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Free Ships: The Restoration of the American Carrying Trade   By: (1814-1900)

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The Restoration of the American Carrying Trade.

It may seem surprising that an American House of Representatives should have been so ignorant of the meaning of a common word as to apply the term "commerce" to the carrying trade, when in the session of 1869 it commissioned Hon. John Lynch, of Maine, and his associated committee "to investigate the cause of the decadence of American commerce," and to suggest a remedy by which it might be restored.

But, it was not more strange than that this committee really appointed to look into the carrying trade to which the misnomer commerce was so inadvertently applied, should have entirely ignored its duty by constituting itself into an eleemosynary body for the bestowal of national charity upon shipbuilders. Its Report fell dead upon the floor of the House, and was so ridiculed in the Senate that when a motion was made to lay the bill for printing it upon the table, Mr. Davis, of Kentucky, suggested, as an amendment, that it be kicked under it. Nevertheless, the huge volume of irrelevant testimony was published for the benefit of two great home industries paper making and printing.

The theory of this committee was that the Rebellion had destroyed another industry nearly as remote from the proper subject of inquiry as either of these. These gentlemen concluded that shipbuilding was becoming extinct, because the Confederate cruisers had destroyed many of our ships a reason ridiculously absurd, in view of the corollary that the very destruction of those vessels should have stimulated reproduction. Since that abortive attempt to steal bounties from the Treasury for the benefit of a favored class of mechanics, Government, occupied with matters deemed of greater importance, has totally neglected our constantly diminishing mercantile marine.

By refusing to repeal the law that represses it, it may truly be said that had every ingenuity been devised to accomplish its destruction, its tendency to utter annihilation could not have been more certainly assured than it has been by this obstinate neglect.

In the session of 1876, Senator Boutwell of Massachusetts renewed the proposition of Mr. Lynch, but his Bill was not called up in the Senate. In the course of intervening years a little more light may be presumed to have dawned upon Congress, and, therefore, it is to be regretted that the Senator did not obtain a hearing, in order that the fallacy of his argument might have been exposed.

If any one cares to study the origin of our restrictive navigation laws, he can consult a concise account of it given by Mr. David A. Wells, in the North American Review , of December, 1877. It came out of a compromise with slavery. The Northern States agreed that slavery should be "fostered" that is a favorite word with protectionists provided that shipbuilding should also be fostered, and that New England ships for nearly all vessels were built in that district should have the sole privilege of supplying the Southern market with negroes!

That sort of slavery being now happily at an end, shipbuilders still inherit the spirit of their guild, merely transferring the wrong they perpetrated on black men by binding all their white fellow citizens with the bonds of their odious monopoly. Moreover, although the arbitrary law of the mother country forcing the colonists to conduct their commerce in British built ships was one exciting cause of the Revolutionary Rebellion, Americans had no sooner obtained their independence than they created a monopoly quite as tyrannical among themselves. And yet, they were not then without excuse. At the time when the Convention for forming the Federal Constitution convened in 1789, every civilized nation was exercising a similar restrictive policy... Continue reading book >>

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