William L. Wilson and Tariff Reform, a Biography

By Festus P. Summers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
A Condition--Not a Theory [1887]

TARIFF PROTECTION was closely identified with the revolution which was changing the face of America from an agricultural, mercantile, particularist America to an industrial, centralized state; and as the implications of this transformation were understood, the tariff reform wing of the Democratic party gathered numbers as the defender both of traditional democracy and of laissez-faire economics. But it was practical rather than theoretical considerations which elevated tariff reform to first place as a political issue. The surplus could no longer be treated as a bookkeeper's problem; nor could the country overlook the inequities of protection as stated and often proved; and more important still in political calculations was the increasing dissatisfaction with protection in New England manufacturing centers where since the late sixties industry had felt the pinch of high duties on basic raw materials of manufacture--coal, copper, iron ore, scrap metal, and wool.

In her eagerness for protection for her manufactured goods New England had overreached herself. Far removed from Minnesota iron ore, Michigan copper, and West Virginia coal, and dependent upon Ohio for wool and Pennsylvania for scrap metal, that section despite her highly favorable geographic position with respect to markets, stood at a disadvantage both because of the greater distance she was compelled to transport her raw materials and because her competitors had a direct interest in preventing her from reaching other sources of supply. Ironically enough, the New England which had joined Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey in 1860 to make the Republican party the party of protection and the tariff a cause of the Civil War, was now confronted with a protectionist bloc which denied her cheaper coal from Nova Scotia, iron ore from England and Sweden, copper from Chile, and wools from Spain and Australia.

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