Littell's Living Age/Volume 139/Issue 1791/An American Zollverein

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From The Pall Mall Gazette.


Some interest has been excited by a rumor, originating in a letter from the American correspondent of the Times, that negotiations were likely to be reopened between the government of the United States and the government of the Dominion of Canada for the settlement of the commercial controversy which has during the last fourteen years caused much trouble and loss to both countries. The statement in this simple and guarded form is likely enough to be correct. The Americans are quite shrewd enough to have seen long ago that they committed a grave blunder when they "denounced" the Reciprocity Treaty with Canada in 1864; and they have felt the consequences of that blunder all the more keenly since the period of unhealthy and abnormal prosperity which followed the war came to a sudden end in the crash of 1873. When the Reciprocity Treaty was abrogated the Americans, with characteristic ignorance of Canadian feeling and character, and with equally characteristic self-conceit, were confident that Canada, unable to stand commercially alone and weakened in her political relations by the imperial policy or no-policy then prevailing at home, would throw herself without delay into the arms of the Republic. The dominant school of politicians in this country, then every day expected to be relieved from the restraining influence of Lord Palmerston, and to develop its doctrines vigorously under the guidance of Mr. Gladstone, had announced repeatedly and with energy that if the Canadians wished to become partners in the republican government of the United States England would not say a word, much less lift a finger, to prevent them. Accordingly, the American project of coercing Canada into an appreciation of the advantages of joining the Union had something more than fair play. Its complete failure was remarkable and instructive. The Canadians were justly angry, and perhaps a little alarmed. They set to work at once to secure the political strength without which their neighbors might wear them down in detail; and the Confederation Act of 1867 was in truth the Canadian retort upon the abrogation of the Reciprocity Treaty. With equal courage, promptitude, and activity they proceeded to defend and develop their trade, and they soon found that they had little to fear from the competition of the Americans — so long, at least, as the latter bound themselves in the complicated trammels of an illogical and continually changing protective system. The growth of Canadian trade in the ten years succeeding the confederation of 1867 was very marked; and the Americans saw their hopes of inducing Canada to enter the Union by enforcing the threat of keeping her out in the cold gradually vanishing. Those hopes, however, revived as Canada began to suffer from the "hard times." The aggregate imports and exports of the Dominion amounted to $194,000,000 in 1872, and to $218,000,000 in 1874; in 1875 they fell to $200,000,000, and in 1876 to $ 174,000,000. Of course this decline of trade has caused much grumbling, and the protectionists have used it to push their attack upon free-trade principles and their very limited acceptance in practice by the government and parliament of Canada. Of course, too, there are many Canadians who see that if the American market were open to them they could make a much better fight for commercial existence. But the United States are wedded to a protectionist policy; and there seems very little hope for the present that any material change will be made in the American tariff, whatever may be the vicissitudes of parties at Washington. It is foolish to build upon the fact — if it be a fact — that the Democrats are by principle and tradition a free-tradingparty. The late and the present House of Representatives, though governed by a Democratic majority, have done nothing to promote free trade.

The Americans are able to say, therefore, that if the Canadians want to procure admission to the markets of the Republic they must accept protection as an established fact and make terms with it accordingly. The correspondent of the Times asserts that the United States government is considering proposals to be addressed to the government of the Dominion, not for a renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty, but for the inclusion of Canada and the States in a customs union with a uniform tariff. Undoubtedly this would open the American markets to Canadian trade; and, if the advantages are so great as the Americans contend, the Canadians may possibly be tempted to look at the offer. But we have no doubt that upon consideration they will see, what is perfectly obvious, that, even supposing the advantages to be as clear as any one ventures to assert, the price demanded is too high. In the first place, Canada by entering a customs union would abandon her freedom of action altogether. Commercial treaties may be abrogated or altered from time to time, but when once Canada had become a partner in the American Zollverein she would find it impossible to withdraw. The frontier customs line and all the organizations connected with it would be abolished — an excellent thing in itself no doubt; but plainly it would be hard to re-establish the system when people had once got used to its absence, and freedom of trade across the St. Lawrence had become as familiar as freedom of trade across the Mississippi. Canada, however, is not inclined thus to burn her boats. Even if she were, the rights of this country would have to be regarded. The correspondent of the Times is of opinion that "if the Dominion were assured of perfect liberty of action" the American proposals would have considerable chance of acceptance. The testimony of the writer, no doubt, may be trusted so far as the prevalent views of politicians in the United States are concerned, but we hesitate to place implicit confidence in his evidence as to Canadian feeling. Citizens of the United States are generally wrong in all their notions about Canada, and we fancy they are mistaken in thinking that the mass of the Canadian people would be prepared, on any inducement, to enter into relations with the United States which would operate against this country as if it were a foreign power. It is true that Canada has legislated in a protective sense against British manufacturers, but there has been at least an equality in the treatment of all commerce outside of the Dominion. Under the proposed Zollverein Canada would keep out British products, for the benefit mainly of the cotton-spinners of Massachusetts and the iron-merchants of Pennsylvania. We doubt, as we have said, whether such a scheme has the slightest chance of being entertained by any important section of the Canadians, protectionist or free-trading, conservative or liberal. It is well to observe that the protectionist party in Canada, which might naturally be expected to favor a project of this character, is mainly composed of conservatives, who look with extreme dislike upon American institutions and are warm supporters of the imperial connection. But, whatever might be the opinion of the moment in Canada, it is quite clear that the sanction of the Parliament here to the creation of an American Zollverein could not be easily obtained.