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The following pages were written at the request of a lady, who one day asked me WHAT IS FREE TRADE?” Before presenting her with this reply, I submitted it to the scrutiny of Mr. Calhoun, who returned it with an approval, and an assurance that the “ doctrines were all quite sound." He had added nought thereto-neither diminished aught therefrom. Perhaps a few of my readers may feel the same interest in it that
American friend expressed.
“ WHAT IS FREE TRADE ?"
COMMERCE is an affair of climate ;—and the Sun, the disseminator of light and heat is its regulating power. These gifts of his are dispensed in various degrees of duration and intensity, according to the various positions of the countries of the globe. This is a law of nature. In like manner soil and production are suited to each other, and to the position or climate which they occupy upon the earth. This also is a law of nature.
“God Almighty first planted a garden ;” and the first pursuit of an infant people is Agriculture. Until that period arrives, when, owing to the improvements in agriculture, a portion of the people is able to cultivate sufficient for the consumption of the whole, so long must the inhabitants of any country continue to be purely agricultural; and so long must they remain satisfied with the products of their own soil. But when population increases, and labour becomes redundant, adventure commences, and Commerce begins to occupy a portion of their attention; then they seek the variety
of productions which is found in other countries. They exchange their own abundant and familiar articles for the novelties of another land. This Barter was originally and practically Free Trade, in its earliest and simplest form. It supposed and developed not only the obvious advantage arising from a mere exchange of commodities, but the latent advantage resulting from the profitable employment of the otherwise useless) surplus home production, in procuring the surplus of foreign production. This latent profit is the vital principle of commerce.
By degrees the system became more artificial; the amount of latent profit began to be calculated, and to be expressed by money, the constituted representative of value. Its accumulations formed the nucleus and increase of capital, which speedily became the prime mover and lever of all commerce.
Then men, and nations, and governments, perceiving the advantages of capital and its results-greedy of gain themselves, and jealous of the gains of othersimposed duties and restrictions on commodities, both imported and exported, that they might thus be enabled to employ their own capital to greater advantage. These imposts unavoidably became, in time, from various contingencies, unjust and impolitic in their application, corrupt and partial in their exercise, and injurious and
fatal in their effects. It has been found necessary, for this cause alone, to remove many such restrictions. Of this nature of relief is the repeal of the Corn importing Laws in England.
But restriction has arisen from another cause. When
Agriculture and Barter become insufficient for the progressive developement of a nation's energies, invention is awakened, and manufactures spring up. Individuals employ their talents, risk their wealth, and bestow their time on machinery and its results. New sources are discovered, which will contribute to the prosperity of all. But the enterprise and sagacity of the pioneers in the way deserve reward ; and the imposition of duties on the same species of manufactured articles imported from other countries, in order to procure an abundant market and higher prices for the home manufacturer, is equally wise and just. But in process of time, this home manufacturer will have reaped the well earned and liberal reward of his exertions; and then the people should be permitted to share in the good which the individual has hitherto derived from his privileges.
Nor is this a concession on the part of the monopolist, but a right on the part of the people. The multitude have a common portion with him in the country, in the material, and in the government, which has awarded to him, for a definite
period, exclusive advantages. The Law of Monopoly, like the Law of Patent, is designed, ultimately, to benefit the multitude ; and, like the Law of Patent, restricts the period of individual privilege to a term sufficient for just and faithful repayment of the enterprise, talent, time, and capital, which have been expended in some novel and beneficial discovery or invention.
That term expired, that repayment made, the people claim the restoration of their own inherent right in the invention or improvement. They have now purchased it, and paid for it; and it has become, both according to law and equity, a vested right. In this position are the manufacturers and the people of the United States at the present moment. The manufacturers have been amply reimbursed, and justice and policy and honesty alike require that they should at once give up their protective privileges.
The objections to Free Trade on the score of Government Revenue are utterly fallacious. The necessities of the British Government are incomparably greater than those of the United States Government; and the experience of England, since her adoption of the non-restrictive policy, has been found, in every article, entirely in favour of the abolition of protective duties. Such, doubtless, will also be the result in the United States;