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of encouragement to home industry and domestic manufactures. The subsequent development of our own natural resources, and the change in our condition, from a state of dependence on foreign countries for the necessities of life, to one of comparative independence, led to modifications and alterations in the system ; which, for a long period of time, however, were made in conformity to the great principle on which the system was originally based. So long as the revenue idea was rigidly maintained, the country was prosperous, and no particular section was unduly favored ; but when a new principle was introduced into the system, and protection became the controlling feature, instead of being secondary and subordinate to that of revenue, a different state of things was produced. Mr. Polk approved of the act of 1816. He believed that the manufactures of the United States were in a prosperous condition under that act, “and for eight years intervening between the years 1816 and 1824; and also that the act of 1816 afforded them ample incidental protection.” When he entered Congress, he found the act of 1824 in force. The main object of this law was to afford additional protection to the iron manufactures of Pennsylvania, though other features far more objectionable, were embraced in it. Although Mr. Polk would have been willing to encourage the iron interest, then in its infancy, and struggling amid numerous embarrassments, so far as was consistent with a due regard for the other interests of the country, he did not approve of this law. In 1827, a powerful rally was made by the friends of a high protective tariff in the Northern and Eastern States; the producers of wool, hemp, corn, and rye, in the Middle and Western States; and the iron manufacturers in Pennsylvania. At the first session of the 20th Congress, a bill was reported from the Committee on Manufactures, avowedly for protection. The struggle in regard to the details of the act was confined mainly to the different interests united in support of the measure, whose views were constantly clashing. Mr. Polk, and the members from the Southern States generally, resisted the passage of the bill at every step; but when he discovered any attempt on the part of the friends of Mr. Adams, which was frequently the case, to make political capital out of the measure, to the prejudice of General Jackson, upon whom the opponents of the administration had united as their candidate for the presidency, he made every exertion to prevent such a result. The act of 1828, emphatically called “the bill of abominations,” became a law, in opposition to the wishes and the vote of Mr. Polk. That it was an unwise and unjust measure, was the general verdict of the country; and one of its principal authors and supporters—one who did not lightly change an opinion—subsequently admitted, that he had committed “a great error” in advocating and voting for it.* In 1832, Mr. Polk voted for the act of that year modifying some of the most objectionable provisions of
* Speech on the Bill reported by the Committee of Ways and Means at the Session of 1832–33.-Congressional Debates, vol. ix., p. 1170. o
the law of 1828. But he was disposed to go much further than this. The evil that had been done, in his opinion, was not yet remedied. Though he did not favor in the least the nullification doctrines put forth in South Carolina, but approved of the noble and determined stand taken by General Jackson, and supported the force bill and other measures of like character; he felt that there was grave cause for blame. He therefore aided, as far as was in his power, to remove the grievances which had given rise to so many well-founded complaints. He gave his assent to the bill reported by the Committee of Ways and Means, at the session of 1832–33, making further reductions in the duties imposed by the law of 1832. This bill eventually gave place to the Compromise Act, which surrendered the principle of protection except as an incidental result, and for which Mr. Polk voted. With some of the details of this law he was not entirely satisfied, and at the ensuing session of Congress he favored an effort then made to modify it in some particulars; but its general features and principles he did not desire to disturb. He thought that “when the act was passed, every interest in the country stood pledged, in the most solemn manner, to adhere to and abide by it,” and he hoped that “this agitated and disturbing subject was put at rest for a long term of years, if not forever.”” His wishes were not realized. When the reduction proposed by the compromise act reached its minimum, the revenue was found inadequate to meet the expenses of the government, and to discharge the public liabilities.
* Letter to the people of Tennessee, May 26th, 1843.
The Whig party being now in power, under the leadership of Mr. Clay, a high protective tariff law was passed, —a law equally objectionable in many respects with that of 1828, and like that, too, unequivocally condemned by the American people. Mr. Polk was not in Congress when the act of 1842 was passed; but he took an early occasion to make known his opposition to the law, in a letter addressed to the people of Tennessee, on the 26th of May, 1843, and during the gubernatorial canvass of that year, he expressed his sentiments ably and explicitly, in an eloquent speech to the people of Madison and the adjoining counties, delivered at Jackson, on the 3d day of April. From a synopsis of this speech, the annexed extracts are taken :
“He took other views, briefly presented, of the subject, and proceeded to the discussion of the Protective Tariff act passed by the last Congress. He showed that it was a highly protective tariff, and not one for revenue. He showed that by the Compromise Tariff of 1833, the tax on no imported article was to exceed 20 per cent. upon its value after the 30th of June, 1842. No higher duty than 20 per cent. was imposed on any article after the 30th of June, 1842, until the 30th of August, 1842, on which latter day the present Tariff law was passed by a Whig Congress. The Whig Congress laid violent hands on the Compromise Act of 1833, and broke it up.”
“It was clear, therefore, that the late tariff act was not a revenue measure. It had raised the rates of duty so high as to shut out imports, and consequently to cut off and diminish revenue.”
“Judging from the amount of revenue received at the Treasury, under the operations of the present Tariff act, fol the last quarter of 1842, as already shown, it will not produce annually half the amount of revenue which would have been produced by the lower rates of the Compromise act, had that act been left undisturbed.”
“He was opposed to direct taxes, and to prohibitory and protective duties, and in favor of such moderate duties as would not cut off importation. In other words, he was in favor of reducing the duties to the rates of the compromise act, where the Whig Congress found them on the 30th of June, 1842.”
“The South, and he with them, had voted for the act of 1832, because it was a reduction of the rates of the act of 1828, though by no means so low as he would have desired it to be; still it was the greatest reduction which could be attained at the time of its passage.”
“Distribution and a Protective Tariff—measures which I consider ruinous to the interests of the country, and especially to the interests of the planting states—I have steadily and at all times opposed.” -
When Mr. Polk became a candidate for the presidency, his opinions and views on the tariff question were much inquired after, and were frequently misrepresented. In order to prevent further misapprehension, he addressed the following letter to Judge Kane of Philadelphia, in reply to one previously received from that gentleman, making inquiries with reference to his sentiments:—
CoLUMBIA, Tennessee, June 19th, 1844. DEAR SIR :—I have received recently several letters in reference to my opinions on the subject of the tariff, and among others yours of the 30th ultimo. My opinions on