Great Leaders and National Issues of 1896/Chapter 2
Questions for the Next Administration to Consider
There is no fear that any administration of this country will ever lack for important questions to engage its attention. Time will never hang heavy on its hands, and a country with such vast and varying interests will always appeal to the ablest and most thoughtful statesmen, who will be confronted by problems that will require all their ability to solve.
The Hawaiian Tangle
We have referred in another place to the most important international questions that are sure to come up for consideration. The Hawaiian tangle of a few years ago is quiescent at present, but, sooner or later, it will be before the American people for final disposal. The ultimate result, as has been stated, will undoubtedly be the annexation of the valuable and interesting islands to the great Republic. President Cleveland is opposed to such a course, and his policy has been directed against its consummation, but his successor may hold different views, and, if so, he is sure to give them expression and effect.
The Venezuela Dispute
The Venezuela dispute will be settled with England without war between that country and our own. The “sober second thought,” to which reference has been made, has already made itself felt on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is impossible to believe that any contingency can ever arise which will cause the millions of the two greatest English-speaking peoples to fly at each other's throats, and to turn back the hands on the dial of human progress for a thousand years.
The “Queen of the Antilles”
As for Cuba, the future is less clearly outlined. Spain may be weak, but she is proud and a stickler for so-called honor. She has already made immense sacrifices in life and treasure to prevent the loosening of her grip upon the “Queen of the Antilles,” and she will never yield until iron necessity compels her to do so. She would not hesitate to go to war with the United States if sufficient provocation were given, and when her presumption carries her that far, there can be but one result. She will receive the most complete and overwhelming trouncing that one nation ever inflicted upon another, and Cuba will become independent, to be followed at no distant day by her absorption into the great American Union.
The Armenian Massacres
There is one phase of our foreign relations which is not clear to many citizens. No one with a feeling of human sympathy in his heart has failed to be touched by the horrible massacres in Armenia during the past months, and had the United States decided to intervene forcibly and stop the wholesale murders by the “unspeakable Turk,” the action would have been applauded to the echo; but our government has no more right to take such action, inspired though it might be by the highest motives that can actuate a nation, than it would have to unseat a member elected to the English Parliament, because of some irregularity in the vote. To interfere in foreign quarrels would be the suicide of our country. We would inevitably become involved in wars with the leading nations of Europe. The catastrophe which we attempted to avert would be surpassed a thousand fold in horror by that which would be precipitated.
Washington was not only a great soldier, but a wise and far-seeing statesman. To his sagacity was due the resolution of our country to hold itself immovably aloof from all entangling foreign alliances. Hardly was the Revolution finished, when the most appalling revolution in human history broke out in France and drenched that fair land with blood. She had given us great help in the achievement of our independence, and naturally we were deeply grateful and sympathetic with her in her struggle against tyranny. When the democracy of France appealed to us for help, the clamor was loud that we should give that help. Genêt, the French minister sent to this country, began enlisting men and sending out privateers before going through the formality of presenting his credentials to the President. He was cheered and encouraged by many officers and leaders of our own Revolution. No action by our government would have been more popular than its assistance of the vast mob of madmen that were desolating France.
But Washington was not deceived for a moment. He compelled the recall of the blatant Genêt and would not permit so much as the raising of a finger in behalf of the revolutionists in France. He was wise, and ere long the most impulsive of partisans saw and appreciated his wisdom.
Our Quarrel with Chili
It is the duty of every government to protect the rights of its citizen or people wherever such rights are invaded. In 1835, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, the natives of an island in the South Sea massacred the crew of an American trading vessel. A war ship was sent thither, and satisfaction being refused, the vessel proceeded to bombard the town, and when the bombardment ceased, there was no town there, the murderers of the Americans being among those that were slain.
Coming to a later date, all remember our quarrel with Chili, because of the attack upon a party of American sailors in the harbor of Valparaiso. Satisfaction was demanded, and when Chili dallied, preparations were made for forcing her to the wall, and beyond all doubt, she would have been compelled to pay dear for the outrage. Thereupon she apologized, paid an indemnity and the account was closed.
This illustrates the nature of the protection which all civilized governments are bound to extend to their people. One of the most creditable facts regarding Great Britain is that she is always resolute in this respect. An outrage upon an Englishman in any part of the world is sure of redress by his government. England will go to war at any time to right the wrongs of one of its humblest citizens.
The Necessity of The “Sick Man”
During the atrocious massacres in Armenia we were represented by a vigilant and faithful minister, who devoted every energy to the protection of Americans. That he did not always succeed was no fault of his, for other nationalities nearer the scene suffered. It would be a blessing to the world if Turkey were blotted out of existence, but it so happens that she is necessary for maintaining the political equilibrium of Europe. The slightest interference by one nation arouses the instant jealousy of all the rest, lest some of their territorial or political rights may be injured. And so it is that the “sick man” is propped up and allowed to curse Christianity and civilization.
Should the United States attempt intervention, she would precipitate one of the most destructive of wars, with the horrors beyond estimate. The wail of Armenia is not the first one that has reached our shuddering ears. The struggle of the Greeks against Turkey, the battling of the South American republics for independence, the appeal of Hungary, bleeding under the iron heel of Austria, the cry of down-trodden Ireland—these are only a few of the prayers which have stirred our pity and made us yearn to strike vigorous blows in behalf of the suppliants. But no nation does anything for the sake of humanity alone, and the rigid law of self-preservation compels the United States to keep clear of all foreign quarrels and entanglements. We may help men struggling for liberty with money, arms, ammunition and volunteers, but it must be “unofficial”; the government, as such, can take no part in it.
There are two domestic questions that will engage the attention of the next administration and probably of many that are to follow: they are the tariff and the money problem.
The Tariff Question
The tariff question is older than the government itself. Before the adoption of the Constitution, the States occasionally levied tariffs on imports and more than once they were of a protective nature. Their disjointed character and their consequent hindrance to commerce constituted a powerful cause of the closer union which came in 1787.
When the national government was finally organized the most pressing question was that of finance. The country was as poor as it could be. The people in more than one section rebelled against the imposition of taxes, for the all-sufficient reason that they were too poor to pay them. Yet the government could not live without money, and it had decided that every penny incurred by the long, exhausting struggle for independence should be paid.
How was the money to be obtained?
Manifestly from one source: the imposition of duties upon goods brought into this country. Such imposition constitutes the tariff.
The “American System”
Since the new Constitution gave Congress the power of regulating commerce, the first Congress of 1789 passed a tariff act which imposed a duty of about eight per cent. ad valorem on imports. These rates were slightly increased in 1790 and again in 1792, an attempt being made to protect American industries, of which policy Hamilton and the Federalists were advocates. A stimulus was given to American manufactures by the war of 1812, which was continued by the tariff of 1816. This imposed a duty of some twenty-five per cent. on leading manufactures, commercial New England and the agricultural South protesting. A new tariff act was passed in 1824 which increased duties on metals and agricultural products. Henry Clay now stood forward as the champion of the “American System,” which was a combination of a higher protective tariff with governmental expenditures for internal improvements.
The “Tariff of Abominations”
In 1828 Congress passed the “tariff of abominations,” as it was called by its enemies, which imposed duties upon raw materials. It roused the South to anger, for that section was the chief sufferer. Indignant protests followed, and, though the tariff of 1832 was about the same as that of 1824, it retained the principle of protection. History has told how South Carolina declared the act unconstitutional and void and proceeded to nullify it, making preparations for a forcible resistance to its collection. To quell the storm he had raised, Clay introduced and Congress passed the act of 1833, which provided for a gradual reduction of duties to a uniform rate which was to be reached in 1842.
In 1846 a tariff was enacted which was mainly “for revenue only,” followed by a still lower tariff in 1857, which remained in force until the breaking out of the civil war. In 1861, the Morrill Tariff became law. It was a Republican measure and in the line of high protection. The enormous drain upon the national resources caused an increase of the rates, which continued long after the last gun of the war was fired. Through the recommendations of the Tariff Commission of 1882, a few unimportant reductions were made in the tariff. This, too, was a Republican measure, but since then, the Republican party has become that of high protection, while the Democrats, as a party, have favored a reduction of rates. The McKinley Act of 1890 was a tremendous step in the direction of protection, while the Wilson Bill, following a few years later, was a move toward a tariff for revenue only.
Such, in brief, is a history of the most important tariff legislation. It should be remembered that among the Democrats are many who favor a protective tariff (such, for instance, as the late Samuel J. Randall, of Pennsylvania), and the Republicans include some who favor a tariff for revenue only, while the country itself has a considerable number who contend that absolute free trade is the true policy.
How to adjust these principles so as to bring the greatest good to the greatest number is one of the ever-present problems. It is not our province to discuss the important question, but rather to present the views of the ablest exponents of the respective policies, which we do in the pages that follow.
The Money Problem
A question hardly second in importance is that respecting our currency. How shall the gold, silver and paper currency be so adjusted that all three will remain at par and fully meet the demands of the country? The man who can answer this question will be one of the greatest benefactors of mankind. Not only has each leading political party made the attempt, but the task has been undertaken by the Greenbackers, the Populists and by those who would form a party of their own, or be independent of all parties. And still the question confronts us.
Coin, because of its intrinsic value, must be the basis of all monetary systems. We accept a debtor's note when we know of a certainty that it will be paid at maturity. So we accept the paper promises of the government, when we believe the government can and will pay them without discount. Paper money is more convenient to handle than metal money, and so long as it is worth its face value, so long will it circulate to the partial or total exclusion of gold and silver. It is when a doubt of the solvency of the government creeps into the mind of the public, that the people demand the money upon which there is never a discount.
A Substitute Must Be Provided
But there is not enough gold in the country or in the world to meet the requirements of trade and business. Therefore, a substitute must be provided.
The vast product of the silver mines of the West has made that metal so abundant that its representatives in Congress demand legislation in its favor. The cry is that the coinage of silver and gold shall be in the ratio of 16 to 1. If this proportion will maintain the parity of the two metals, so that a dollar of one is worth a dollar of the other, we shall have a bimetallic standard. When the United States began coining silver and gold at the ratio of 15 to 1, the ratio of France was 15½ to 1. Following the law of trade, gold went where it could get the most for itself; it went to France and left the silver with us and gold disappeared from the currency. In 1834, our forefathers changed the ratio to 16 to 1 and gold flowed back to the United States.
The free silverites claim that the United States can maintain what they call “bimetallism” by free silver coinage at 16 to 1. An examination of the platforms of the respective political parties will show our readers the conflicting views upon this great question, while the following exposition by the foremost experts and authorities will make clear many points upon the subject to which our words are intended to serve as an introduction.
While the system of government in the United States is the best in the world, it would not be human if it did not contain some defects, all of which can be eliminated by careful and wise legislation. There are so many radical differences in some of the laws that it would seem that national legislation is demanded in the interests of uniformity.
National Bankruptcy and Divorce Laws
To illustrate, there has been a crying need for years of a national bankruptcy law. It would be in the line of justice, for it must be conceded that the law which is the nearest approach to justice in one State, should prevail in all. At present the bankrupt laws at one point may be radically different from those a few rods away, simply because a State boundary crosses the intervening space. The demand for a national bankrupt law has become such a necessity that it may be looked upon as one of the certainties of the near future.
Another need is for a national divorce law. At present, we have one State—South Carolina—which grants divorce for no cause whatever, while in South Dakota and Oklahoma divorces are given for such trifling pretexts and at such wholesale rates that it amounts to a national scandal. In the interests of public morality, this outrageous state of affairs should be brought to an end by national legislation.
The Temperance Problem
Another question, which has long engaged the thoughts of good men and women is as to the extent to which State and National legislation shall go in the direction of temperance. The evils of intemperance are one of the most frightful afflictions that has ever fallen upon humanity. How to lessen, if not to extinguish these evils, is a problem worthy the thought of all who have the good of their kind at heart. In 1851 Maine adopted a law which forbade the selling of intoxicating liquors as a beverage, and prohibition laws have been passed since then in other States. How far these laws have been effective it is not for us to attempt to say. There are those who contend that prohibition is the surest preventive of drunkenness, while others maintain that it wholly fails of its purpose.
The latter look upon moral suasion, or an appeal to a man's common sense and conscience, as the only method that can bring good results. Still others consider high license as the true panacea. State Legislatures are continually engaging in temperance legislation. Local option seems to have been effective in many places, while in the city of New York, the strict enforcement of existing laws, which have long been a dead letter, has unquestionably been a severe blow to the liquor men.
How far it is wise to go in the direction of legislation, what rights should be invaded for the sake of benefiting humanity, what in short is the best method of lessening if not extirpating the evils of intemperance, are subjects to which every thoughtful person should give his earnest attention.
“Paternalism in Government”
Another question that has attracted interest may be termed “paternalism in government.” There are those who think that the government should run our railroad and telegraph lines and that post-offices should become banking institutions. Bearing upon the question of the govermental control of the railroads, there is no better authority than Chauncey M. Depew, President of the New York Central. While making a tour through California a short time ago, he said, referring to the scheme of the government taking control of the Central Pacific in that State:
I do not believe in government ownership. A government road would be badly run, for politicians would run it and it would be run at a loss. Congress would have to make up the deficit, and then the New England States, in fact all the States of the East and South, would raise a protest because like sums were not spent to aid transportation enterprises in them. Eastern Congressmen would refuse to vote appropriations to pay Pacific roads' debts, and the result can be easily imagined. Owing to the poor service which a government road would give, places reached by competing lines would give their trade to them, and places served only by a government road would find their trade paralyzed. In South America government ownership was tried and found wanting. As to the excellent railway system of Germany under government control, the result was higher freight rates than this country could stand. If the same rates prevailed in California, not an orange or a pound of fruit or grain could be shipped to the Missouri river at a profit. Under the German system of railroad management the great prolific West would still be a desert waste.