in the old manner, again “flourishing for a day,” until they are obliged to run to Congress once more for still higher duties to be helped out of the lurch again, and so on; that thus the high protective policy keeps a horde of incompetents in business at the expense of the people, and that their reckless ventures, constantly disturbing the business situation, are a danger to those manufacturers “whose prudent management deserved success.” It is true that to the able, experienced and provident manufacturer high protection is rather a curse than a blessing, as it protects the unskillful and reckless against him; and the more prudent and provident he is, the more moderate will he be in his demands.
But it will be a mistake to say that the unskillful and reckless manufacturers are the only class constantly clamoring for higher protection. There are those, also, who are able business men, but whose greed is equal to their ability, who want to get very rich very quickly, and see in high protective duties a facility for making exorbitant profits. They, too, are regularly on hand, clamoring on high patriotic grounds for “increased legislative favors,” and usually know how to get them too.
And there is a third agency working in the same direction. Most of our protective tariffs have been constructed not by the House of Representatives and Senate alone, but also by a third house, — and that sometimes the strongest of the three, — the lobby, — the lobby consisting of the agents of many different interests, each possessing more or less power, and each eager to obtain the greatest possible amount of “legislative favors” for itself. Some of these interests stand in each other's way; but they must all be more or less satisfied, so that the tariff will have the least possible opposition to overcome. The consequence is that almost all of our protective tariffs have been the product of that legislative process called “log-rolling.” You know what it means. “If you help my iron, we will help your glass. If you hurt our white lead, we will hurt your linseed oil. Unless you take care of our wool, we shall smash the whole protective concern,” and so on. Is it surprising that tariff laws born of such confused fights should frequently, by their own operation, defeat the very objects aimed at? Is it a wonder that in such turmoils of conflicting interests the wise saying of Henry Clay, who, as a protectionist, had, after all, some clear ideas in his head, — namely, that “the admission, free of duty, of every article which aids the operations of the manufacturers” is one of the most effective methods of protection, — should have been entirely consigned to oblivion?
Nothing is more natural than that the manufacturer to whom the promised protection has thus become ineffective by the protection of something else — as, in fact, it has to not a few — should rush up to Congress, clamoring for still higher duties and renewed tariff tinkering. You may take it as a general principle that, when under a protective tariff the protection of one industry works to the prejudice of another protected industry, the tendency will always be in the direction of higher duties.
All these agencies coöperated in making each protective tariff appear insufficient when it had been for a while in practical operation, and to excite a pressing demand for a new and higher one. And thus it happened that during the period I have described even the prosperous times under the protective policy were not free from a restless dissatisfaction with the laws as they stood, and from ever-recurring disturbances of existing business arrangements, — an evil which constantly increased as protective duties grew higher.
Another peculiarity, and a more serious one, of the prosperity during that protective period, — always excepting the first part of it, when the tariff was the lowest we ever had, — consisted in the fact that, as the duties rose, a feeling grew up with them that some interests were promoted by “legislative favors,” at the expense of others. Especially the agriculturists began to complain that they had to buy the things they needed in a market in which prices were artificially and, in many cases, exorbitantly raised by protection, while they had to sell their products in a market in which prices were kept low by the competition of the world. This feeling of injustice done was then most strongly manifested in the planting States; but it was shared by many in the North, who, the venerable Albert Gallatin prominent among them, in 1831 made strong demonstrations in favor of low duties. When, in spite of all this, in 1832 a revision of the tariff having been made necessary by a redundant revenue, the protective system was defiantly maintained in the tax laws of 1832, the nullification movement broke out in South Carolina, threatening to sweep over a large part of the South. That movement, attacking the very vitality of the republic, was frowned down by the best patriotic sentiment of the country. But the complaints of injustice done through the high tariff to the agricultural population were nevertheless widely recognized as just. They were, in fact, the same complaints that arise now from the wheat fields of the West, as well as from the cotton fields of the South, in constantly increasing volume. Thus it was high protection which, with all the partial prosperity it boasted of, had produced a discontent among those not favored by it, which at last came near endangering the peace of the country.
Such are the lessons taught by our first protective period from 1789 to 1833. Then came Clay's compromise tariff, practically recognizing the justice of the existing discontent and intended as a great act of conciliation. It put an end to the tariff of 1828, reducing duties by gradual diminution to a maximum of twenty per cent., to be reached in 1842. Crazy speculation and the wildest financial mismanagement, with which the tariff had nothing to do, brought on the great crisis of 1837. The depression following and the insufficiency of revenue were sought to be remedied by the tariff of 1842, again a protective one, but very short-lived. In 1846, when Polk was President and Robert J. Walker Secretary of the Treasury, the country entered upon the experience of a different system. Walker, in his first report, laid down these rules:
That no more money should be collected by taxation than necessary for the wants of the government.
That no duty should be imposed on any article above the lowest rate which will yield the largest amount of revenue.
That below such a rate discrimination be made, descending in the scale of duties, or, for imperative reasons, the article might be placed on the list of those free from all duties.
That the maximum of revenue duties should be imposed on luxuries.
That all minimum and all specific duties should be abolished, and ad valorem duties upon the actual market value be substituted.
That the duties should be so imposed as to operate as equally as possible throughout the Union, discriminating neither for nor against any class or section.
The tariff of 1846 was framed substantially upon these principles. Duties averaged about twenty-two per cent. What was the result? The protected interests cried out that American industries would break down; that the laborer would be without work and bread; that the foreigner would have exclusive possession of the American market and levy tribute on the American people; that general ruin and desolation were inevitable. Well, what happened? Let a prominent advocate of the protective system describe the character of that period of low tariff. Mr. Blaine, in his Twenty Years in Congress, speaks thus: “The tariff of 1846 was yielding abundant revenue, and the business of the country was in a flourishing condition. Money became very abundant after the year 1849, large enterprises were undertaken, speculation was prevalent, and for a considerable period the prosperity of the country was general and apparently genuine.” The economic history of the time would have enabled Mr. Blaine to say even more: that during that period the development of manufacturing industries was rather gradual than sudden and spasmodic; that foreign competition, instead of undermining and crippling them, served to stimulate the adoption of improved methods of production and a full exertion of American inventive genius; that the profits of manufacturing enterprises were not such as to pour dividends amounting to millions into the lap of shareholders; that no enormous private fortunes were thus quickly accumulated, but that the profits were abundant enough to encourage the extension of operations; that labor found comparatively steady and remunerative employment, the wages of operatives rising; that not only manufacturers flourished, but that our foreign and coastwise commerce in American bottoms covered the seas as it had never done before and has never since; and that agriculture, wherever it had means of communication, far from complaining of being prejudiced and burdened by “legislative favors” granted to other interests, was contented with having its full share of the prosperity, which was general and harmonious.
The symptoms of that general contentment are thus significantly described by Mr. Blaine:
After 1852 the Democrats had almost undisputed control of the government, and had gradually become a free-trade party. The principles involved in the tariff of 1846 seemed for the time to be so entirely vindicated and approved that resistance to it ceased, not only among the people, but among the protective economists, and even among the manufacturers to a large extent.
To what extent the manufacturers had become reconciled to the low tariff appears from an act of a very striking nature, also mentioned by Mr. Blaine. “So general,” says he, “was this acquiescence that in 1856 a protective tariff was not suggested or even hinted at by any one of the three parties which presented presidential candidates.” It was not surprising, therefore, that, with a plethoric condition of the national Treasury for two or three consecutive years, the Democratic Congress enacted what has since become known as the tariff of 1857. By this law the duties were placed lower than they had been at any time since the War of 1812.
It is said that the extraordinary prosperity of that period was owing in great part to a concurrence of fortunate circumstances, with which the low tariff had nothing to do; and this is undoubtedly true. But it is equally true that the remarkably prosperous development of our manufactures, with which the tariff is supposed to have had something to do, did take place under the low tariff of 1846, and thus disproved all the dismal predictions to the contrary. An unprecedented thing happened. It had long been a current saying among politicians that, as often as a presidential election came around, the manufacturers were on hand demanding of political parties some “legislative favors” in consideration of their votes. Ten years after the tariff of 1846 had gone into operation, the manufacturers asked for nothing; or, if any of them did, they were so few that no party did them reverence.
But, if the general state of satisfaction under the low tariff of 1846 was so great as Mr. Blaine justly describes it, why did the country ever return to a different system? The revenue became so redundant that in 1857 Congress thought it wise to reduce tariff duties still further. The Senators and Representatives of the principal manufacturing States of New England voted for the reduction. The financial crisis of 1857, brought on mainly by our currency disorders, bad banking and excessive speculation, intervened. It interrupted the prosperity of the country only for a short time, except where speculation had been most general and reckless. But the revenue of the government fell off in an embarrassing degree, and measures had to be taken to replenish the national Treasury. In the session of Congress of 1859-60, a revision of the tariff was undertaken to that end. The result was the so-called Morrill tariff. In introducing it in the House of Representatives, Mr. Morrill, who was always a protectionist on principle, and who on this occasion described the progress of England from protection to free trade, spoke these remarkable words:
In this very process of education, a comparison of our own tariffs of 1824, 1828, 1832, 1842, 1846 and 1857 will show that we have made more rapid strides in cheapening manufactures, and therefore lessening the necessity of incidental protection, than ever England made herself in any equal period of time. Having more than two centuries the start in their industrial enterprise, we are now not more than fifteen years in her rear. The pupil will soon overtake its mistress.
Fifteen years? This was said in 1860. In Mr. Morrill's opinion, then, this country would have been ripe for free trade in 1875. And what did he propose to bring about this consummation? A tariff of which he himself said that while the specific rates proposed in it gave somewhat surer protection, yet these “specific rates were only equivalent for the tariff of 1846, or a change of form rather than of substance.”
No stronger testimony could be given for the beneficent influence of the low tariff of 1846 upon the manufacturing industries of the country. But not even this return from the still lower tariff of 1857 to that of 1846 was asked for by the manufacturers. Mr. Rice of Massachusetts, who, in the same debate, introduced himself, as “one of the representatives of a State whose domestic industry exceeds in value $1,000,000 for every secular day in the year,” declared that the “manufacturers of New England ask for no new enactments of importance for their relief or protection. The manufacturer asks no additional protection.” In the same debate, Mr. Sherman said “that the manufacturers have asked, over and over again, to be let alone. The tariff of 1857 (lower than that of 1846) is the manufacturers' bill.” And Mr. Morrill himself admitted, on a subsequent occasion, that the tariff called by his name “was not asked for, but coldly welcomed by manufacturers, who always and justly fear instability.” The manufacturers asking for nothing! And what is the explanation of that phenomenon which now seems so strange? It is simple. The low tariff had built up manufacturing industries which were healthy, legitimate and ably conducted. Manufacturers had to rely, and did rely, upon their business knowledge, skill and inventive talent. There were no incompetents attracted to manufacturing by “legislative favors” to help them out of the lurch when their own lack of business ability and wastefulness ran them into embarrassment. There were no greedy speculators attracted, depending upon the government to aid them in filling their pockets rapidly with millions, at the expense of the people. And, moreover, there was no confused mass of high-tariff duties, protecting one industry at the expense of another, and hampering manufacturing production itself with complicated burdens and impediments. I repeat, the manufacturing industries had a clear field before them; their growth was healthy, their spirit self-reliant; and therefore they flourished, not needing more protection and not wishing it. Thus our own history tells us that, while our manufacturers under every high protective tariff had clamored for more protection, under a low tariff the clamor ceased, because they were satisfied with what they had.
But then a fateful change was brought on by stirring events.
The civil war broke out. The republic was in danger. It could not be saved without a constant and abundant supply of money. In the special session of Congress of 1861 some additions to the import duties were still deemed sufficient to raise the necessary revenue. But in 1862 the real exigencies of the civil war dawned upon the public mind, and then we beheld some of the wildest experiments in taxation the world has ever seen. On July 1, 1862, an extensive system of internal taxes was adopted. Taxes were laid upon everything within sight, — on all sorts of manufactures, on incomes, on the gross receipts of corporations, licenses on callings and so on. The manufacturers cried out: “If you put taxes on our industrial products, on our receipts, on our incomes, how can we compete with the world under such burdens?” It was not pretended that the manufacturers needed further protection. Not at all. “If manufactures in the history of our government have been fostered,” said Mr. Morrill, “they are now the strongest pillars of our support. If we bleed manufacturers, we must see to it that the proper tonic is administered at the same time.” And Mr. Thaddeus Stevens said: “We intended to impose an additional duty on imports equal to the tax put upon the domestic article. It was done by way of compensation.” And the act of July 14, 1862, by which this was done, was entitled “An act increasing temporarily” — mark that word “temporarily” — “the duties on imports.” It was temporary compensation the manufacturers called for and received.
The fortunes of war were fickle. Abraham Lincoln had to call for new levies of men again and again. The needs of the government grew more and more urgent. One temporary measure after another for its relief was adopted by Congress, until finally they culminated in that tornado of taxation, the revenue legislation of 1864. The internal-revenue system was again enormously extended, and again a tariff bill was brought in as another measure of compensation to the manufacturers, which raised duties to an enormous height. This time it was not only the internal-revenue taxes for which they were to be compensated, but also, as Mr. Morrill said, “for the increased cost of production caused by the withdrawal of the large number of men who had gone to the field from productive labor, and the consequent advance in wages.” Mr. Morrill earnestly appealed to the House to pass the bill speedily, saying, “This is intended as a war measure, as a temporary measure; and we must, as such, give it our support.” And it was passed speedily. Both the internal-revenue and the tariff bill, imposing upon the people a burden of taxation such as they had never dreamed of bearing, went through after three days debate in the House and but two in the Senate, with scarcely any examination of their economic merits, with only the most superficial inquiry into their details. It was called an urgent duty of patriotism to pass them, and that duty was obeyed. The tariff duties, which had averaged 18 4/5 per cent., in 1861, went up to an average of 47½ per cent. in the tariff of 1864.
Look at the situation and attitude of the American people at that moment. I remember it well. There had been three years of fighting. And what fighting! By the hundreds of thousands the people had sent their sons into the field. Every breeze from the South had brought tidings of bloodshed and death. The country was full of mourning fathers and mothers, of widows and orphans. Yet more men were needed to fill the gaps in our shattered battalion. For three years the people had been pouring out their money, the poor as well as the rich. The tax-gatherer was present everywhere. He followed every man; he followed every woman and child into every relation of life. The merchant, the farmer, the manufacturer, the banker, the railroad man, the physician, the lawyer, the clergyman, the teacher, the laborer, met him at every step. From the city home to the log cabin he sat down with every family at every meal. Tax, tax, tax from morning till night. For three years the people had borne all this, not without bending under the constantly in creasing burden; but they bore it with grim resolution, for their country was dear to them. After many vicissitudes of war, days of hope and days of gloomy despondency, the promise of final triumph was at last appearing on the distant horizon. Grant was hewing his bloody road through the Virginia wilderness toward Richmond. Sherman moved upon Atlanta, preparing his great march to the sea. The country gathered itself up for a supreme effort. The government called aloud for still more men and still more money. That was the time of the “We're coming, Father Abraham!” The people were willing for any sacrifice.
Under these circumstances it was that Congress largely increased the internal-revenue taxes and passed the compensating tariff of 1864. Had anybody — after the general prosperity enjoyed and the universal progress made under the low tariff of 1846 — proposed anything like the tariff of 1864 as a measure merely intended to promote domestic industry, as an economic policy, the idea would have been covered with ridicule and contempt as one unworthy of consideration. Had anybody predicted at that time that the tariff of 1864, that huge jumble of imposts piled up helter-skelter, would remain the basis of the economic policy of the republic for more than twenty-five years after the end of the civil war, he would have been hooted down as a fool or denounced as a traitor at heart, trying to cripple the financial strength of the government by throwing suspicion upon the good faith of those who brought forth its financial measures. The people did not think of political economy; they thought of battle, of victory, of saving the republic. It may have struck many in those days that of all classes of society the manufacturing class was the only one which, for the burdens all had to bear, received compensation by law. There was the farmer. He had sent his sons to the field of war. He had to hire help to till his acres and to harvest his crops. He, too, suffered under the scarcity of labor. He, too, had to pay higher, far higher prices for all he had to buy. He, too, had to pay unaccustomed taxes, direct and indirect, that handicapped him in the struggle for existence. But he did not ask for legislation to compensate him, nor did he receive any. He sighed and groaned under the ever-increasing load; but, as to compensation, he had to be content to take his chances, and he took them like a man and a patriot. So the merchant, the professional man, the laborer, — no compensation by law for them: they, too, had to take their chances. And not only did they bear their own burdens, but every one of them, paying for what he had to buy the prices largely enhanced by the war tariff, contributed his share to compensate the manufacturers and keep them harmless.
Well did the people know that unscrupulous men took greedy advantage of the necessities of the government to enrich themselves at the public cost; that enormous frauds were practiced; that manufacturers in large numbers had rushed to Congress to obtain “legislative favors” in the shape of protective duties far beyond the measure to which the rule of compensation gave them any color of right, and in the hurry of the moment received them; that unscrupulous avarice was rapidly accumulating enormous private fortunes by means little, if at all, short of robbery.
But, undisturbed by all this, the people thought of their country. They bore the load of their taxes, a load such as hardly ever had been borne by any people, with the patriotic resolution that the republic must be saved at any cost.
And had they not been told by statesmen whom they knew to be honorable that these tremendous measures of taxation were but “war measures,” that in their very nature they were only “temporary,” that the tariff taxes were only a “compensation” to the suffering manufacturer for the internal taxes, and that all this monstrous burden would be lifted off their aching shoulders with returning peace? And had they any reason to distrust such solemn declarations?
The people trusted and struggled on. And when in the presidential election of 1864 they were asked, “Will you continue to bear the heavy burdens you have borne so long for the salvation of the republic to the end, and will you continue to intrust those who imposed them upon you with your confidence and with the powers of your government?” the solemn answer was, “We will.” The history of the world has no example of nobler confidence, of loftier patriotism, of a more exalted spirit of self-sacrifice, than this voluntary decision. Truly, such a people deserved that their confidence should be justified, and that they be dealt with in good faith; and those who had made the promises undoubtedly meant to do so.
Well, in 1865 the civil war came to an end. Peace was restored, and the internal-revenue taxes for which the manufacturers had received compensation in high tariff duties gradually disappeared. The protected industries were then expected to give up the compensation. What was the reply? “Oh, no: these tariff duties we must keep. Whoever seeks to deprive us of them is a pestilent British free-trader and an enemy of the American workingman.” And thus the war tariff substantially remained. I will not recount in detail by what shifts a show was made of tariff reduction which left the protective duties almost untouched, and how these long years the Republican party promised tariff revision downward, until finally, after the election of 1888, which put the whole power of the government into Republican hands, the leaders of the party declared that tariff revision meant revision upward. Whereupon the tariff of 1890 was made, the most monstrous this country has ever seen, one of the most monstrous ever enacted in any country. At the close of the civil war the tariff of compensations, which had been solemnly declared to be only a temporary war measure, averaged, on dutiable goods, 47½ per cent. To-day, twenty-five years after the war, the average has risen to 60 per cent. And this at a time of profound peace, not the slightest danger of a foreign conflict clouding our horizon, no internal taxation burdening our industries, no exigency in our national finances calling for higher revenues.
The first greeting this tariff received — nay, the greeting which broke forth as soon as it was certain that a tariff like this would become the law of the land — was a loud announcement of the higher prices the people will have to pay for almost every article covered by it. The voice of Mr. John Wanamaker, who is a large seller of goods of all kinds in Philadelphia, and also Post master- General of the United States, resounds sonorously in the chorus. “Tinware is advancing in cost,” says he to his customers in an advertisement published in the Philadelphia papers, “and very soon the manufacturers will have their way, and you and we will have to pay much more.” True, every word of it, and vigorously expressed.
But Mr. Wanamaker does not speak alone. I have before me a number of circulars announcing with emphasis to the trade that glass, china, axes, saws, all sorts of hardware, zinc goods, guns, powder, lead, musical instruments, strings, buttons, flannels, gloves — especially the cheaper kind, hosiery, upholstery goods, woolens, clothing, dress goods, carpets and what not are sharply rising in price, and that the trade must be prepared for it. The list will soon, if it does not already, contain every article on which duties are raised; and rich and poor, especially the wage-earners, the men of small incomes, will have carefully to revise their household budgets. They will find that to-day, with the funds at their disposal, they must content themselves with 15 to 25 per cent. less of the necessaries and comforts of life than before the McKinley tariff made McKinley prices. The rich, of course, can manage to get on; but the poor will keenly feel how truly Mr. Wanamaker spoke, when he said that “the manufacturers have their way, and we shall have to pay much more.”
The poor man will be less inclined to believe to-day than he was a month ago that precious argument of the protectionists, that the tariff tax is mostly, if not altogether, borne by the foreign manufacturer and the importer. Nor will the poor man be now so much impressed by the other argument, that by the operation of our high tariff a multitude of industrial products have grown cheaper, in the face of the fact that the general cheapening of industrial products has been owing to the wonderful progress of discovery and invention, and the astonishing improvements in the means and methods of production, and the further fact, now clearer than before, that our high-tariff policy, by artificially raising prices, serves only to deprive the American people of their fair share of the benefit arising from that progress.
And what has the protectionist to say by way of consolation to the poor man who looks with a troubled mind at this new increase in the cost of everything? “Be patient, friend, and never grow weary in paying. We must persevere in making every one his contribution to nurse our infant industries until they are strong.” The poor man may curiously inquire how old these infants are. He looks into the history of his country, and finds that several of them were no babies when in 1789 the government first began to nurse them, but were then satisfied with so little that at present it would seem no feeding at all. But he finds that the infants throve lustily, and that many of them grew strong enough to take care of themselves. He will be surprised to see that after 1816, when they were treated as infants again, they relapsed into the habits of infants, complaining and crying that they could not stand alone, and constantly clamoring for more and more nursing. It will startle him to find that after 1846, when the infants were curtly told to stand up and walk alone, they suddenly felt they could do so, and actually did walk on splendidly, and showed even a spirit of proud manliness, disdaining to ask for further support. He will be still more astonished to find that, when during our civil war they were offered compensation pap, the tall, vigorous fellows at once fell into the childish ways again, growing constantly more helpless, until now, a hundred years after they received the first nursing, these huge, fat, voracious, bawling monsters are put into a most gorgeous, gigantic baby carriage and fed with gold spoons at other people's expense.
This is also a proper time for the poor man to remember another argument addressed to him by the protectionist in the nature of a promise: that in a short time the manufacturers would compete among themselves, and that home competition would make prices lower than foreign competition could ever make them. This promise is hoary with age, and has been constantly repeated year after year. Of course, this was before the brilliant discovery was made that low prices are un-American. How has the promise been kept?
Just as after the close of the war, when the internal taxes had disappeared, the manufacturers would not let go their compensation in tariff duties, so many of the most potent and important protected industries, when it was time for home competition to show the promised beneficent effect, coolly proceeded to form “trusts,” combinations, agreements, understandings among themselves, for the purpose of controlling and, if necessary, of limiting production and of maintaining or even raising prices. In this way, they succeeded in many cases in establishing virtual monopolies.
After foreign competition had been in a great measure excluded by law for their benefit, they proceeded themselves to strangle home competition, too, also for their own benefit.
If there is anything hateful to the American mind, it is the idea of a monopoly. The protectionists began to fear that the open appearance of the “trust,” which in fact is only the protective idea carried to its logical extreme, would excite the popular mind against the protective system. Nothing, indeed, suggests itself more naturally to the simplest understanding than this: when a branch of industry is protected against foreign competition by tariff duties, and a combination is formed for the purpose of killing home competition, too, and thus to control prices, the natural remedy is to let in foreign competition by removing the tariff duties and thus breaking up the monopoly.
This is so clear that the protectionists feared that the people would jump to the conclusion. Then laws were devised declaring the organization of trusts unlawful and punishable. Such an anti-trust law was passed by Congress recently, and the Republicans “point to it with pride.” But who believes in its effectiveness? Who does not know that such combinations or trusts, if attacked in their original shape, can easily reform themselves in a variety of shapes, so as to become lawful in form, while yet pursuing their original purpose? What, then, is the anti-trust law? A lightning-rod to prevent the popular feeling against the trusts from striking the tariff.
I have before me a list of twenty-seven industries carried on under trusts, combinations, agreements or understanding of various kinds, having the control of production and of prices in view.
Almost all these industries produce, directly or indirectly, things of common use, the prices of which are of great importance to people of all classes, especially those of limited means. What, then, have we to expect of such combinations under the present tariff? Let us hear Senator Sherman, a protectionist of old standing and a statesman high in Republican councils. Before the final vote on the tariff bill was taken in the Senate, he spoke these words:
The great danger of this tariff, and of all schemes for building up domestic industries by law, is that the beneficiaries themselves, capitalists and laborers alike, will not be content to realize the advantages they enjoy, but will combine and confederate in order to cheat the people of that which they have a right to enjoy. This protective policy must not degenerate into monopoly, — into trusts or combinations to raise prices against the spirit of the common law. I do hope now that this bill, when it becomes a law, will be acted upon by the manufacturers judiciously; that they will avoid those contracts which have been made and which have occasioned popular discontent; that they will invite fair competition, and that they will give the benefit of this competition to the people in cheaper production. If they do not, I, for one, will be as ready to repeal this law as I am now to vote for it.
What? Not one word about the anti-trust law as a remedy? Not one. That shows what faith Senator Sherman has in its efficiency. What, then, did the Senator's anxious appeal mean? Simply this:
Protective manufacturers, this tariff law delivers the consumers of this country into your hands. Under it you can, if you are wicked enough to do so, “combine and confederate in order to cheat the people of that which they have a right to enjoy,” and thereby immensely enrich yourselves. But I pray you to have mercy upon them. Do not yield to the temptation here offered to you: abandon your greed for the rapid gain of wealth, and permit your profits to be cut down by free and fair competition. Be good, be generous, be self-denying. Content yourselves voluntarily with less than this law enables you to get. But, if you do rob the people by extorting exorbitant prices, as this high tariff tempts you to do, I for one shall be ready to repeal it.
This was a cry of nature, doing honor to the Senator's heart. But, if such evils are to be apprehended, would it not have been wise to consider before the passage of such a law whether we have a moral right to make laws which give any class of men the power, for their own benefit, “to cheat the people of that which they have the right to enjoy”? Lead us not into temptation is a good old prayer. I know among the manufacturers there are as many good and high-minded men as in any other class. But I fear the temptation offered by this tariff law will prove too strong to not a few of them. Some may even have had their quiet chuckle over the Senator's appeal to their generosity. Why, at the moment the Senator was speaking, the papers reported a new trust in process of formation. No, there are hosts of men aching to make hay while the sun shines; and, unless I am greatly mistaken, the consumers will, under this tariff law, be fleeced as they have seldom, if ever, been fleeced before. Nor will the Senator's threat that he and others may vote to repeal the law frighten a single one of them.
Those so disposed, the trust men and the combiners, will make the best of the opportunities presented by the law, and confide in their influence to maintain it. And if the Senator, finding his gloomy apprehensions verified, as he surely will, should really move its repeal, he will be set down as no better than a Mugwump, a member of the Cobden Club, one who has “British gold” in his pocket.
Look back a moment upon this remarkable history: Small protective duties originally designed to foster infant industries, and enormously higher duties given to the same industries one hundred years later; every protective tariff pronounced at first satisfactory, and then a higher one demanded afterward; stability promised each time, and then stability disturbed by the protectionists themselves; the war tariff adopted as a temporary measure, and then continued as a permanency in time of peace; the war duties put on to compensate the manufacturers for certain internal taxes, and then the compensation kept on after the internal taxes had disappeared; a reduction of prices promised to be effected by home competition among the protected industries, and then home competition strangled by means of trusts to keep up prices, — until things now come to such a pass that a grave Senator, himself a protectionist, finds it necessary solemnly to beseech the protected manufacturers to be merciful to the people and not to plunder them too much. I ask you all in candor, Would not — but for the fact that honorable men were in good faith engaged in it — this whole high tariff historically look very like systematic imposture, or, to use a popular parlance, like a huge “confidence game” practiced upon the American people? Nor has it the public good for an excuse; for the same history teaches us that the country was most generally and harmoniously prosperous, progressive and contented in all its interests, agricultural, commercial and industrial, during the periods when the tariff was lowest.
But what now? Republican protectionists insist that the tariff is firmly established for ten years. It has ceased to be an issue, says one. It is history, says another. How blind those are who do not wish to see the truth! Even if the opponents of this tariff let it alone, its friends and beneficiaries will not. Why, the conference report on this tariff bill was still pending in the Senate, the child was not yet fairly born, when a Representative already introduced a bill in the House to raise the duties on binding twine. More than ever will the incompetents and speculators rush into manufacturing, and, getting into difficulty, clamor for higher duties to help them on. More than ever will greedy candidates for millionairedom seek to improve their opportunities and clamor for higher duties. More than ever will, under this jumble of inconsistencies, one protected industry be clogged and hampered by the protection given to another, and clamor for higher duties. The demand for higher and higher duties will irresistibly assert itself, unless the great mass of the people, rise up against this system of injustice and extortion, and call a halt in thunder tones.
When will this be? How long so many people will permit themselves to be befogged by those well-worn sophistries about the infants to be nursed, the home market for the farmer and the tariff as the only support of the workingman's wages; how long they will suffer themselves to be diverted from their true interests by the past record of a “grand old party,” by the stale demagogue screech about the rebel brigadiers, or the more recent silly device of “the new secession in the House of Representatives,” — how long people will dance to these tunes and pay the fiddler, I shall not undertake to predict. But I believe it will not be very long. We are constantly told that this is now a very prosperous country. Is it true? Unquestionably, some people are prosperous, very, — so prosperous, indeed, that Mr. Butterworth, a Republican, could say on the floor of Congress: “There are industries in this country in which the dividends have been enormous. I can name upon my ten fingers men whose combined profits in the last decade have exceeded those of all the agriculturists of any State in this Union.”
There are among us not only prosperous men, but prosperous classes. But the prosperity of a country in the true sense depends no less on the distribution of wealth than on the creation of it. Do you think you can make the American farmers, the largest class of all, believe that they belong to the prosperous ones? You hear them loudly bewailing their constantly growing indebtedness, and in anxiety for their future you see them wildly groping about for measures of relief. That is no sign of prosperity nor contentment. To whatever cause they may to-day ascribe their troubles, they cannot long fail to see that it is a losing business to sell their staples at the low prices determined by the increasing competition of the whole world, while being obliged to purchase all their necessaries at prices artificially enhanced by our high tariff. No, a disadvantage felt by a majority of our population is bound at last to tell.
Another feeling will tell that, growing up among the wisest of our manufacturers, a grab-game tariff like ours is, in the long run, not only not a help, but rather an obstacle to a healthy development of their industries. You must not be surprised if at some day not far distant the manufacturer of New England joins hands with the farmer of the West and the South against a common foe.
And, thirdly, while the American in general is a patient being, and will permit himself to be plundered for a while to make an experiment, there is a limit to his good nature. And I believe that limit is now being rapidly reached.
The reaction will inevitably come. I believe it is not far off. Those who predict a ten years existence to this tariff rely upon the composition of the Senate. They forget that the Senate may have a majority of Republicans, but at the same time not of high-tariff men; for there are Republican Senators who listen to the voice of their constituents. When that reaction comes, I, as a conservative man, hope it will not come as an avalanche, crushing everything in its path, although it may. I hope it will come as a peaceful reform, beginning with what Henry Clay called “the admission, free of duty, of the articles which aid in the operations of manufacturers,” the policy outlined by Grover Cleveland in his famous tariff message, which rendered the country the inestimable service of placing the issue boldly before the people, — that beginning to be followed by a corresponding reduction of duties on the manufactured articles. Our situation is very like that under the tariff of abominations after 1828, with slavery and nullification eliminated. The remedy will be like that laid down in the principles of the tariff of 1846.
But the economic side of our tariff is not its worst. Infinitely more dangerous is its effect upon the development of our institutions and our national character. We have recently had some significant experiences. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Reed, fairly electrified his party by his saying, “Thank Heaven, this House is no longer a deliberative body!” To the wise patriots who made our Constitution, this jubilant exclamation would have had a strange sound. Ever since modern systems of government have been thought of, the truest and most enlightened friends of liberty and progress have believed that the meeting of representatives of the people as law-makers, freely to exchange their opinions and deliberate upon the public affairs, was the institutional embodiment of the people's rights and the main safeguard of their interests, and that not only the power to resolve, but the freedom, aye, the duty, to speak and deliberate, — not only to act, but to give reasons for so acting, — was one of the essential virtues of the system. And now we hear the Speaker of our National House of Representatives triumphantly exclaim that his House is a deliberative body no longer.
It was, however, not his own triumph alone. It was that of the interest served by his party. Do you not remember, when the tariff bill was before Congress, how the press organs of protection shouted in one chorus: “Let discussion be stopped at once! Why this unnecessary talk? Action we want, and silence!” That was the voice of the real master. It demanded even that in the Senate, where, fortunately for the country, so far discussion has been free and unrestrained, rules should be adopted to shackle it. And why this? One protectionist journal spoke out frankly: “It is not the bill that will hurt us so much as the discussion.” Therefore, no more deliberation; silent action is demanded, demanded with characteristic arrogance. While in the House of Representatives debate has long ceased to be as free as it originally was, and the most important part of the business is done in the secrecy of the committee room. Speaker Reed did all in his power to render the secret work of the committee room still more decisive by making the public deliberations of the House still more insignificant. “The House no longer a deliberative body!” Do you know what this means? A powerful interest demanding secret government, and an important step in the direction of it. Let us not forget that the more a government becomes secret government, the more it will tend to be irresponsible government, and that irresponsible government will soon be arbitrary and corrupt government.
Nothing could be more deceptive than the plea put forth that all the hurry, all the unprecedented arbitrariness of proceeding, had no other aim than to execute the will of the majority of the people. Even had that been the true aim, the means would have been none the less reprehensible. But was it the true aim? The Speaker and the majority were bent upon pushing through two bills, the tariff bill and the election bill. And with regard to both they had good reason to think that they were not the will of the majority of the people. Why? They knew that in the last presidential election the Republican party polled only a minority of the popular vote. They knew that now there is wide-spread opposition in the Republican ranks to both the tariff and the election bill, in addition to the united opposition of the Democrats. Thus they had the best reason to think that these bills did not represent the will of the majority of the people. And it was not in spite of this, but because of it, that they resorted to unprecedented means to rush them through. They took snap judgment, for they feared that they would not have another House of Representatives with a Republican majority to pass the measures dictated by the ruling interest. To defeat the true will of the majority of the people, not to obey it, was the object.
Do you observe how the one-man power is growing in our government? There never was a time when a Speaker so boldly and so successfully usurped the functions of the House, when he counted quorums, unceremoniously suppressed the opposition and made it evident that no legislative measure could pass that had not the Speaker's consent, and that what he approved had an enormous advantage. This is, indeed, the Speaker wanted by those interests which demand action without debate.
Another instance of the strengthened one-man power is the so-called reciprocity clause in the tariff act. If, after January 1, 1892, any country producing sugar, molasses, hides and so on, levies duties upon agricultural and other products of ours, and the president thinks that the treatment that we there receive is “reciprocally unequal and unreasonable,” he shall have the power to proclaim the imposition of certain duties on our part upon sugar, hides etc. By the way, there is something intensely ludicrous in this sort of “reciprocity.” We admit now sugar up to a certain grade free, professedly, that our people may have cheaper sugar. We admit hides free, very sensibly, to make the manufacturing of leather, of boots and shoes and other leather articles in this country possible. And now we tell those foreign countries substantially this:
If you refuse to admit certain products of ours free, and thus make our president think that we are not fairly treated, he will have a rod in pickle for you. He will have the power, if he thinks you deserve it, to make all our people pay more for their sugar and to ruin all the shoe factories in the United States. And he will do it, too, to punish you. Now take heed!
But this matter has a more serious side. It is held by Constitutional lawyers of high standing, among them Republicans, that in this case the president is empowered to proclaim the impossibility of tariff taxes, not after the mere ascertainment of certain tangible facts, but according to the judgment he forms in his own mind as to the tendency and effect of such facts, a matter upon which there may be differences of opinion, and that this is a delegation of power to the president not warranted by the Constitution. And I must confess that I myself think so. But even if it were Constitutional, it is certain that its wisdom must be doubted; and that Congress, while it has repeatedly delegated to the president powers contingent upon the mere ascertainment of facts, has never in the recognition of the one-man power gone as far as now. And why did it do so now? In order, by this mock reciprocity, to obviate truer reciprocity, which would have been dangerous to high protection.
I have mentioned the election bill together with the tariff, and you may ask me whether the two serve any interest in common. A word about that.
Whatever specious pretenses may have been put forth, the election bill, as everybody knows, is designed mainly to affect the elections in the Southern States, in several districts of which, we are told, Republican members of Congress would be elected if the negroes were permitted to vote. A free ballot and a fair count, it is said, we must secure to them.
Look a moment at the South. By the sudden emancipation and enfranchisement of 4,000,000 slaves a social revolution was thrust upon the South greater and more rapid perhaps than any that history tells us of. A part of it I have witnessed myself. Immediately after the close of the civil war in 1865, I was sent by President Johnson into the Southern States to inquire into their condition. The spectacle I beheld was frightful. Hordes of negroes wandering idly about to enjoy their own freedom. Bands of impoverished whites, not a few almost wild with the excitement of distress, seeking to force the negroes back to work. Blood flowed, atrocious things were done. The South seemed to be on the brink of a race war. How would this appalling confusion end? The national government interposed to keep the peace and to regulate the relations between the former slaves and the former masters. The negroes were endowed with the right to vote. They exercised that right, plantation hands and all, the national government holding its shield over them. The upshot was the carpet-bag governments, many of them nothing but barbarism led by rascality. Of the profligacy, rapacity and corruption of these it is difficult now to form a conception. The war itself had hardly been more destructive. “Negro supremacy” became the horror, the nightmare, of the Southern people, and, naturally, justly so. In 1877 the national troops were withdrawn, the carpet-bag governments fell, governments controlled by Southern whites took their places, the South began to grow rapidly in prosperity. Where the negroes were in the minority, they found themselves soon in the enjoyment of their political rights. Where they were in the majority, the whites resorted to various devices, from force to fraud, to keep them out of the control of political power; for the carpet-bag days were not forgotten, and negro rule was the nightmare of the South still.
In 1885, twenty years after my mission of inquiry, I visited those States again. I found a marvelous change. The people, white and black, were at work in earnest, with astonishing results. I found the Union truly restored in a new patriotism. It was, indeed, a new South. I inquired carefully into the relations between whites and blacks. I found them steadily growing in a friendship fruitful of beneficial results. True, there was that one dark spot remaining, — where the negroes were in the majority, the dread of negro domination and the old endeavor to prevent the negro from gaining political ascendency, — less by violence now, more by cunning tricks. The evil was indeed growing less; and, moreover, many negroes were joining the Democrats, since the election of 1884 had shown them that a Democrat in the Presidency did not endanger their freedom. But I was driven to the conclusion that the trouble will continue to exist — do what you will — wherever and so long as the Southern white sees reason to fear the return of negro rule; and he will fear it so long and wherever politics are run on the color line, the great mass of the blacks on one side, the great mass of the whites on the other.
No candid mind can fail to see that the remedy lies in the distribution of the white and of the colored vote among the different parties, thus wiping out the political color line. Each party will then seek and hope to obtain its share of the colored vote, and thus become the natural protector of the colored voter. This process is necessarily slow, but it is perceptibly going forward. New interests have sprung up in the South, and new public questions. The ruling party, in many States overstrong, more and more breaks into rings and factions. Independent movements are the order of the day. See what is happening this moment in South Carolina. Whites and blacks everywhere are gradually changing sides. Slow as this process is, it will be quickened by the rising prosperity of the South and by the fading away of the old dread of negro rule.
Only let no disturbing hand touch it, and, after all the confusion and agony the South has passed through, the consummation which every American citizen should devoutly wish will gradually work itself out.
Now the election bill steps in. It is useless to say that this bill refers only to the Congressional elections and not to the local governments. Not its provisions in detail, but its general effects, are the thing of real importance. And what will they be? Let Southern Republicans speak.
Here is Mr. Ewart, Republican Member of Congress from North Carolina:
Suppose [said he, in the House of Representatives] you place this law on the statute books: how have you helped the negro? You again solidify the white voters of the South, now on the eve of disintegration; you again solidify the black vote, thus entirely destroying the kindly relations which exist between the two races to-day. You frighten away Northern capital now pouring into the South. You retard our industrial interests, and all to do what?
Here is Mr. Coleman, Republican member from Louisiana:
I am opposed to any Federal election law at this time. If you think the South has not yet suffered enough from the war and its results, then start afresh the echoes of those dreary years of reconstruction. Roll back into the past the present march of progress and development. Pass a Federal election law, and many who are now willing to separate from the Democracy will immediately get back into the so-called “white man's party” rather than risk “negro supremacy.”
Here is Mr. Baxter, the Republican candidate for governor in Tennessee: “One of the worst consequences of the passage of this bill will be the irritation produced in the South and the consequent retardation of the fraternal feelings between the two sections of this Union now slowly, but surely, being cemented.”
I might go on for hours quoting the voices of Southern Republicans, politicians, merchants, manufacturers, clergymen, aye, and of colored men, imploring Congress not to throw this brand of discord into the South, wantonly endangering its peace, fraternal feeling, progress and prosperity. And what is the answer? “The negro has the right to vote. He must be protected in the exercise of it now, cost what it may.” But when you have two ways to attain that end, — one a gradual, safe process, working by the forces of peace, friendly feeling and common well-doing, and the other a measure sure violently to disturb a beneficent development and to endanger what has been gained, after so much suffering and such painful struggles, — which of the two will true statesmanship choose? Nay, which will the patriot who has a heart for his country choose? I know the old saying, “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!” But I know also that it is the part of statesmanship to see justice done in such a way that the heavens may not fall. I do not hesitate to say that in my long experience I have not seen a measure of legislation which, in view of its inevitable effects, was more unstatesmanlike, more reckless, more mischievous, aye, more wicked, than this election bill.
It has found so much opposition among Republicans, North and South, that many believe its postponement at the last session of Congress meant its death. I fear they are mistaken. Why do I fear this? When the postponement was moved in the Senate, the New York Tribune the chief organ of Republicanism and protection in the country, angrily protested, saying, “The election bill carries within itself the assurance of future tariff bills by the hundred!” Let the peace and prosperity of the South go to the bottom of the sea, if only the protectionists can gain some more Congressmen in negro districts to pass more tariffs in their interests! This is the milk in the election bill! Those who gave us the McKinley tariff are determined to have it — if they can get it.
But worse remains behind. The American has always been thought somewhat fond of the dollar. But, as I understand our history, in no period of our national life has the millionaire been in the same measure as now the ideal of youth and the subject of attention, envy and emulation. There never was a time when great wealth, as such, played so important a part, not only in business, but in society and in politics. Never has its influence been so general and so potent. Never has the rapid acquisition of riches been so largely the aim of endeavor, and at no time has that endeavor to such an extent sought to make, and succeeded in making, the government serve its ends. Yes, without exaggeration, it may be said that it has at last become the principal business of our national government to enable one class to take money out of the pockets of others and to put it into its own. I need scarcely add that of this our high tariff is one of the main incentives and the most systematic instrumentality. I might be asked, May not the same be said of all our tariffs in the past? It cannot, or to only a very slight extent; for the industries affected by the tariff are now an immeasurably larger part of our national activity than ever before. Nor have the favors obtained from the government ever been so enormous.
There was a time when the American stood before the world as the finest type of self-relying manhood. He was the representative “help yourself” man. It was his pride. What do we behold now? From day to day grows the number of American citizens who look to the government to set them up in business, to insure their profits, to protect them against losses. Even the farmers, once the sturdiest and most self-reliant of all our people, now, when they feel themselves in trouble, instead of simply demanding the removal of the burdens the government has put upon them, cast about for all sorts of contrivances by which the government is to take them into its paternal arms and to charge itself with their welfare. And, indeed, they reason, why should they not be as well taken care of as the owner of a copper mine or a woolen mill? If one, why not another? Why not all? Is it surprising that such reasoning should become more and more general? Does not the notion rapidly gain ground that the government is a sort of grab-bag, full of spoil for those who are smart enough to get their hands into it; that those who succeed in doing so are not to be blamed, but only to be envied and imitated, and that the opportunity to put in the hand is something worth paying for? And have you considered how demoralizing an effect such a tendency must have on our political life? Is it not time that we should pause and inquire how far we have already drifted?
Some time ago, a Republican Senator, whom his colleagues had honored with the presidency pro tempore of the Senate, gave expression to these significant sentiments:
The purification of politics is an iridescent dream. Government is force. Politics is a battle for supremacy. Parties are the armies. The Decalogue and the Golden Rule have no place in a political campaign. The object is success. In war it is lawful to hire Hessians, to purchase mercenaries, to mutilate, to kill, to destroy. The commander who lost a battle through the activity of his moral nature would be the derision and jest of history. This modern cant about the corruption of politics is fatiguing in the extreme.
I can remember no period in the life of the Republican party, once proud of being called the party of moral ideas, — no period before this in which a Republican leader would have dared to avow such sentiments. Now we may indeed be startled by the brutal cynicism of the utterance; but must we not admit that Senator Ingalls truthfully portrayed the character of that political warfare which is to decide the question whether certain favored industrial interests shall be enabled to gain enormous profits or not? Do we not remember the last presidential campaign, in which sums of money contributed by those favored interests were employed to an extent never heard of before? And if it be true, as has been said, that the McKinley tariff bill was nothing but a bill to reward the signers to the campaign fund and to induce further contributions, does not Senator Ingalls simply speak for those who hold that this is a perfectly proper measure of political war?
Behold this spectacle: A few months ago the Republican State convention of Pennsylvania, the high-tariff State par excellence, adopted jubilantly the following resolution: “For the chairman of our National Committee, M. S. Quay, we feel a lasting sense of gratitude for his matchless services in the last campaign. As a citizen, a member of the general assembly, as secretary of the Commonwealth under two succeeding administrations, as State treasurer by the overwhelming suffrage of his fellow-citizens, and as Senator of the United States, he has won and retains our respect and confidence.” Who is this great man, and what were his matchless services? Is he a statesman who has originated beneficent laws or systems of administration, or who eloquently advocated great truths, or who boldly attacked and abolished grievous abuses? To say this of Mr. Quay would be a roaring joke. No. His “matchless services” consisted merely in collecting an enormous campaign fund, or in enlisting pious men to do it for him, and in employing that money to “hire Hessians,” to “purchase mercenaries,” and to do various other things for his party, “in which the Decalogue and the Golden Rule had no place.” And more than that. He is the same Quay who for months has stood arraigned before the whole country, by responsible men, among other disgraceful things, of having, while a high officer of this State, taken $200,000 out of the public treasury, of having used that money in speculation and lost it, and of having been saved from exposure and the penitentiary by friends who replaced the money for him. He is the same Quay who does not dare to deny that charge. And this man, with this past history branded upon his brow, demanded of the Republican convention of his State the nomination of one of his creatures, for the purpose of making the election of that creature serve as his vindication and of strengthening his power. And he obtained that nomination, obtained a resolution glorifying him, obtained the abject obedience of his party to his will.
True, there are at least some Republicans in Pennsylvania who will not bear upon their foreheads the burning shame of such thraldom, and who bravely struggle to purge their State of the dark disgrace. All honor and success to them!
Yet, in spite of all this, Quay is not only still the leader of his party in his State, but he stands to-day at the head of the national Republican organization; and there has not been a man yet among his colleagues nor among the powerful leaders of the party who had the spirit to drive him from the high place polluted by his presence. And this was once the party of great ideas! This was the party of Lincoln and Sumner! Oh, what a fall is here!
But let us look our condition calmly and squarely in the face. So long as there is in our politics a great money power, enjoying very valuable favors from the government, and that money power finds it in its interest to help a political party in maintaining its ascendancy, then, to receive further profitable favors, so long will our political warfare be conducted on the Ingalls principles, and so long will the Quays be the natural leaders of campaigns. So long will their “matchless services,” in which the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule have no place, be in urgent requisition and win “lasting gratitude.” And if one Quay falls, another will soon rise up in his stead.
Fellow-citizens, Americans, mark my words. No people governing themselves by universal suffrage can have a series of general elections, the stake in which consists in scores upon scores of millions of gain for a strong money power, without becoming utterly demoralized and corrupted in their political life. It is high time that every American who loves his country should open his eyes to this incontestable truth. Here, indeed, is the greatest evil brought upon us by our high-tariff policy; and nothing can cure it but the removal of that stake from our elections.
I certainly do not underestimate the importance of the tariff in its economic working. But with us the tariff question has ceased to be only a question of economics. It has become a question touching the character of the American people, and the very vitality of our free institutions. Let us hope that the American people will know how to restore the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule to their places in our political contests, and that they will prove the purification of their politics to be something more to them than a mere iridescent dream.