Tariff Tales

Free Trade and Protection (Currier and Ives)
Free Trade and Protection



Cutting the tax from the sheep’s white wool,
Cutting the tax from the silken spool,
Cutting the tax from the cotton hose,
Cutting the tax from the English clothes;
What shall the tariff be?
Oh, what shall the tariff be?

Cut here by Cleveland and cut there by Mills,
Cut in the platform and cut in bills,
Cut off of everything made here you see,
Free, oh free, shall the tariff be.

Lopping it off from the farmer’s flax,
Lopping it off from the cutler’s ax;
Lopping it off from the weaver’s web,
Lopping it off from the spinner’s thread!
What shall the tariff be?
Oh, what shall the harvest be?

Paying England for boots and shoes,
Paying England for all that we use,
Starving our labor and shutting our mills,
Killing our commerce with free trade bills.
What shall the tariff be?
Oh, what shall the tariff be?

— Springfield (Mass.) Union.


No tune given, but probably O Dear What Can The Matter Be? 

One of the biggest differences between the Republicans and the Democrats, since the earliest days (and extending back to the Whigs) was the question of protective tariffs vs. free trade.  Way back in 1823 and the Tariff of Abominations and the Nullification Crisis, the manufacturing North preferred tariffs, while the agricultural South preferred Free Trade.   The perfidious English were seen as backing Free Trade with bribery and backroom deals to the detriment of America.

Cleveland, a Democrat, favored lowering the tariffs to the level necessary for running the government; he considered having a budget surplus to mean that the government was taking too much of the people’s money.  Representative Roger Q. Mills (D-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposed a bill reducing the tariff on certain goods from 47% to 40%, including hemp, wool, and flax.  The Republicans opposed it, and the Mills Tariff Bill of 1888 became a major issue in the presidential campaign.  It never did become law.

In the Currier & Ives illustration above, the captions read, on the left, “Alas, my children I cannot give you bread.  Free Trade has ruined my occupation, I have no work and we must beg or starve,” while on the right: “Here, wife, is provisions for a week and money to put in bank.  Thanks to a Protective Tariff I have plenty of work and good wages.”

Next Time: When My Old Hat Was New

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