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HISTORY OF AMERICAN TARIFFS.
THE COLONIAL PERIOD. The English colonial system in America began, in 1616, with the Virginia charter.
It extended until the colonies numbered thirteen, embracing the Atlantic front from Georgia to Maine, and extending inland indefinitely.
Whatever the ambition or object of the colonists, they did not cut the apron string of allegiance to Great Britain, but agreed to obey the decrees of her kings, the edicts of her parliaments and the behests of her institutions.
This may seem strange, since every colony was a protest against home hardship and an escape from tyrannical interference with individual rights.
But questions of title to land, incipient government, protection against foes, and various others, proved paramount and decided the terms of colonization.
As to the mother country, those terms implied political allegiance and commercial contribution.
Legitimate trade dates from the reign of Elizabeth. Holland, England and France vied with each other in that paternalism which went out to the industries and to commerce in the shape of protective legislation.
From the reign of Elizabeth to 1846, there are four hundred Acts of Parliament-tonnage laws, poundage laws, protective tariff and commercial regulations-relating to manufactures and trade.
Some of these prohibited imports. Some prohibited exports, lest inferior nations should acquire the skill of the mother country. There is no historic record of a protective system so extreme in its conditions and so arbitrarily applied as that of Great Britain, if we exclude the despotic system of China.
Says McCullough in his Commercial Dictionary :-“ It was a leading principle in the colonial policy, adopted as well by England as by other European nations, to discourage all attempts to manufacture such articles in the colonies as could be provided for them in the mother country.”
Says Bancroft in his “ History of the United States" :“ England in its relation with other states sought a convenient tariff. In the colonies it prohibited industry."
In 1699 the British Parliament enacted that no wool, yarn, cloth, or woollen manufactures of the English Plantations in America should be shipped from any of said Plantations, or otherwise laden, in order to be transported thence to any place whatsoever, under a penalty of forfeiting both ship and cargo, and a fine of $2500 for each offence.
In 1732 Parliament prohibited the exportation of hats from province to province (colony to colony) in America, and limited the number of apprentices to be taken by hatters.
In 1750 the Parliament prohibited as a common nuisance the erection of any mill in America for slitting or rolling iron, or any plating forge to work with a tilt-hammer, or furnace for making steel. The penalty for such crime was $1000.
A little later an Act was passed prohibiting the making of nails in the province of Pennsylvania.
About the same time Lord Chatham announced it as his opinion of colonial dependence that the American colonies ought not to be permitted to make even a hob-nail or horseshoe for themselves, and these views were incorporated into the Act of 1765 which absolutely prohibited the migration of artisans to the American colonies.
In 1781 the Parliament enacted that no woollen machinery should be exported to the American colonies.
In 1782 Parliament enacted that no cotton machinery should be exported to the colonies, and that no artificers in cotton should migrate thither. In the same year the duty on bar-iron was fixed at $12 per ton. This rate lasted till 1795.
In 1785 Parliament prohibited the exportation of iron and steel making machinery to the colonies, and the migration of workmen, skilled in those branches of trade, thither.
In 1797 Parliament levied a duty, then deemed prohibitive, of $14 per ton on all foreign bar-iron imported into Great Britain. In 1798 this was increased to $15 per ton; in 1806 to $23 per ton; in 1810 to $24 per ton; in 1818 to $28 per ton; in 1825 to $33 per ton, if imported in British ships, and to $38, and over, per ton, if imported in foreign ships. During the same period, other manufactures of iron paid $90 per ton, and iron not otherwise enumerated $250 for every $500 worth imported. All of these rates were designed to be absolutely prohibitive, in accordance with the existing policy of the realm, which policy was that of France and Holland, both countries with colonial possessions, and both striving for commercial and manufacturing independence.
In 1799 the English Parliament prohibited the migration of colliers, lest other countries should acquire the art of mining coal.
Says Adam Smith, the father of English political economy, “Even up to 1776 England prohibited the exportation from one province (American) to another by water, and even the carriage by land, upon horseback or in cart, of hats, of wools and woolen goods, of the produce of America, a regulation which effectually prevents the establishment of any manufacture of such commodities for distant sale, and confines the industry of her colonists in this way to such coarse and household manufactures as a private family commonly makes for its own use, or for that of some of its neighbors in the same province.”
The enactments cited are fair samples of those which went to compose the English Colonial policy. They help to an understanding of the leading object, which was to limit Colonial America to a farming community. America was to play the part of India and Australia, as a cereal feeder of a little island whose commercial and manufacturing genius was far in excess of its ability to supply the necessaries of life for its working population.
Of course the suspicion could not escape so inquiring a country, that America might prove as rich in raw materials, suited to English manufacture, as in farm products. Therefore the English policy, when fully developed, made America a provider of food and of raw materials for England. England, the main market, would receive nothing manufactured in the colonies. England, the supreme country; would permit nothing to be manufactured in the colonies. England, the dominant commercial country, would permit no trade with the colonies, except in British bottoms, and of an agricultural surplus, or a raw material, in exchange for her own manufactured products.
This was severe on the colonial agriculturist, who, nöt having a voice in the carrying trade, nor a say in what should come to him, could not thus early raise an agricultural surplus sufficient to pay for what he was compelled to receive as an import. He could not manufacture, except agt to the coarse things necessary for family use, and he could not have interchanged manufactures between the provinces by using the natural waterways nor by means of carts.
The colonist paid nothing on his imports. They were free. The prohibition was on his exports, and especially if in manufactured shape. The prohibition was on his domestic change of manufactured articles. All inducement to manufacture was taken away. A home market for agricultural products, or for raw materials, was not to be encouraged or tolerated. The plan was ingenious and most successful, so far as English manufacturers and capitalists were concerned. In 1771 colonial imports exceeded the exports by $13,000,000, and as trade was more nearly barter than now, it may be said that the colonies incurred a debt to England of $13,000,000 in 1771, which they had no visible means of paying.
It must not be supposed that the British policy was effecting all its objects. Nature and opportunity in America were entering their quiet protests. After the invention of the puddling furnace and rolling-mill by Henry Cort, we find the English statutes most rigid against the exportation of tools, utensils and artisans to foreign parts, as in 1785 and 1799. Yet the first rolling-mill in America was built and started for Col. Isaac Meason, at Plumsock, Fayette county, Pa., by two Welshmen, Thomas and George Lewis, who came under the prohibited head of “ British skilled ironworkers,” and as such were compelled to smuggle their way across the Atlantic and into the colony of Penn.
So, nature having provided excellent ship timber and the colonists having a genius for ship-building and sailing, they quietly established a remunerative trade with the West Indies and with many nations more or less remote. This was intolerable to the mother country. The Navigation