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Mark Twain, Free Trade and Tariffs

Summary:
Twain supposedly said that "free traders win the arguments and the protectionists win the votes."Tariffs are in the news again. See Stocks tumble as Trump threatens to hike tariffs on China by Emily McCormick of Yahoo Finance. Also, I covered tariffs in some of my classes recently (see link below).Marc-William Palen, a lecturer in imperial history at the University of Exeter, wrote an article titled How Mark Twain Became a Free Trader. Click here to go to Palen's page.Here is an excerpt, where Palen discusses a part of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. After that, I have another quote from the book that also shows Twain's support for free trade. "The culture of free trade also manifested itself in the writing of Mark Twain.Famed satirist Twain had been a supporter of the

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Twain supposedly said that "free traders win the arguments and the protectionists win the votes."

Tariffs are in the news again. See Stocks tumble as Trump threatens to hike tariffs on China by Emily McCormick of Yahoo Finance. Also, I covered tariffs in some of my classes recently (see link below).

Marc-William Palen, a lecturer in imperial history at the University of Exeter, wrote an article titled How Mark Twain Became a Free Trader. Click here to go to Palen's page.

Here is an excerpt, where Palen discusses a part of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. After that, I have another quote from the book that also shows Twain's support for free trade.

"The culture of free trade also manifested itself in the writing of Mark Twain.

Famed satirist Twain had been a supporter of the Republican protectionist policy up until Cleveland’s 1887 tariff message. It was at this point that Twain became a convert to free trade and gave Cleveland his endorsement.

Twain’s newfound antipathy for protectionism found outlet in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

In it, Twain’s protagonist, Hank Morgan of Hartford, Connecticut, awakens to find himself transported to sixth-century England.

As Hank traipses across the land, he comes across a smith by the name of Dowley. Hank and Dowley immediately begin discussing “matters of business and wages” over dinner.

The sixth-century tributary kingdom in which Dowley abides appears at first glance quite prosperous in comparison to Hank’s Hartford.

“They had the ‘protection’ system in full force here,” Hank explains, “whereas we were working along down toward free-trade, by easy stages,” a veiled reference to Cleveland’s speech and the Democrats’ proposed lower tariff bill of 1888.

The others at the Dark Age dinner table listened “hungrily” as Dowley began to question Hank on the rate of wages in Gilded Age America.

“In your country, brother,” asked Dowley, “what is the wage of a master bailiff, master hind, carter, shepherd, swineherd?”

Upon hearing Hank’s reply of a quarter cent, “the smith’s face beamed with joy…. ‘With us they are allowed the double of it!…. ‘Rah for protection—to Sheol with free-trade!’”

To which Hank, unmoved, “rigged up” his “pile-driver” to drive the smith “into the earth—drive him all in—drive him in till not even the curve of his skull should show above ground.”

Hank replies to Dowley that, while the wages in the smith’s land were indeed double those of Connecticut, late-19th-century Americans could buy goods at prices well less than half what Dowley and his countrymen paid, making the high wage argument superfluous.

Hank thought he had scored a point against the blacksmith and had “tied him hand and foot.”

But Dowley “didn’t grasp the situation at all, didn’t know he had walked into a trap… I could have shot him, from sheer vexation. With cloudy eye and a struggling intellect,” Dowley admitted he did not understand Hank’s argument. At which point their dinnertime discussion only deteriorated further.

Twain’s Hank was a literary representation of late-19th-century America’s free traders. These were men who prided themselves on their intellectual superiority and the economic soundness of their arguments.

They were, however, frustrated time and again by what they perceived as pernicious protectionist propaganda that nevertheless struck a chord in the heart of the ignorant American worker.

Twain’s extreme language hints as well at how fierce the tariff debate had become within the presidential election of 1888 – the “Great Debate” between Democratic free trade and Republican protectionism."

In a discussion of how the government raises revenue, Hank says:
"In my day, in my own country, this money was collected from imposts [a tariff or import duty], and the citizen imagined that the foreign importer paid it, and it made him comfortable to think so; whereas, in fact, it was paid by the American people, and was so equally and exactly distributed among them that the annual cost to the 100-millionaire and the annual cost to the sucking child of the day-laborer was precisely the same"
To see why it might work this way, click here.
 
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