Friday, February 27, 2009

"The vastness of our country . . ."

In my last post, I reviewed a speech that David Wilmot delivered on the tariff in July 1846. This post continues and concludes that review.

Several weeks ago, I pointed out that in January 1847 Wilmot's colleague Preston King invoked the pioneer with his axe when he denounced slavery expansion. The same imagery appears in Wilmot's tariff speech six months earlier:
The bold pioneer, who with his axe fearlessly encounters our heavy forests and subdues our rugged soil, makes a valuable and permanent conquest over nature for the benefit of man. He has added something to the world’s stock, and made that which before was useless subservient to the happiness and support of his race.

Has he in his noble undertaking asked the bounties of Government in his behalf? Has he come with greedy and selfish grasp, demanding from the public treasury a premium upon the land cleared by him, or upon the wheat and corn raised as a product of his labor? Sir, this man asks only protection from rapacity and wrong.

“[T]he farmer,” Wilmot complained, “is fleeced.” “[T]hese enormous profits come from . . . the pockets of the people.” “Privilege and monopoly are ever selfish – ever grasping. Interest is the sole governing principle of all their actions.”

Later, Wilmot touched on the intersection between labor and land. The passage offers a tantalizing hint as to why Wilmot and other northern Democrats like him placed so much importance on Free Soil, both in theory and in fact. The continued existence of the United States as a republic, Wilmot suggested, depended on the continued availability of inexpensive land. Just look at Europe:
I solemnly believe, if this policy [of protection] could be permanently established, that not one century would pass away before the free and independent laborers of this country would be reduced to the degrading condition of the laborers of Europe. It would sap and undermine our republican institutions. The people would lose control over their own Government, and wealth become firmly intrenched in all the seats and high places of power.

The vastness of our country, and the cheapness of the unoccupied lands, have hitherto prevented the full development and workings of this system. Had our limits been confined between the Atlantic and the Alleganies [sic], we should ere this have witnessed the fruits of this system upon the labor of the country. We should have seen here, as in England, men, women, and children, working from fourteen to eighteen hours in the day for a mere subsistence. It is this accursed policy of legislation for the capital of the country, together with the paper-money system, that has contributed more than all other causes, to fasten upon the English laborer a slavery worse than that of the lash.

(Emphasis added)

About the illustration:
A virulent attack on Vice-President George M. Dallas, charging the former Pennsylvania attorney and senator with duplicity in his stand on the tariff of 1846. "Jesuitism" was a strong contemporary term for deception and intrigue, and the artist portrays Dallas's support of the 1846 tariff as a reversal of his campaign pledge to support the popular tariff of 1842. In 1846, the Polk administration introduced and passed (Dallas's own vote as president of the Senate being a deciding factor) the Walker Tariff. The 1846 tariff involved a reduction of the tariff of 1842, which had been supported by the Democratic platform in the 1844 election. The later measure, a revenue tariff rather than a protectionist one, was reviled by the considerable industrial interests of Pennsylvania and other northeastern states. In the print, Dallas (right) addresses a crowd in the street from the steps of his law office. He displays a large banner reading, "Polk, Dallas, Shunk [successful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Francis M. Shunk] And The Tariff of 1842." Dallas: "Friends & Fellow Citizens, the Tariff of 1842 is a democratic measure & as such will be supported by Mr. Polk & Myself! I am, as my friend Joel B. Sutherland [former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania] says, a man of principle according to my interest!" Various comments from the crowd: "Go it George We all want Protection!" An Irishman with shillelagh: "That's the way to talk! Dan [i.e., Whig senator and champion of protectionism Daniel Webster] himself couldn't bate that be Jasus!" "Hurah! a true Pennsylvanian every inch of im." In the lower left a conversation among several gentlemen: "I told you that Polk & Dallas were more in favor of the Tariff of 42 than [1844 Whig presidential candidate Henry] Clay!" "I'll believe it when I see it!" "who does he [i.e., Dallas] remind you of?" "He's very much like Talleyrand in hair & Principles--in all else wanting." A Pennsylvania German with a clay pipe remarks, "I says noding but I dinks so much!" Francis Shunk enters from the left with arms full of papers with the names of western Pennsylvania counties on them. He announces to Dallas, "Hold on till I bring some big Democratic Guns from the west--to bear on the question! When it come to the point then I'll talk, For I'm the real Simon "Pure!""

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