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On the Tariff
Speech of Representative Thaddeus Stevens,
in Congress, June 11, 1852 


 

    The gentleman from Massachusetts [Mr. Rantoul] supports these grants to railroad companies on the principles of free trade. It is not my intention to discuss at much length the doctrine of free trade. That has been so amply done of late, both orally and in writing, as to become tedious.

    But although the theory has been much discussed, it has never been reduced to practice, except among barbarian tribes. I think gentlemen cannot point to a single highly-civilized commercial and manufacturing nation capable of producing the raw material, that has ever adopted it. Every highly-cultivated nation has made the protection of domestic industry the special care of Government. It has been found by the experience of more than twenty centuries that the protection of domestic manufactures by prohibitions, discriminating duties, and commercial regulations, has been, and is, the true, natural, and wise policy of nations, or all history is a lie.  It is a mistake to suppose that the elevation of one national interest is the depression of others, as is more than insinuated by the Baltimore platform [platform of the Democratic Party, ed.], which is intended, not only for all kinds of men, but for every fowl of the air, fish of the sea, four-footed beasts, and especially for every creeping thing to stand upon. All classes of national industry, like the arts and sciences, are bound together by one common band.
All flourish or lanquish together. Manufactures, in every age, have been the especial handmaid of agriculture and commerce.

   Select from history any example that you please--take Tyre, which was perhaps as highly commercial as any nation of her time. She was also the furthest advanced in manufactures. Many of her fabrics have scarcely ever been excelled. Her dyes have passed into proverb. She transplanted her policy with her colony to Carthage, which soon became a powerful--the most powerful maritime nation of her time. The same cause has produced the same effect wherever it has existed in ancient or modern times--at Syracuse, at Genoa, and Venice. But the most powerful example of the influence of manufactures on the commerce and wealth of nations, is to be found in the case of Holland. 

   Up to the end of the reign of Charles I Holland was the workshop of Europe. Her ingenious and industrious mechanics and manufacturers produced not only enough for their own country, but large surpluses to export to other nations. That surplus furnished employment for a large number of her own vessels, which took her fabrics to other countries, and brought back rich cargoes, not merely for her own consumption, but for the supply of neighboring markets. While other nations were trafficking in the bulky raw materials of little value, she was dealing in the same material, increased a hundred fold in value by the industry and skill of her people. Thus she commanded the market of every country, and not only enriched her mechanics and manufacturers, but her traders and shippers became merchant princes. She had more wealth than any other nation, and her commercial marine exceeded in number the ships all the other nations of Europe together. Her war vessels also exceeded that of any other nation. All this wealth, all this commerce, all this power, was produced by a country of small circumference and with little agricultural advantages. It was done by manufactures alone.  How did she lose this superiority, and what country has gained it, and by what means?

   Whatever else may be said of the English Puritans, it is certain that the Commonwealth under Cromwell produced some of the ablest statesmen of the world. England, at that time, was a poor nation, with but few manufacturing establishments. Her wise men saw that her insular position, and her small territory, rendered it impossible for her to become rich and powerful except through commerce and manufactures.........

   England has acquired all this power, wealth, and granduer through her protective policy alone. And now she preaches 'free trade' to others--to young nations! And there are found shallow dupes who swallow the bait! 

   It is often objected to a protective tariff, that it is for the benifit of the rich capitalists. This argument, I know, is never used by statesmen, or writers on political economy; but often by demogogues, who fancy themselves statesmen.  


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