CHAPTER XIV. THE TARIFF OF 1824 (1820-1824)

As has been shown in the last chapter, the attitude of portions of the south towards strict construction was not inveterate upon measures which promised advantages to that section. But the tariff struggle revealed the spirit which arose when powers were asserted unfavorable to any section. The failure of the tariff bill of 1820 [Footnote: See above, chap. ix.] was followed by other unsuccessful attempts to induce a majority of Congress to revive the subject. The messages of Monroe favored a moderate increase of duties; but it was not until 1824, after the return of Henry Clay and his triumphant election to the speakership, that Congress showed a protectionist majority ably disciplined and led. [Footnote: For previous tariff history, cf. Babcock, Am. Nationality (Am. Nation, XIII.), chap. xiv.]

The tariff bill of 1824 was supported, not as a revenue, but as a protective measure. It proposed an increase of the duty upon iron, hemp, cotton bagging, woolens, and cottons. Upon woolen goods, the friends of protection desired to apply the minimum principle which the tariff of 1816 had provided for cotton goods. But the cheap woolens were mostly used for the clothing of southern slaves, and the proposition for an increase of duty met with so strenuous a resistance that in the outcome the cheap foreign goods bore a lower rate of duty than did the high-priced products. Although the act somewhat increased the protection upon woolen fabrics as a whole, this was more than offset by the increased duty which was levied upon raw wool in response to the demand of the wool-raising interests of the country. [Footnote: Taussig, Tariff Hist., 75.]

Another struggle occurred over the protection of hemp. This product was used both for the manufacture of the ropes essential to New England shipping and for the cotton bagging used in the south. Thus the shipping and the slave-holding sections were brought into union in opposition to the provision. Nevertheless, this important Kentucky interest received a substantial protection. The attempt to secure a marked increase of the duty on iron bars resulted in a compromise proposition which satisfied neither party and had little effect upon domestic manufacture, while it increased the cost to the consumer. The Senate amendments reduced the proposed rates on the most important articles, so that, on the whole, the extreme protectionists failed to carry their programme, although the bill increased the duties upon the articles most essential to the shipping and planting sections sufficiently to leave great discontent. [Footnote: Stanwood, Amer. Tariff Controversies, I., chap. vii.]

In the debates upon this tariff, Henry Clay led the protectionist forces, basing his arguments upon the general distress of the country, which he explained by the loss of the foreign market for agricultural products, and which he would remedy by building up a home market by means of the support of manufactures - the creation of an "American system." "We must naturalize the arts in our country," said he. Not the least significant portion of his plea for protection was that in which he called attention to the great diversity of interests - "agricultural, planting, farming, commercial, navigating, fishing, manufacturing" - within the United States. Some of these interests were, as he said, peculiar to particular sections. "The inquiry should be in reference to the great interests of every section of the Union (I speak not of minute subdivisions); what would be done for those interests if that section stood alone and separated from the residue of the Republic? If they come into absolute collision with the interests of another section, a reconciliation, if possible, should be attempted, by mutual concession, so as to avoid a sacrifice of the prosperity of either to that of the other." [Footnote: Annals of Cong., 18 Cong., 1 Sess., II., 1997; cf. Clay's letter to Brooke, August 28, 1823, Clay, Private Corresp., 81.]

Perhaps the ablest speech on the other side was that of Webster, [Footnote: Webster, Writings (National ed.), V., 94-149.] who ridiculed Clay's discovery. "This favorite American policy," said he, "is what America has never tried, and this odious foreign policy is what, as we are told, foreign states have never pursued." He denied the existence of general depression, although he admitted that profits were lower and prices considerably depressed. Webster's argument included an analysis of the theory of protection as against free-trade, in which he made a classical statement of the opposition to protection. In short, he represented the attitude of the commercial classes, particularly those of New England, whose interests were injured by any restraint of the freedom of exchange. As yet these classes exercised a dominant influence in Massachusetts.

Senator Hayne, of South Carolina, also argued the case against the tariff with a grasp and power of presentation that was hardly second to that of Webster. In particular he protested against compelling the planting regions to pay the cost of a protective system. Two- thirds of the whole amount of the domestic exports of the United States, he argued, were composed of cotton, rice, and tobacco, and from this trade arose the imports of manufactured goods which paid the revenues of the United States, and which the protective system rendered expensive and burdensome to his section. He warned the manufacturers that the south would repeal the system at the first opportunity, regardless of interests that might accrue under the proposed measure. [Footnote: Annals of Cong., 18 Cong., 1 Sess., I., 618.]