« ZurückWeiter »
A petition of the shipwrights of the city of Charleston, in the State of South Carolina, was presented to the House and read, stating the distress they are in, from the decline of that branch of business and the present situation of the trade in the United States, and praying that the wisdom and policy of the National Legislature may be directed to such measures, in a general regulation of trade and the establishment of a proper navigation act, as will tend to relieve the particular distresses of the petitioners, and in common with them, those of their fellow-shipwrights throughout the United States.
In a similar appeal from a considerable number of the citizens of New York, the same reliance on the constitutional power of Congress was expressed:
Your petitioners conceive that their countrymen have been deluded by an appearance of plenty; by the profusion of foreign articles which has deluged the country; and thus have mistaken excessive importations for a flourishing trade. To this deception they impute a continuance of that immoderate prepossession in favor of foreign commodities which has been the principal cause of their distresses, and the subject of their complaint.
Wearied by their fruitless exertions, your petitioners have long looked forward with anxiety for the establishment of a government which would check the growing evil, and extend a protecting hand to the interests of commerce and the arts. Such a government is now established.
To your honorable body the mechanics and manufacturers of New York look up with confidence, convinced that, as the united voice of America has furnished you the means, so your knowledge of the common wants has given you the spirit to unbind our fetters, and rescue our country from disgrace and ruin.
Only a few days afterward, still another petition for legislative aid to home industry was presented, this time from the inhabitants of Boston. Below is an extract:
Your petitioners need not inform Congress that, on the revival of our mechanical arts and manufactures, depend the wealth and prosperity of the Northern States; nor can we forbear mentioning to your honors, that the citizens of these States conceive the object of their independence but half obtained, till those national purposes are established on a permanent and extensive basis by the legislative acts of the Federal Government. Unless these important branches are supported, we humbly conceive that our agriculture must greatly decline, as the impoverished state of our seaports will eventually lessen the demand for the produce of our lands.
Your petitioners formerly experienced the patronage of this State Legislature, in their act of laying duties and prohibitions on certain articles of manufacture, which encourages your petitioners to request that heavy duties may be laid upon such articles as are manufactured by our own citizens, humbly conceiving that the impost is not solely considered by Congress AS AN OBJECT OF REVENUE, but, in its operation, intended to exclude such importations, and ultimately establish these several branches of manufacture among ourselves.
Here the constitutional power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations” is assumed, with the utmost confidence, to signify both authority and purpose to leave out of sight, in levying duties on imports, all considerations of revenue as the main object, so that the paramount tendency may be toward the creation and sustainment of domestic industry; and this position is indicated as altogether beyond the realm of debate, uncertainty, or contradiction-as settled, fixed, unquestionable. Had there been doubt on the subject — if there had been room or reason for distrust and hesitation—no body of citizens would have ventured to unite in formally submitting such statements to the House of Representatives, with any hope of securing respectful attention. The very fact that an appeal of this kind could be signed by many men of intelligence, and presented as their deliberate act, with a serious expectation of influencing the passage of laws, is in itself a strong presumption of the legitimacy of their views of Congressional prerogative.
The petitions represented all sections of the Union. Those above noted, however, embrace only a small part of the number laid before Congress. Now, how were these appeals received by the agents of the people? Let Daniel Webster, the “Expounder of the Constitution," tell, in the words he spoke at the great massmeeting at Albany, August 27, 1844. He said, in referring to the very records from which extracts have been quoted:
Now, I ask you again, how were these petitions for protection treated? Did Congress deny its power? Did it say that it could not possibly give them this protection, unless it should happen to be in-ci-den-tal? Did it say we have only a revenue power in regard to this matter? that is, We have the clear and undoubted power to take so much money out of your pockets, and apply it to our own purposes; but God forbid that, in doing so, we should do you any good at the same time? Were these petitioners told that they must take care of themselves? that these were days of free trade, and everybody must have a right to trade on equal terms with everybody else? Far, far from it. In regard to the subject of these petitions, we all know that the very first Congress secured to the navigation of the United States that which has been, from that time to this, the great foundation, not only of preference, but of monopoly—the whole coasting trade of the Union; and the shipwrights of America enjoy that monopoly to the present day, and I hope they will enjoy it forever. Look at the coasting trade of the United States, so vast in its extent. It is entirely confined to American shipping.
But how did Congress treat these petitions from the cities of New York and Baltimore, to extend protection to the mechanic arts? It granted them. It yielded it. And except a formal act for taking the oaths, the very first act passed by Congress was to secure the coasting trade and protect the mechanic arts, by discriminating duties, and thus carry out the clear, and according to historicał testimony, the most manifest object of the Constitution.
Rufus Choate, after a diligent study of the annals of the country, with a strong desire to ascertain the truth, took the same ground as Daniel Webster. In his speech on the power and duty of Congress to continue the policy of protecting American labor," delivered in the Senate of the United States, March 14, 1842, he said:
And who in that assembly of men-many of whom sat in the Convention which framed the Constitution, all of whom had partaken in the discussions which preceded its adoption—breathed a doubt on the competence of Congress to receive such petitions as these, and to grant their prayer? “I conceive” (said the most eloquent of the eloquent, Mr. Ames), “I conceive, sir, that the present Constitution was dictated by commercial necessity more than any other cause. The want of an efficient government to secure the manufacturing interest and to advance our commerce was long seen by men of judgment, and pointed out by patriots solicitous to promote our general welfare.' But I have more to say before I have done, on the proceedings of that Congress, and leave them for the present. In the meanwhile I submit to you that the proof is complete that the people who adopted the Constitution, universally, and without a doubt, believed that it embodied this power. It was for that they received it with one wide acclaim, with tears of exultation, with ceremonies of auspicious significance, befitting the dawn of our age of pacific and industrial glory. Even those who feared its imperial character and its other powers, who thought they saw the States attracted to its center and absorbed by its rays, did not fear this power.
And now, sir, I wonder if, after all, the people were deluded into this belief! I wonder if that heroic and energetic generation of our fathers, which had studied the controversies and had gone through the tasks of the Revolution; which had framed the Confederation, proved its weakness, proved its defects; which had been trained by a long and dreary experience of the insufficiency of a nominal independence to build up a diffused, and massive, and national prosperity, if the trade laws of foreign governments, the combinations of foreign capitalists, the necessities of foreign existence, are allowed to take from the native laborer his meal of meat, and from his children their school, and depress his standard of comfortable life; which had been trained by experience, by the discussions of its ablest minds, in an age of extraordinary mental activity, and yet of great morality, sobriety, and subordination, peculiarly favorable to the task-trained thus to the work of constructing a new government, I wonder if such a generation were deceived, after all! I wonder if it was not living water, that which they supposed they saw gushing from the rock, and sparkling and swelling their feet, but only a delusive imitation, struck out by the wand of an accursed enchantment! No sir, no man who believes that the people of this country were fit to govern themselves—fit to frame a constitution, fit to judge on it, fit to administer it~no such man can say that the belief, the popular belief in 1789, of the existence of this power, under the circumstances, is not absolutely conclusive proof of its existence.
And then, in addition to this, how do you deal with the fact that all the framers of the Constitution themselves, as well as every public man alive in 1789, and the entire intelligence of the country, supposed they had inserted this power in it?
Did not those who made it know what they had done? Considering their eminent general character, their civil discretion, their preparation of much study and yet more experience of arduous public affairs for the task; their thorough acquaintance with the existing systems, State and national, and with the public mind and opinions of the day; the long, patient and solitary labor which they bestowed on it; the immediate necessity imposed on them of explaining and defending it to the country-in view of this, if you find them unanimously concurring in ascribing this power to the instrument, is it not the transcendentalism of unbelief to doubt? Do we really think we are likely to understand their own work now better than they did the day they finished it?
Well, sir, we have satisfactory evidence that the members of the Convention went, all of them, to their graves in the belief that the Constitution contained this power. Mr. Madison's opinion I have read. We have it on unquestionable authority that Mr. Gallatin has repeatedly said that, upon his entrance into political life in 1789, he found it to be the universal opinion of those who framed the Constitution, and those who resisted its adoption—the