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bates, from such a pen, could not but be of the highest importance, and its perusal was well calculated to gratify a rational curiosity. It might throw much light on the early interpretation of the Constitution, and on the nature and structure of our Government. But, while it produced this effect, it could do more than all other things to show to the People of the United States through what conciliation, through what a temper of compromise, through what a just yielding of the judgment of one individual to that of another, through what a spirit of manly and brotherly love, that assembly of illustrious men had been enabled finally to agree upon the form of a Constitution for their country, and had succeeded in conferring so great a good upon the American People.
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES IN RELATION TO THE REDUCTION OF THE DUTY ON COAL. FEBRUARY 24, 1837.
The bill to reduce the Tariff being under consideration, and Mr. NILES, of Connecticut, having moved to amend the bill as follows:
"That, from and after the thirtieth day of September, 1837, the duty on fossil coal, culm coal screenings, and coke, imported into the United States, shall be one dollar per ton of two thousand two hundred and forty pounds; and that, after the thirtieth day of September, 1838, the duty shall be sixty cents per ton.”
Mr. NILES and Mr. BUCHANAN having spoken
MR. WEBSTER observed that it had been very truly stated that coal was, in this country, a necessary of life; and an argument had thence been drawn which was capable of producing a very erroneous impression in the community, to wit, that the interest of the poor required the interposition of Congress to remove the duty now levied on its importation. Mr. W. said that, considering what had been the former course of Congress on this subject, it was as clear a proposition as could be stated, that the interest of the poor required the continuance of the tax. If he were not convinced of this, he certainly should not be in favor of retaining it. Whether we looked to the debates of the Convention, or to the earliest acts of the Federal Government, we should perceive that it was admitted to be proper and necessary to levy a duty on imported coal. One of the very first articles enumerated in the first revenue law was foreign coal. The protection of the domestic article was warmly advocated, at that time, by the Virginia Delegation, as an obvious duty of the new Government; for, although all duties had had revenue as their main object, yet, ever since 1824, many of them had been continued for other purposes, and, among the rest, this duty on coal. Mr. W. had voted against retaining it; but, from that time to this, the duty had retained its place in the law, on a presumed pledge of protection to such of our own citizens as were engaged in furnishing coal from the mines of our own country. A large amount of capital had been invested in machinery and wages, and also in the
construction of canals and rail-roads leading from the mines towards places of deposit or shipment. An examination would show that the sum thus invested was not less than forty millions of dollars. What, then, was the proper course to be pursued with a view to bring down the price of coal? American coal was not the only fuel of this kind in market. It stood alongside of the imported article, and there was a fair competition between them. Was there any thing so effectual in reducing the price as a fair and free competition? Here the skill and industry of our own and of foreign nations competed for the market; and, if any thing was likely to reduce the price of this necessary of life, and thus to benefit the poor, it was this. That taking off the duty would reduce the price was perfect nonsense. The effect would be just
Mr. W. observed that it was this continual bringing forward of propositions to alter the most settled features of our policy, which was, in practice, so injurious to American industry and enterprise. In illustration of this remark, Mr. W. observed that it was not long since a very curious debate had taken place in London, at a meeting of the creditors of the late Duke of York. Among other items of his property, was a great coal mine in Nova Scotia. Certain trustees of the estate had been directed to work it. The question with the creditors was, whether the working of this mine should still be prosecuted, or what should be done with it. On inquiring of the trustees, those gentlemen stated that the mine was now not very productive, but that the policy of the American Government, in relation to duties, was vacillating and uncertain; that very soon the protecting duty on foreign coal would probably be taken off, and then they would have the entire American market. The proposition of the honorable Senator from Connecticut was calculated to hasten this state of things, and to justify the calculation of these British trustees. So it seemed that the motion of the creditors of the Duke of York was to aid the poor of the United States! The effect would be found directly the reverse. The repeal of the duty would be immediately followed by an increase of the price of the article.
The speech of the honorable Senator seemed to proceed on the assumption that Pennsylvania alone was to be affected by the measure proposed, but such was by no means the fact. It was very true that Pennsylvania was largely interested. She possessed extensive coal mines, and large amounts of capital had been invested by her citizens in this branch of enterprise. But the mountains of Maryland were as rich in bituminous coal as those of Pennsylvania were in the anthracite. Why had the Government subscribed so largely to aid in the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal? Was it not expressly with a view to reaching the exten
sive coal beds near Cumberland? That canal, when completed, would be possessed of great facilities, and, in some respects, would have the advantage over the canals of Pennsylvania, because it would not be frozen so early in the season. Congress had done this partly with a view to securing their own supply. It was said, indeed, that the freight on coal was very large, but every body knew that, while our exports were cumbrous, coal was brought back partly as ballast. Vessels which took out cargoes of cotton, brought coal as they brought salt, on their return voyage, and at very low rates, so there was no great protection to our own miners in that respect.
Mr. W. said he objected to this breaking in upon a course of long-established and settled policy. This item of coal presented one of the clearest cases in the whole list of protected articles. It stood on as firm ground as woollens themselves, because the business of supplying it to the home market could not be carried on without great investment of capital. That investment had been actually made. The enterprise was in a course of successful operation, and the ultimate effect must be the supply of this important article of fuel at the cheapest practicable rate. The fears of monopoly were groundless; the canals were open to all-so was the mountain property; and it was abundant in Pennsylvania, in Virginia, and in the States on both sides of the great mountain range. And, if any reliance was to be placed on information received, the article could be furnished in abundance, with a reasonable profit, and at a cheap rate. Under these circumstances, would it be wise in Government to interfere? No complaint had been heard till within one season past; and, because there was, at this time, a temporary pressure, was it worth while to raise the cry of the poor against the rich, and thus to destroy a branch of industry which was itself, and in its consequences, an invaluable boon to the poor? Was this a longsighted policy? He thought not; and it was evident the Committee on Finance had thought not, for they had not inserted this item in the bill. Mr. W. said this protecting duty on coal stood upon a just foundation; it was subject to the gradual operation of the act of 1833, and ought not to be meddled with. This was no case in which the abuses of "regraters, forestallers," &c., called for the interposition of the law. The trade was free and open to all; coal lands were cheap, and in market every where, but it required the outlay of some capital to turn them to account. If this perpetual cry against every thing which required capital, and this crusade against all who possessed it, was to be indulged, how could the internal improvement of the country ever go on? The nation, while surrounded by all manner of natural advantages, must sit down content to be poor. Was it not manifest, where few were very rich, that any thing which carried on the work of supply must
be accomplished by combination and the collection of capital? If the Government were resolved not to leave the enterprises of our citizens to the effect of fair competition, but would perpetually interpose under the false notion of protecting the poor, great results could never be produced. The Pennsylvania canals had been decried as a monopoly. They were not a monopoly. Some of them belonged to the State, and, with a wise and liberal policy, she had thrown them open to all. Since the Government had, by its own acts, invited this investment, would they not consent to let well enough alone? He was not willing to turn accidents, or mere transient and temporary difficulties, into the grounds of continuous usage. He wished to see other avenues opened to the mountains as well as those of Pennsylvania. He held that the true interest of the community in relation to this supply of coal, and in consideration of the present state of things, was to let those who had embarked in the business go on, till competition between them should, by its natural operation, bring down the price to its minimum. To that point it was fast hastening; and when that had been reached, it would be time enough to consider whether any other and further legislation upon the subject was necessary. Mr. W. was opposed to the amendment.
After some further remarks by Mr. NILES and Mr. PRESTON,
Mr. WEBSTER rose, and observed, that he should not have entered farther in the present debate if the member from Connecticut had not (as unfortunately he too often did) both misunderstood and misrepresented it. The member had represented him as saying the reverse of what he did say. That gentleman had quoted him as asserting that the poor had no interest in the reduction of the price of coal, whereas he had said exactly the reverse. The honorable member seemed to be in the habit of framing remarks for others, and then commenting upon them. Mr. W. had expressly declared that if he thought the interest of the poor would be promoted by reducing this tax, he would vote for its reduction, and that he was opposed to it only because he believed that the true interest of that class and of every other class in the community, required that the Government should keep its hands off from the subject entirely. Mr. W. had again and again declared that he did not mean to advocate the cause of the rich in opposing this reduction, because he believed that keeping on the tax would eventually bring down the price of the article to the poor. The member did not meet this argument. He did not contradict it, but stalked around it while he talked about monopolies, and the influence of rich men on the legislation of Congress. Mr. W. did not doubt that the object at which the Senator meant to aim was to make coal cheap; and did