The last of the series of lectures on Free Trade by Mr. Godkin was given last evening, his subject being "The Social Effects of a High Tariff."
The founders of the republic, although they rid themselves of many of the encumbrances under which Europe was burdened for ages, doing away with state religion, individual privilege and royalty, still clung to one mediaeval idea, namely the interference of government in private business. This idea is foreign to the theory of our government of non-interference with private affairs. The history of the American colonies before the Revolution affords the most striking instance known to history of great industrial activity arising from natural advantages, and the intelligence and skill of the population. No tariff protected the colonies, yet there was a great diversity of industries, and these industries were remarkably productive, as is proved by the repressive measures of Parliament in the case of many colonial industries which began to compete with the flourishing industries of England. These obnoxious restrictions were among the causes of the Revolution. It was the mechanical genius and enterprise of the colonists and their geographical situation which caused this prosperity. A tariff, however, tends to destroy the self-reliance of the manufacturer, and teaches him to depend on the support of the government, where he should depend on his own abilities. This is the most dangerous and demoralizing effect of a system of high tariff. A tariff forces capital into those occupations where it would not naturally go, and where the natural advantage is relatively small, and thus the condition of many naturally weak industries is very precarious on account of the possible changes in the rate of duty. The condition of the laborers in these industries is very bad, and from them have arisen the complaints which have brought into such prominence of late years, the "Labor Question." Foreign immigrants with their pernicious ideas of state help and socialism have helped to widen the breach between laborers and capitalists, and as long as these weak protected industries exist, we can have nothing to expect but dissatisfaction and even threats of violence on the part of the laborers who do not know the real cause of the uncertain returns in the industries in which they are employed. A very dangerous element is introduced into our politics at every canvass by the declarations to the laborers, that their livelihood depends upon legislative acts and not their own ability and prudence. Free traders and protectionists both agree on the desirability of a diversity of industries, but differ in the method of obtaining that diversity. A slow and continuous reduction of duties is the end to be kept in view in order to free the country from the burdens under which an absurd and unjust tariff has placed it.