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MEANING OF FREE TRADE.
The domestic Origin of the popular Application of the Terms, Free Trade.-Their AdCaptandum Features.-The Unfairness of taking Advantage of these Features.—The true Meaning of Free Trade, directly the Opposite of what is commonly supposed.—Justice on the Side of Protection.-Free Trade, to be Just, requires that all Nations should be one Family.-Universal Free Trade would create one great Central Power, at the Expense of all the Rest.-Weak Powers can only be defended against the Strong by a Protective System.-The Free-Trade Millennium an Absurdity.-Expensive and Cheap Organizations of Society, as they affect this Question.-American Instincts on the Rights of Labor. The Objections to Protection are the Reasons for It-The Free Trade of Adam Smith not the Free Trade of the Present Time.
MUCH is saved in debate on any question, and the necessity of debate may often be avoided, by a right understanding of terms. "Free Trade" is ostensibly, and in itself naturally, an ad-captandum phrase, especially with the uninformed. "Free Trade and sailors' rights," was on the public banners of the war of 1812, and it became incorporated with the heart of the people. Some think that"Free Trade," as now used, in opposition to the protective policy, means the same thing as it did in the war of 1812; whereas it then had reference to the claim of the British government to visit our merchant vessels on the high seas, search for British subjects, and impress them into her public service, by which means American citizens were often impressed. It was this violation of the rights of American seamen chiefly that occasioned the war, as this
right of search" could not be allowed by the government of the United States. One of the great principles involved in this controversy was freedom of trade over the public highway of the seas, under a national flag, without being stopped, visited, searched, or questioned, by the public vessels of other nations; and the other great principle was, the sacredness of the rights of American seamen against such violation. Hence the expressive phrase which came into vogue at that time, and which was used with so much power and effect, "Free Trade and sailors' rights," as being what the nation went into war for, and for which they were stimulated to maintain the contest. It is very unfair, therefore, to take advantage of the attachment of the nation to such a principle, by using the same expression, "Free Trade," as if it meant the same thing now,
or some equivalent, when it means a very different thing, which, when it comes to be understood, will rather be hated than loved; which the people would rather fight against, than for.
There is another reason, consisting in the captivating influence of the phrase itself, and of its different forms, which leads many minds astray. "Free Trade;" "freedom of commerce;" "free ports;" "trade where and with whom you please;" "buy as cheap as you can and sell as dear as you can, without let or hinderance;" these and other like forms of phraseology, constituting a mere cant, when employed in this service, seem very reasonable at first sight, and are captivating because they are fallacious. The idea conveyed by these phrases, is not the true notion of Free Trade, as opposed to the protective principle maintained in the United States. It is, on the contrary, entirely a false coloring of the subject. Free Trade, as now used, involves a question of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, not between parties, both of which are American, but between all Americans, as one party, and the rest of the world, as the other party. It being assumed, that all Americans are interested in American labor, the question is, whether American labor, which, at great cost of blood and treasure, has gained an independent position and a fair reward, shall be again reduced to a condition of dependence and lose its reward, by being forced into a competition with the enslaved labor of foreign nations, especially with that of Europe, the comparative condition of which is set forth in other parts of this work. Or, to put it in another form, the question is, whether a party, once wronged, and having by its own virtue and energy rescued itself, shall be exposed unnecessarily to the same wrong again; whether it shall throw open its own doors, and give free entrance to robbers, because they choose to call their depredations "Free Trade." It is indeed "Free Trade" to them, by such consent, with profit; though it can not be profitable to the party that is robbed.
"Free Trade," then, in its signification as now used, and in its practical operation on the people of the United States is, to allow foreign nations to bring their labor for sale—or the products of their labor, which is the same thing-into this country without tax, against American labor, when the cost of the latter is three times as much as that of the former, and when, besides, it is taxed, in, the maintenance of its own government, to purchase for foreigners this privilege; in other words, to allow foreigners to undersell American labor, in the American market, and thus to reduce its
And dues Hus not apply.
price and reward to the same level with that which is brought into competition with it, after which, as will be shown hereafter, the American consumer gets none of the benefit of foreign cheap labor, while American labor is broken down. This is a true and fair definition of "Free Trade." It is virtually a toleration of injustice, and that of the worst kind, because it is all done under the mock pretence of justice and fraternal intercourse; and the strangest part of it is, that this toleration should be consented to by the injured party.
This question of justice may be further illustrated by a consideration of the great and comprehensive fact involved in the obvious inequalities, physical and other, which are found in the condition and position of different nations; of their diverse interests; of the dissimilarities in their social organization; of their different degrees of improvement in productive labor and in the productive arts; and of the necessity of taking care of their own interests, arising out of these facts. No two nations are equal or alike; but in a thousand particulars are unequal and unlike. All these inequalities constitute weak and vulnerable points on one side or the other; and all these dissimilarities are so many necessities of a public policy adapted to them. Justice demands such discrimination, and it would be very great injustice not to employ and apply it in legislation and government.
If any choose to set up the impracticable theory, based on the assumption that all nations are one family, and that therefore a system of perfect Free Trade would be best for their aggregate interests-which is the romance of the Free-Trade. doctrine—it labors under the disadvantage of encountering two insuperable difficulties, first, that all nations are not one family. No one but a visionary could reason on such an assumption. Next, the practical operation of such a theory would concentrate the wealth of the world at once on the strongest points, and withdraw it from the weakest. It would make the young and weak nations slaves to the old and strong, and the tendency would be to give one nation, probably Great Britain, an ascendency over all the rest, to be constantly, positively, and relatively strengthened in that position; in other words, to make all nations tributary to one. For in whatever point or points any one nation might be the strongest, at the commencement of such a system, she would not only be able to maintain that superiority, but constantly to augment her relative power and influence in these, and by the help of these, in other particulars. # with us? We must then have tariffs within country.
It is possible, indeed, that the great family of man, as one family, might accumulate more wealth in a given time, under such a system. We will not pretend to decide, as it is quite unnecessary. The great and insuperable objection to it, is that the wealth and magnificence of the world would be concentrated, at the expense and by the impoverishment of nearly all its parts.
Such, really and truly, in its operation, is the Free-Trade theory; and such would be its natural and unavoidable results. It would be a total prostration of all the barriers which guard and defend the interests and rights of particular communities, called states and ish. nations, always putting the weaker in the power of the stronger, up to the strongest of all, the last of which would absorb the control over all the rest. It would create a universal dominion for one stupendous power-which could easily, and would naturally, be converted into a world-wide despotism, without one loose fragment to be disengaged from the sway of its sceptre.
But it is thought, by reasonable persons, that the interests of humanity and the rights of man are best protected by fortifying the weak against the encroachments of the strong, and by setting up all possible barriers against that "Free Trade" which consists in spoliation, and which arms only the mighty against the defenceless. It is generally thought best rather to multiply independent sovereignties, than to diminish the number, by allowing the greater to swallow up the less; rather to surround the less with muniments of defence, than to rase to the ground those already standing. It is shown, in a subsequent chapter, that the occasion of the American revolution was a wrongful absorption of the commercial values of the colonists by the British crown, and that the benefits of the acquisition of national independence, consisted in the establishment of a power competent to retain and defend those commercial values. But Free Trade" would expose these values to be drawn away again, and again to be absorbed by foreign exchequers. It is simply a question of justice, as the American revolution was a war of justice of justice to the nation and to the people-and precisely, identically the same interests are at stake now as then. "Free Trade" would give up all which American independence acquired -all that is worth having.
The only hypothesis of society that is consistent with Free Trade, is, that all nations should be equal and alike in all respects. Can anything be more absurd, than a theory which demands this? It requires that as a basis which is not, never was, and never can
be. Even if a universal millenium of republican institutions, or of
But the actual social dissimilarities among nations, as elsewhere