Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Free Trade

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

Free Trade

By Levi Woodbury (1789–1851)

[Born in Francestown, N. H., 1789. Died at Portsmouth, N. H., 1851. From Writings of Levi Woodbury. 1852.]

THE SYSTEM, fully carried out, is a harbinger and guaranty of all these. It is not, like other systems, tainted with exclusiveness. It does not, like them, claim a sort of Divine right for some pursuits, and impute a want of it to others; is not, like them, partial, and so far, unjust; and not, like them, officious, and intermeddling with private business and tastes, so as to govern too much, and confide too much in the wisdom of rulers, rather than in the people at large. By pushing the principles of free trade everywhere and into everything, each country will gradually participate more in the advantages of all, and the imperfections of most of them will stand a better chance to be remedied. Facilities will thus be afforded rather than creating interruptions; improvements be attempted rather than obstacles; and securities provided for all interests, rather than neglect or oppression indulged in as to a part. There will then be a growing disposition to propagate widely all benefits, instead of trying to monopolize them; and nations possessing advantages, whether in arts, arms or science, will permit them to be diffused wider, and thus the whole become more civilized, rather than a portion be kept in darkness and subjugation. In this way most modern advances in machinery, as well as valuable inventions of all kinds, not only enrich and strengthen first those who make them, but are spreading quicker and wider; and will, ere long, cheapen consumption as well as production everywhere, and in time fully pervade every people fitted by situation, education, and habits, to improve by them.

It is always a narrow view of commercial as well as moral policy, to seek profit to ourselves by beggaring others. Nothing is gained durably by overtaxing or overreaching others. On the contrary, the wealth of all nations is promoted by the prosperity of all; and the great social principle, as well as sound political wisdom, requires us to be humane and just to all, liberal to all, and to confer benefits on all rather than seek undue advantages. If less wealth were attendant on such a course of free trade, which is not the case generally, there would be more liberty, and hence more satisfaction. Only a crust and liberty are often preferred to splendid bondage. Mankind are willing, when intelligent, to possess less property, if they can, at the same time, enjoy greater freedom,—freedom in action as well as opinion,—extending of course to both government and conscience; and even these are no more gratifying than freedom in employment and business, in pleasure and locomotion of all kinds. We sigh often to have, as did our great progenitor, the whole earth before us where to choose, and Providence our guide. Any climate or soil, any profession or employment, will, as it should, thus become open to the enterprising. They can select where to dwell, where to trade, or to visit, or labor, as inclination or judgment may prompt; and besides being, in this kind of free intercourse, enabled to buy where cheapest and sell where dearest, the fancy and health can be pursued, and happiness in all ways be promoted. Were it otherwise, our nature revolts at restraint. We object to have even wealth forced upon us. We would fain do nothing by compulsion; like Falstaff not even give reasons in that way. People are willing to be taxed higher, if they are allowed a free voice in imposing and expending the revenue so as to insure more equality. But the consequence of such a free voice is to stimulate industry, enterprise, and trade, and gradually to lessen those burdens which would otherwise increase, and which, unchecked, tend to break down society by impoverishing all who produce and pay, and driving them in the end to repudiation, insurrection, or revolution.