Henry Clay – Speech to House of Representatives – April 26, 1820

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Henry Clay – Speech to House of Representatives – April 26, 1820

Since the first colonization of America the principal direction of the labor and capital of the inhabitants has been to produce a raw materials for the consumption or fabrication of foreign nations. We have always had in great abundance, the means of subsistence, but we have derived chiefly from other countries our clothes and the instruments of defense. Except during those interruptions of commerce arising from a state of war, or from measures adopted for vindicating our commercial rights, we have experiences no very great inconvenience heretofore form this mode of supply. The limited amount of our surplus produce resulting from the smallness of our numbers, and the long and arduous convulsions of Europe, secured us good markets for the surplus in her ports of those of her colonies. But those convulsions now have ceased, and our population reached nearly ten millions. A new epoch has arisen, and it becomes us to deliberately contemplate our own actual condition, and the relations which are likely to exist between us and the other parts of the world . . . . . . We duplicate our population in about the term of twenty-five years. If there be no change in the mode if exerting our industry, we shall duplicate, in the same term, the amount of our exportable produce.

I believe that we are already beginning to experience this want of capacity in Europe to consume our surplus produce. Take the great articles of cotton, tobacco, and breadstuffs. For the latter we have scarcely any foreign demand. And is there not reason to believe that we have reached, if we have not passes, the maximum of the foreign demand for the other two articles? It appears to me then, that if we consult our interest merely, we ought to encourage home manufactures. But there were other motives recommending it, of not less importance.

It is objected, that the effect of the encouragement of home manufactures, by the proposed tariff, will be, to diminish the revenue from the customs. Can anyone doubt the [irresponsibility] of government resting solely on the precarious resource of such a revenue? It is constantly fluctuating. On such a system the Government will not be able much longer exclusively to rely. By the encouragement of home industry you will lay a basis of internal taxation, when it gets strong, that will be steady and uniform, yielding alike in peace and war.

The manufacturing system is not only injurious to agriculture, but, say its opponents, it is injurious also to foreign commerce. I would give to our foreign trade every legitimate encouragement, and extend it wherever it can be extended profitably. Hitherto it had been stimulated too highly, by the condition of the world, our own policy acting on that condition.

Monuments of the sad effects, upon our manufacturers, of the fluctuating policy of the councils of the Union in regard to them, abound in all parts of the country. Village[r]s, and parts of villages, which sprang up but yesterday in the Western country, . . . are perishing and abandoned. In New England, in passing along the highway, one frequently sees large spacious buildings, with the glass broken out of the windows, the shutters hanging in ruinous disorder, cheerless, without any appearance of activity, and surrounded by a solitary gloom. Upon inquiring what they are, you are almost always informed that they were some cotton or other factory, which their proprietors could no longer keep in motion against the overwhelming pressure of foreign competition. Gentlemen ask for facts to show the propriety of protection to our manufacturers. Do they want stronger evidence? Let Government commence a systematic, but moderate, support of this important branch of our industry. Let it announce the fixed purpose, that the protection of it, against the influence of the measures of foreign Governments enters into the scope of our national policy.


1. What was our purpose economically as colony of Britain and in the early years of the

American experience?

2. What are the traditional arguments against the tariff as Clay addresses?

3. How will the tariff help the American economy? What economic problems will a tariff

help correct?

From the Annals of Congress, 16th Congress, 1ST Session (April 26, 1820)

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwaclink.html (April 26, 1820 - Pages 2034, 2035, 2039, 2042, 2049, and 2049)

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