Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
[December 1, 1847?]

Whether the protective policy shall be finally abandoned, is now the question.

Page  408Discussion and experience already had; and question now in greater dispute than ever.

Has there not been some great error in the mode of discussion?

Propose a single issue of fact, namely---``From 1816 to the present, have protected articles [co]st us more, of labour, during the higher, than during the lower duties upon them?''

Introduce the evidence.

Analyze this issue, and try to show that it embraces the true and the whole question of the protective policy.

Intended as a test of experience.

The period seclected [sic], is fair; because it is a period of peace---a period sufficiently long to furnish a fair average under all other causes operating on prices---a period in which various modifications of higher and lower duties have occurred.

Protected articles, only are embraced. Show that these only belong to the question.

The labour price only is embraced. Show this to be correct.

I suppose the true effect of duties upon prices to be as follows: If a certain duty be levied upon an article which, by nature can not be produced in this country, as three cents a pound upon coffee, the effect will be, that the consumer will pay one cent more per pound than before, the producer will take one cent less, and the merchant one cent less in profits---in other words, the burthen of the duty will [be] distributed over consumption, production, and commerce, and not confined to either. But if a duty amounting to full protection be levied upon an article which can be produced here with as little labour, as elsewhere, as iron, that article will ultimately, and at no distant day, in consequence of such duty, be sold to our people cheaper than before, at least by the amount of the cost of carrying it from abroad.

. . . as to useless labour. [2] Before proceeding however, it may be as well to give a specimen of what I conceive to be useless labour. I say, then, that all carrying, & incidents of carrying, of articles fromPage  409 the place of their production, to a distant place for consumption, which articles could be produced of as good quality, in sufficient quantity, and with as little labour, at the place of consumption, as at the place carried from, is useless labour. Applying this principle to our own country by an example, let us suppose that A and B, are a Pen[n]sylvania farmer, and a Pennsylvania iron-maker, whose lands are adjoining. Under the protective policy A is furnishing B with bread and meat, and vegetables, and fruits, and food for horses and oxen, and fresh supplies of horses and ox[en] themselves occasionally, and receiving, in exchange, all the iron, iron utensils, tools, and implements he needs. In this process of exchange, each receives the whole of that which the other parts with---and the reward of labour between them is perfect; each receiving the product of just so much labour, as he has himself bestowed on what he parts with for it. But the change comes. The protective policy is abandoned, and A determines to buy his iron and iron manufactures of C. in Europe. This he can only do by a direct or an indirect exchange of the produce of his farm for them. We will suppose the direct exchange is adopted. In this A desires to exchange ten barrels of flour the precise product of one hundred days labour, for the largest quantity of iron &c that he can get; C, also wishes to exchange the precise product, in iron, of one hundred days labour, for the greatest quantity of flour he can get. In intrinsic value thePage  410 things to be so exchanged are precisely equal. But before this exchange can take place, the flour must be carried from Pennsylvania to England, and the iron from England to Pennsylvania. The flour starts; the waggoner who hauls it to Philadelphia, takes a part of it to pay him for his labour; then a merchant there takes a little more for storage and forwarding commission, and another takes a little more for insurance; and then the ship-owner carries it across the water, and takes a little more of it for his trouble; still before it reaches C. it is tolled two or three times more for storage, drayage, commission and so on, so that when C. gets it, there are but seven & a half barrels of it left. The iron too, in its transit from England to Penna., goes through the same process [of] tolling, so that when it reaches A there is but three quarters of it left. The result of this case is, that A. and C. have each parted with one hundred days labour, and each received but seventyfive in return. That the carrying in this case, was introduced by A ceasing to buy of B, and turning [to] C; that it was utterly useless; and that it is ruinous in its effects, upon A, are all little less than self evident. ``But,'' asks one, ``if A is now only getting three quarters as much iron from C for ten barrels of flour as he used to get of B, why does he not turn back to B?'' The answer is ``B has quit making iron, and so, has none to sell.'' ``But why did B quit making?'' [``]Because A quit buying of him, and he had no other customer to sell to.[''] ``But surely A. did not cease buying of B. with the expectation of buying of C. on harder terms?'' [``]Certainly not. Let me tell you how that was. When B was making iron as well as C, B had but one customer, this farmer A. C had four customers in Europe.['']

It seems to be an opinion very generally entertained, that the condition of a nation, is best, whe[ne]ver it can buy cheapest; but this is not necessarily true, because if, at the same time, and by the same cause, it is compelled to sell correspondingly cheap, nothing is gained. Then, it is said, the best condition is, when we can buy cheapest, and sell dearest; but this again, is not necessarily true; because, with both these, we might have scarcely any thing to sell---or, which is the same thing, to buy with. To illustrate this, suppose a man in the present state of things is labouring the year round, at ten dollars per month, which amounts in the year to $120---a change in affairs enables him to buy supplies at half the former price, to get fifty dollars per month for his labour; but at the same time deprives him of employment during all the months of the year but one. In this case, though goods have fallen one half, and labour risen five to one, it is still plain, that at the end of the year, thePage  411 labourer is twenty dollars poorer, than under the old state of things.

These reflections show, that to reason and act correctly on this subject, we must look not merely to buying cheap, nor yet to buying cheap and selling dear; but also to having constant employment, so that we may have the largest possible amount of something to sell. This matter of employment can only be secured by an ample, steady, and certain market, to sell the products of labour in.

But let us yield the point, and admit that, by abandoning the protective policy, our farmers can purchase their supplies of manufactured articles cheaper than by continuing it; and then let us see whether, even at that, they will, upon the whole, be gainers by the change. To simplify this question, let us suppose the whole agricultural interest of the country to be in the hands of one man, who has one hundred labourers in h[is e]mploy; the whole manufacturing interest, to be in the hands of [one] other man, who has twenty labourers in his employ. The farmer [own]s all the plough and pasture land, and the manufacturer, all the iron-mines, and coal-banks, and sites of water power. Each is pushing on in his own way, and obtaining supplies from the other so far as he needs---that is, the manufacturer, is buying of the farmer all the cotten he can use in his cotten factory, all the wool he can use in his woollen establishment, all the bread and meat, as well as all the fruits and vegetables which are necessary for himself and all his hands in all his departments; all the corn, and oats, and hay, which are necessary for all his horses and oxen, as well as fresh supplies of horses and oxen themselves, to do all his heavy hauling about [his] iron works and generally of every sort. The farmer, in turn, is buy[ing] of the manufacturer all the iron, iron tools, wooden tools, cotten goods, woolen goods &c &c. that he needs in his business and for his hands. But after awhile farmer discovers that, were it not for the protective policy, he could buy all these supplies cheaper from a European manufacturer, owing to the fact that the price of labour is only one quarter as high there as here. He and his hands are a majority of the whole; and therefore have the legal and moral right to have their interest first consulted. They throw off the protective policy, and farmer ceases buying of home manufacturer. Verry soon, however, he discovers, that to buy, even at the cheaper rate, requires something to buy with, and some how or other, he is falling short in this particular.

In the early days of the world, the Almighty said to the first of our race ``In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread''; and sincePage  412 then, if we except the light and the air of heaven, no good thing has been, or can be enjoyed by us, without having first cost labour. And, inasmuch [as] most good things are produced by labour, it follows that [all] such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To [secure] to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government. But then the question arises, how can a government best, effect this? In our own country, in it's present condition, will the protective principle advance or retard this object? Upon this subject, the habits of our whole species fall into three great classes---useful labour, useless labour and idleness. Of these the first only is meritorious; and to it all the products of labour rightfully belong; but the two latter, while they exist, are heavy pensioners upon the first, robbing it of a large portion of it's just rights. The only remedy for this is to, as far as possible, drive useless labour and idleness out of existence. And, first, as to useles labour. Before making war upon this, we must learn to distinguish it from the useful. It appears to me, then, that all labour done directly and incidentally in carrying articles to their place of consumption, which could have been produced in sufficient abundance, with as little labour, at the place of consumption, as at the place they were carried from, is useless labour. Let us take a few examples of the application of this principle to [our] own country. Iron & every thing made of iron, can be produced, in sufficient abundance, [and] with as little labour, in the United States, as any where else in the world; therefore, all labour done in bringing iron & it's fabrics from a foreign country to the United States, is useless labour. The same precisely may be said of cotten, wool, and of their fabrics respectively, as well as many other articles. While the uselessness of the carrying labour is [equally true] of all the articles mentioned, and of many others not men[tioned,] it is, perhaps, more glaringly obvious in relation to the cotten [goods we] purchase from abroad. The raw cotten, from which they are made, itself grows in our own country; is carried by land and by water to England, [is] there spun, wove, dyed, stamped &c; and then carried back [again] and worn in the very country where it grew, and partly by the very persons who grew it. Why should it not be spun, wove &c. in the very neighbourhood where it both grows and is consumed, and the carrying [about?] thereby dispensed with? Has nature interposed any obstacle? Are notPage  413 as good and as abundant here as elsewhere? Will not as small an amount of human labour answer here as elsewhere? We may easily see that the cost of this useless labour is very heavy. It includes, not only the cost of the actual carriage, but also the insurances of every kind, and the profits the merchants through whose hands it passes. All these create a heavy burthen necessarily falling upon the useful labour connected w[ith] such articles, either depressing the price to the producer, or enhancing it to the consumer, or, what is more probable, doing both in part. A supposed case, will serve to illustrate several points now to the p[ur]pose. A, in the interior of South Carolina, has one hundred pounds of cotten, which we suppose to be the precise product of one mans labour for twenty days; B, in Manchester, England, has one hundred yards of cotten cloth, the precise product of the same amount of labour. This lot of cotten, and lot of cloth are precisely equal to each other in their intrinsic value. But A. wishes to part with his cotten for the largest quantity of cloth he can get; B, also wishes to part with his cloth for the greatest quantity of c[otten] he can get. An exchange is therefore necessary; but before this can be effected, the cotten must be carried to Manchester, and the cloth to South Carolina. The cotten starts to Manchester; the man that hauls it to Charleston in his waggon, takes a little of it out to pay him for his trouble; the merchant, who stores it a while before the ship is ready to sail, takes a little out, for his trouble; the ship-owner, who carries it across the water, takes a little out for his trouble, still before it gets to Manchester, it is tolled two or three times more for drayage, storage, commission, and so on; so that when it reaches B's hands there are but seventyfive pounds of it left. The cloth, too, in it's transit from Manchester to South Carolina goes through the same process of tolling, so that when it reaches A there are but seventyfive yards of it. Now, in this case, A. and B. have each parted with twenty days labour; and each received but fifteen in return. But now let us suppose that B. has removed to the side of A's farm, in South Carolina, and has there made his lot of cloth. Is it not clear that he and A. can then exchange their cloth & cotten, each getting the whole of what the other parts with?

This supposed case shows the utter uselessness of the carrying labour in all similar cases, and also the direct burthen it imposes up[on] useful labour. And whoever will take up the train of reflection suggested by this case, and run it out to the full extent of it's just application, will be astonished, at the amount of useless labour [he] will thus discover to be done in this very way. I am mistaken, if it is not in fact many times [over] equal to all the real want inPage  414 the world. This useless labour I would have discontinued, and those engaged in it, added to the class of useful labourers. If I be asked whether I would destroy all commerce, I answer ``Certainly not''---I would continue it where it is necessary, and discontinue it, where it is not. An instance: I would continue commerce so far as it is employed in bringing us coffee, and I would discontinue it so far as it is employed in bringing us cotten goods.

But let us yield the point, and admit that, by abandoning to protective policy, our farmers can purchase their supplies of manufactured articles cheaper than before; and then let us see whether, even at that, the farmers will, upon the whole, be gainers by the change. To simplify this question, let us suppose our whole population to consist of but twenty men. Under the prevalence of the protective policy, fifteen of these are farmers, one is a miller, one manufactures iron, one, implements from iron, one cotten goods, and one woolen goods. The farmers discover, that, owing to labour only costing one quarter as much in Europe as here, they can buy iron, iron implements, cotten goods, & woolen goods cheaper, when brought from Europe, [tha]n when made by their neighbours. They are the majority, and [ther]efore have both the legal and moral right to have their in[tere]st first consulted. They throw off the protective policy, [an]d cease buying these articles of their neighbours. But they [soo]n discover that to buy, and at the cheaper rate, requires [som]ething to buy with. Falling short in this particular, one of [th]ese farmers, takes a load of wheat to the miller, and [g]ets it made into flour, and starts, as had been his cus[to]m, to the iron furnace; he approaches the well known spot, [bu]t, strange to say, all is cold and still as death---no [sm]oke rises, no furnace roars, no anvil rings. After some search [h]e finds the owner of the desolate place, and calls out to him, ``Come, Vulcan, dont you want to buy a load of flour?'' ``Why'' says Vulcan ``I am hungry enough, to be sure---have'nt tasted bread for a week---but then you see my works are stopped, and I have nothing to give for your flour.[''] [``] But, Vulcan, why dont you go to work and get something?[''] [``]I am ready to do so; will you hire me, farmer?[''] [``]Oh, no; I could only set you to raising wheat, and you see I have more of that already than I can get any thing for.[''] [``]But give me employment, and send your flour to Europe [for a] market.[''] [``]Why, Vulcan, how silly you talk. Dont you [know] they raise wheat in Europe as well as here, and that labour is so cheap there as to fix the price of flour there so low as scarcely to pay the long carriage of it from [here,] leaving nothing whateverPage  415 to me.'' [``]But, farmer, could'nt you pay to raise and prepare garden stuffs, and fruits, such as radishes, cabages, irish and sweet potatoes, cucumbers, water-melons and musk-melons, plumbs [sic], pears, peaches, apples, and the like; all these are good things and used to sell well.[''] [``]So they did use to sell well, but it was to you we sold them, and now you tell us you have nothing to buy with. Of course I can not sell such things to the other farmers, because each of them raises enough for himself, and, in fact, rather wishes to sell than to buy. Neither can I send them to Europe for a market; because, to say nothing of European markets being stocked with such articles at lower prices than I can afford, they are of such a nature as to rot before they could reach there. The truth is, Vulcan, I am compelled to quit raising these things altogether, except a few for my own use, and this leaves part of my own time idle on my hands, instead of my finding employment for you.['']

If at any time all labour should cease, and all existing provisions be equally divided among the people, at the end of a single year there could scarcely be one human being left alive---all would have perished by want of subsistence.

So again, if upon such division, all that sort of labour, which produces provisions, should cease, and each individual should take up so much of his share as he could, and carry it continually around his habitation, although in this carrying, the amount of labour going on might be as great as ever, so long as it could last, at the end of the year the result would be precisely the same---that is, none would be left living.

The first of these propositions shows, that universal idleness would speedily result in universal ruin; and the second shows, that useless labour is, in this respect, the same as idleness.

I submit, then, whether it does not follow, that partial idleness, and partial useless labour, would, in the proportion of their extent, in like manner result, in partial ruin---whether, if all should subsist upon the labour the one half should perform, it would not result in very scanty allowance to the whole.

Believing that these propositions, and the [conclusions] I draw from them can not be successfully controverted, I, for the present, assume their correctness, and proceed to try to show, that the abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government, must result in the increase of both useless labour, and idleness; and so, in pro[por]tion, must produce want and ruin among our people.

Page  416(The foregoing scraps about protection were written by Lincoln, between his election to Congress in 1846, and taking his seat in Dec. 1847) [3]