The Tariff-Question, Considered in Regard to the Policy of England and the Interests of the United States; With Statistical and Comparative Tables

By ERASTUS B. BIGELOW. Boston : Little, Brown, & Co. 4to.
UNDER this modest title, the American public is presented with a work of uncommon research, and of great practical utility and value. Its author is well known as a skilful and most successful inventor, in whose admirable power-looms nearly all the carpets of the world are now woven. On the subject of manufactures few can speak with more authority, whether in reference to its general bearings or its minute details. The work before us affords ample proof of his ability to discuss one of the most important questions in political economy.
The hundred pages of text are followed by two hundred and thirty-four pages of tabular statistics. This large and wellarranged body of invaluable information, though styled an appendix, was, in fact, the precursor of the argument, and constitutes the solid base on which it rests. These tables are “ not mere copies or abstracts, but the result of labored and careful selection, comparison, and combination.” In this treasury of facts, derived for the most part from official records, the commercial and industrial interests of the United States and of England, especially, are presented in all their most important aspects and relations. The amount of information here given is immense; and knowing, as we do, the scrupulous care of the collector, we cannot doubt its accuracy. Independently of its connection with the author’s argument, this feature of the work cannot fail to give it value and a permanent place in every library", office, countingroom, and Workshop of the country.
In his discussion of the tariff-question, Mr. Bigelow assumes it as a settled principle of national policy that revenue should be raised by duties on imports. To clear the ground from ambiguity, he states exactly what he means when he uses the terms “tree-trade” and “protection,” and then proceeds to describe and explain the tariff-policy of Great Britain. Not without good reason does he give this prominence to the action of that great power. It is not merely that England stands at the head of manufacturing and commercial nations, or that our business-connections with her are intimate and extensive. The fact which makes English policy so important an element in the discussion is found in the persistent and too often successful efforts of that country to shape American opinion and legislation on questions of manufacture and trade. Nowhere else have we seen the utter fallacy of the free-trade argument, as urged by Great Britain on other countries upon the strength of her own successful example, so clearly shown. The nature, object, extent, and motive of the tariff-reforms effected by Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone are made plain, not only by the quoted explanations of those statesmen, but by statistical facts and figures. Until she had carried her manufactures to a height of prosperity where competition could no longer touch them, England was, of all nations, the most protective. Then she became of a sudden wondrously liberal. Her protective laws were abolished, and, with a mighty show of generosity, she opened her ports to the commerce of the world. Foreign producers were magnanimously told that they could send their goods freely into England at a time when English manufactures were underselling and supplanting theirs in their own markets. The sacrifice of duties actually made by England on foreign manufactures, and which she paraded before the world as a reason why other nations should imitate and reciprocate her action, amounted, as we learn from the work before us, to the immense annual sum of two hundred and eighteen thousand dollars, being “less than one-fourth part of the tax which Englishmen annually pay for the privilege of keeping their dogs!”
It is true that the exports and trade of England have increased with extraordinary rapidity since 1853, and that the free-trade economists of that country ascribe this great prosperity in large degree to their alleged reforms. That they have no good ground for such a representation is shown conclusively by Mr. Bigelow. During the same period, France, with high protection, and the United States, with moderate protection, made equal or even greater advances. The causes of this increased prosperity must, therefore, have been general in their nature and influence. The progress of invention and discovery, and the increased supply of gold, are mentioned by the author as among the most efficient.
The immense extent and vast importance of English manufactures, and especially of the cotton-manufacture, are fully unfolded, and we cannot wonder at the earnest arid unceasing efforts of that country to preserve and to extend this great interest. This necessity is strikingly evinced in the section on “ The Dependent Condition of England.” We can only allude to this part of the argument, as full of striking suggestions, and as showing that in some very important respects England is the most dependent of all countries, and that the continued maintenance of her life and power rests on the maintenance of her manufacturing supremacy. In the section headed “ Efforts of England to extend her Manufactures,” we have some curious and instructive history, and we specially commend this part of the work to those who have been accustomed to lend a willing ear to British talk on the subjects of protection and free-trade.
Mr. Bigelow devotes a short, hut graphic and comprehensive, section to the “ Condition and Resources of the United States.” “ The Tariffs of the United States,” their merits and defects, are briefly considered. His “ Reasons in Favor of a Protective Policy ” leave, as it seems to us, very little to be said on the other side. From a multitude of passages which we have been tempted to quote, we select the following, as a not unfavorable specimen of the work :—
“ War is an evil to which we are always liable, and shall continue to be liable, until the Millennium comes. With reference to this always existent danger, no nation which is not willing to be trampled on can safely take its position on Quaker ground. That the possible event may not find us unprepared, we build fortresses and war-ships, and maintain armies and artillery at vast expense. No one but the mere visionary denies the propriety or the necessity of this. Yet it is demonstrable that a nation about to be involved in war will find a well-developed industrial and productive power of more real value than any or than all of the precautionary measures above mentioned ; since, without such power, neither forts nor armies can long be sustained.
“ It is obvious that the doctrine of freetrade (I mean, of course, genuine freetrade, and not the British counterfeit) ignores the probability, if not, indeed, the possibility of war. Could peace, perpetual and universal, be guarantied to the world, the argument against protection would possess a degree of strength, which, as things now are, does not and cannot belong to it. May it not be well for us to consider, whether, on the whole, we can do better than to take things as they are, by conforming our national policy, not to an imaginary era of universal peace and philanthropy, but to the hard and selfish world in which we happen to live ?
“ Lest this remark should be misinterpreted, I disclaim all intent to intimate that men acting in communities are released from those obligations of morality and justice which bind them as individuals. As civilization advances and mankind become more enlightened and virtuous, the beneficial change cannot fail to show itself in the public councils of the world, and in the kinder and broader spirit that will animate and control the intercourse of nations. Meanwhile, let us not expect to find in collective humanity the disinterested goodness which is so rarely exhibited by the individual members. Let us rather assume that other nations will act, in the main, on selfish principles ; and let us shape our own course as a nation in accordance with that presumption. Few, I think, will call this uncharitable, when they recall to mind our own experience during the year past. Why were so many among us surprised and disappointed at the course pursued by the English, generally, in reference to our domestic difficulties ? Simply because they forgot, that, with the mass of mankind, self-interest is a far stronger motive than philanthropy. That England should sympathize, even in the slightest degree, with a rebellious conspiracy against a kindred and friendly nation, — a conspiracy based openly and confessedly on the extension and perpetuity of an institution which Englishmen everywhere professed to regard with the deepest abhorrence, — was certainly very inconsistent; but it was not at all strange. In fact, it was precisely the thing which we might expect would happen under the circumstances. Those who made the mistake have learned a lesson in human nature which should prevent them from repeating the blunder.”
From the past opinions and present condition of our Southern States, and from the history of the war thus far, the author strongly argues the necessity of a policy designed and fitted to build up a diversified industry and a vigorous productive power. In regard to the degree of protection, he advocates no more than is necessary to equalize advantages. In consequence of her abundant capital, lower rate of interest, and cheaper labor, England can manufacture at less cost than we can; and this disadvantage can be counteracted only by protective legislation. The benefits which have accrued to the manufacturers of England from a governmental policy on whose stability they could rely, the advantage of a long and firmly established business with all its results of experience and skill, and the collateral aid of a widely extended commerce, are points clearly brought out and presented to the consideration of American economists.
But our limits forbid that we should attempt any further exposition of this excellent work. The section on “ Free Trade ” cannot fail to arrest attention, and that upon “ The Harmony of Interests among the States” is full of common sense inspired by the broadest patriotism.
Our imperfect abstract gives but a meagre notion of the fulness and completeness of this admirable work. It will accomplish its object, If it send the reader to the book itself. The appearance of the volume is timely. Events and circumstances have prepared the minds of our countrymen to understand and to appreciate the argument. The book cannot fail to diffuse sounder views of the great topics which it discusses, and will exert, we trust, a beneficial influence on the legislation of the country.