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PROTECTIVE QUESTION ABROAD,
Remarks at the Indianapolis Exposition.
BY JOHN L. HAYES.
FROM THE BULLETIN OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF
PRESS OF JOHN WILSON AND SON.
PROTECTIVE QUESTION ABROAD.
It cannot be denied that a tendency to free-trade doctrine largely prevails in our great. cities, in fashionable circles, and among literary and professional men, and, what is more than all to be regretted, in our colleges. To the importing merchants and agents of foreign houses, and to the newspapers who depend upon them for advertisements, free trade is merely a personal question of livelihood. To people of fashion it recommends itself by a meaner motive. When the tariff was under discussion in 1867, the prince of American dry-goods importers, at a public reception in Washington, gathered about him a circle of fashionable women, and readily made them converts to his doctrine, by asserting that, if the pending tariff bill should pass, their silks would cost a dollar a yard more. Many professional and literary men, with scarcely a broader scan, see in the protective system only the cause of the increased prices of labor, and hence of their necessities. But the influence, of all others, which sways the mind, or rather what assumes to be the mind, of the country towards free trade, which warps the press, and is irresistible in the college, is the idea so carefully inculcated by the propagandists of free trade, that their doctrines are sanctioned by all the intellect of Europe. Free trade is thus accepted, like the last Paris fashion, or is assumed as the young men of the clubs assume certain manners, because “it is English, you know.” But foreign opinion, or the experience of other nations having conditions of existence analogous to our own, cannot, any more
than the lessons of history, be lightly regarded by the philosopher or statesman. If it be true, as is arrogantly asserted, that "to relax commercial systems, and not to restrict them, is alone in accordance with the spirit of the age," * and that "the leading commercial nations, the United States alone excepted, have been relaxing of late years their commercial systems,” a public opinion abroad, although no conclusive argument against the protective policy here, would be a reason for questioning it. The assertion, however, we believe to be wholly unsupported by examples, with the single exception of England. Of Russia it is declared in the official reports of English Chambers of Commerce, " that the importation of manufactured tissues is practically prevented, by a scale of duties higher than any in the world.” Some concession was made to Great Britain in 1869; but is admitted to be but a very slight measure of free trade, which " would not lead to an extension of legitimate trade, although it might make smuggling less profitable.” The Austrian tariff is characterized by the same English authority as " presenting features of the most objectionable character, while the duties are almost prohibitory.” This was said in 1865. Recent changes still leave the average duties on fabrics in Austria from 24 to 67 per cent. The Swedish tariff is referred to as having "the
* Professor Perry.
† Mr. Behrens, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Bradford, in a speech at the annual meeting of the Association of Chambers of Commerce, of the United Kingdom, February, 1869, said :
“As to Austria, we had the same advantages as the most favored nations, by virtue of a treaty which had received the sanction of the Reichsrath ; but there was a supplementary convention, negotiated by Sir L. Mallet, which, unfortunately, had not yet received that sanction. It was entered, in order to carry out the treaty, which provided that no specific duty should exceed twenty per cent of the value of the imported goods ; and that after 1872 it should not exceed fifteen per cent. Now, the protectionists in Austria were quite aghast at this ; for, although they always used to say that the fixed duties agreed upon did not amount to more than five or ten per cent, when pressed to allow a restriction to fifteen per cent, they said it would be ruin to them.
“On Sir L. Mallet visiting Bradford, he put patterns before him, and showed that the duties had averaged from twenty-four to sixty-seven per cent. He hoped the exertions made by our government, and well seconded by the Austrian government, would have some result; so that, even if we did not get our
unfortunate distinction of disputing with Spain the debatable honor of being the highest in the world, the Russian only excepted.” The Peninsula is declared by British manufacturers to “ be shut out from the products of the looms and forges of England by a most ridiculous tariff.” The Anglo-French treaty is pronounced by Count Gasparin to be scarcely less prohibitory in fact than the Morrill tariff. This treaty, we admit, cannot be fairly cited as indicating either an affirmative or negative sentiment as to the protective question, on the part of the Imperial Government which concluded it. It would seem that the purpose of the Emperor was to conciliate England, by apparent concessions to her free-trade policy, while practically yielding as little as possible. Mr. Cobden and his friends claim the treaty as a free-trade victory. The Bradford Chamber of Commerce complains that the French.tariff is still “excessive,” “unreasonable,” and “onerous.” Whether it indicates a free-trade progress or not, the actual protective sentiment of France is shown by the arguments made for and against the commercial treaties. They are defended by the political supporters of the Govern
full pound of flesh, we might obtain a good, practical treaty. As to Russia, the new tariff announced by Mr. Mitchell would not lead, he thought, to an extension of legitimate trade, at least as far as this country was concerned; but it might make smuggling a little less profitable.
“In proof that it was not based on any intelligible principle, he might mention that yarns and machinery were actually subject to higher duties than previously, thus impeding the progress of Russian manufactures. It was said that the sole reason for the change was the desire to have a round sum instead of a fraction. While preaching free trade, however, to foreign nations, we must not forget our colonies, against which we had just ground of complaint. As long as they required the protection of the mother country, we might fairly demand that the leading principles of our policy should be accepted as fundamental. He presumed that no English colony would be allowed to introduce slavery, or arbitrary imprisonment, or any thing contrary to our fundamental principles. Now, surely free trade was one of those principles. What we asked foreign countries to adopt, we had a perfect right to require from our colonies. In newly peopled countries it might, perhaps, be right to enforce a duty on imports, as the only way of raising revenue; but it should be limited to the purposes of revenue, and should not act as a protective duty. Some of the seaboard provinces of the Canadian Confederation used to have five, seven and one-half, or ten per cent duties; but one result of the Confederation had been to substitute a uniform duty of fifteen per cent.”