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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Consistent Protective-Tariff Impracticable in a Democracy

By Amasa Walker (1799–1875)

[Born in Woodstock, Conn., 1799. Died at North Brookfield, Mass., 1875. The Science of Wealth. Third Edition. 1867.]

THAT great caution and forbearance are necessary, in removing even a false institution, is not a maxim which economy has to teach politics.

And here we come face to face with the great practical difficulty of protection in our country; that which, if all its principles were triumphantly proved in general reasoning, should still throw it out of our legislation. If it were proved harmless, if it were proved beneficial, there is a strong reason against ever attempting to realize it here. That difficulty resides in the varying politics of our country. Injurious as protection is to the best interests of the country, any system of it, however severe, would be preferable to the “open-and-shut” policy, absolutely unavoidable in a government like ours. It is not within the bounds of reason to suppose that the alternate successes of parties will not continue to convulse our national legislation; and therefore it is with emphasis true, that a consistent system of protection is only possible in a government with great conservative force and great central powers. A representative body, embracing the most opposite interests, swayed by such influences and intrigues as notoriously possess such an organization, and changed in all its parts every few years, is not the place in which to adjust accurately and dispassionately the economical parts of a nation, and distribute the agencies of production.

It is our felicity, that our well-being does not depend on such counsels, but that great Nature has fixed the forces of industry in perfect harmony, and to the most beneficent ends….

We see that the important fact of our condition is unequalled agricultural power. Possessing such an advantage, with an active, enlightened, and enterprising population, and an industry perfectly untrammelled, we should naturally become the granary of the world, and create, as a certain consequence, the most extensive and powerful commercial and naval marine on the globe. We should secure, by sea and land, a greater power to give help to friends, or hurt to foes, than any other people, and should rapidly attain our best national condition.

We should have, not only the most profitable, but the most salutary industry, as favorable to the acquisition of unlimited wealth as to a sound physical development and high moral culture. We should have manufactures, also, in their spontaneous growth. They would arise—they were arising previous to any tariff—as fast as the best interests of the country required them.

States and sections, like New England, would naturally and profitably undertake manufactures, because they have a thinner soil, a denser population, and a larger capital relatively, than others. Such regions would be the workshops of the nation, while the prairies of the West, and the rich uplands of the Middle States would be the nation’s farms.

What manufactures arise of themselves should be welcomed, for they come in obedience to natural laws; they are founded on extraordinary facilities, on high natural protection, on local necessities. But we bind the swelling thews of the youth when we endeavor to force on America the industry of Europe. We grow enough every year to cover some of the kingdoms of the old world. Every year’s growth stretches over and appropriates some country, fertile as the plains of the Nile, and bearing every manner of precious or useful ore. Here is our destiny. This is our wealth.