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British Free Trade

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A very common but ntterly erronecras idea prevails in this country that Great Britain only gave up the systein technically called protection when by means of this system she had attained conditions of great prosperity and a substantial commanding position in manufactnres and commerce. The very reverse is true. The protective system was given up by Great Britain under the pressure of panperism and bankrnptcy in which it ctilminated in the year8 immediately preceding 1842, when Sir Robert Peel presented and carried his fi'rst great mepsure for the reform of the British tariff. The origin of customs in England was in the time of Edward I. Thenceforward dnties were added and multiplied, each rate being devoted to a specific purpose nntil in 1784 as many as fifteen separate duties were levied upon the same article. In 1787 William Pitt carried through an act of consolidation without reducing the number of articles taxed. This measure left 1,200 articles subject to duty, and in order to bring the act into force 3,000 resolutions were required in the house of commons. In 1T97, however, the laws relating to customs filled six large folio volumes unprovided with an index. The great subsequent wars rendered nugatory all Pitt'8 efforts to relieve commerce. Between 1797 and 1815 600 additional acts were passed, and in fifty-three yeárs of the reign of George III the total number of acts relating to duties on imports was 1,300. At length taxes became so numerous that nothing was left untaxed. Even premiums offered for the suggestion of fresh subjects for taxation failed to stimulate invention. In 1824, under the lead of Huskisson, several of the crude inaterialsnecessary to British industry had been put into the free list, of which the most important was wool. This change had worked great benefit to both wool grower and manufacturer; the price of domestic wool advanced, while the manufacturer was enabled to reduce the co&t of goods through the opportunity given him by freedom from taxation on imported wool to bujr, sort and mix his wool in the most effectivo manner. The first decisivo step in tariff reform was brought about in 1840 by the appointment of a parliamentary committee at the instance of Mr. Joseph Hume. The condition of the country was then desperate. The most concise account of the case is given in -Noble's "Fiscal .' iislation of Great Britain," but all authorities - Liberal and Tory alike - are substantially at an agreement upon this point. It is written that "every interest in the country was alike depressed; in the inanufac turing district milis and workshops were closed and property daily depreciated in value; in the seaports shipping was laid up useless in harbor; agricultural laborera were eking out a miserable existence upon starvation wages and parochial relief; the revenue was insufücient to meet the national expenditure; the country was brought to the verge of national and universal bankruptcy. "The protective system, which was supported with a view to rendering the country independent of the foreign sourees of supply, and this, it was hoped, fostering the growth of a home trade, had most effectually destroyed that trade by reducing the entire populatdon to beggary, destitution and want. The masses of the population were unable to procure food, and had consequently nothing to spend upon British manufactures. Part of the bnrden of taxation rested either upon necessary articles of food or else upon articles which were necessary component materials in British industry." At that very time when the protective system culminated in the desperate conditions of Great Britain in 1840 it will be observed that it was at the end of a period of profound peace, which had lasted over twenty-five years, in which the personal wealth of the upper classes in Great Britain had become immense. When presenting his first measure of the tariff reform Sir Robert Peel remarked, after stating the deficit and the financial difficulties to be met: "You will bear in mind that this is no casual and occasional difflculty. You will bear in mind that there are indications among all the upper classes of society of increased comfort and enjoyment, of increased prosperity and wealth, and that concurrently with these indications there exists a mighty evil which has been growing up for the last seven years and which you are now called upon to meet." This evil was the increasing poverty and destitution of the great mass of the working people. The remedy was sought in a redistribution of the burden of taxation. The tariff then covered 1,200 separate subjects of taxation, of which seventeen yielded 94 per cent. of the revenue - the rest were petty obstructions to commerce imposed for the purpose of protection with incidental revenue. That purpose was not, however, avowed in these exact terms at that time, as it has lately in this country by the advocates of McKinleyism. In the first measure Sir Robert Peel wholly abated or reduced the duty upon a consistent plan on 750 articles, and also caused an income tax of seven pence on the pound to be put upon classiñed incomes, which is a fraction less than 3 per cent. , all incomes below L150 being exempt. From this income tax he anticipated a revenue of L3,770,000 in the first year. It yielded L5,100,000, conclusively proving that under the previous system while the poor had been rapidly reduced to paupervm the rieh bacl become richer. Like causes produce lilie i iïecto. Dnder the pretext of protectiou to tbe tniners of this country, an i i pi uially of I Pennsylvania, a duty has long been maintained upon the import of foreign iron ores; it is now seventy-five cents a ton, which is precisely equal to the labor cost of producing a ton of iron ore in Peniuylvania - according to the sworn statements of the iron masters of Pennsylvania, by whom its iron mines are I worked. The result of this system in : the last census year - a year of the greatest activity known- was that 4,416 iron I miners and workmen secured an income of $259 each, amounting in all to $1,141,, 239. There are iron masters in the state I of Pennsylvania whose single incomes in a single year have exceeded the whole sum earned by the protected iron miners. The effect of the first measnre of tariff reform in Great Britain, that of 1842, ] was not iminediately perceptible, the evil effect of the previous conditions being very deep seated; but bef ore 1845 the beneficial influence upon every ■ branch of industry, agriculture, manui factures and eommerce alike had be come so manifest that little opposition was met to Peel's second great act of tariff reform of 1845, by which 480 articles, consisting of the crude and partly ' mamifactured materials which entered ' into the processes of domestic industry, were put on the free list, the duties on the lessening number of dutiable imports beiug at the same time reduced and adjusted to those new conditions. In 1846 the Irish famine forcedthe abatement of all taxes on f ood by orders in council, subsequently followed by the repeal of the corn law. In 1847 Sir Bobert Peel left office, but the immense benefits to every branch of British industry rendered it a comparatively easy matter to bring the tariff substantially to its present condition in 1853, coupled with the repeal of the navigation laws under the lead of Mr. Gladstone. Since that date the people of the United States have been forbidden by their own acts to compe e with Great Britain in the construction and use of ocean steamships, while the commercial supremacy of the latter is insured by freedom from all restrictions and by virtue of the protection which is given by the exemption from taxation on all the materials used in construction and in the subsistence of the vessels.- Edward Atkinson in New York Times.


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