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Title: Free Ships: The Restoration of the American Carrying Trade
Author: Codman, John, 1814-1900
Language: English
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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. But while all of them have either totally abolished or
materially modified their stringent laws touching their shipping
interests--America, "the land of the free," the boasting leader of
the world's progress and enlightenment, stands alone sustaining
this effete idea. She persists in maintaining an ordinance
devised originally for the protection of the home industry of her
shipbuilders, which has now become a most stalwart protection for
the industry of every foreign shipowner whom we encourage in the
transportation of our persons and property over the ocean--an
industry in which this law forbids a similar class of her own
citizens to participate!

Whatever may be the arguments in favor of, or opposed to, the
protection of industries under the control of our own Government, none
of them can apply to those pursued upon an area which is the common
property of the world. It is a proposition so evident that no words
need be wasted in its demonstration, that, other things being equal,
the cheapest and best ships, most adapted for the purpose, by
whomsoever owned, will have preference in the carrying trade over
the ocean. You may pile the duty, for instance, on iron, and grant
bounties on the production of the American article if you please,
to any extent; you may, if you choose, prohibit the importation of
ploughs, and then assess farmers ten times the cost of their ploughs
for the benefit of the home manufacturer. You would undoubtedly
succeed in compelling them to purchase American ploughs. They must
have them or starve, and we should all starve likewise if they did not
use those protected ploughs to cultivate the soil. Indeed, in a less
exaggerated way we are doing something very like this continually
under the guise of "protecting home industry."

It is a legitimate business for the advocates of that doctrine. If
they believe in it they are quite right in "trying it on," and in
making the people at large pay as much as can possibly be got out of
them for the benefit of a few.

But fortunately they cannot build a Chinese wall around the country.
We are necessitated to have intercourse with other nations. We have
a surplus of agricultural products to dispose of to them which they
cannot pay for unless to a certain extent we take the merchandise they
offer in exchange. This exchange, with all due respect to Mr. Lynch,
his committee and the House of Representatives appointing those astute
investigators, is commerce. The carrying trade is the means whereby
commerce is conducted, and this carrying trade, an industry once of
vastly greater importance to our people than all shipbuilding has
been, is now, or ever can be, is a business that Congress by its
supine neglect has deliberately thrown into the hands of Europeans,
and sacrificed American shipowners at the instigation of American

In face of the prosperity achieved in consequences of the abandonment
of a ruinous system by other nations, in face of the lamentable
decadence its maintenance has brought upon ourselves, we still persist
in packing this Sindbad of prohibition, the worst offspring of
protection, upon our back, and then we wonder that we alone make no

Certain political economists are in the habit of raking up records of
the past wherewith to justify their theories for the present age. They
tell us of England's protective laws in Cromwell's time, and say that
as by them she then established her mercantile marine, we should
endeavor to regain what we have lost, by a return to the policy of
that period, from which by the by, we have varied only in a small
degree. Upon the same principle we should abandon steam, which, like
the progress made by our competitors, in free trade, is merely another
improvement in the train of advancing civilization. When such men talk
of the steamship enterprises which have triumphed in spite of their
antediluvian ideas, they tell us that England supported the Cunard
line by subsidies, and thus put her shipbuilding on a firm basis.
The inference is that we should go back to 1840, build some 1200 ton
wooden paddle steamers and subsidize them.

That this is no idle supposition is shown by the fact that long after
England had abandoned that class of vessels in favor of iron screw
steamships, we did build and subsidize the unwieldly tubs, some of
which are still in the employment of the Pacific Mail Steamship
Company. We became the laughing stock of the rest of the world who
classed us with the Chinese, and our steamships with Chinese junks.
The Japanese just emerged from barbarism exceeded us in enterprise.

They now own one line of fifty-seven steamships, more of them engaged
in foreign trade than all the steamships we thus employ upon the
ocean! At a late day we did commence the use of iron screw steamships
of such description and at such cost as one or two domestic ship-yards
chose to supply, and thus we were as far from resisting competition
as ever.

Now, if there was no ocean traffic of which we should be deprived, the
hardship to our shipowners would be comparitively trifling, although
the tax upon ships of inferior workmanship and higher cost would, like
all the operations of the tariff, be felt by the community at large.
This is evident enough.

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company, for example, in order to pay
expenses, to say nothing of profits, are obliged to charge a higher
fare to passengers, to exact higher rates of freight from shippers
and to demand a larger postal contract from government than they could
afford to take, if by being allowed to supply themselves with ships
in the cheapest markets of the world and of the best quality that
competing shipyards could turn out, they might save one-third of
their cost and have better steamers. If, therefore, we had only the
coasting trade to consider, we might say that the prohibitory statute
would not pinch the shipowner particularly, but its evil would be
generally distributed. We are actually carrying on the coasting trade
in this way, and as it is all that shipowners have left, of necessity
they oblige the community to pay them the excess of cost in order that
protection may inure to the benefit of the few monopolists who build
iron steamships and are able to force the quality and price upon their
unwilling purchasers. We can, and do without considering the pockets
of the majority, make whatever laws we please for our own coasting

But now let us look at the ocean rolling from continent to continent,
unfettered by the chains with which "protection" can bind the lands
and coasts upon its borders appropriated by nations to themselves. It
is independent of an American tariff and of them all, as it was in the
days when--

  "It rolled not back when Canute gave command."

It welcomes the people of all nations on equal terms to its bosom,
and Commerce is the swift-winged messenger ever travelling from shore
to shore. Look at it, and if our eyes could scan it all at once, we
should see the smoke darkening the air as it rises from hundreds of
chimneys, telling of fires that make the steam for propelling the
mighty engines that bring the great leviathans of commerce almost
daily into our ports and into those whom we supply and by whom we are
supplied with the products of mutual labor. The flags of all nations
are at their peaks--the British, German, Dutch, Danish, Belgian,
French--but among the three hundred and more there are only four that
carry the stars and stripes, and these were put afloat mainly at the
cost of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Three hundred steamships,
employing fifty thousand men earning a million and a half of dollars
monthly; these men supporting and educating families, and themselves
becoming reserves for their respective countries to call upon for
naval service in time of war! Look at the ports from which these
vessels wherever built, now hail, and which they enrich by the capital
they distribute. Behold the warehouses, repairing shops, foundries,
and other various industries connected with these enterprises, and the
shipowners engaged in promoting them pursuing a legitimate business.

Then look at home. First calculate the sum of one hundred and thirty
millions of dollars that has been annually paid by us to those
foreigners for transporting ourselves and our merchandise. Then go
back in memory to the time when in the days of sailing ships, our
packets almost monopolized the ocean on account of the skill of our
officers and seamen.

Reflect that if a policy of ordinary foresight had prevailed in our
national councils when these sailing ships were killed off by the
competition of the newly-invented iron screw, their old commanders
and their noble crews would have kept their employment, and as they
died would have been succeeded by men as worthy as themselves, adding
to our revenue in time of peace, and, when needed, supplying a navy
now maintained at an immense expense--God save the mark!--for the
protection of an extinct merchant service!

See how few American steamship offices, how few repairing shops we
have need of for these foreigners, who employ their own agents instead
of our merchants, and naturally endeavor to do all the work required
upon their vessels at home. Then search for the American shipowners
engaged in trade beyond the seas. Look for them in their deserted
counting-rooms of South street, in New York. As their old captains
have retired in poverty and are begging for such offices as that of
inspector or port warden, or for same subordinate place in the
Custom-House, while the seamen are mostly dead with none to come after
them, so South street is abandoned by its honorable merchants, who
have, in too many cases, moved up to Wall street, and become gamblers
by being deprived of their original business. When you have done all
this, finish up your investigation by estimating how much sooner the
rebellion might have been overcome, if in years past we had owned
our share of the world's shipping, and multiply the $130,000,000 of
freight money we annually pay to foreigners by the number of years
we have been engaged in this suicidal policy of protecting them in
earning money that of right belonged to our own people!

Having sketched this result of American legislation, let us glance at
that of other nations in late years for it is as useless to dwell upon
what it was a century or two centuries ago as it would be to study the
navigation laws of the Phoenicians, or to inquire if Solomon exacted
that the ships bringing his spices from India and his gold from Ophir
should be of Jewish construction. Old things did not pass away and
all things did not fairly become new until the discovery of gold in
California and Australia revolutionized values, created universal
national intercourse, and by thus giving a sudden impetus to commerce,
made the carrying trade an industry of far greater importance than it
had ever been before.

At that epoch, our restrictive laws were productive of no harm to us,
because it so happened that most of the business of the seas was done
in wooden sailing ships, and it also happened, fortunately for us,
that we had the faculty and the means of constructing them better
and cheaper than they could be produced elsewhere. Accordingly our
shipyards became wonderfully active in supplying the demands of our
shipowners, and the _personnel_ as well as the material of our
merchant fleet being of the highest character, it was consequently
in active employment. In the ratio of the increasing value of our
carrying trade there was a corresponding decrease in that of Great
Britain, simply because her restrictive laws, which were the same
then as ours are now, prevented her people from owning such magnificent
clippers as we were able to build, on equal terms with us.

But British statesmen were not inattentive to the situation. They
wasted no time in appointing committees to investigate the cause of
the difficulty, for it was as clear to them as the noonday sun, as
clear as the occasion of our "decadence" should have been to the House
of Representatives that appointed Mr. Lynch--as clear as it should be
to the Congress now assembled.

Parliament deputed no half dozen of its members to spend six months
in running around among shipbuilders, asking them what bounty they
required to build clippers like the Americans, and how long it would
take them to equal American shipbuilders in skill, material and cost.

But, realizing that the interests of commerce and ship owning were of
infinitely greater value than that of mere shipbuilding, they did not
propose to lose them, while the latter industry should endeavor to
gain a new life. Regardless of any such consideration as that which
solely actuated our investigators, Parliament at once abolished the
prohibition to purchase foreign built ships. The greatest good of the
greatest number was the motive of this wise decision.

As soon as they were thus allowed to do so, English shipowners ordered
clippers from our shipyards, and putting them into profitable
employment under their own flag, kept on with their business, sharing
with us the supremacy of the seas, which but for the timely action of
their government they would inevitably have lost. In this way they
maintained it until there came a new era in shipbuilding, when
circumstances becoming reversed, their mechanics were enabled to
accomplish what ours could not, in the construction of iron screw
steamships. Had Congress then been as wise as Parliament was in 1849,
our shipowners would, in their turn, have maintained their prestige
by supplying themselves from abroad with the new vehicles of commerce
they could not procure at home, and we should never have heard of
"decadence." Instead of such obviously judicious action, it has done
nothing but condemn us year after year to enforced idleness in the
name of "protection." So we have endeavored to compete with these
new motors on the sea by means of wooden sailing ships and paddle
steamers, until they are of service only in our coastwise monopoly
or rotting at the docks, if not broken up. We have gone on steadily
protecting ourselves to death, and protecting England and Germany, the
chief of our rivals, to life at our own expense of vitality. England's
justice to her shipowners, which at first seemed harshness to her
shipbuilders, was eventually the means of their prosperity. It set
them to "finding out knowledge of witty inventions," and now they have
one hundredfold the capital invested and labor employed in iron
steamship building, more than ever found occupation in their old

In a recent address before the New York Free Trade Club, Mr. Frothingham
humorously described a visit made by him a few years ago to the studio
of an artist. He found him seated in despair, amidst a gallery of his
unfinished pictures, his pallet, brushes and colors scattered about
upon the floor, complaining bitterly of his lack of business. "This
importation of French pictures," he said, "is ruin to American artists.
Something must be done for our protection; we intend to get Congress
to raise the tariff on those productions so that we shall not have to
contend with the cheap labor that takes the bread out of our mouths."
It may be noticed that this common phrase is very generally employed
by those who are too lazy to supply their own mouths with bread.
"Something," added the desponding artist, "must positively be done,
and that very soon, or our occupation will be gone!" "I thought," said
Mr. Frothingham, "that I could more easily convince him of his mistake
by entering for the time into his humor, and so with apparently deep
sympathy, I condoled with him and promised to exert my influence in
behalf of his profession. He thanked me heartily for my good will.
But then I continued, "I want you to do something for me and for my
profession in return." "How can I!" exclaimed my friend with some
amazement. "Why," I replied, "We must get up what they call an omnibus
bill, including relief for painters and preachers. Don't you know that
one of the Presbyterian churches in New York, has imported, duty free,
the Rev. Dr. Taylor from England, another, the Rev. Dr. Hall, from
Ireland, and the Princeton Theological Seminary has brought over,
without Custom House charges, the Rev. Dr. McCosh from Scotland? Now
that is "taking the bread out of our mouths." There are plenty of
American clergymen who would be glad to obtain these positions, and
what right, therefore, have those congregations and that institution
to supply themselves from abroad? The wants of the people ought not
to be considered, but an art monopoly, a pulpit monopoly, a monopoly
of any kind should be protected." In a style of satirical reasoning,
of which the foregoing is an abstract, conviction was brought to the
mind of the painter. Changing his tone to one of serious advice, the
clergyman counselled him to go to work, to let competition become an
incentive to action, instead of paralysing his energy. He then told
him how the advent of these foreign divines had been a stimulus to
him and to his brethren in the ministry. The result was that to-day
there is a higher standard of pulpit eloquence in New York than in any
other city of the Union.

The lecture of the preacher was serviceable to the artist who is now
at the head of his profession, caring no more for French rivalry than
for that of a tavern sign painter. The appositeness of this
illustration will be evident when it is applied to the subject under

Almost immediately after the repeal of the British Navigation Laws
the revolution in shipbuilding to which I have referred had its
commencement, and we have seen how British shipowners availed
themselves of it. Nor were they alone in adopting the change from sail
to steam and from wood to iron. We can remember what a large trade we
had with Germany twenty-five years ago, although it was small compared
with that of the present. At that time it was chiefly conducted in
American vessels. But when iron steamships came into vogue, wooden
vessels, both American and German, were abandoned. If we had been
permitted to do so, we should have still kept the greater part of that
important carrying trade in our hands. But we were shackled by our
navigation laws, while the Germans were unconstrained by any such

The _personnel_ of our mercantile marine was, in every respect,
superior to theirs, but it was consigned to annihilation by our
protective government; while Hamburg and Bremen took their old galliot
skippers in hand and educated them to the responsible places they
now fill in command of the splendid lines of iron steamships, making
their semi-weekly trips across the Atlantic, having absolutely
monopolized the whole American trade!

Thus our government protected the Germans as well as the English.
By citing other examples, we might show how the "fostering" hand of
protection has been extended by our government to every nation
choosing to trade upon the necessities of prohibited Americans.

Now, if the United States persist in maintaining a policy long since
abandoned by Europeans, South American and Asiatic nations, even by
Japan, leaving us only China as a companion, there must surely be some
arguments to support it, and to account in some other way than has
been pointed out for the decadence of our carrying trade. It was
the theory of Mr. Lynch's committee that we were going on very
successfully until the civil war supervened, and then the Confederate
cruisers destroyed our "commerce," as they termed the industry we have
lost. If this is not disposed of by what I have already said, permit
me to quote from my scrap-book an extract from a letter addressed by
me to the New York _Journal of Commerce_, in the spring of 1857,
_nearly four years previous to the commencement of the rebellion_:

    "In an article, written some months since, it was assumed
    that steam was destined to be the great moving power for
    emigration, and that it would supplant, almost entirely, the
    use of sails. Experience is every day justifying this view,
    and still more, it is becoming evident that in proportion as
    steam can be economized, it will serve for the transportation
    of very much of the merchandise now carried by sailing
    vessels. In fact, the time is not far distant when the latter
    class of ships will be required only for articles of great
    bulk and comparatively little value.

    "The only question now is, who are to be the gainers by this
    revolution in navigation?

    Figures are very convincing arguments to American minds. Let
    us use them:

    In January last it was stated that less than eighteen years
    have elapsed since the first steamship propelled wholly by
    steam crossed the Atlantic; and now there are fourteen lines
    of steamers, comprising forty-eight vessels, plying between
    Europe and America."[A] Upon looking into this with a view to
    test its correctness, it was found to be within the truth;
    for, including transient steamers, the number was greater than
    stated. And it incidentally appeared that of them all, there
    were but seven under the American flag--all seven, side wheel
    ships--and, on the average, unprofitable, even with the
    support of government, upon which they leaned."

    [Footnote A: In twenty-one years the number of our
    transatlantic steamships has decreased from seven to four,
    while those under foreign flags have increased two hundred
    and fifty.]

    Maintaining then, as now, that the screw must supersede the
    side-wheel for all purposes, excepting perhaps those of mail
    carriage, and that iron screw steamers are, in all commercial
    respects, preferable to wood steamers, the argument was
    adduced that England, being able to construct this class of
    vessels more economically than we can, must of necessity have
    the monopoly of building them. Her monopoly, in this respect,
    we cannot prevent; but it depends upon ourselves and our
    government whether she shall share with us the monopoly of
    owning and sailing them.

    I have taken a bold, and it may be, _apparently_, an
    unpatriotic stand, in assuming that the only way in which we
    can participate in ocean steam navigation is by adopting a
    system of reciprocity with England in so changing our laws
    that we may buy her steamers as she now buys our sailing
    ships, because she finds it for her interest to do so."

These views, _entertained twenty-one years ago_, were applicable then.
They have been applicable ever since--they are applicable now. They
have been the staple of all that I have ever written on the subject
before the war, during the war, and since its termination.

Iron steamship building was in its infancy in 1857. Its great
development was merely coincident with our civil war. That war was a
horrid nightmare. We found that our navigation interests, with many
other things we could ill afford to lose, the lives of hundreds of
thousands of our young men, vast sums of our money, and not a little
of our morality, were gone. Those lives can never be restored, while
our money may be regained, and it is to be hoped our morality may be
improved, but as to our ships, we simply refuse to replace them with
those that are better.

One argument in opposition to free ships is founded upon the injustice
that would be done to our shipbuilders. Were this true, it might be
said that ship-owners and the general public have some rights that
shipbuilders are bound to respect. The interests of our whole people
are paramount to theirs as were those of the English people in 1849,
when the proportion of their shipbuilders was greatly beyond that of
ours at this day.

In point of fact, however, the suffering of our shipbuilders by the
repeal of the navigation laws, would, from the first, be scarcely
appreciable, and, in the end, would be more than compensated by
increased business.

It would matter very little either to the builders of wooden vessels
or to the public if that provision of the statute which touches that
department, and which really was intended for that alone, should be
repealed or not. Our mechanics build mainly for the coasting trade,
and they build wooden vessels so good, and at such low prices, on
account of the material at their hands, that there is little danger of
any competition with them on the part of foreigners. We never had any
reason, and probably never shall have, to fear the rivalry of other
nations in this particular line of business. So long as it constituted
the only method of construction, as we have seen, England found her
advantage in coming to our market for her ships.

Therefore, what Congress does, or neglects to do, regarding this
branch of shipbuilding, is of very small moment. Our wants do not lie
in that direction.

The iron screw steamship is now the great and profitable carrier upon
the ocean, and all we care to ask is the privilege to avail ourselves
of this "survival of the fittest." Whence then comes the opposition to
what should be the inalienable right of an American citizen to own the
best ship that he can buy with his own money?

Naturally, from the few iron shipbuilders in this country, the chief
of whom happens to be an Irishman. I would not be understood as
speaking disrespectfully of his nationality, for I am aware that our
political machinery depends very much upon the votes of his countrymen
for its running order. Nevertheless we do object to this perpetual cry
of the "Protection of Home Industry" which simply means the protection
of Mr. John Roach at the cost of the forty million citizens whom he
has adopted.

This personal allusion is unavoidable. Mr. Roach is omnipresent in
the lobbies of Congress, and by his persuasive blarney exerts an undue
influence there. Withal he is my personal friend, and I have often
had occasion to compliment him upon the ingenuity of his appeals.

When we approach Congress with the modest request to be allowed to buy
ships where we can do so upon the most satisfactory terms, Mr. Roach
is always on hand to give assurance that it is needless for us to go
abroad, for by his skill and his labor-saving processes he is able
to supply us with all the ships we require cheaper than they can be
bought upon the Clyde. Again when there is a subsidy bill before the
Senate or House, our versatile friend is equally ready to go down upon
his knees as a beggar, telling Congress that the only way to regain
our ocean prestige is to subsidize the companies from whom he expects
to get orders, as otherwise they cannot compete with the "pauper
labor" of the country he has abandoned. In either case, as will be
readily seen, the object is to have us contribute to the prosperity
of Mr. Roach.

With pride the iron shipbuilders of the Delaware point to the increase
of their business, infinitesimal as it is, compared to the ever
multiplying production of British shipyards. But whence does this
increase arise? From the demand of our people for carrying grain,
cotton and other products to Europe, and bringing back merchandise
therefrom in competition with the great fleet of foreign steamers to
whom we have given the monopoly of that business? By no means. It will
be found upon critical enquiry that every one of our home-built iron
steamers, excepting two or three in the W. India business, is built
for our coastwise trade or for some line that had been subsidized.
Even the three or four ships belonging to what is called the "American
Line," running between Philadelphia and Liverpool, may be said to be
subsidized, as without an entire remission of taxes from the State and
the aid of the Pennsylvania Railroad, they could not have been put

Now, why cannot American shipbuilders compete on equal terms with
those of Great Britain? That they cannot is evident from the fact that
they do not; for it would be unreasonable to suppose that the ability
to sail ships, on the part of our seamen, vanished with the departure
of wooden vessels. It is true that we need a revision of other
maritime laws besides those under discussion, but it is sufficient
now to say that we cannot prove our ability to sail ships unless we
are permitted to own the ships we desire to sail.

Ships are but the tools of commerce, and if we have not the tools we
cannot do the work. Foreign mechanics cannot sell us these tools; our
own mechanics cannot provide them; therefore the workmen of the sea
are idle.

If one of Mr. Roach's theories is correct, if he can build steamships
cheaper and better than those we desire to buy, why does he object to
the introduction of an article that can do him no harm? If the other
is true, and undoubtedly it is, that he cannot build the ships that
are needed without the aid of a bounty or a subsidy, what then?
Manifestly, unless the prohibition to purchase such ships is removed,
it being the duty of Congress to protect the individual interests of
Mr. Roach and his confreres by subsidies, equal justice demands that
every person as well as every company who is forced to come to them
for ships, should be subsidized to the extent of the difference of
the cost of a ship in the United States, and that in the country where
they are most advantageously built, and this difference is at least
twenty-five per cent. Call it rather more or rather less as we please,
but a vast difference is on all hands acknowledged, and the fact
of our non-production proves it. The shipbuilders have already had
exceptional legislation by a considerable remission of duties in their
favor. But it is not enough.

In order to compete successfully with foreigners, they should obtain
the repeal of all duties which make their daily life so much more
expensive to them than it is to their fellow craftsmen in Scotland.
But having already more protection than any other class of mechanics,
they have scarcely the presumption to demand any partiality to that
extent. Another, and a more forcible reason for their lack of success
is that there has been no competition in the importation of ships to
stir them to exertion. Had there been, the first difficulty might more
readily be overcome. The illustration used by Mr. Frothingham already
given, applies with greater force to ship building than to any other
industry. The importation of ships is absolutely prohibited, whereas
that of all other articles is either free or accompanied by a duty.
And it is worthy of notice that the smaller the duty on whatever is
introduced, the greater is the constantly improving skill of our
domestic manufacturers in its production.

As an argument against free ships, opponents of the measure a few
years since circulated and placed on the desks of members of Congress,
a lithographed drawing. It represented among other things the
destruction of our vessels by the _Alabama_, and a personal
caricature, the compliment of which it does not become me to more
than acknowledge. Its chief ground was occupied by starving mechanics,
standing listlessly around deserted ship-yards and machine-shops.

There was some truth in this part of the picture. There was no reason
why mechanics should starve at that time when a common laborer
obtained from two to three dollars per day for his work, but there was
a reason for the abandonment of wooden ship-yards and old-fashioned

Wooden ships were no longer in demand at home or abroad, and the world
had discovered better machinery to propel better ships. As an offset
to this pictorial argument, another might have been introduced,
exhibiting in the background the mere blacksmiths' shops of the free
cities of Hamburg and Bremen, as they existed before the era of iron
steamship building, and in the front the subsequent appearance of
great workshops and foundries, first built for the purpose of keeping
in repair the fleet of steamships bought by unhampered Germans to
do our American carrying trade, and afterwards kept in more active
employment, by the ability their workmen have since acquired to supply
their home market with steamers of their own construction.

The advocates of subsidies have committed a grievous error in arguing
that postal contracts, given to one or more steamship companies, will
tend to a revival of shipbuilding for public benefit. It is evident,
on the contrary, that those ships, a part of whose cost is defrayed by
National bounty, would be run as monopolies against individuals who
have no such charitable aid. A subsidy given for the protection or
the assistance of shipbuilders is a downright robbery of the people's
purse. There can be no question about the propriety of giving a proper
compensation to steamship companies who carry the mails. They ought to
be paid as liberally as railroad or stage-coach companies, according
to the miles they traverse and the difficulties they surmount. Their
true policy is first to advocate a measure whereby they can be
supplied with the best ships for their purposes in the cheapest
markets of the world, not only because in ordinary traffic they can
thus better compete with rivals under foreign flags, but because
they can better afford to accept a moderate compensation from our
government for carrying its mails.

Mr. Charles S. Hill of New York, has recently published a pamphlet of
elaborate statistics, his object being to prove that Great Britain has
protected not only her commerce, but her shipbuilding, by subsidies.
In one respect he is right. By liberal payment for the carriage of her
mails she has indirectly fostered commerce in maintaining regular
postal intercourse. But there is not the slightest evidence to show
that she paid out her public money to encourage either private
shipbuilding or ship owning. In England each of these industries
stands by itself, and is able to maintain itself. All that either
of them asks, and all that they both receive, is liberty. It is this,
and this alone, that has given them their overshadowing success.

_It is the want of it, and only the want of this great element of
prosperity, that has brought upon them in the United States the
oft-lamented "decadence."_ In this one sentence the whole story may
be read.

In giving her postal contracts, England never enquires where the ships
that carry the mails are built. It is sufficient that under her flag
they perform their work.

It was only the other day that a British subsidized line on the coast
of South America, bought the steamers of a bankrupt French line,
put them under the British flag, and went on with their accustomed
regularity in carrying the mails--all that was required at their

Now, if any of the companies who are seeking for postal contracts
from our government are to have their proposals acceded to, it should
be with the express proviso that they and all of us may be provided
with the best and cheapest ships wherever they can be obtained, as
in this way the public and individuals can be most profitably and
advantageously served.

I have observed in the preceding pages, that the reason why our
American shipbuilders are unable to compete with those upon the Clyde
is, in a great measure, owing to the fact that a high tariff, making
it more costly for mechanics to live, necessitates the demand, on
their part, for higher wages.

In the construction of an iron steamship, as will be seen in reading a
communication herewith presented, the labor may be estimated at 27-1/2
per cent. of the total cost. The writer, of course, means to be
understood as speaking of the labor in putting the ship together,
having the material in shape of angle iron, plates, &c., &c., already

If the labor from the time of extracting the iron from the mines,
reducing it to ore, and working it up from thence to the shape
required by the shipbuilder, had been included, nearly the whole cost
of the ship would be comprehended under that term. Indeed, in working
out this problem, we ought actually so to consider it. It will be seen
that the difference in the cost of labor, even in its depressed
condition in this country, without taking the higher cost of materials
into account, is so great as to absolutely preclude any attempt at
equality upon our part, notwithstanding what may be said to the
contrary by Mr. Roach, when it suits his convenience to boast of his
ability to compete with foreign shipbuilders.

At Dumbarton, I once carefully went over the books of Messrs. Wm.
Denny & Brothers, a member of whose firm, Mr. James Denny, now
furnishes me with some statistics. It was found that to build the
_Parthia_, a Cunard steamship of 3,000 tons, 162,500 days' labor
was required; I mean with the materials already prepared.

Now, although the figures given in the tables below ought to be
convincing at a glance, it is easy for any one with an ordinary
knowledge of arithmetic, to make a close calculation of the labor
difference in cost of British and American steamships _of the same
quality_. I do not deny that a teakettle may be cheaply rivetted
together anywhere.

Naturally, in this line of argument, I shall be met by the
oft-repeated question: "Do you then advocate the reduction of the
wages of our mechanics to the level of 'pauper labor' in Scotland?"
By no means but while explicitly in favor of such free trade in
general as will make a dollar go as far in the United States as four
shillings now go in Great Britain, I maintain that in the particular
industry of ship owning, so long as the necessity for higher wages is
imposed upon us, we ought to avail ourselves of any labor, "pauper"
or otherwise, by which steamships are built, because other nations
are so doing and are prosecuting for their manifest advantage this
vastly more important business upon the ocean, which we are forbidden
to engage in, because we cannot build ships. The homely illustration
at the close of the parable on the concluding page, is certainly
applicable. We are not allowed to whittle, because we cannot make

On the other hand, my friend Mr. Roach will, if he is not engaged for
the moment in asking for subsidies for the very reasons I have just
adduced, most confidently assert that, on account of the superiority
of his machinery, and the energy of his workmen, attained by
"breathing the pure air of liberty," he can overcome all the
difference in wages, that he has already done so, and that he "can
now build steamships cheaper and better than they can be built upon
the Clyde."

Mr. Denny sends the following memorandum under date of February 5th,

    "_Prices of steamers of various sizes similar to those at
    present employed in the Atlantic passenger trade._

      1st, 2,000 gross tons, speed on trial, 13 knots, cost £44,000
      2d,  3,000      "            "         13-3/4 "    "   62,000
      3d,  4,000      "            "         14-3/4 "    "   96,000
      4th, 5,000      "            "         16     "    "  147,500

    The whole of these prices include the builders' profit, which
    has been put down at the usual one we expect for our work.

    I enclose rates of payment our men get while employed on time,
    but our boiler-platers work almost wholly by the piece. Also
    rates paid to men in the ship-yard while on time, but this
    system of payment has been almost entirely abandoned there in
    favor of piece work, which you may safely say reduces the cost
    of labor from ten to twenty per cent., as compared with time
    work. However, for such of them as are employed on time, the
    rates I give you are correct.

    In the foregoing prices of ships I have given you, you may say
    that 27-1/2 per cent. of the total cost at present price of
    materials may be put down against labor, but of course this
    will vary as the prices of materials vary.

    _Rates of wages paid on Clyde to men employed in the
    manufacture of iron ships--apprentices excluded_:

      Carpenters                   7
      Joiners                      7-1/4
      Blacksmiths                  6-1/2
      Platers                      6-1/2
      Rivetters                    5-3/4
      Laborers                     3-3/4
      Angle iron-smiths            6-1/4
      Riggers                      6-3/4
      Hammer-men                   4-1/4
      Holders up                   4-1/4

    _Rates of wages paid on Clyde to men employed in the
    manufacture of marine engines and boilers--apprentices

      Smiters                      6.6
      Strikers or hammer-men       4.23
      Angle iron-smiths            6.5
      Boiler platers               7.07
      Rivetters and caulkers       6.23
      Holders up                   4.7
      Iron turners                 6.47
      Iron finishers               6.10
      Engine fitters and erectors  6.16
      Planing machinists           5.64
      Shaping                      5.17
      Slotting                     5.3
      Drilling                     4.9
      Pattern-Makers               7.53
      Carpenters                   7
      Joiners                      5.5
      Engine-drivers               4.55
      Ordinary laborers            4

    _N. B._--The above are the average rates of each class of men
    as detailed, and the rates given are the amount paid in pence
    and in fractions or decimals of pence per hour. Fifty-one
    hours constitute a working week. Boiler-platers work mostly
    by the piece, but the rates given are those paid when they
    are on time.

    January, 1878."

I have endeavored in vain to procure from Mr. Roach his corresponding
prices of steamships and labor rates. The nearest approach to the
latter has been obtained from the Secretary of the New York Free Trade
Club, who has handed me a note under date of February 7th, from a well
known iron ship and engine building firm of New York. They enclose
their tariff of wages with those remarks:

    "In regard to shipyards, you know there is no such thing
    around New York any more, but I give you such rates as we are
    now paying. We are building three small iron steamers at

    "In regard to rates of wages, compared with Wilmington and
    Chester, they are about 8 to 10 per cent. under us."


  Carpenters                  $2 50 @ $2 75
  Joiners                      2 50 @  3 00
  Blacksmiths                  2 10 @  2 75
  Platers                      2 25 @  2 75
  Rivetters                    2 10 @  2 50
  Angle iron-smiths            2 00 @  2 20
  Hammer-men                   2 00 @  2 25
  Holders up                   1 60 @  1 75
  Riggers                      2 00 @  2 50
  Laborers                     1 40 @  1 50


  Carpenters                  $2 50 @ $2 75
  Joiners                      3 00
  Hammer men                   2 00 @  2 25
  Smiters                      1 50
  Angle iron smiths            2 00 @  2 25
  Boiler platers               2 25 @  2 75
  Rivetters and caulkers       2 10 @  2 50
  Holders up                   1 60 @  1 75
  Iron turners                 2 25 @  2 75
  Iron finishers               2 50 @  3 00
  Engine fitters and erectors  2 50 @  3 00
  Planing machinists           2 25 @  2 75
  Shaping   "                  2 25 @  2 75
  Slotting  "                  2 25 @  2 75
  Pattern makers               2 75 @  3 25
  Engine drivers               2 25 @  2 75
  Laborers                     1 40 @  1 50

Having quoted both these lists, their data will now be arranged in a
tabular form, so that the difference in the cost of labor employed on
the Clyde and on the Delaware will be at once apparent. For this
purpose, the Scotch prices are reduced to American money, one pound
sterling being represented by five dollars currency, and the hourly
pay multiplied by ten, to make a day's work.

An average is made of the wages paid in New York, and 10 per cent.,
the largest allowance mentioned by the New York firm, is deducted
from the average prices paid by them, resulting in the rates upon
the Delaware.



                                 Labor on the Clyde.        Labor on
                                                          the Delaware.

  Carpenters,                 per day, 10 hours, $1 40       $2 36
  Joiners,                       "       "        1 45        2 48
  Blacksmiths,                   "       "        1 30        2 18
  Platers,                       "       "        1 30        2 25
  Rivetters,                     "       "        1 15        2 07
  Laborers,                      "       "          75        1 31
  Angle iron-smiths,             "       "        1 25        1 89
  Riggers,                       "       "        1 35        2 03
  Hammer-men                     "       "          85        1 91
  Holders up                     "       "          85        1 51

_Engine and Boiler Works._

  Smiters,                    per day, 10 hours, $1 32       $1 35
  Hammer-men,                   "       "           85        1 91
  Angle iron-smiths,            "       "         1 30        1 91
  Boiler-platers,               "       "         1 41        2 25
  Riveters and caulkers,        "       "         1 25        2 07
  Holders up,                   "       "           94        1 51
  Iron turners,                 "       "         1 29        2 25
  Iron Finishers,               "       "         1 20        2 48
  Engine fitters and erectors,  "       "         1 23        2 47
  Planing machinists            "       "         1 13        2 25
  Shaping    "                  "       "         1 03        2 25
  Slotting   "                  "       "         1 06        2 25
  Pattern makers,               "       "         1 51        2 70
  Carpenters,                   "       "         1 40        2 36
  Joiners,                      "       "         1 10        2 70
  Engine drivers,               "       "           91        2 25
  Laborers,                     "       "           80        1 31

There are two horns to the dilemma, either of which Mr. Roach may lay
hold of, but he cannot swing on a pivot between them. If he accepts
these figures, or anything approaching them,--and the fact that the
ocean is covered by foreign built ships to the exclusion of his own is
proof of their correctness,--he may go on asking for a bounty on every
ton he builds equivalent to the difference in cost. Will he get it? No!

If, on the contrary, he chooses to repeat his assertion that his ships
cost less than those built in Scotland, what inference is naturally
drawn? Simply, that his ships are too cheap to be good.

Whatever position he may take, Section 21st of the new Tariff Bill
meets every just demand of the ship owner whose rights have never
been considered at all, and of the ship builder who has always been
a mendicant in the lobby at Washington.

    "All materials for the construction, equipment or repair of
    vessels of the United States may be imported in bond, and
    withdrawn therefrom under such regulations as may be
    prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury; and upon proof
    that such materials have been used for such purpose no duties
    shall be paid thereon. And all vessels owned wholly by
    citizens of the United States shall be entitled to registry,
    enrollment and license, or license, and to all the benefits
    and privileges of vessels of the United States; and all laws,
    or parts of laws, conflicting with the provisions of this
    section shall be, and the same are hereby, repealed."

This is all the privilege that ship owners demand, and with the
favoritism over all other mechanics shown to shipbuilders, how can
they complain? Even now, Mr. Roach says that he "can build steamships
cheaper and better than they can be built on the Clyde." What will he
not be able to accomplish with the provisions of this bill! His angle
iron and his plates, his rivets and his brass work, his copper, his
wire rigging, his sails, his paints, his cabin upholstery, mirrors,
and everything appertaining to the completeness of his equipment--a
great part of which would cost him vastly more at home--anything and
all that he requires may be imported, duty free! Happy Mr. Roach! Why
need he fear the effect of the clause in favor of ship owners? Who
will avail themselves of it? But alas for the ship-builders upon the
Clyde, in Newcastle and Belfast! Their occupation will be gone.
Already building ships at a lesser cost than theirs, this remission
of duties will enable Mr. Roach to build them from ten to twenty
per cent. cheaper still. What will England then do? Will she grant
bounties to her ship-builders, to meet the emergency? She did not do
it in 1849, to sustain her wooden ship-builders; she will not do it
now in order to "protect" an industry infinitely greater than ours,
but infinitely less in importance than that of her ship owning. She
will protect that, by leaving it _free_, and every Englishman who
desires to buy a ship will come for that purpose to the Delaware.
Mr. Roach objects to our buying British ships now; will he decline
to sell American ships then?

In view of this glorious future, how can you, Mr. Roach, oppose the
21st section of this bill?

       *       *       *       *       *

I have thus adduced some of the principal arguments in favor of the
free importation of ships, the only method by which the lost prestige
of our commercial marine can be restored. I have given a very close
attention to the subject for many years, having in the outset come
to the conclusion which subsequent time and events have abundantly

If this essay should prove too long to be carefully read by our
law-makers, for whose perusal it is mainly intended, I still trust
that they may turn over the leaves sufficiently to recognize the
condition of our carrying trade compared with that of England and
Germany, as I shall endeavor to portray it in the shorter form of a
parable, of which I earnestly hope they will make the application.


There are two large towns on the opposite banks of a wide river.
There is a constantly increasing passenger and business employment,
supporting several ferries, between them. In former days the principal
ferry masters were an American, an Englishman, and a German. They all
employed boats propelled by sails, and especially the first did a very
profitable business. Indeed, the American was the most successful, as
he and his boys had a way of handling their craft much superior to
either of the others. Each had a large family of relatives, and,
naturally, as these relatives of theirs were willing to work for the
same wages as other people, they built new boats for their kindred
whenever they were required.

It so happened, however, that the American's family built much better
than the Englishman's. When the latter noticed that the superior craft
of the former were better patronized by the public than his own, he
asked the Yankee boys if they wouldn't build some boats in their style
for him? "Sartain," they said, "if you'll pay us what Uncle Sammy pays
for his'n?" "Aye, of course I wull," said Mr. Bull, "for boats like
yon I mast have, or Sam will run away with all my business, and my
family will starve." So Uncle Sam's boys built the boats for Mr. Bull,
and the two old gentlemen got on amicably, for there was business
enough for them both, and the Dutchman did not interfere with them a
great deal. The few carpenters among Mr. Bull's relations did not like
this very well, but the old man said to them squarely, "Look you here,
now, d'ye think I'm going to let fifty of my relatives stand still
because two or three of you, who can't build boats as well as Sam's
people, are growling about it? That's not my way; I work for the good
of my family at large. Go to work, now, and see if you can invent a
better boat than they build; if you can, I will employ you, and so
will Sam." They took the old man's advice, for they saw the sense of
it, and in a short time they studied out a craft superior in every
respect to anything they had before, or that Sam had now. "That's
right, boys," exclaimed old Bull, rubbing his hands with glee, "now
build some of them, and I'll buy them of you, and so will Sam if he
isn't a fool." They did build some excellent boats, to which the
public took at once; and everybody who wanted to cross the river, or
to send any goods over immediately, gave Mr. Bull their custom. He
grew rich suddenly, not so much from _building_ boats as from _using_
them. Nobody patronized Sam's now old-fashioned craft. Uncle Sam,
generally supposed to be a "smart old cuss," couldn't understand it at
all. "It's one of those things that no fellow can find out," he said,
"but next time we have a family meeting we'll appoint a committee to
get at what this here 'decadence' comes from." So he appointed a
committee, and they ran around six months among the carpenters of the
family, and came back with a report that "Whereas, a few years ago,
during a family row, a lot of old ferry boats had been stolen by or
sold to Mr. Bull, this had killed boat building ever since and it
always would be dead until every one of the family put their hands in
their pockets and supported the carpenters till they had learned to
build just such boats as Bull was using." In the meantime it may be
remarked that the Dutchman had got Bull's boys to build some new boats
for him, and he was now doing a better business than he had ever done
before. Uncle Sam looked on and observed, "By jingo, this here's a
fix; I've asked my family to hand over the cash to support these
carpenters of mine, and they say they'll see me----; well, never mind
what, and now that whole raft of boys, who were earning money for me
on the ferry, are digging clams or gone to farming, and when I want to
go across the river I have to go with Bull or the Dutchman, and pay
them for it, instead of getting money for doing what they do, myself."
His boys, who were thrown out of employment on the ferry, thereupon
approached the old gentleman and said, "Uncle Samuel, don't you
remember how, a while ago, when those carpenters of ours built better
boats than Mr. Bull's could build, the old fellow came to you, and
asked you to let them build some for him? If he hadn't got them from
us his fellows would shortly have been high and dry, as we are now;
but we sold them to him, and so he kept up his business on the ferry.
Now, why don't you do what he did, and give us something to do,
instead of spending your money going across in his boats and the
Dutchman's?" Uncle Sam reared right up at this mild remonstrance. "Git
out," he exclaimed, "you ain't no account, the ferry's no account,
there ain't nothing of no account in this here family but just a half
a dozen boat builders. Say, Jonathan, what are you doin' with that ar
jack-knife? Did you make it?" "No, sir I bought it of one of Bull's
boys." "Well, then, lay it right down; _I ain't a goin' to have you
whittle till you can make one for yourself._" And then the old man
went off--mad! And in another sense of the word, he is still mad.

Transcriber's Note

Variant and inconsistent spellings in the original 1878 text have been
retained in this ebook. Variable usage of quotation marks has also
been retained.

The following typographical corrections have been made:

  Page 15: Changed , to . (exclaimed my friend with some amazement.)

  Page 20: Changed . to ? (buy with his own money?)

  Page 22: Changed Britian to Britain

  Page 23: Changed searcely to scarcely

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