MVB speech on the woolens bill, 10 July 1827
SPEECH OF MARTIN VAN BUREN, at the Albany county meeting, held at the capitol, of which gen. Stephen Van Rensselaer was chairman, and judge Buel secretary, for the appointment of delegates to the state convention.
MR VAN BUREN said, that it had not been without difficulty that he had been able to satisfy himself of the propriety of his participating in the proceedings of the meeting.
The object was, to devise measures to obtain, by legislation, additional protection for a particular branch of the manufacturing and agricultural interests. It was well known that all questions of that nature produce animated, and sometimes extensive, collisions. Deeply interested as he was in the subject generally, and particularly in that portion of it which related to the growing of wool, it was natural that he should feel the same solitude for its prosperity that others feel who are similarly situated; but representing as he had the honor to do, the various interests of the state, it appeared to him but reasonable and fair that he should keep himself free to hear and consider the representations of all, so that as far as it depended upon him, equal and impartial justice might be done to all. He hoped that it was not necessary for him to say, that in making this remark, he did not intend in the slightest degree to reflect on those, who in a situation somewhat similar to his own, had not felt the same embarrassment. It was, he said, a matter of opinion, of which every one had a right to judge for himself, and he had not the arrogance to set up his sentiments as a guide for others. The importance of the subject, the difficulty which attended it, the necessity he should probably be under of soon acting upon it officially, and a sincere desire to become qualified to do so understandingly, had, however, induced him to place himself in a situation in which he might receive information, and give to others such as his past connexion with the subject had enabled him to acquire. For that purpose he came there, and for no other.
The public mind, Mr. V. B. said had been considerably agitated in relation to a bill which had passed the House of Representatives at the last session of Congress, and remained unacted upon in the Senate. He was not in the habit of troubling others with professions of his political principles, or explanations of his course on particular occasions: but as the humble part which it had become his official duty to take in that measure, had received a degree of notice to which he could not believe it entitled, and had been extensively and injuriously misrepresented, he would throw himself upon the indulgence of the meeting, for submitting a brief history of that transaction. (Mr. V. B. then stated the time when the bill was introduced into the Senate, every question that had been raised in regard to it, the respective votes he had given upon each, with the reasons which had influenced him, and concluded by referring to the last question, which was a motion to lay the bill upon the table, when for the first and only time it was reached on the orders of the day.) This, he said, was late in the day on Wednesday, when there remained but two business days of the session. Having occasion to be out of his place for a few hours, he inquired of the chairman of the committee of manufactures, who had the bill under his charge, whether he retained any hopes of acting upon it at that session? and was informed by him that he was satisfied that it was too late to do so; that having made every proper effort to obtain its passage, it was not his intention to press it further. On Mr. V. B.’s return, he found that in going over the orders of the day, the bill had been reached, and a silent vote taken on laying it on the table, in the absence of seven senators besides himself, composed of both friends and opponents to the measure. It would readily be perceived that the absence of so many members, feeling as most of them did, a lively interest in the fate of the bill, could only be accounted for by the common understanding at that time, that it could not be definitively acted upon at that session.
He was not a little surprised to find that great pains had been taken to impress the public mind with a belief that his absence from his seat was with miserable design of evading responsibility. He hoped it was not necessary to contradict so degrading an insinuation. He had lived in vain, he said, if at this day it could be necessary to defend himself against imputations of such a character. He would not trust his feelings to speak upon the subject, farther than to say, that in the short course of his public career, he had been unavoidably connected with political subjects, neither free from excitement, nor inconsiderable in point of responsibility: He had frequently been thought wrong by those from whom he differed, and had doubtless sometimes been so; but the charge of shunning a public question had never before been directly imputed to him by his bitterest opponents. If he was not greatly mistaken, the worthy chairman of this meeting was not in his place when the final question was taken on the bill in the house of representatives; but he had not found any one base enough to attribute that accidental circumstance to design. But he would not press that subject further. He owed an apology to the meeting for having said so much about it. Ordinary misrepresentations he thought he could bear with as much equanimity as any man. It would be strange indeed if it were not so. He had been accustomed to them, he had almost said, from his cradle; and yet he had no right, nor was he disposed, to complain, because he had always found a redeeming spirit in the public mind, which seeks to come at the truth respecting the conduct of public men, and in spite of all the efforts that are made to mislead, it ultimately reaches its object. If he had on this occasion manifested more than usual sensibility, it was because the spirit of detraction had assumed a new, and to him peculiarly offensive, shape. But he had done with this topic.
If from the account he had given of the fate of the bill in question, it was inferred that its provisions were such as he thought they ought to have been, the inference would do injustice to his sentiments. He had not regarded it in that light—he did not believe that it had been so considered by any one. As far as his knowledge extended, it was matter of universal concession that the bill was liable to many objections. With some sincere friends of the tariff system, these objections were insurmountable, and they voted against it; others thought the bill, notwithstanding its imperfections, would be useful, and they supported it. As the subject would again come before congress, and as the design of the present and all similar meetings was to devise the most effectual means of accomplishing the great end in view, it was proper that those objections should be stated, to the end, that if practicable, they might be obviated. With the permission of the chair, he would explain them as far as his limited information would enable him.
To do this the more understandingly, it might not be amiss to say a few words upon the general subject, and the previous acts of the government in regard to it. He should, he hoped, be excused, if he did not occupy any portion of their time in professions of friendship for the domestic manufactures of the country. They had no enemies among our own citizens. Every American, whether his domicil was in the east or the west, in the north or the south, wished them success. They were closely connected with the welfare and prosperity of the country, rendering labour productive, creating and diffusing wealth, affording honest if not lucrative employment, raising up within ourselves the means of independence, and opening home markets for the productions of our agriculture. As such they had been regarded, and steadily encouraged, by the state and the nation, almost since the foundation of the government. It was only when the question was presented whether that interest, like most others, should be left to its own exertions, or be fostered by legislative aid, that division in the public sentiment arose. Upon the expediency of affording such aid, the different portions of the country divided, as it was very natural they should, according to their respective interests—those who receive, are the friends of protection, and those who pay, without as they suppose receiving a compensating advantage, oppose it. It is not in the nature of things to avoid this collision; but much, very much, may be done by an enlightened patriotism, to temper it to the condition of our government, and make it less injurious and less exciting than it otherwise might be.
In regard to it, there is in this state, with the exception of a portion of the inhabitants of our chief city, and others of more limited extent, no diversity of opinion. The policy of extending a fair and reasonable protection to the domestic industry of the country, through legislative enactments, is, and has for many years been, the established sentiment of the state. Upon that subject, the gentlemen who had preceded him, had, he said, made very sensible and for the most part judicious remarks; but here at least they related to a by-gone question. But as to the extent to which that protection ought to go, and the best means of applying it, we differ among ourselves, and should probably continue to do so, as long as there were different interests or diversities of opinion amongst us. Upon the general subject, the sentiment of the state now is, and has long been, in accordance with the acts of the government.
It will not be necessary, for the purpose of the present discussion, to go further back than the tariff of 1824. In that year, upon the often repeated solicitations of the manufacturing interest in several parts of the union, the whole subject of protecting duties was laboriously revised, and the rates of duties upon the various productions of the country, including the raw material as well as the manufactured articles, carefully, and as was supposed judiciously, adjusted. It embraced, almost all our manufactures, including the raw material—wool, cotton, iron, hemp, lead, glass, and all kinds of grain, provisions, books, paper, &c. &c. At that time, he had the honor of a seat in the Senate of the U. S. and had given to the tariff of that year a decided support. The Senate was so equally divided, that although on the final passage of the bill, one or two gentlemen yielded their opposition; yet through the principal parts of its progress, it had but a majority of one or two in that body. It was then said and believed, that the subject would be at rest for a long time. The amount of capital invested in manufactories greatly increased, and the friends of legislative protection, flattered themselves with the belief that all that was necessary had then been done. Those expectations were not realized. Applications to congress were renewed at the last session by the woollen manufacturers, and a bill was reported applicable to that subject only. The first question which naturally presented itself, was why woollens alone were selected from the mass of more than ninety different articles upon which the tariff of 1824 operated? Why was congress asked to pass over all those articles and derange the adjustment of 1824? The applicants were intelligent men, and of course sensible of the necessity of presenting adequate considerations for the desired interference. The grounds upon which it was asked, were, that as it respected the woollen manufactures, the duty of thirty-three and one-third per centum had been rendered inoperative: 1st. by the frauds which had been practised upon the revenue, and by which the protecting duty had been evaded; and 2d. by the act of British parliament, reducing the duty on raw wool imported into England. All they asked was to have the benefit promised by the tariff of 1824, fully and fairly secured to them. They insisted, that having invested their money, and continued their business upon the faith of the protection promised by that act, the government was bound to secure them, as well against the consequences arising from the frauds which were practised upon the revenue, as against the counteracting effect of rival legislation on the part of Great Britain.
Mr. Van Buren said, that upon the best reflection he had been able to give to the subject, he thought their application founded in justice, and he was ready to sustain all proper measures for their relief. To protect the revenue from fraud, would have been a duty independent of all regard to the success of manufactures, and although there doubtless was a limit beyond which congress ought not to go in burthening one interest for the support of another, in order to counteract foreign legislation, he did not think the redress asked for in the present case would transcend that limit.
The important question then occurred, what was the appropriate and efficient remedy? To ascertain this, it was necessary, Mr. V. B. said, to refer particularly to the evils complained of, and to the provisions of the bill proposed to remedy them. As this subject could not be familiar to most of his hearers, and as he was satisfied that whatever feelings might actuate others, they at least wished to act on it understandingly, he would undertake to explain the matter as fully as he could.
The first and leading evil complained of, was the evasion of the revenue laws. That was effected in various ways. 1st. Through the medium of false invoices of the cost of the goods in the foreign market, made by collusion between the owners, manufacturers, consignees and agents. 2d. By the introduction of the cloths, in an unfinished state, which would be appraised at a low price; but made of infinitely greater value by an inconsiderable expense in finishing them here; and lastly, by the importation of the raw wool on the skin.
A brief reference to the several laws upon the subject, would, he said, afford much aid in arriving at a correct conclusion. By the act of 1789, the first law under the federal government for the imposition of duties, five per centum was assessed upon the value of the goods, at the time and place of their importation, to be ascertained by appraisers to be appointed by the government. In 1799, this simple, practicable, and as he could not but think, safe mode of imposing duties, was departed from, and a new one substituted. By it, instead of laying the duty upon the value at the time and place of importation, the duty is directed to be ascertained, by adding ten per centum upon all goods imported from this side of the Cape of Good Hope, and twenty per centum if beyond, to the cost abroad. To ascertain that cost, reference to the invoices is of course indispensable, and collusions between the owners, manufacturers, consignees and agents, to diminish the duty, becomes the natural consequence. Congress has since provided an immense mass of machinery, to ascertain the costs or value of goods at the place whence imported, and the oaths of the owners, manufacturers, consignees, &c. have been required as means of guarding against frauds; but if any one of those guards prove insufficient, as it is reasonable to suppose will often be the case, the whole of them are in a measure rendered unavailing. In consequence of the frauds which were practiced through the medium of false invoices, laws were passed in 1818 and 1823, authorizing the appointment of appraisers, with power to add to the invoices where fraud was suspected. But the supreme court of the United States rendered this provision, in a great degree inoperative, by its decision that the words “true value,” are to be constructed as meaning the actual cost of the goods, and not their current and market value, and that although the collector may suspect that goods purchased abroad, are invoiced below the current market value thereof, yet if he does not suspect that they are invoiced below their true and actual cost, he has no right to direct an appraisement. After all, it is contended, that the checks provided by law have proved ineffectual—that the enhanced duty of 1824 has increased the temptation to evasions, and that these evasions have been so extensive as to defeat entirely the protection to the manufacturer, designed by the tariff of 1824.
Assuming all this to be so, the question presents itself, what is the proper remedy? and would the bill proposed have effected the object in view? Several amendments were submitted and debated; one by a representative from this state, of much experience and intelligence, which provided, 1st, for the enlargement of the powers of the appraisers, and for remedying the defect in the law of 1823, which had been pointed out by the decision of the supreme court; and 2d, that goods imported in an unfinished state, with a view to evasion, should be appraised as if they were finished, that fifty per cent be added to the value by way of mulct, and the duties be assessed on the aggregate amount. The remedy for the evasion in respect to the raw wool, was simply to provide that sheep skins with the wool on, should be excepted from the exemption from duties allowed by law to raw skins imported into the country. To this amendment, an amendment was offered by another member from this state, who was a zealous friend of the bill, providing additional safe guards. In addition to these, an amendment was offered by an early, intelligent, and very efficient advocate of the tariff system, from Pennsylvania, which had been prepared with great care and ability. It proposed to lay the axe at the root of the evil, by abolishing the system of 1799, and the superstructure raised upon it, which made the cost of the article abroad the basis for the assessment of the duties, and by restoring the old law, imposing the duties upon the value of the goods at the time and place of their importation, to be ascertained by appraisers to be appointed by the government. It also contained provisions for the arrangement of the goods into just and convenient classes, and for the imposition of the duty upon the square yard. By thus returning to the simplicity of olden times, it was contended earnestly and intelligently by the mover, that no room for fraud or evasion would be left, other than the direct corruption of the appraisers. A pertinacious resistance was made to those amendments, and they were all either rejected or superseded by the use of the previous question, and a bill passed by one branch of the legislature, without containing a single new provision for the suppression of the frauds complained of; but seeking to prevent them, by greatly increasing the temptation to commit them. It would seem to him, Mr. Van Buren said, to be within the comprehension of the plainest mind, to judge correctly upon the probable efficiency of such a measure.
The remaining ground urged to justify the selection of the article in question for additional protection, from the mass included in the act of 1824, was the reduction of the duty upon raw fine wool in England, since the establishment of our present tariff, from six pence sterling to one penny, and on the coarse wool to a half penny. The most particular calculation he had seen upon that branch of the subject, was that lately submitted at a meeting of manufacturers in Boston, by a respectable and very worthy member of the house of representatives. It supposes that the condition of the English manufactures had been improved to an extent that would enable him to make his cloth at a less cost by 16 /3ds per centum ad valorem. Assuming this to be correct, the question recurs, were the provisions of the bill the suitable remedy? Would a mere increase of duties effect any thing? Would they be efficient? Was it reasonable to believe, if the temptation to evasion when the duty was 33 1-3d. was too great to be resisted, that frauds would be prevented by making the duties much higher than before; how much he could not precisely say, certainly double, perhaps treble?
He had seen many and conflicting statements and calculations upon the subject of the rate of duties prescribed by the bill of the last session. They were all made, too, by very sagacious gentlemen, who could not well brook even a question as to their accuracy. He confessed, he said, that his faith had been very much shaken in the speculations and calculations this subject generally, as exemplified by the arithmetic of the theorists of the day. He feared that many an honest man bewildered and deluded himself by their means, and that the instances in which those who were not so honest imposed upon the credulity of those who were, were not few in number. Still, figures were the only means to arrive at the truth upon such subjects. He had seen a statement referred to as from Niles’ Register, in which it was stated that the average rate of duties proposed by the bill was ninety two per centum ad valorem. He had not been able to lay his hand upon the original, and could not therefore speak with certainty as to the accuracy of the report. By some they were estimated at less, by others more. The second minimum, which provided that all woollen goods, which cost more than forty and less than one hundred and fifty cents, should be considered as having cost one hundred and fifty cents, and the duty assessed upon that amount, included, as he was advised, the great body of coarse woollens, which were generally purchased by the poorer classes of the community. The duty upon this description of cloth, ranged from 37 1/2 to 139 1/2, the present nominal duty being 33 1-3d., but actually 37 1/2. Assuming any estimate, and the increase of duties was very great. He had before said he was prepared to sustain fully the tariff of 1824. The question was as to the means. Let them, he said, be well and dispassionately considered before the subject was again acted upon, and let it be permitted to stand upon its own merits, without seeking adventitious aid, and there was little room to doubt that all that was right would ultimately be done.
Another prominent objection to the bill of the last session, said Mr. Van Buren, and one which he would make no apology for presenting very distinctly and fully to the meeting, was its supposed injustice to the wool grower. It was the decided option of the most intelligent wool growers, whom he had consulted upon the subject, that as to them, the benefit proposed was, to say the least, altogether illusory. The disproportion between the protection it proposed to the manufacturer and the wool grower, on the assumption of the bill that a mere increase of duties was protection, could not fail to strike the mind of every one who possessed the slightest knowledge upon the subject. Whilst upon the great body of coarse woollens, embraced by the second minimum, the duty, as he had stated, ranged from 37 1/2 to 139 1/2, making an increase of about one hundred per cent. in some cases, whilst the general average of increase was estimated at from 45 to 92 per cent, the annual increased duty upon the raw wool was but 5 per cent. for two years, making the maximum of increase but ten per cent. ad valorem. But that was not the most questionable part of the bill. The duty upon the raw wool did not go into operation until one year after that upon the woollens. The consequence apprehended from that feature of the bill, by those best acquainted with the subject, (and it was reasonable that it should be so), was, that the suspended increase would, in the course of the first year, induce the foreign wool growers to glut our market with the raw material, and thus enable the manufacturers to lay in a stock of wool upon their own terms, and for a long time to come, whereby the condition of the American wool grower would be made worse than it is at present.
The tenacity with which this provision of the bill was adhered to, and the sensibility manifested upon the subject by the manufacturers since, had confirmed him in the truth of these conclusions. In the house of representatives, a motion was made by a very intelligent member from this state (who, although he was compelled ultimately to vote against the bill, was anxious to support one properly constructed) to amend the bill so as to make the duty on the raw wool go into operation at the same time with that on the manufactured article. He supported the justice of this measure, and the strong claim which the farmers had upon congress for its adoption, in a speech that did honor to himself and his state; but the motion was evaded by a resort to the previous question. After the bill came into the senate, a motion was made by a western senator, to recommit it to the committee on manufactures, with instructions so to amend it as to raise the duty on raw wool to the same rates as those upon the cloths. Mr. V. B. had voted for that motion, but it failed. To his surprise and regret, he had seen that even the little which the bill proposed to do for the wool grower had given great offence to some of the eastern manufacturers. At their meeting, held at Boston, to appoint delegates to the Harrisburgh convention, the agents they had sent to Washington were publicly charged with having betrayed their trust in not having successfully resisted any increase of duty on the raw wool.
He knew, he said, that it was contended that if the manufactories were made stable, the American farmer needed no other protection, as the European wool grower would not be able to compete with him. He had but little confidence in that position. If it were true, why were the manufacturers dissatisfied with the increase of the duty? He had received a letter in the course of the winter from a well informed manufacturer, who knew that he, (Mr. V. B.) had embarked in the wool growing business, in which it was stated that since the peace in Europe, the wool growers of Germany had increased their flocks; that their wool was much cheaper than the American, and that unless the American farmer was protected by high duties, they would engross our market with the raw material. From the report of the secretary of the treasury it appeared that for the last two years one million and nineteen thousand pounds of foreign wool had been imported into the U. States. He (Mr. V. B.) desired to know, why, even if it was probable that the American farmer could successfully compete with the European, his protection should not be made certain as well as that of the manufacturer? What good reason could be given why one should be made secure by government, and the other left to all the contingencies of trade?
Some instruction might, he said, be derived from the course of things in England. There, as had already been stated, the duty upon foreign wool had been reduced by the government as was supposed to restore her manufactures to the advantage over ours, of which they had been deprived by our tariff of 1824, thus benefitting the manufacturer at the expense of the farmer. What, he asked, had been the consequence? If they would look at the papers of the morning they would find that parliament was already beset by the farmers with remonstrances, against the act, and petitions for relief.* It was, he said, not to be wondered at that the manufacturers should thus every where get the better of the farmers. They generally operated through large and wealthy companies, between whom a concert of action was easily established; but the wool growers were scattered over the country, and took but little part in the matter. The agents sent to Washington, who were generally very intelligent men, and had vast influence in what was done, were mostly appointed by the manufacturers, and what was of no less consequence, paid by them too. It was far from his intention to cast any imputation, or excite any prejudices against the manufactures. He felt no prejudices himself, and had no desire to be the cause of them in others. He regarded them as an invaluable class of men, with whose success the best interests of the country were in an eminent degree connected. But if he should be driven to make his election, he could have no hesitation [i]n selecting the farmers of America as the objects of his admiration and respect, in preference to any other class of men on earth. No such necessity, however, existed, and all discrimination in matters of that description were invidious and injurious. It was a matter of interest: So far as the proposed measure promoted their joint advantage, the manufacturer would aid the farmer; whenever they clashed, he would prefer his own.
These, Mr. V. B. said, were the prominent, though by no means all, the objections which had presented themselves to his mind against the bill of last session. If the subject had been finally acted upon, he would have used his best endeavors to have them removed, and if he had failed, he would have pursued the course which, under the circumstances, would have comported with the best opinion he could form of his duty, and which he hoped he could form his duty, and which he hoped would have been satisfactory to his constituents.
Mr. V. B. said, that having now stated as fully as the time would admit, his general views upon the subject, his opinion of the settled policy of the state as to the propriety and expediency of affording legislative protection to the manufacturing interest of the country, by temperate and wise, and therefore salutary laws, and his readiness to aid in the passage of all such laws, and having explained in part the difficulties which attended the subject, and particularly those in relation to the bill of the last session, he would trespass for a few moments upon the time of the meeting, by whose attention he had been already so much flattered, in submitting some of the ideas which had occurred to his mind of the mischief to be apprehended from hasty, extravagant and ill advised measures.
He feared, he said, that there was in the character and temper of the times, much lurking danger to that great interest, and as he had no reserves in regard to that or any other public matter, he would speak his sentiments freely. There were, he said, considerations of the strongest character all uniting their admonition to the sincere and singleminded friends of the system, to be temperate and discreet. We have 3,000 miles of seaboard, and 1500 miles on our northern frontier. The innumerable avenues to smuggling which the state of the country presented, were familiar to all, and of the inevitable tendency of prohibitory duties, the general intelligence of our community rendered it unnecessary to speak. The experiment of Great Britain, with her immense marine and army of custom-house officers, and indeed that of all countries, had demonstrated the impracticability of excluding articles, and especially those of little bulk, upon which great profits could be made. The tendency of the practice of smuggling, in defrauding the revenue, in making a resort to direct taxation necessary, and in demoralizing the community without benefitting the manufacturer, was also well known.
But there were other and equally cogent inducements which should teach us to consider carefully, and to weigh every step that is taken upon this delicate and vitally interesting subject. In maintaining firmly the great principle contended for, reason, policy and justice unite in admonishing us to remember that the manufacturers and wool growers are not the only classes in the community entitled to the parental care of a good government. Of the great community in which we live, how very small is the proportion of those who hold stock in factories or sell wool, and if we include, as we justly may, in estimating the advantages of the system, all who have the surplus productions of the soil to sell, how great still is the number of those who pay the taxes imposed by way of protecting duties, without receiving, as they are firmly persuaded, any immediate advantages resulting from them? Many ingenious estimates have been made of the relative number of those who were interested in manufactures and in raising bread stuff, &c. and of those who suppose themselves to have no direct interest in them. Suffice it to say that a certain and great majority of the people belonged to the latter class. In it are included a large proportion of that invaluable class of men, the mechanics of the country, the inhabitants of your cities and villages, &c. &c. All these men wear woollens, and most of them pay the taxes imposed thereon, without receiving, as they consider, correspondent advantages. To their high honour be it said, that hitherto they have done so cheerfully. Down to the present time, they have manifested a generous—a disinterested devotion to this great interest, upon which, with prudence on the part of those immediately concerned, the greatest reliance can be placed. But is there not, he asked, reason to apprehend a re-action, if that prudence is lost sight of, and especially if extravagant measures be adopted?
There was, he said, another great, very great, interest of the country, and with which agriculture had certainly something to do. He would of course be understood as alluding to that of commerce. He would leave it to those deeply learned in the science of political economy to settle the relative affinities between those three great and leading interests of the country. His business was with the facts. It was not to be disguised, that the superior success of the state, and more especially the city of New-York, in the great and fertilizing pursuit of commerce, entered deeply into the recent tariff movements in certain quarters. The sudden revolution of sentiment in the representation of a whole state, and that one most distinguished for its sagacity in perceiving, and industry in sustaining, its own interests, could not be for slight causes. The tariff of 1824 was opposed, zealously and ably, by all the Massachusetts representation, save one. The woollens bill of the last session was supported by every member of that same representation, save one.—Why this extraordinary change? We are not left to inference on the subject. One of the leading and most respectable men of that delegation,** at the manufacturers’ meeting in Boston, concludes his argument in support of the peculiar interests of Massachusetts in manufactures, with the following pregnant remarks:—“Besides this, in proportion as the means of internal communication increase, in proportion as roads are built, canals dug, and steam boats abound, by a law of the commercial world, foreign commerce of all kinds must desert the secondary, and concentrate itself on the primary market. I do not repine at the operation of this law of nature, which is daily transferring to New-York, the commerce of every other part of the country, but it does call on us to take our measures accordingly,”
Boston is not alone. The reasons which influence that city are not without their operation in Philadelphia. The superior advantages of New-York for the pursuits of commerce, are felt by all, and all point to her as the great commercial emporium of the union. She is rapidly engrossing the commerce of the nation, and her advancement is without a parallel in the world. He said the time had been when there was unfortunately a sort of rivalry between the city and country, which begat jealousies injurious to both; but he thanked God that those narrow feelings had given place to others of a better and higher character. Every citizen of the state, whenever situated, felt proud, and justly too, of the pre-eminence of that great city in every thing which serves to promote the welfare of the state and to increase its fame. But why did he speak of the city of New-York, its commercial advantages and consequent benefits, alone? Not only were her advantages reflected back upon the state, but innumerable other places possessed theirs also, and prospered under their benign influence. He asked the meeting to cast their eyes for a moment on the map of the state—to trace the flourishing cities and villages which crowded the banks of the Hudson, from its source to its connexion with the ocean—to those on the Mohawk and the lakes—to rest their attention for a moment on Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Catskill, Albany, Troy, Utica, Auburn, Geneva, Rochester, Buffalo, &c. &c and answer him whether greater prosperity had been witnessed by our oldest inhabitants, than was to be seen at the present day? Cast your eyes, said he, over this good city, look into every corner of it, and let any man, if he can, call to mind the period when he knew or had heard that it had any thing like such prosperity. Go, said he, into the country, look at every village and every farm, and say whether the march of improvement is any where arrested. He knew that the wool growers had not for the time being a good market for their wool, for he had himself two shearings, of no inconsiderable amount, on hand. He knew too that the farmers had not obtained good prices for their produce, and he could assure them that it should not be any fault of his if they were not obtained; but it was nevertheless true, that the attentive observer could witness every where throughout the state the smiles of prosperity and plenty. Is this, he asked, a picture of imagination, or is it reality,—gratifying, consoling, heart-cheering reality! He put it to the knowledge and observation of every man who heard him, whether there was any thing more certain than that there is no spot on God’s earth more prosperous and happy than the state of New-York. If there was a citizen of the state who doubted it, let him travel, and he will be convinced of his errour: And if he can desire to witness a picture of reverse, let him pass through the southern states, of which so much has here been said, and if he did not return satisfied with the superior prosperity of his own state, he, Mr. V. B., would acknowledge his incapacity to judge in the matter.
But to return, he said, to a more agreeable topic: To what cause was this general prosperity to be attributed? Was it to the extent of our manufacturing establishments? He did not believe that would be seriously asserted. They would not bear a comparison with those of our neighbours. The capital invested in manufactures in the state of New-York, was to that of Massachusetts, he had almost said, like “the dew drop to the ocean.”—There was no parallel to be drawn between them. The one was very great, the other comparatively inconsiderable. Was it to the success of manufactures in other states? Many advantages had doubtless been derived from the establishment of manufactures as well in this state as elsewhere. But was it not, he asked, more reasonable and just to attribute this prosperity to the salutary influence of a healthful and invigorating commerce; to the superior advantages of the city of New-York for foreign commerce; to the immense capital there employed; to the advantages of that noble river in our view, and the artificial means of navigation, which, to the honor of the state, had been created by its own means, and by which the great lakes of the west and north were connected with its waters, and the trade of those extensive regions transferred to its bosom? By these causes, operating in conjunction with the excellence of our climate, aided by the fertility of our soil, and the enterprize of our citizens, our state had been made the wealthiest in the union, and the city of New-York the great commercial mart of the western world.
He knew to what extent commercial men carried their apprehensions of the consequences to result from governmental encouragement of manufactures. The chamber of commerce of the city of New-York made a most gloomy representation of the probable consequence upon the prosperity of that city, that would arise from a sudden prohibition of that city, that would arise from a sudden prohibition of the great amount of woollen goods which were annually brought into the country. Their apprehension was doubtless carried to extremes. It is natural for those who are chiefly concerned on one side of the subject, whether manufacturer or merchant, to dwell upon advantages, or apprehend dangers, that will never be realized. Much thinking makes them enthusiastic, and being fallible, self-interest impairs their vision and bewilders their minds. Nor is the case much less difficult for those who, by their public stations, are made umpires to decided upon their conflicting pretensions.
It is upon the sound and tenable principle that a reasonable burthen upon commerce, in common with all other interests, may rightfully be imposed for the encouragement of our infant manufactures, that the protective system is founded. It is only when the burthen becomes extravagant and onerous, that the merchant has a right to complain.—General apprehension, and objections of the character he had stated, did not, he said, present reasons against an adherence to, and, if need be, the extension of, a system, so long pursued by the government. They do, however, and it was in that point of view he referred to them, present strong inducements to the government to proceed with great circumspection and moderation in its movements. They demand that the great interests from which they spring be not trifled with, or exposed to danger from hasty and ill-digested measures, which may operate to an unforeseen and injurious extent—that every step which is taken on this delicate subject, be, as far as practicable, the result of reflection, confirmed by experience, and not the offspring of rash and unthinking speculation.
Nor do the reasons for temperance and discretion in the measures of the government, said he, spring altogether from the considerations he had stated. The substantial improvement and lasting prosperity of our domestic manufactures would, he thought, be best promoted by such a course. The experience of the world admonished us of the dangerous tendency of too much stimulus in affairs of this character. It had been demonstrated that in proportion as the dependence of such business upon the attention, industry and economy of those concerned, is weakened by excessive encouragement, either through individual or governmental patronage, is the danger of its ultimate prostration. The embargo and other restrictive measures before the late war, the war itself, with the non-importation act, and the act for the imposition of double duties for two years after the peace, held out temptations to embark capital in manufactures, so flattering as to lead to an unprecedented increase of establishments for that purpose. One year after the peace, the tariff of 1816 was established, which gave system, and as was supposed certainty, to the degree and character of protection which government intended to allow to them. He had learned from sources entitled to his confidence, that at that period, the capital invested in the manufacturing of wool, did not probable exceed ten millions, and that it had subsequently, and before 1824, increased some forty millions of dollars: That whilst the establishments which had sprung up since the tariff of 1816, had for many years done well, the hot bed productions of the war had almost universally gone down. So successful had the business been, that when the tariff of 1824 was under consideration, our brethren of the east, then as now the peculiar seat of the manufacturing interest, insisted that the law as it stood afforded ample protection, and as he had stated, opposed any increase of duties. The bill, however, passed, and the duty on woollens was increased more than one third. What, he asked, had been the consequence? The reports of large dividends, and the dazzling prospects of a golden harvest, had induced thousands to embark in the business,—merchants sold their ships—mechanics abandoned their shops; the fruits of every profession were turned into the current, and a sudden increase of manufacturing capital to the amount of many millions, took place. In less than two years, congress was loudly appealed to for farther protection. These applications proceeded, as well from those who had before protested, as from those who had been consistent in asking. Was it, he asked, to be doubted that these sudden revulsions, as well as the failure of the war establishments, were in no inconsiderable degree owing to a want of care, industry and economy on the part of those who, seduced by the temptation held out by the tariff of 1824, had rushed into the business?
Mr. Van Buren said there was nothing in the relations between himself and the great body of the meeting that would justify his further trespassing upon their already he feared exhausted patience.—It had been his object to make a full and frank exposition of the subject, as far as the time would allow. If he had failed in doing so, it was his misfortune. He had felt it his duty to present the subject in its various bearings, from a conviction that in the present state of the public mind that would not be often done by those who addressed the public upon the subject. These views were not taken from hostility to the object sought to be obtained by that and similar meetings; but to inculcate caution against any ill advised and rash measures, by which we might undo what has been well done, and loose what we have got in thus striving to get more. If he had not been as vehement in his professions as those who wee more noisy, but he was confident and more sincere, he hoped to find his apology in the indulgence of the meeting. He might have found it no difficult matter (self respect apart) to have cried tariff and protection as loud as the loudest. He was not under the necessity, however, of giving effect to recent conversions by a clamorous show of regard for a system which had always received his support. If principle did not, sound policy would, prevent him from indulging in such excesses.
It had been, he said, the business of his life to make himself acquainted with that public sentiment, which, though sometimes misled through excitement, was always honest, and in the end always right. Whilst he had seen those who played a part, though they played it ever so well, after a brief season, exposed to the chilling indifference, if not positive contempt, of a generous but just community, he had never yet seen unpretending but honest zeal, and practical efforts to be useful, go without their ultimate reward. It was his sincere desire to manifest his gratitude to a state, which had done so much for him, by making himself really serviceable in this matter.
Here, he said, he ought perhaps to sit down: But the temptation presented to him adding few remarks to those which had already been made, upon another point, was too strong to be resisted. It was, he said, a delicate topic, and one which, situated as he was in that meeting, he did not know that he would have felt himself at liberty to have touched upon, if it had not been introduced by others. He alluded to the political design and bearing of passing movements on the subject before them. He had listened with pleasure, and could not too much applaud, the general disclaimer of both the respectable gentlemen who had addressed the meeting. The latter, (Mr. Hopkins) had spoken very feelingly, and he had no doubt very sincerely, upon the subject. His views were unquestionably such as they should be. The gentleman had his thanks, and was entitled to those of all who felt a real interest in the question. We have, said Mr. V. B. the strongest reason to believe that political designs did not enter into the motives that led to the call of this meeting. The characters and situations of the gentlemen by whom it was made precluded the possibility of such designs. There were no two men in this community who have a deeper interest in exempting questions of property from the excitement, the irritations and the fluctuations of party strife—none could be more sensible of the utter impracticability of prescribing the course or regulating the current of those waters of bitterness when once forced from their accustomed channel—none, he was persuaded, were less disposed to fill the political cauldron with the ordinary concerns of life. But we ought not, nevertheless, said he, to shut our eyes to the fact that reaches us from every quarter, and is present to us every where, that a deep rooted conviction has fastened itself on the public mind that recent movements upon this subject have proceeded more from the closet of the politician than the workshop of the manufacturer. If this is not true, it should be promptly refuted, and the suspicion eradicated.
There was no instance, he said, in the history of the country in which the attempt to connect such subjects with party politics had produced aught but unmixed mischief. He remembered well when the question of legislative protection to domestic manufactures was strictly a party question in this state. The journals of the legislature would shew that the questions of exempting property so used from taxation, the persons engaged in the business from military duty, and others of a similar character, had formerly been decided by party votes. The result had been to prevent efficient encouragement, until the subject came to be considered an affair of mere interest, when, through the united exertions of all concerned, much real good was done.
There was, he said, a mysterious and singularly operative force in party feelings which could not be disregarded with impunity. The results produced by the general apprehension that political designs lie at the bottom of the proposed Harrisburg Convention, were already before our eyes. Of all the states, Pennsylvania had been foremost in the great cause in which they were engaged. She had been emphatically the head quarters of sound principles. What, he asked, is now her situation? Her public men at variance upon the subject: Men who have literally grown grey in the support of American manufactures, were driven to the necessity of opposing measures which were nominally for their relief: Less than half her counties had been represented in the state convention for the choice of delegates to the Harrisburg convention, and even in that small number, there were angry divisions as to the choice of delegates: The agricultural and manufacturing districts of Bucks and Lancaster had denounced the convention and the bill, and refused to sustain either: Where before all was peace, harmony and co-operation; are now seen suspicion, distraction and personal vituperation; which, unless arrested, must destroy all the advantages which have been obtained in other and better times. Was it to be doubted that this unfavourable state of things was justly attributable to the general apprehension that it was intended to make a political stalking horse of this great interest?
Look, said he, to Kentucky. With Pennsylvania, she has occupied the front rank among the protecting states. Her citizens and representatives have stood shoulder to shoulder, and contended manfully whenever and wherever they could be useful. Even upon the question of means there was not heretofore any diversity of sentiment to be found amongst them. How changed the scene! That state is now literally in a blaze of controversy upon this subject. At the last session, her representation was divided upon the question of the woollens bill. Men who had all their lives been the undeviating advocates of protection, found such insuperable objections to the bill as to constrain them to vote against it. The elections are at hand, and a torrent of crimination and recrimination upon the subject is deluging the state. Those who opposed, are accused of voting against the “Farmers’ Bill,” and of deserting their principles, &c. Whilst on the other hand, the subject is closely looked into, the amount of capital invested in this business in Kentucky and of fine wool raised ascertained, and the present and probably the future advantages of their own state contrasted with those of New England; the bill of the last session is called the “Speculator’s Bill;” and they undertake to shew that the object of the bill was to pamper the already overgrown wealth of the Eastern manufacturer by heaping taxes chiefly upon the poorer classes who wear the coarser woollens. Although they all agree as to the principle, they differ as to the best means of supporting it, and those differences being embittered by personal and political contentions, are becoming every day more inveterate. Whence, he asked, the cause of this great, this fatal revolution? Could any man doubt that it arose from the apprehension that it is designed to make this interest subsidiary to the fleeting concerns of personal ambition? Was it not then, he asked, the bounded duty of every sincere friend to domestic industry, to lend a helping hand to save it from the dangers of a political alliance?
He wished to be understood here. To escape misrepresentation elsewhere, was beyond his expectation. He was not adverse to public meetings upon this subject. There could not be, he said a more sublime spectacle in the political world than to see the honest yeomanry of the country meeting together, explaining their rights and interests, and if they see fit, expostulating with their public servants upon the manner in which they had discharged their public duties. All he asked was that things should be what they professed to be. The Harrisburgh convention would either be a grave and very imposing assembly of farmers and manufacturers, deliberating and acting in behalf of the great interest they represented, or it would be a mere political cabal; and whether it was the one or the other would be understood with absolute certainty in every village and neighbourhood in the union. There could be, he said, no doubt of that, and those concerned would fatally deceive themselves if they thought otherwise. No disguise could effectually conceal its real character from that intelligent, scrutinizing, all-pervading and all-searching spirit of inquiry which exists in this country to an extent unknown to the rest of the world, which penetrates the inmost recesses of the closet, tears the mask from hypocrisy, lays bare every public transaction to the public view, and makes men and things understood to be what they really are. If the convention should stand the test of this scrutiny, and prove to be what it ought to be, much real good might be expected from it. If otherwise, it would not have, it ought not to have, any weight with congress or the people.
If, said he, (which he did not believe, and which he prayed Heaven to avert) the manufacturers of the country could suffer themselves to be marshaled into a political band, to be attached as a body to this or that party, or to follow the fortunes of this or that individual, and thus expose themselves to the suspicion of being willing to render personal fealty in return for high dividends, they would expose their dearest interests to ultimate and certain destruction.
He had done with the subject. He owed many thanks to the meeting for the very kind attention with which he had been listened to by gentlemen, between many of whom and himself there had, upon public matters, been differences of opinion of long standing. His situation in reference to the wool growing interest was well known to most of them. He had at present invested more than $20,000 in sheep, and farms devoted and which he meant to devote to that business. He felt all proper concern for interest, and would of course cheerfully unite in all suitable measures for its advantage. Whilst he would not feel himself at liberty to withhold his aid from the support of a great and salutary public measure, because he might be individually benefitted by its adoption, he would forever despise himself if he could be found capable of availing himself of his official station to secure his own advantage at the unjust expense of others.
* Since the meeting, the London papers received in this country, furnish additional proofs of the injurious effects to the farmer and wool grower of these measures of the British government. In the Parliament, sundry petitions were presented against the importation of foreign wool. Lord Malmesbury gave a short history of the article, stating that up to the time of Edward III, it was an article of export, that in his reign manufactories were established in Yorkshire by workmen from Flanders, when exportation was prohibited, since that period England had been an exporter instead of an importer of wool, that in the first ten years of this century the importation of wool was 7,200,000 lbs., whilst in the last three years it was 27,476,000, the chief importation was from Germany, in 1814 it was 3,432,000 lbs., in 1815, 15,412,000 lbs., in 1825, 28 million pounds, and 1826, nearly 11 millions. His Lordship stated over the greater part of England there were nearly two years’ growth on hand, and that they could not go on to grow it since the price had fallen sixty and a hundred per cent. The importation from New South Wales in 1822 was 138,000 and last year 1,106,000. Lord M. did not ask for a duty of 6d, but when the duty was reduced from 6d to 1d, the reason of the immense importations became apparent.—Lord M. then asked Lord Goderich whether the government were prepared to submit to Parliament some measure of relief to the growers of wool. Lord Godorich replied that an additional duty would have a reverse effect from what the petitioners expected, that if he could think that any relief could be afforded by an increase of duty, he should be disposed to look more favorable on the course adopted, that the export trade in woollens amounted to from 5 to 6 millions, great part to India and the Colonies, and to markets where there was a foreign competition, that if the price of wool were enhanced, there would be danger of losing that trade. Lord G. continued the argument to some length.
** Mr. Everett.
In order to differentiate the two citations included in the original text, an additional asterisk was added to the second citation.