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POLICY OF DISCRIMINATING DUTIES.
A SPEECH IN FAVOR OF MR. FILLMORE'S RESOLUTION, TO REFER THAT
PART OF THE PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE RELATING TO TIE TARIFF TO THE COMMITTEE ON MANUFACTURES, DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES, DECEMBER 30, 1841.
I have been hoping, from day to day, and from hour to hour, Mr. Speaker, that this debate would be brought to a close, and have more than once repressed a strong disposition to address the House, from a reluctance to render myself in any degree responsible for prolonging a discussion, which seems to me so exceedingly unreasonable and unprofitable; but as the House has exhibited a purpose to allow it to run on without let or limitation, at least until after the holydays, I have determined to deny myself no longer.
I have no intention, however, to go into a general discussion of the policy of a protecting tariff. If I had succeeded in getting the floor this day last week, when I made three or four unsuccessful efforts to obtain it, I might have been tempted to
But my honorable friend and colleague, (Mr. Hudson,) who addressed the House a few days ago, has anticipated me in so many of the views I had intended to present, as to leave me very
little material for such a discussion. And he has presented those views, let me add, with so much fulness and so much force, as to afford no apology whatever for repeating them. I can but follow as a gleaner, therefore, in a field which has been most effectively reaped, and can only hope to offer some additional facts and illustrations on points which have already been most ably enforced. And even this, Sir, I should have had much
hesitation at attempting, but for the remarks of the honorable member from Georgia, (Mr. Meriwether,) who has just taken his seat, and who, in the course of a very able speech, has advanced some ideas which ought not to be passed over in silence.
Before proceeding to notice them, however, I desire to make one or two preliminary observations. And in the first place, Sir, I freely acknowledge that, in my judgment, something more of importance has been attached to the precise issue before us than really belongs to it. As a question of parliamentary propriety, indeed, it is by no means unworthy of consideration. This House, in its organization, has adopted the principle of a divi. sion of labor. It has distributed its members into twenty or thirty different committees, with reference to the twenty or thirty distinct subjects into which the business of the nation has been arranged. Among these is a Committee of Manufactures. It is in vain for gentlemen to say that there ought to be no such committee. It actually exists. And in reply to a suggestion thrown out the other day, that the Southern members of the House must have been asleep — must have been caught napping - when such a committee was constituted, let me say, that the motion upon which the Committee of Manufactures was separated from the Committee of Commerce in 1819, and received a distinct existence, was made by a Southern member. Mr. Peter Little, a representative from Maryland, was the author of the motion; and, for aught which appears on the journals, it was adopted entirely without opposition. And now I see not, for my life, what subject this committee can fairly claim as its own, if not this very one of discriminating, in the imposition of duties, with reference to our manufacturing interests. What, let me ask, is my honorable colleague, (Mr. Saltonstall,) at the head of that committee, and what are his eight associates to do, in fulfilment of the purposes of their appointment, if not to deal with this precise question ? To deny it to them is virtually to proscribe them, and put them in Coventry for the session, so far as their relations as a committee are concerned. Why, Sir, my honorable colleague, I know, comes, emphatically, from a city of peace, (Salem,) and we Northern men are none of us eager to take offence at any thing which is said or done in this House. But I honestly believe that, were some of the gentlemen who have taken part in this discussion at the head of the Committee on Manufactures, they would be disposed to regard it as a matter of personal indignity, to be thus unceremoniously deprived of the due honors and just responsibilities of the station, to which they had been fairly assigned.
Let me repeat, however, Mr. Speaker, that, apart from this point of parliamentary propriety and personal justice, I regard the question of reference as one of but little practical importance. Certainly, the idea which seems to be entertained in some quarters, that the whole subject of a protecting tariff, - its constitutionality, its necessity, its propriety, its policy, - is to be disposed of forever, or even for the session, by a decision of the question, whether a few somewhat equivocal paragraphs in a President's message shall be referred to nine gentlemen associated under the denomination of a Committee of Ways and Means, or to nine other gentlemen who have been designated as a Committee of Manufactures, is altogether preposterous. The subject, depend upon it, Sir, will not be found of so easy an adjustment. You may refer these paragraphs of the message to what committee you please, and with what instructions you please; you may refuse to refer any matter whatever to the Committee of Manufactures; you may adopt the suggestion of a gentleman from Virginia, over the way, (Mr. Smith,) and abolish that committee forthwith, but still the subject will be agitated among the people, and still it will be forced upon the consideration of the representatives of the people. The voice of American labor cannot be so easily hushed off; it will make itself heard in this House, and sooner or later it will make itself heeded. Why, Sir, since we have been debating this question, a convention of iron manufacturers has been held in the city of New York, and they have adopted a memorial to Congress, setting forth their condition and their claims. Other conventions will be held by other classes of mechanics and artisans, and other memorials adopted. What will you do with them? Lay them on the table, as you did at the last session ? Reject them outright? Adopt another 21st rule? Declare that no petition which contains this odious term, protection, shall be received, considered, or entertained, in any way whatsoever ? No, Sir, you must receive them, you must refer them, you must act upon them.
There is another remark which I desire to make, by way of preamble. I have very little fear, Mr. Speaker, but that the industry of the country is about to receive, at an early day, some considerable amount of fresh incidental protection, come to what conclusions you may upon these abstract questions of power and of policy; and that, Sir, from the mere necessity of the case. I had almost said, I defy you to carry on the government without involving such a result. Who imagines that this government can be supported on the scale now proposed, or, indeed, upon any scale, unless it be one of degradation and bankruptcy, under your existing revenue system? Who dreams, more especially, that these magnificent projects of reform which have recently emanated from the various departments of the administration; the increase of the navy; the building of these steam frigates and sloops of war; the establishment of these naval schools at home, and these naval posts abroad; the endowment of these private mercantile steam-packet corporations; the trebling of the marine corps; the addition of new regiments to your army; the improvement of harbors; the completion of fortifications; the establishment of founderies; the extension of a chain of military posts from Council Bluffs to the Pacific; the purchase of a right of way for the national mail over the various railroads along its route; — who dreams, I say, that all or any of these truly noble, truly national projects, so many of which have commended themselves at first sight to the approbation and admiration of a patriotic people, can — I do not say, be carried through, for nobody supposes that they are to be completed in a day but — be commenced, be initiated, be put on the way to a gradual and economical accomplishment, without greater resources than will be afforded under the final operation of the compromise act? Nobody, I am sure. Where, then, will you look for additional resources? To loans and treasury notes ? That will be looking to the means of postponement, not to the means of payment. To duties on tea and coffee ? Party competition, the struggle of political leaders to outrun each other in a scrub-race for a little momentary popularity, has put an end, for the present at least, I imagine, to all hopes of obtaining revenue from that source, even were there a willingness to resort to it upon other considerations.
Do you look to the proceeds of the public lands? I do not believe, Sir, that there is a majority in this House ready to repeal so soon the great measure of the last session, by which those proceeds were distributed, and to wrench the proffered cup of relief from the States, in this hour of their utmost agony, and before they have tasted one cordial draught. But even should this be done, your revenues would still be in. sufficient. Upon what, then, can you rely for increasing them? Does
any one propose a resort to direct taxation ? More than one of the minority in this House have expressed their approbation of such a course, and eulogized the equality and democracy of its operation. I do not find, however, that anybody expects to live to see the day when it will be adopted. There is, then, but one mode left. You must increase your resources by raising the duties on imposts. And when you do this, notwithstanding the confident declaration of the gentleman from South Carolina, (Mr. Rhett,) that revenue and protection are utterly incompatible, and that where one begins the other ends, I have little fear but that the industry of the country will receive some share of the advantage.
And now, Mr. Speaker, in turning to a consideration of that protecting policy which has been so long the subject of discussion, I am met at the threshold by the declaration of the honorable member from Georgia yesterday, that he and his constituents, as Southern men, do not oppose these discriminating duties merely because they would affect their own interests; that they do not plant themselves on the mere pecuniary question ; but that they take higher ground, - that they stand on the Constitution. I am not, however, about to enter into an elaborate argument on this question of constitutionality. The whole history of the adoption of the Constitution; the condition of the country at the time of its adoption; the debates of the Federal Convention which framed, and of the popular conventions which ratified it; the petitions, resolutions, and proceedings of the people in all parts of the country, both immediately before and immediately