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Act was passed as a remedy. It provided that "No goods or commodities whatever, the growth, production or manufacture of Europe, Africa or America, shall be imported into England or Ireland, or into any of the Plantations (American colonies), except in ships belonging to English subjects, of which the master and the greater number of the crew shall also be English."
This and subsequent navigation acts destroyed our West India trade. Prices of goods imported and exported, and their quantities, fell entirely under English jurisdiction. All she sent to us was free of duty. All sent to her was upon her own conditions. Nothing could be sent, except in her bottoms, and to the destination and upon the terms she imposed. As Burke said in Parliament, "By it (the Navigation Act) the commerce of the colonies was not only tied, but strangled."
Our Revolutionary history, familiar to every schoolboy, acquaints us with the English method of extracting revenue directly from her colonies by means of such inventions as the Stamp Act, the Tea Tax, etc. They were but parts of an ingenious and stupendous system of home protection which eventuated in established manufactures and commerce, and in a final declaration of independence of the rest of the world in these respects.
Just here, the thought is foreign to neither the theme nor time, it may well be wondered why so astute a nation as Great Britain, after two hundred years of an attempt to make a simple wheat granary of America, and after the energies which followed American independence fully established the fact that such a granary was within reach, did not rather choose to take advantage of it, than fly to others in India and in the Islands of the sea, far more remote and far less obedient to the comities of trade. Did she scent the possibilities of American development and the rise of a home market, which would absorb the annual agricultural product, or at least create a demand from which her capital would shrink?
A FIRST EXPERIMENT.
After the treaty of 1783 which closed the Revolutionary war and established American Independence, up until 1789, the date of the first American Tariff Act, the ports of this country were open to the goods of all nations. Most of this time (to 1787) was the era of the Confederacy. This period was one during which the States were held together by very weak ties, by "a rope of sand "as one historian has it. They had conceded little in their " Articles of Confederation," and had withheld entirely from the central government the right to regulate their commerce. Each State strove to secure trade for itself, and each imposed restrictions on foreign commerce as it saw fit, or left them unimposed. The consequence was that there was no concert of action. The condition which arose was worse than a free-trade condition, for one State was sure to nullify the commercial enactments of another, through jealousy or some other motive.
When Pennsylvania imposed a slight tariff on certain classes of imports, New Jersey opened a free port at Burlington and flooded the city of Penn with smuggled goods. When New Jersey voted to impose a general tariff New York refused, and in revenge the free port of Paulus Hook began to supply New York with non-dutiable imports.
Thus the States were a prey to one another. The statesmen of the day saw how suicidal the policy, or rather, the lack of policy, was, and there was no one source of weakness that seemed so fatal, nor the lack of any vital principle that impelled so powerfully toward a more perfect constitution than this commercial discord. Not even the flat refusal of New Jersey to comply with an Act of the Congress, nor the open offence of Massachusetts in raising troops to crush Shay's rebellion, affected the public mind so forcibly and paved the way so directly toward a stronger central union, as the quarrel between Virginia and Maryland as to commercial rights on the Chesapeake and Potomac. This last brought the Annapolis convention in 1786. Hamilton, Madison and Dickinson were there, and they saw no way of preventing the subordination of the States to foreign influence and their extinction as sovereign bodies, except by creating a stronger central government and endowing it with powers sufficient for the settlement of all such discords.
It seemed to require some such mighty exigency to move the States to their second independence. There was nothing so supreme as the thought that colonial independence meant escape from a discriminative and ruinous commercial policy on the part of Great Britain. Search the colonial debates through, and there is not one of momeat that does not inveigh against the efforts of England to enrich herself at the expense of other nations, and to complete her commercial and industrial supremacy by overriding their protective systems and sapping their powers for competitive and independent existence. The Declaration of Independence submits it to " a candid world" that Great Britain meant to establish "an absolute tyranny over these States " by " cutting off our trade with all parts of the world," and that among the foremost rights of a free people'is the right to " establish commerce."
Says a learned historian: "The most fatal defect of the Articles of Confederation was absence of power to collect revenue, regulate trade, encourage industry. The thoughts of all our early statesmen were turned to this defect, which to them was the more glaring, because of intimate acquaintance with the British system. So paramount was the necessity for escape from industrial and commercial dependence, and so momentous was deemed the power to protect ourselves that Washington confidently looked to the trade regulations of a more efficient government as a means of giving the country its proper weight in the scale of empires and, with a feeling foreign to his better nature, he declared that such government " will surely impose retaliating restrictions, to a certain degree, upon the trade of England."
The proceedings of the Continental Congress abound in debates, resolutions and committees, having for their object the promotion of home products and the development of home resources. There seemed to be no question among the leaders of thought, so far as the debates show, of the right and duty of the government to foster industry by legislative enactment, nor of the necessity for a new government endowed with ample power to provide revenue through a tariff and at the same time protect its vital interests.
But while this was all so in the minds of statesmen, the inchoate States were afloat on the sea of discord. They had industry, commerce, tariffs, in their own hands. There was no uniform import law, and consequently none at all. One State nullified the laws of another. They were, as Hamilton said, "jarring, jealous and perverse, fluctuating and unhappy at home, and weak by their dissensions in the eyes of other nations."
A prey to one another, they were the natural victims of more knowing, designing, older, richer and advanced nations, and especially that one which sought to revenge defeat of arms by political segregation and commercial conquest. With intelligence and the instinct of self-preservation arrayed against free traffic with foreign nations, there existed the hard compulsion of circumstances to render the States helpless. Depleted by a long war, with few factories, mills and workshops, with limited means of recuperation, with thirteen hostile systems of commercial independence, they were at the entire mercy of the foreign merchant and manufacturer. There was absolutely no law against importations. The era was one of free-trade, uninterrupted by effective statute, unimpaired by anything except ineffective sentiment.
The consequences must be faced. Says Carey:—" At the close of the Revolution the trade of America was free and unrestrained in the fullest sense of the term, according to the theory of Adam Smith, Say, Ricardo, the ' Edinburgh Reviewers' and the authors of the 'Encyclopaedia.' Her ports were open, with scarcely any duties, to the vessels and merchandise of other nations." What befell? As the States were discordant, foreign powers passed laws as they pleased to destroy our commerce. Nearly every foreign nation shipped goods into the country and dumped them promiscuously on our wharves. The consequences followed which never fail to follow such a state of things. Competition on the part of our manufacturers was at an end. They were bankrupted and beggared. The merchants whose importations had ruined them were involved in calamity. Farmers, who had longed to buy foreign merchandise cheap, went down in the vortex of general destruction.
Said a statesman of the day, " The people of America went to war to improve their condition and throw off the burdens which the colonial system laid on their industry. And when their independence was attained they found it was a piece of parchment. The arm which had struck for it in the field was palsied in the workshop. The industry