The Tariff Question

Performed by William Jennings Bryan
Recorded July 21, 1908

There is an important difference between a revenue tariff and a tariff levied purely for protection. A revenue tariff is so framed that it will raise the needed revenue and you stop when you get enough. A protective tariff may be so framed that a heavy burden will be laid upon the people and little revenue collected and you never know when to stop. The revenue tariff of 1846 was so satisfactory that after it had been in operation for ten years, the first Republican platform -- the platform of 1856, did not mention protection. When the war began between the states, the tariff was raised for the purpose of increasing the revenue, and when the war was over, it was continued on the ground that the infant industries needed protection for a few years until they could stand upon their feet. But in a little while, these infants were not only able to stand upon their own feet, but to walk all over everybody else’s feet. Then a new excuse had to be found, and the advocates of the high tariff began to argue that a protective tariff must be retained permanently for the benefit of labor but that the duty should only be high enough to cover the difference between wages here and abroad. Under the pretense that such a tariff was being framed, the protectionists have made the tariff twice as high on an average as the entire labor call. For a third of a century the protected manufacturers have been acting as the trustees for their employees. Trustees, too, without bond. They have been securing discriminating duties on the ground that these duties would enable them to deal generously with their employees, but they have only given in wages what the labor organizations were in a position to compel. Many of our manufacturers are now selling in foreign markets in competition with the cheapest labor of the world, and they often sell at a lower price abroad than at home. The tariff has thus become a full work for the protection of the trusts, and the Republican leaders, no longer able to defend the tariffs scheduled as they exist simply ask that tariff reform be left to the beneficiaries of the tariff. But how can we expect the men who profit by an extortion of the tariff to join in the crusade for the reduction of that tariff? We believe that the tariff must be reformed by those who have suffered from it, not by those who have profited by it. Our platform says we favor immediate revision of the tariff by the reduction of import duties. Articles entering into competition with trust controlled articles, should be placed upon the free list. Material reductions should be made in the tariff upon the necessaries of life, especially for articles competing with such American manufacturers as are sold abroad more cheaply than at home, and gradual reduction should be made in such other schedules as may be necessary to restore the tariff to a revenue basis. This tariff plank of the Denver platform not only demands tariff reduction, but it specifies the steps to be taken in securing that reduction. And I believe that it embodies the sentiment of a large and growing majority of the American people.