CHAPTER V. THE NEW ISSUES
Out of the economic and political circumstances which have just been described, there were emerging between 1865 and 1875 a wide variety of national problems. Such questions were those concerning the proper relation between the government and the railroads and industrial enterprises; the welfare of the agricultural and wage-earning classes; the assimilation of the hordes of immigrants; the conservation of the resources of the nation in lumber, minerals and oil; the tariff, the financial obligations of the government, the reform of the civil service, and a host of lesser matters. The animosities aroused by the war, however, and the insistent nature of the reconstruction question almost completely distracted attention from most of these problems. Only upon the tariff, finance and the civil service did the public interest focus long enough to effect results.
The tariff problem has periodically been settled and unsettled since the establishment of the federal government. Just previous to the war a low protective tariff had been adopted, but the outbreak of the conflict had necessitated a larger income; and the passage of an internal revenue act, together with a higher protective tariff, had been the chief means adopted to meet the demand. By 1864 the country had found itself in need of still greater revenues, and again the internal and tariff taxes had been increased. These acts were in force at the close of the war. The internal revenue act levied taxes upon products, trades, and professions, upon liquors and tobacco, upon manufactures, auctions, slaughtered cattle, railroads, advertisements and a large number of smaller sources of income.
The circumstances that had surrounded the framing and passage of the tariff act of 1864 had been somewhat peculiar. The need of the nation for revenue had been supreme and there had been no desire to stint the administration if funds could bring the struggle to a successful conclusion. Congress had been willing to levy almost any rates that anybody desired. The combination of a willingness among the legislators to raise rates to any height necessary for obtaining revenue, and a conviction on their part that high rates were for the good of the country brought about a situation eminently satisfactory to the protectionist element. There had been no time to spend in long discussions of the wisdom of the act and no desire to do so; and moreover the act had been looked upon as merely a temporary expedient. It is not possible to describe accurately the personal influences which surrounded the passage of the law. It is possible, however, to note that many industries had highly prospered under the war revenue legislation. Sugar refining had increased; whiskey distilling had fared well under the operation of the internal revenue laws; the demands of the army had given stimulus to the woolen mills, which had worked to capacity night and day; and the manufacture and use of sewing machines, agricultural implements and the like had been part of the industrial expansion of the times. Large fortunes had been made in the production of rifles, woolen clothing, cotton cloth and other commodities, especially when government contracts could be obtained. Naturally the tax-levying activities of Congress had tended to draw the business interests together to oppose or influence particular rates. The brewers, the cap and hat manufacturers, and others had objected to the taxes on their products; the National Association of Wool Manufacturers and the American Iron and Steel Association had been formed partly with the idea of influencing congressional tariff action.
After the close of the war, the tariff, among other things, seemed to many to require an overhauling. Justin S. Morrill, a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and one of the framers of the act of 1864, argued in favor of the protective system although he warned his colleagues:
At the same time it is a mistake of the friends of a sound tariff to
insist upon the extreme rates imposed during the war, if less will
raise the necessary revenue.... Whatever percentage of duties were
imposed upon foreign goods to cover internal taxes upon home
manufactures, should not now be claimed as the lawful prize of
protection where such taxes have been repealed.... The small
increase of the tariff for this reason on iron, salt, woolen, and
cottons can not be maintained except on the principle of obtaining a
proper amount of revenue.