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Reed on the Tariff

Reed on the Tariff

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Excerpt from Reed on the Tariff: Speech of Hon. Thomas B. Reed, of Maine, in the House of Representatives, Thursday, February 1, 1894

Hence, also, there can be no foundation for that cry, so insidiously raised, that this bill should be passed at once, because uncertainty is worse than any bill can possibly be. Were that bill to pass both branches today, uncertainty would reign just the same.

This result was inevitable. Although this bill professed to open to the manufacturers a new era of prosperity and professed to be made in the interest of some of them, the moment it came to be defended on this floor the great bulk of it could not be defended on any other ground than the principles of free trade. Hence, in this discussion, the precise terms of this proposed act count for nothing, and we are left to the discussion of the principles which underlie the whole question. That question may not be decided here and now upon these principles, but the ultimate decision by the people can have no other foundation.

After this statement it would be entirely natural that a feeling of weariness should come over this audience, for if anything seems to have been discussed until human nature can bear it no more it is the tariff. Nevertheless the fact that the subject is still before the people shows that the last word has not yet been said and that the subject has not yet been exhausted or understood.

The history of protection has been most remarkable. Fifty years ago the question seemed to be closed. Great Britain had adopted free trade, the United States had started in the same direction, and the whole world seemed about to follow. To-day the entire situation seems to be reversed. The whole civilized world except Great Britain has become protectionist, and the very year last passed has witnessed the desertion of English principles by the last English colony which held out. This has been done in defiance of the opinions, of every political economist in England who wrote prior to 1850, and of most of those who have written since.

When you add to this that the arguments against it have seemed so clear and simple that every school boy can comprehend them and every patriot with suitable lungs could fill the atmosphere with the catchwords (laughter), the wonder increases that in every country it should still flourish and maintain its vigor. Ten years ago it was equally true at one and the same time that every boy who graduated from college graduated a free trader and that every one of them who afterward became a producer or distributer of our goods became also a protectionist.

The Whole Race wiser Than One Man.

The arguments of the political economists, clear as crystal, do not seem to have convinced the world, nor, what is much worse, do they seem to have made any substantial progress. On the contrary, these economists have taken up the task of tearing each other to pieces, so that to-day there is hardly a nameable important proposition on which they agree, and the more the facts of the universe are developed the more confusion seems to reign among them. Meanwhile the world has proceeded in its own way without much regard for their theories and their wisdom. I do not mean that studious men have not discovered great truths and had glimpses of still greater, but in the main they have only passed from one inaccuracy to another, because they have forgotten that the whole race is wiser than any man. (Applause).

You and I, Mr. Speaker, cannot hope to do much better than these famous men, except so far as we view with tolerance what great masses of our fellowmen are doing and assume that they are probably right instead of assuming that they are probably wrong in matters which so deeply concern them.

It is often said that the truth is the simplest. That is so, after you understand the truth, but when you do not a lie is far simpler. (Laughter).
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