« PreviousContinue »
tion of the hopes excited, the enterprises undertaken, and the capital invested, in consequence of that law.
So much, sir, for this cause of disappointment.
In the last place, it was alleged by the manufacturers, that they suffered from the mode of collecting the duties on woollen fabrics at the custom-houses. These duties are ad valorem duties. Such duties, from the commencement of the government, have been estimated by reference to the invoice, as tixing the value at the place whence imported. When not suspected to be false or fraudulent, the invoice is the regular proof of value. Originally this was a tolerably sate mode of proceeding. While the importation was mainly in the hands of American merchants, the invoice would of course, if not false or fraudulent, express the terms and the price of an actual purchase and sale. But an invoice is not, necessarily, an instrument expressing the sale of goods and their prices. If there be but a list, or catalogue, with prices stated by way of estimate, it is still an invoice, and within the law. Now the suggestion is, that the English manufacturer, in making out an invoice, in which prices are thus stated by himself, in the way of estimate merely, is able to obtain an important advantage over the American merchant who purchases in the same market, and whose invoice states, consequently, the actual prices, on the sale. And in proof of this suggestion it is aileged, that in the largest importing city in the union, a very great proportion, some say nearly all, of the woollen fabrics are imported on foreign account. The various papers which have come before us, praying for a tax on auction sales, aver that the invoice of the foreign importer is generally decidedly lower than that of the American importer; and that, in consequence of this and of the practice of sales at auction, the American merchant must be driven out of the trade. I cannot answer for the entire accuracy of these statements, but I have no doubt there is something of truth in them. The main facts have been often stated, and I have neither seen nor heard a denial of them.
Is it true, then, that nearly the whole importation of woollens is, in the largest importing city, in the hands of foreigners? Is it true, as stated, that the invoices of such foreign importers are, generally, found to be lower than those of the American importer? If these things be
it will be admitted that there is reason to believe that undervaluations do take place; and that some corrective for the evil should be administered. I am glad to see that the American merchants themselves, begin to bestow attention to a subject, as interesting to them as it is to the manufacturers.
Under this state of things, sir, the law of the last session was proposed. It was confined, as I thought properly, to wool and woollens. It took up the great and leading subject of complaint, and nothing else. It was urged indeed, against that bill, that although much had been said of frauds at the custom-house, no provision was made in it for the prevention of such frauds. That is a mistake. The general frame of the bill was such, that, if skilfully drawn and adapted to its purpose, its tendency to prevent such frauds would be manifest. By the fixing of prices at successive points of graduation, or minimums, as they are called, the power of evading duties by
undervaluations would be most materially restrained. If these points, indeed, were sufficiently distant, it is obvious the duty would assume something of the certainty and precision of a specific duty. But this bill failed, and Congress adjourned, in March last year, leaving the subject where it had found it.
The complaints, which had given rise to the bill, continued; and in the course of the summer, a meeting of the wool-growers and wool-manufacturers assembled in Pennsylvania, and agreed on a petition to Congress. I do not feel it necessary, on behalf of the citizens of Massachusetts, to disclaim a participation in that meeting. Persons of much worth and respectability, attended it from Massachusetts, and its proceedings and results manifested, I think, a degree of temper and moderation, highly creditable to those who composed it.
But while the bill of last year was confined to that which alone had been a subject of complaint, the bill now before us is of a very different description. It proposes to raise duties on various other articles, besides wool and woollens. It contains some provisions which bear, with unnecessary severity, on the whole community; others which affect, with peculiar hardship, particular interests; while both of them benefit nobody and nothing but the treasury. It contains provisions, which, with whatever motive put into it, it is confessed are now kept in for the very purpose of destroying the bill altogether; or, with the intent to compel those who expect to derive benefit, to feel smart from it also. Probably such a motive of action has not often been avowed.
The wool manufacturers think they have made out a case, for the interposition of Congress. They happen to live, principally, at the north and east; and in a bill, professing to be for their relief, other provisions are found, which are supposed, (and supported, because they are supposed,) to be such as will press, with peculiar hardship, on that quarter of the country. Sir, what can be expected, but evil, when a temper like this prevails? How can such a hostile, retaliatory legislation be reconciled to common justice, or common prudence? Nay, sir, this rule of action seems carried still farther. Not only are clauses found, and continued in the bill, which oppress particular interests, but taxes are laid, also, which will be severely felt by the whole union; and this too with the same design, and for the same end before mentioned, of causing the smart of the bill to be felt. Of this description is the molasses tax; a tax, in my opinion, absurd and preposterous, in relation to any object of protection; needlessly oppressive to the whole community; and benefiting nobody on earth, but the treasury. And yet, here it is, and here it is kept, under an idea, conceived in ignorance, and cherished for a short lived triumph, that New England will be deterred, by this tax, from protecting her extensive woollen manusactures; or, if not, that the authors of this policy may at least have the pleasure, the high pleasure, of perceiving that she feels the effects of this bill.
Sir, let us look, for a moment, at this tax. The molasses imported into the United States amounts to Thirteen millions annually. Of this quantity, not more than THREE millions are distilled; the re
maining ren millions being consumed, as an article of wholesome food. The proposed tax is not to be laid for revenue. That is not pretended. It was not introduced for the benefit of the sugar planters. They are contented with their present condition, and have applied for nothing. What, then, was the object? Sir, the original professed object, was, to increase, by this new duty on molasses, the consumption of spirits distilled from grain. This, I say, was the object originally professed. But in this point of view, the measure appears to me to be preposterous. It is monstrous, and out of all proportion and relation of means to ends. It proposes to double the duty on the Ten millions of gallons of molasses which are consumed for food, in order that it may likewise double the duty on the THREE millions which are distilled into spirits; and all this, for the contingent and doubtful purpose of augmenting the consumption of spirits distilled from grain. I say contingent and doubtful purpose; because I do not believe any such effect will be produced. I do not think a hundred gallons more of spirits distilled from grain will find a market in consequence of this tax on molasses. The debate, here and elsewere, has shown that, I think, clearly. But suppose some slight effect of that kind should be produced; is it so desirable an object, as that it should be sought by such means? Shall we tax food, to encourage intemperance? Shall we raise the price of a wholesome article of sustenance, of daily consumption, especially among the poorer classes, in order that we may enjoy a mere chance of causing these same classes to use more of our homemade ardent spirits?
Sir, the bare statement of this question puts it beyond the reach of all argument. No man will seriously undertake the defence of such a tax. It is better, much more candid certainly, to admit, as has been admitted, that, obnoxious as it is, and abominable as it is, it is kept in the bill with a special view to its effects on New England votes, and New England interests.
The bill also takes away all the drawback, allowed by existing laws, on the exportation of spirits distilled from molasses; and this, it is supposed, and truly supposed, will affect New England. It will considerably affect her; for the exportation of such spirits is a part of her trade, and though not great in amount, it is a part which mingles usefully with the exportation of other articles, assists to make out variety of cargo, and finds a market in the North of Europe, the Mediterranean, and in South America. This exportation the bill proposes entirely to destroy.
The increased duty on molasses, while it thus needlessly and wantonly enhances the price to the consumer, may affect also, in a greater or less degree, the importation of that article; and be thus injurious to the commerce of the country. The importation of molasses, in exchange for lumber, provisions, and other articles of our own production, is one of the largest portions of our West India trade; a trade, it may be added, though of small profit, yet of short voyages, suited to small capitals, employing many hands, and much navigation; and the earliest and oldest branch of our foreign commerce. That portion of this trade which we now enjoy is conducted on the freest and most liberal principles. The exports which
sustain it are from the East, the South, and the West; every part of the country having, thus, an interest in its continuance and extension. A market for these exports, to any of these portions of the country, is infinitely of more importance to it than all the benefit to be expected from the supposed increased consumption of spirits distilled from grain.
Yet, sir, this tax is to be kept in the bill, that New England may be made to feel. Gentlemen who hold it to be wholly unconstitutional to lay any tax, whatever, for the purposes intended by this bill, yet cordially vote for this tax. An honorable gentleman from Maryland, (Mr. Smith,) calls the whole bill a “bill of abominations." This tax, he agrees, is one of its abominations, yet he votes for it. Both the gentlemen from North Carolina have signified their dissatisfaction with the bill, yet they have both voted to double the tax on molasses. Sir, do gentlemen flatter themselves that this course of policy can answer their purposes? Do they not perceive, that such a mode of proceeding, with a view to such avowed objects, must waken a spirit, that shall treat taunt with scorn, and bid menace defiance? Do they not know, if they do not, it is time they did, that a policy like this, avowed with such self satisfaction, persisted in with a delight which should only accompany the discovery of some new and wonderful improvement in legislation, will compel every New England man to feel that he is degraded and debased, if he does not resist it?
Sir, gentlemen mistake us. They greatly mistake us. To those who propose to conduct the affairs of government, and to enact laws on such principles as these, and for such objects as these, New England, be assured, will exhibit, not submission, but resistance; not humiliation, but disdain. Against her, depend on it, nothing will be gained by intimidation. If you propose to suffer, yourselves, in order that she may be made to suffer also, she will bid you come on—she will meet challenge, with challenge; she will invite you to do your worst, and your best, and to see who will hold out longest. She has offered you every one of her votes in the Senate to strike out this tax on molasses. You have refused to join her, and to strike it out. With the aid of the votes of any one southern state, for example of North Carolina, it could have been struck out. But North Carolina has refused her votes for this purpose. She has voted to keep the tax in, and to keep it in at the highest rate. And yet, sir, North Carolina, whatever she may think of it, is fully as much interested in this tax as Massachusetts. I think, indeed, she is more interested, and that she will feel it more heavily and sorely. She is herself a great consumer of the article, throughout all her classes of population. This increase of the duty will levy on her citizens a new tax of fifty thousand dollars a year, or more; although her Representatives on this floor have so often told us that her people are now poor, and already borne down with taxes. North Carolina will feel this tax also in her trade, for what of foreign commerce has she, more useful to her than the West India market for her provisions and lumber? And yet the gentlemen from North Carolina insist on keeping this tax in the bill. Let them not, then, complain. Let them not hereafter, call it the work of others. It
is their own work, Let them not lay it to the manufacturers. The manufacturers have had nothing to do with it. Let them not lay it to the wool-growers. The wool-growers have had nothing to do with it. Let them not lay it to New England New England has done nothing but to oppose it, and to ask them to oppose it also. No, sir; let them take it to themselves. Let them enjoy the fruit of their own doings. Let them assign their motives, for thus taxing their own constituents, and abide their judgment; but do not let them flatter themselves that New England cannot pay a molasses tax as long as North Carolina chooses that such a tax shall be paid.
Sir, I am sure there is nobody here, envious of the prosperity of New England, or who would wish to see it destroyed. But if there be such anywhere, I cannot cheer them by holding out the hope of a speedy accomplishment of their wishes. The prosperity of New England, like that of other parts of the country, may, doubtless, be affected injuriously by unwise or unjust laws. It may be impaired, especially, by an unsteady and shifting policy, which fosters particular objects to-day, and abandons them to-morrow. She may advance faster, or slower; but the propelling principle, be assured, is in her, deep fixed, and active. Her course is onward and forward. The great powers of free labor, of moral habits, of general education, of good institutions, of skill, enterprise, and perseverance are all working with her, and for her; and on the small surface which her population covers, she is destined, I think, to exhibit striking results of the operation of these potent causes, in whatever constitutes the happiness, or belongs to the ornament of human society.
Mr. President, this tax on molasses will benefit the treasury, though it will benefit nobody else. Our finances will, at least, be improved by it. I assure the gentlemen, we will endeavour to use the funds thus to be raised properly and wisely, and to the public advantage. We have already passed a bill for the Delaware breakwater; another is before us, for the improvement of several of our harbors; the Chesapeake and Ohio canal bill has been brought into the Senate, while I have been speaking; and next session we hope to bring forward the breakwater at Nantucket.
These appropriations, sir, will require pretty ample means ; it will be convenient to have a well supplied treasury; and I state for the especial consolation of the honorable gentlemen from North Carolina, that so long as they choose to compel their constituents, and my constituents, to pay a molasses tax, the proceeds thereof shall be appropriated, as far as I am concerned, to valuable national objects, in useful and necessary works of internal improvements.
Mr. President, in what I have now said, I have but followed where others have led, and compelled me to follow. I have but exhibited to gentlemen the necessary consequences of their own course of proceeding. But this manner of passing laws is wholly against my own judgment, and repugnant to all my feelings. And I would, even now, once more solicit gentlemen to consider, whether a different course would not be more worthy of the Senate, and more useful to the country. Why should we not act upon this bill, article by article, judge fairly of each, retain what a majority