« ZurückWeiter »
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES, ON THE 1st AND 2d OF APRIL, 1824.
[At an early period of the session of Congress of 1823–24 a bill was introduced into the House of Representatives to amend the several acts laying duties on imports. The object of the bill was a comprehensive revision of the existing laws, with a view to the extension of the protective system. The bill became the subject of a protracted debate, in which much of the talent of the House on both sides was engaged. Mr. Webster took an active part in the discussion, and spoke upon many of the details of the bill, while it remained in the committee of the whole House on the state of the Union. Several objectionable provisions were removed, and various amendments were introduced upon his motion; and it was a matter of regret to him, as seen in the following speech, that the friends of the bill were not able or willing to bring it into a form in which, as a whole, he could give it his support. On the 30th and 31st of March, Mr. Clay, Speaker of the House, addressed the committee of the whole, at length and with great ability, on the general principles of the bill; and he was succeeded by Mr. Webster, on the 1st and 2d of April, in the following speech.]
MR. CHAIRMAN, - I will avail myself of the present occasion to make some remarks on certain principles and opinions which have been recently advanced, and on those considerations which, in my judgment, ought to govern us in deciding upon the several and respective parts of this very important and complex measure. I can truly say that this is a painful duty. I deeply regret the necessity which is likely to be imposed upon me of giving a general affirmative or negative vote on the whole of the bill. I cannot but think this mode of proceeding liable to great objec
tions. It exposes both those who support and those who oppose the measure to very unjust and injurious misapprehensions. There may be good reasons for favoring some of the provisions of the bill, and equally strong reasons for opposing others; and these provisions do not stand to each other in the relation of principal and incident. If that were the case, those who are in favor of the principal might forego their opinions upon incidental and subordinate provisions. But the bill proposes enactments entirely distinct and different from one another in character and tendency. Some of its clauses are intended merely for revenue; and of those which regard the protection of home manufactures, one part stands upon very different grounds from those of other parts. So that probably every gentleman who may ultimately support the bill will vote for much which his judgment does not approve; and those who oppose it will oppose something which they would very gladly suprt. "sing intrusted with the interests of a district highly commercial, and deeply interested in manufactures also, I wish to state my opinions on the present measure, not as on a whole, for it has no entire and homogeneous character, but as on a collection of different enactments, some of which meet my approbation and some of which do not. And allow me, Sir, in the first place, to state my regret, if indeed I ought not to express a warmer sentiment, at the names or designations which Mr. Speaker' has seen fit to adopt for the purpose of describing the advocates and the opposers of the present bill. It is a question, he says, between the friends of an “American policy” and those of a “foreign policy.” This, Sir, is an assumption which I take the liberty most directly to deny. Mr. Speaker certainly intended nothing invidious or derogatory to any part of the House by this mode of denominating friends and enemies. But there is power in names, and this manner of distinguishing those who favor and those who oppose particular measures may lead to inferences to which no member of the House can submit. It may imply that there is a more exclusive and peculiar regard to American interests in one class of opinions than in another. Such an implication is to be resisted and repelled. Every member has a right to the presumption, that he pursues what he believes to be the interest of his country with as sincere a zeal as any other member. I claim this in my own case; and while I shall not, for any purpose of description or convenient arrangement use terms which may imply any disrespect to other men's opinions, much less any imputation upon other men's motives, it is my duty to take care that the use of such terms by others be not, against the will of those who adopt them, made to produce a false impression. Indeed, Sir, it is a little astonishing, if it seemed convenient to Mr. Speaker, for the purposes of distinction, to make use of the terms “American policy” and “foreign policy,” that he should not have applied them in a manner precisely the reverse of that in which he has in fact used them. If names are thought necessary, it would be well enough, one would think, that the name should be in some measure descriptive of the thing; and since Mr. Speaker denominates the policy which he recommends “a new Policy in this country”; since he speaks of the present measure as a new era in our legislation; since he professes to in
vite us to depart from our accustomed course, to instruct ourselves by the wisdom of others, and to adopt the policy of the most distinguished foreign states, — one is a little curious to know with what propriety of speech this imitation of other nations is denominated an “American policy,” while, on the contrary, a preference for our own established system, as it now actually exists and always has existed, is called a “foreign policy.” This favorite American policy is what America has never tried; and this odious foreign policy is what, as we are told, foreign states have never pursued. Sir, that is the truest American policy which shall most usefully employ American capital and American labor, and best sustain the whole population. With me it is a fundamental axiom, it is interwoven with all my opinions, that the great interests of the country are united and inseparable; that agriculture, commerce, and manufactures will
prosper together or languish together;
and that all legislation is dangerous which proposes to benefit one of these without looking to consequences which may fall on the others. Passing from this, Sir, I am bound to say that Mr. Speaker began his able and impressive speech at the proper point of inquiry, — I mean the present state and condition of the country, - although I am so unfortunate, or rather although I am so happy, as to differ from him very widely in regard to that condition. I dissent entirely from the justice of that picture of distress which he has drawn. I have not seen the reality, and know not where it exists. Within my observation, there is no cause for so gloomy and terrifying a representation. In respect to the New England States, with the condition of which I am of course best acquainted, the present appears to me a period of very general prosperity. Not, indeed, a time for sudden acquisition and great profits, not a day of extraordinary activity and successful speculation. There is no doubt a considerable depression of prices, and, in some degree, a stagnation of business. But the case presented by Mr. Speaker was not one of depression, but of distress; of universal, pervading, intense distress, limited to no class and to no place. We are represented as on the very verge and brink of national ruin. So far from acquiescing in these opinions, I believe there has been no period in which the general prosperity was better secured, or rested on a more solid foundation. As applicable to the Eastern States, I put this remark to their representatives, and ask them if it is not true. When has there been a time in which the means of living have been more accessible and more abundant? When has labor been rewarded, I do not say with a larger, but with a more certain success? Profits, indeed, are low; in some pursuits of life, which it is not proposed to benefit, but to burden, by this bill, very low. But still I am unacquainted with any proofs of extraordinary distress. What, indeed, are the general indications of the state of the country? There is no famine nor pestilence in the land, nor war, nor desolation. There is no writhing under the burden of taxation. The means of subsistence are abundant; and at the very moment when the miserable condition of the country is as
serted, it is admitted that the wages of .
labor are high in comparison with those of any other country. A country, then, enjoying a profound peace, perfect civil liberty, with the means of subsistence cheap and abundant, with the reward of labor sure, and its wages higher than anywhere else, cannot be represented as in gloom, melancholy, and distress, but by the effort of extraordinary powers of tragedy. Even if, in judging of this question, we were to regard only those proofs to which we have been referred, we shall probably come to a conclusion somewhat different from that which has been drawn. Our exports, for example, although certainly less than in some years, were not, last year, so much below an average formed upon the exports of a series of years, and putting those exports at a fixed value, as might be supposed. The value of the exports of agricultural products, of animals, of the
Mr. Speaker has taken the very extraordinary year of 1803, and, adding to the exportation of that year what he thinks ought to have been a just augmentation, in proportion to the increase of our population, he swells the result to a magnitude, which, when compared with our actual exports, would exhibit a great deficiency. But is there any justice in this mode of calculation? In the first place, as before observed, the year 1803 was a year of extraordinary exportation. By reference to the accounts, that of the article of flour, for example, there was an export that year of thirteen hundred thousand barrels; but the very next year it fell to eight hundred thousand, and the next year to seven hundred thousand. In the next place, there never was any reason to expect that the increase of our exports of agricultural products would keep pace with the increase of our population. That would be against all experience. It is, indeed, most desirable, that there should be an augmented demand for the products of agriculture; but, nevertheless, the official returns of our exports do not show that absolute want of all foreign market which has been so strongly stated.
But there are other means by which to judge of the general condition of the people. The quantity of the means of subsistence consumed, or, to make use of a phraseology better suited to the condition of our own people, the quantity of the comforts of life enjoyed, is one of those means. It so happens, indeed, that it is not so easy in this country as elsewhere to ascertain facts of this sort with accuracy. Where most of the articles of subsistence and most of the comforts of life are taxed, there is, of course, great facility in ascertaining, from official statements, the amount of consumption. But in this country, most fortunately, the government neither knows, nor is concerned to know, the annual consumption; and estimates can only be formed in another mode, and in reference only to a few articles. Of these articles, tea is one. It is not quite a luxury, and yet is something above the absolute necessaries of life. Its consumption, therefore, will be diminished in times of adversity, and augmented in times of prosperity. By deducting the annual export from the annual import, and taking a number of years together, we may arrive at a probable estimate of consumption. The average of eleven years, from 1790 to 1800, inclusive, will be found to be two millions and a half of pounds. From 1801 to 1812, inclusive, the average was three millions seven hundred thousand; and the average of the last three years, to wit, 1821, 1822, and 1823, was five millions and a half. Having made a just allowance for the increase of our numbers, we shall still find, I think, from these statements, that there is no distress which has limited our means of subsistence and enjoyment. In forming an opinion of the degree of general prosperity, we may regard, likewise, the progress of internal improvements, the investment of capital in roads, bridges, and canals. All these prove a balance of income over expenditure; they afford evidence that there is a surplus of profits, which the present generation is usefully vesting for the benefit of the next. It cannot be denied, that, in this particular, the progress of the country is steady and rapid. We may look, too, to the sums expended for education. Are our colleges deserted? Do fathers find themselves
less able than usual to educate their children? It will be found, I imagine, that the amount paid for the purpose of education is constantly increasing, and that the schools and colleges were never more full than at the present moment. I may add, that the endowment of public charities, the contributions to objects of general benevolence, whether foreign or domestic, the munificence of individuals towards whatever promises to benefit the community, are all so many proofs of national prosperity. And, finally, there is no defalcation of revenue, no pressure of taxation. The general result, therefore, of a fair examination of the present condition of things, seems to me to be, that there is a considerable depression of prices, and curtailment of profit; and in some parts of the country, it must be admitted, there is a great degree of pecuniary embarrassment, arising from the difficulty of paying debts which were contracted when prices were high. With these qualifications, the general state of the country may be said to be prosperous; and these are not sufficient to give to the whole face of affairs any appearance of general distress. Supposing the evil, then, to be a depression of prices, and a partial pecuniary pressure, the next inquiry is into the causes of that evil; and it appears to me that there are several; and in this respect, I think, too much has been imputed by Mr. Speaker to the single cause of the diminution of exports. Connected, as we are, with all the commercial nations of the world, and having observed great changes to take place elsewhere, we should consider whether the causes of those changes have not reached us, and whether we are not suffering by the operation of them, in common with others. Undoubtedly, there has been a great fall in the price of all commodities throughout the commercial world, in consequence of the restoration of a state of peace. When the Allies entered France in 1814, prices rose astonishingly fast, and very high. Colonial produce, for instance, in the ports of this country, as well as elsewhere, sprung up suddenly from the lowest to the highest extreme. A new and vast demand was created for the commodities of trade. These were the natural consequences of the great political changes which then took place in Europe. We are to consider, too, that our own war created new demand, and that a government expenditure of twenty-five or thirty million dollars a year had the usual effect of enhancing prices. We are obliged to add, that the paper issues of our banks carried the same effect still further. A depreciated currency existed in a great part of the country; depreciated to such an extent, that, at one time, exchange between the centre and the North was as high as twenty per cent. The Bank of the United States was instituted to correct this evil; but, for causes which it is not necessary now to enumerate, it did not for some years bring back the currency of the country to a sound state. This depreciation of the circulating currency was so much, of course, added to the nominal prices of commodities, and these prices, thus unnaturally high, seemed, to those who looked only at the appearance, to indicate great prosperity. But such prosperity is more specious than real. It would have been better, probably, as the shock would have been less, if prices had fallen sooner. At length, however, they fell; and as there is little doubt that certain events in Europe had an influence in determining the time at which this fall took place, I will advert shortly to some of the principal of those events. In May, 1819, the British House of Commons decided, by a unanimous vote, that the resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England should not be deferred beyond the ensuing February. The restriction had been continued from time to time, and from year to year, Parliament always professing to look to the restoration of a specie currency whenever it should be found practicable. Having been, in July, 1818, continued to July, 1819, it was understood that, in the interim, the impor
tant question of the time at which cash payments should be resumed should be finally settled. In the latter part of the year 1818, the circulation of the bank had been greatly reduced, and a severe scarcity of money was felt in the London market. Such was the state of things in England. On the Continent, other important events took place. The French Indemnity Loan had been negotiated in the summer of 1818, and the proportion of it belonging to Austria, Russia, and Prussia had been sold. This created an unusual demand for gold and silver in those countries. It has been stated, that the amount of the precious metals transmitted to Austria and Russia in that year was at least twenty millions sterling. Other large sums were sent to Prussia and to Denmark. The effect of this sudden drain of specie, felt first at Paris, was communicated to Amsterdam and Hamburg, and all other commercial places in the North of Europe. The paper system of England had certainly communicated an artificial value to property. It had encouraged speculation, and excited over-trading. When the shock therefore came, and this violent pressure for money acted at the same moment on the Continent and in England, inflated and unnatural prices could be kept up no longer. A reduction took place, which has been estimated to have been at least equal to a fall of thirty, if not forty per cent. The depression was universal; and the change was felt in the United States severely, though not equally so in every part. There are those, I am aware, who maintain that the events to which I have alluded did not cause the great fall of prices, but that that fall was natural and inevitable, from the previously existing state of things, the abundance of commodities, and the want of demand. But that would only prove that the effect was produced in another way, rather than by another cause. If these great and sudden calls for money did not reduce prices, but prices fell, as of themselves, to their natural state, still the result is the same; for we perceive that,