New York Times, “Tendencies Towards Free-Trade,” March 23, 1857

Source citation
“Tendencies Towards Free-Trade,” New York Times, March 23, 1857, p. 4: 4.
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New York Daily Times
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Tendencies Towards Free-Trade
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Leah Suhrstedt, Dickinson College
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The following text is presented here in complete form, as it originally appeared in print.  Spelling and other typographical errors have been preserved as in the original.

Tendencies Towards Free-Trade.

We are most zealous advocates of home production where home production is either possible of profitable. No one can regret more than we do that every article we wear, every ornament and piece of furniture in our houses, and every morsel of food we consume is not the product of American skill, or raised on American territory. This amounts to saying, in other words, that we wish America was the richest, most fertile country in the world, and contained every known variety of climate and soil. We wish, also, that there was no more crime in the world,- that all men were honest and manly, that all women were virtuous, that the Atlantic was bridged over, the circle squared, and perpetual motion invented. We wish that everybody belonged to our own religious denomination, that there were no more Jews or heathens, that Central Africa was opened up, and that Sahara were well watered. If this be “protection,” then we are protectionists; if this be “Free-Trade,” then we are Free-Traders.

The misfortune of people who share our aspirations is, that there does not seem to be the slightest prospect of those aspirations being fulfilled. The “wall of fire,” or the “wall of brass,” which our wise ancestors wished to see round our native land, is a species of national boundary which the present generation will not have at any price. The tendency of the age, and the tendency of democracy, is clearly, deplore it as we may, towards a leveling of all boundaries and all distinctions, whether geographical, ethnological or political. “The solidarity of the peoples,” much as the phrase has been sneered at, is beyond all question the idea which has most complete dominion over men’s minds. Universal brotherhood was first preached 1,800 years ago by the lips of Wisdom and Truth. It has had to fight during that long interval against princes and potentates, against lust, ambition, and selfishness, against conquest, caste, and tradition. It has outlived Roman power and feudal barbarism. We see it to-day in the van of modern progress and civilization- a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.

The tendency of that idea is, to convert the earth into one country, and mankind into one people. It has enlisted commerce and science in its service, and with their aid is sweeping away the old “national barriers behind which towns smouldered, and hates were hatched.” Tunnels are run through mountains, the telegraphy crosses oceans, the steam engine annihilates distance. Can we hope that artificial barriers can survive, when natural barriers are swept away? Custom-houses and imposts owe their origin to the same sources as the laws of entail and of primogeniture, as patents of nobility,- heraldry,- the desire to keep particular races and classes apart from the other, to render them independent of one another, to prevent the general mingling and blending of mankind, which is one of the leading consequences of Democracy. They are founded on the notion that people don’t in general know how to manage their own affairs; that nothing must be left to their own skill, ingenuity, industry; that it is the duty of Government to give a particular bent to their enterprise.

The general feeling of the age, and perhaps quite as much in America as anywhere else, is clearly in favor of complete liberty of action in trade, as well as everything else. If we could manage it, we need hardly say we should be heartily glad if our people could supply their wants at home more cheaply and better than abroad. It is now become pretty clear that they will not allow anybody to select their markets for them. They will not buy their sugar in Louisiana, or their iron of Pennsylvania, and pay dearer for them than elsewhere, merely to create a remote prospect of our manufacturers being able to compete successfully with foreigners forty years hence, or in order to furnish philosophers with the means of making experiments in political economy. Each one of us will work at the thing he can do best, and will buy in the market in which he can buy cheapest. It is in vain to resist the movement. We might as well “go stand upon the shore and bid the rising flood ’bate his usual height.” The torrent is irresistible. To fight against it is to fight against fate.

We have not the slightest hesitation about entering the lists of competition with foreigners. We start with a thousand advantages which no other nation possesses. Our great object must be to allow our capital to flow freely into those channels in which it is likely to prove most productive. To accomplish this we have nothing to do,- and the experience of eighty years, the growth of this great nation, the unexampled increase of our wealth and spread of our commerce prove it,- but to leave everything to the good sense, acuteness, skill and enterprise of individuals. In dealing with men of our race, “Everybody knows his own business best,” must and will be our only motto.


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