[Marxism] Pre U.S. civil-war protectionism

lshan at bcn.net lshan at bcn.net
Wed Feb 4 21:31:49 MST 2004

The following is from "Calculating the Value of the Union: Slavery, Property
Rights, and the Economic Origins of the Civil War" by James L. Huston. It
may be of interest regarding Jurriaan's extremely interesting, and possibly
controversial, contribution. Readers should be aware that here Huston is not
necessarily supporting the legitimacy of the protectionist argument. (In
fact, although I haven't finished the book, I believe that these are his
views.) His point here is to show the power of the protectionist argument
vis-a-vis Northern antislavery sentiment as a contributing factor in the
United States Civil War.

I have re-keyboarded this section, but broken it up into smaller paragraphs
for ease in reading.

Brian Shannon

The antislavery argument that a reduction in American wages by unfair
competition--here, by slaves--had a pedigree. Indeed, the basic structure of
the argument had existed for years in debates over tariff legislation. A
pauper labor theory emerged in the 1820s that pitted the free American
worker against the aristocratically controlled European worker. European
aristocrats by taxes on labor, laws favoring themselves, and monopolization
of political power artificially reduced wages. That was a basic unfairness.
Trade between equals, who lived under laws giving to the laborer the fruits
of labor, was fine; but trade between peoples who had different competitive
rules meant disaster for one side.

These ideas formed an argument for protection, for prohibiting trade with
nations that artificially depressed wages out of the fear that such trade
would lower wages in North America, and thereby bring about disastrous
social and political tumult.

Since the 1820s protectionists had based their advocacy of high tariffs on
the necessity of maintaining sufficiently high wages to enable the bulk of
the American population to save and then to obtain property and thereby to
become, over time, independent producers. Low wages destroyed northern
social mobility. In countless speeches protectionists hammered away at the
need of a republic with high wages; the threat they conjured up to the
American public was the free American worker competing against the degraded
pauper laborer of Europe, degraded because aristocrats had ground those
woekrs down to subsistence--an unfair competition because of the monopoly
power of the aristocrat.

The economic disparagement of free trade because of its effects on American
free workers was structurally identical to the antislavery analysis of free
laborers competing against slave laborers. In a protectionist speech in
1824, well before the developed abolitionist movement beginning in the
1830s, New York's Henry C. Martindale gave this depiction of the battle
between American workers and European workers: "The foreign tyrant, who
compels his slaves to work for nothing, and to go naked and hungry, could
not wish more subtle and sophisticated advocates than those who urge this
[free trade] doctrine here. . . . The price of living is the price of labor;
and inasmuch as freemen will live better than slaves, and therefore consume
more than slaves, in just so much will their labor cost more than slaves, as
between them and their employments; in just so much will their condition
approach the condition of their employers, and in just so much will they
divide the profits of the business with the employer."

He then launched into a fear of American free labor competing against
European pauper labor. Simply remove the word "foreign tyrant" and replace
it with "slave master" and the antislavery analysis of bondage emerges. By
the 1840s and 1850s, northerners had been inundated with the question of
high wages and unfair labor competition. All that was required was to make
the obvious leap of imagination: slaves were like pauper laborers because
slave masters were like aristocrats who drove down the wages of labor.
Protectionists, who usually shied away from radical antislavery, had
prepared the public for the economic argument of the antislavery coalition.

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