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The World’s Famous Orations.
America: III. (1861–1905). 1906.

Charles F. Crisp

In Closing the Wilson Tariff Bill Debate

I ASSUME that the cause of protection has no more able advocate than the gentleman from Maine. I assume that the argument for protection can be put in no more alluring form than that to which we have listened to-day. So assuming, I shall ask you calmly and dispassionately to examine with me that argument, to see upon what it is based, and then I shall invoke the unprejudiced judgment of this House as to whether the cause attempted to be sustained by the gentleman from Maine has been sustained or can be before any tribunal where the voice of reason is heard or the sense of justice is felt.

The gentleman from Maine, with a facility that is unequaled, when he encounters an argument which he is unable to answer passes it by with some bright and witty saying and thereby invites and receives the applause of those who believe as he does. But the gentleman does not attempt, the gentleman has not to-day attempted, to reply to the real arguments that are made in favor of freer trade and greater liberty of commerce.

The gentleman points to the progress of the United States, he points to the rate of wages in the United States, he points to the aggregated wealth of the United States, and claims all this as due to protection. But he does not explain how we owe these blessings to protection. He says, we have protection in the United States, wages are high in the United States therefore protection makes high wages.

When we ask the gentleman from Maine to give us a reason why a high-protective tariff increases the rate of wages he points to the glory, the prosperity, and the honor of our country. We on this side unite with him in every sentiment, in every purpose, in every effort that has for its object the advancement of the general welfare of the people of the United States, but we differ from him as to the method of promoting their welfare. The gentleman belongs to that school who believe that scarcity is a blessing, and that abundance should be prohibited by law. We belong to that school who believe that scarcity is a calamity to be avoided, and that abundance should be, if possible, encouraged by law.

The gentleman belongs to that class who believe that by a system of taxation we can make the country rich. He believes that it is possible by tax laws to advance the prosperity of all the industries and all the people in the United States. Either, Mr. Speaker, that statement is an absurdity upon its face, or it implies that in some way we have the power to make some persons not resident of the United States pay the taxes that we impose. I insist that you do not increase the taxable wealth of the United States when you tax a gentleman in Illinois and give the benefit of that tax to a gentleman in Maine. Such a course prevents the natural and honest distribution of wealth, but it does not create or augment it.

The gentleman from Maine and his associates, when dealing with a great question which must affect the business, the happiness, and the prosperity of all our people, make statements which are inconsistent with each other and are calculated to deceive; and yet the gentleman presumes to lecture this side of the House because, forsooth, we can not accept his conclusions thus arrived at.

But when we point to the impoverished farmers throughout the country, when we point to the strikes of laboring men for higher wages, when we point to the suspension of protected industries,—you say all this is due to threatened reduction of the tariff. You take credit that you are not entitled to, and you seek to avoid responsibility for that which you are clearly and undeniably responsible.

Our friends of the minority say: The consumer will take care of himself, if you look after the producer; for he is one and the same individual.

The audacity of the statement is only equaled by the inconsistency of this whole report. Assuming, if you please, for the purposes of the argument, what these gentlemen claim, that a protective tariff gives higher wages in protected industries, and still your proposition is wholly without foundation. The consumer and the producer the same! Why, Mr. Speaker, do you know the proportion the producers or protected manufactured products in this country bear to the producers of all other products? You do not pretend that your tariff raises the price of the farmer’s wheat, or his cotton, or his corn, or his meats; yet in spite of this great class, which is as three to one or more against the other, you gravely say that the producer and the consumer are the same!

Will you tell me how your protective tariff benefits the man who raises cotton, or corn, or wheat, or meats? The producers of those great staples are forced to seek their market abroad. A hundred years of this fostering system has not yet built up a home market for more than one-third of the cotton produced in the United States. Our market is abroad. Will you tell how this protective tariff benefits our agricultural producers? I can show you—I think I can demonstrate clearly—how the tariff hurts them; and I defy any of you to show wherein they are benefited by a protective tariff.

Suppose a farmer in Minnesota has 5,000 bushels of wheat and a farmer in Georgia has 100 bales of cotton. That wheat at eighty cents a bushel is worth $4,000, and that cotton at eight cents a pound is worth $4,000. Let those producers ship their staples abroad. The Minnesota wheat-grower ships his wheat to Liverpool; whether he ships it there or not, that is where the price of his wheat is fixed. The Georgia cotton-raiser ships his cotton to Liverpool; whether he ships it there or not, that is where the price of his cotton is fixed. The wheat and the cotton are sold in that free trade market. The wheat is sold for $4,000; the cotton brings the same amount. The Minnesota farmer invests the $4,000 he has received for his wheat in clothing, crockeryware, iron, steel, dress goods, clothing,—whatever he may need for his family in Minnesota. The Georgia cotton-raiser invests the proceeds of his cotton in like kinds of goods.

Each of those men ships his goods to this country and they reach the port of New York. When either undertakes to unload them he is met by the collector of customs, who says, “Let me see your invoice.” The invoice is exhibited, and it shows $4,000 worth of goods. Those goods represent in the one case 5,000 bushels of wheat, in the other case 100 bales of cotton. The collector at the port says to either of these gentlemen—the man who raises the wheat in Minnesota or him who raises the cotton in Georgia, “You can not bring into this market those goods for which you have exchanged your products unless you pay to the United States a tariff by the McKinley law—a tax of $2,000!”

The man will in vain refer the collector to the statement of the gentleman from Maine that the foreigner pays the tax. You can not convince that unrighteous United States officer that the foreigner is to pay the sum of $2,000; he requires the Minnesota farmer or the Georgia farmer to pay it. What is the result? The goods that cost either of these men $4,000 without the tariff cost him $6,000 with it.

The American laboring man wants what? He wants steady employment at reasonable wages. This protective system builds up industries which it is wasteful upon the part of the manufacturer to carry on. It destroys the natural industries of the people, and builds up an artificial industry. It takes away the natural right of every individual freely to exchange the surplus of that which he makes for the surplus of that which his neighbor makes. His neighbor, my friends, is the world.

Trade is not war. Trade is peace. Commerce knows no nationality. There is not a manufacturer in the United States, however highly he might have been favored, who will not send his goods to India, if by so doing he can get a little more for them than he can by selling them here; and he has the right to do it.

Gentlemen talk about a home market. What is a market? A market is where you buy and where you sell. If you say the market to which you allude is only that market in which I shall buy, then it is only half a market. A market is a place where you go to sell and where you go to buy. Restrictive protective tariff forces the American people to buy in the highest market on earth, and forces the great agricultural class which exports $700,000,000 worth of their products every year to sell in the cheapest markets on the earth.

When you tax that Minnesota farmer or that Georgia farmer 50 per cent. on what he seeks to bring in return for his own goods, you are diminishing the purchasing power of that which he sells, and you are inflicting an injury upon him to that extent.

But, say my friends on the other side, we want an American system. We want an American system, too; but we differ as to what constitutes the American system. The Democratic idea of an American system is the largest liberty of all the people consistent with the individual rights of every person.

The idea of our Republican friends of an American system is a Chinese wall that will force our people to trade with themselves, and not permit them to trade with anybody else. Let us not forget that the same wall that shuts out the surplus products from foreign lands shuts in the surplus products that we make at home.

Let us bear in mind that if we do not sometimes buy from those to whom we ship our products they can not always buy from us. No man can always buy unless he can sometimes sell. The system fastened upon us by the Republican party is one that permits us to sell abroad, but does not permit those people to sell to us. We can deposit what we have there, we can exchange it for their goods, but when we bring them home we must pay a penalty to the American manufacturer because we have dared to exercise the liberty of an American freeman to buy where he pleases.

Whenever we have had an opportunity to go to the people upon this question they have been with us. The gentleman says for thirty years we have had protection. So we have, but for ten or fifteen years after the war the people were in no condition to discuss economic questions. The Republican party was then flushed with its great political victories. The people throughout the country were generally prejudiced against the South. Reason had not resumed its way, and when Democrats talked about a reduction in the tariff, our kind and loving friends on the other side said, “Oh, go to the polls and vote as you shot, against the South,” and that ended it.

That is all there was of argument about it. They continued making that statement to the people, and the people accepted it, and voted as they were told. They kept the Republicans in power, and that party, promising at every election to reduce the tariff whenever they got into power, again increased it. The Republicans have never been in power since the war that they have not increased the burdens put upon the people by the tariff system, yet I defy any Republican to show me an argument made by him before the people in favor of an increase of the tariff.

The people trusted them upon the idea that there would be a reduction; but just as soon as the party got into power, true to the principles which have governed them in these later days, they surrendered themselves bound hand and foot to the manufacturing interests of the country, and did what they were told by that interest to do.

If there is any man in America who really believes that in a republican form of government, where the people rule, where laws should be made for the good of all, that any party has a right to impose taxes or to put burdens upon one class in order to benefit another class, then, my friends, that man is unworthy of a place in the free country in which he lives. The Republicans of thirty years ago, so lauded by my friend from Maine, never advocated this tariff—never. Why, Mr. Speaker, the fathers of the protective system never dreamed of such rates as those of the McKinley bill.

Our Republican friends tell us the laboring men should be independent. We agree to that. The great object and aim of the Democratic party is to contribute to the independence of the laboring men of this country. All classes of laboring men—the farmer in his field, the workingman in his shop, whether protected or unprotected, the carpenter, the blacksmith, and all of those people we desire to make independent; but we propose to do it by promoting abundance of everything that is necessary to sustain the lives of themselves and of their families. You can contribute most to the independence of man by furnishing him with a market where he can buy that which he needs cheapest. Then you make him most independent. He can then demand better wages than he can when the wolf is at the door; he can command better hours if he is able to get the necessities of life at reduced price; and he can command that natural freedom which all men desire, if he can feel that no unjust law taxes him to give to some petty favorite of a party in power.

For twenty years the party represented by this side of the House has been striving for power; and the great issue on which we have gone before the people was a reduction of taxation. We promised them everywhere that if they would intrust us with the power to do so we would reduce the burdens placed upon them by unjust laws. After we get away from the period of prejudice of reason in which I hope we now exist, the people, after a full, fair, and free argument, intrusted us with the power to perform that work.

The question presented to us is this: Shall we redeem the pledges that we made to the people? Shall we reduce their taxes? Shall we reduce their burdens? We agree that we should. We have formulated a bill that does reduce them to a large extent; and when we do it we find, that the revenue is meager. The Democratic party stands pledged to redeem every promise the government has ever made to any class. And we do not propose to take any risks on this question. We propose to have an abundance of revenue to pay the expenses of the government economically administered; and we only ask accumulated wealth to contribute $30,000,000 in taxation to support the government which in turn protects them in everything they have.

Now, my party friends, my time is out and my strength is exhausted. We have all a great deal at stake in this matter. We must help each other. It will not do for a man to say simply because there are things in this bill which he does not approve, that therefore he will not support it. Let him weigh the one against the other, and my word for it, he will find when he is done that in the interest of the plain common people of the United States he will be constrained to waive any objections that he may have to the bill and stand with the great body of his party in passing this substantial measure of relief.

We have not done in this bill all that we should. There may be and doubtless are errors in it, but it is a step in the right direction; and if we are not mistaken, when this step is taken, before the next step is proposed some of these protected manufacturers who are now standing boldly in the way of reform will be found in the forefront of those who want to do something more to enlarge and extend the commerce and production of the United States.

Let us stand together, let us pass this bill; let us redeem this pledge as we must and will redeem every other pledge that we have made to the people. And if, my friends, we can crystallize this bill into a law, while there may be here and there some monopolists or gentlemen of large wealth who will criticize and condemn us, yet all over the country, in the homes of the farmers, in the homes of the workers, and in the homes of the men employed in every industry in the United States, there will be rejoicing and happiness. Agriculture will be encouraged; manufactures will be aided; commerce will be revived; and thus we will promote the general welfare of all classes of our people.