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.]

In the speeches of some of the representatives of the south was a note of revolt not to be found in Webster's argument. For the first time in the discussion of the tariff, the constitutional objection was made prominent. It was argued that the power to impose taxes and duties was given for the purpose of raising revenue, not for the purpose of protection. If not the letter, at least the spirit, of the Constitution was violated, so it was charged, by this distortion of the power of taxation. The proceedings of the constitutional convention were recited to show that a proposition conferring the alleged power was voted down. To this, Clay gave the reply that the clause on which the protectionists relied was the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations.

Even the south, however, laid less stress upon the constitutional argument than upon the injustice to the section. McDuffie, for example, replying to Clay, [Footnote: Ibid., II., 2400 et seq.] argued that no one of the great sections of the country, if it were a separate nation, could advantageously apply the system of protection. He warned the western states that the system would make them tributary to the Atlantic states, [Footnote: Ibid., II., 2423.] and that they had more to lose by alienating the friendship of the south for a system of internal improvements which should facilitate the sale of their meat products to the south than by a union with the manufacturing interests. With respect to the south itself, he declared that cotton, which alone constituted one-third of the whole export of the Union, was in danger of losing the market of England if we ceased to take the manufactures of that country. Protesting that the protective system would strike at the root of their prosperity, by enhancing the cost of the clothing of their slaves and the bagging used to cover their cotton-bales, while at the same time it put to hazard the sale of their great staple in the English market, he yet declared that, if the bill should pass, "even with a majority of a single vote, I shall, as bound by my allegiance, submit to it as one of the laws of my country."

But if this South Carolina leader represented the attitude of his state in showing moderation at this time, [Footnote: See Ames, State Docs, on Federal Relations, No. 4, p. 6.] not so did the free-lance John Randolph, of Virginia. "I do not stop here, sir," said he, "to argue about the constitutionality of this bill; I consider the Constitution a dead letter; I consider it to consist, at this time, of the power of the General Government and the power of the States - that is the Constitution." "I have no faith in parchment, sir; ... I have faith in the power of the commonwealth of which I am an unworthy son." "If, under a power to regulate trade, you prevent exportation; if, with the most approved spring lancets, you draw the last drop of blood from our veins; if, secundum artem, you draw the last shilling from our pockets, what are the checks of the Constitution to us? A fig for the Constitution! When the scorpion's sting is probing to the quick, shall we stop to chop logic? ... There is no magic in this word union." While he threatened forcible resistance, he rejoiced in the combination of the shipping and commercial classes of New England with the south in opposition to the measure. "The merchants and manufacturers of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, the province of Maine and Sagadahock," said he, "repel this bill, whilst men in hunting-shirts, with deer-skin leggings and moccasins on their feet, want protection for manufactures."

The bill passed the House of Representatives on April 16, 1824, by the close vote of 107 to 102, and subsequently passed the Senate by a small majority:

          New England          Middle Region          South
e H t a I o o Y J a e o d a C C a o
s n t l t t
s n a a a
l l l

Ayes . . .1 1 5 1 2 5 15 26 6 24 1 57 3 1 0 0 0 4
Nays . . .6 5 0 11 0 1 23 8 0 1 0 9 6 21 13 9 7 56

Northwest and Kentucky Southwest
h n l o y o e l i a o
i d t n a s t Total
o a n s a
l l

Ayes . . .14 2 1 1 11 29 2 0 0 0 2 107
Nays . . . 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 3 1 3 14 102

By this analysis and the map, it is clear that the navigating states were in opposition, while the manufacturing states were generally in favor of the bill. The most important textile manufacturers of Massachusetts, however, were not advocates of protection at this time. The grain and wool producing states gave an overwhelming vote (91 to 9) in favor of the attempt to provide a home market. The planting states gave but 3 votes in favor to 64 against. [Footnote: See the analysis in Niles' Register, XXVI., 113.] By comparison with the map of the general survey bill, it is seen that the southern half of the west was in a state of unstable equilibrium on these sectional issues. It joined the Ohio Valley and the middle states in supporting a system of internal improvements, while it transferred its support to the old south on the question of the tariff. New England, on the other hand, although divided, tended to unite its strength with that of the south on both these measures. In general, the map reveals the process of forming a northern section in opposition to the south - the union of the Ohio Valley with the middle states against the alliance of the south Atlantic seaboard with the Gulf states. The division of forces exhibited in the Missouri struggle was strikingly like the division now revealed on the tariff question.

On the whole, the tariff of 1824 was distinctly a compromise measure. Although the ad valorem duties on cotton and woolen goods were raised, this was balanced by the doubled duty on raw wool. Nevertheless, it aroused the opposition of the entire planting section, at the same time that the manufacturers of woolen goods felt that their interests had been sacrificed. The tariff question was, in fact, only postponed. In the history of party development, however, Clay's system of internal improvements and tariff, as shown in this session of Congress, had a significance not easily missed; and state sovereignty sentiment in the south grew steadily after these measures. [Footnote: See chapter xviii, below; cf. Antes, State Docs, on Federal Relations, No. 4, pp. 4-13.]