George Fitzhughs’ 1844 reply to James Lyons on Tariffs
A section taken from the July 19th 1844 edition of the Richmond Enquirer
Early in the day it was announced by advertisement that Mr. James Lyons, who had been brought there by
profetisional engagements would address the people on the subject of politics, and inviting the Democrats to make
terms as to the mode of discussion. Mr. Lyons, at the appointed hour. mounted the rostrum and addressed the
people in a speech of about two hour’s length. He commenced his speech by a long dissertation on the names
of Democrat and Whig, in which he attempted to ridicule the Democrats for their name. He then discussed the U.S.
Bank both as regards its constitutionality and expediency; then the Tariff question; then Distribution; then the
Texas question, and closed his speech. It was evident. I think, from the uncautious and unguarded positions
which he took. and the manner in which he discussed them, that he didn’t expect a reply, as no terms had
been previously made with him, and that he expected to retire from the rostrum in all his glory. Immediately,
however, upon his retiring, Mr. Hoge, a young gentleman, a resident oldie county of Montgomery, who was
in this county upon a visit to Mr. D. Dejarnett, whose daughter he married, rose in reply. He commenced by stating.
that the Democratic party went not for men or names, but for principles and measures-that there was nothing
in a name-that they considered measures. and if they tended to the general prosperity of the country, and were
guaranteed by the Constitution, they adopted them: if not they repudiated them. That as a party. they never give
themselves up to blind idolatry following any man, however elevated and distingnished he might be; that this
had been recently iilusfrated by the actings, and doings of the Baltimore Convention.-His reply to Mr. Lyons
in relation to the U. S. Bank, though short, was scathing. powerful and conclusive. He discussed the constitutional
question with great ability; the expediency he handled with gloves off. The Tariff question was next discussed.
Here the vigor and discrimination of his powerful mind exhibited. in the most striking characters. the utility
and weakness of the arguments of Mr. Lyons. He proved clearly, that the Tariff bill of 1842 was it Tariff of
protection, and that, as such, the farmer had as much right to be protected as the manufacturer. On this
part of the subject, he was particularly impressive and effective.
He next adverted to Distribution and to the Bankrupt Law; but it remained for intellect to develop all its powers in the
discussion of the Texas question. Here he was overpowering, when he drew a description of the relative positions of
the United States and Texas-of the sacrifices the latter had made lbr liberty and independence, and of the relationship
which existed between the inhabitants of the two countries-he enquired, with great emphasis, if there was one in the
mass of human beings before him, who would not he willing to see Texas added to the Union? And there was one
spontaneous response throughout the crowd of “No! not one.” He then asked if there was a solitary one opposed
to annexation, that such an one would raise his hand: and but one solitary hand was raised in the crowd. In a sketch
like this, it is impossible to do justice to the speaker. Upon the whole, it was a most triumphant and conclusive reply.
which gave to the Democrats entire satisfaction. At the conclusion of his reply, Mr. Fitzhugh arose to reply to a single
point in Mr. Lyons’s argument upon the subject of the Tariff in the course of Mr. Lyons argument he stated, the Tariff
had so reduced the price of cotton manufactures in this country, that the British troops in Bengal were clothed in
American cottons. At this point, Mr. George Fitzhugh interrupted him and asked, why our manufacturers of cotton
asked for, and obtained in 1842 higher protection than the Tariff of 1828 gave to them, if they could undersell the
English without protection in foreign markets In reply, Mr. Lyons’- said that the pauper labour and cheap capital of
England enabled her to manuacture so cheap, that in the absence of a protective Tariff here, she would flood our
market with goods at prices so low as to break down our manufacturers. and then having, by breaking them down,
obtained a monopoly of our market. she would raise her prices above what our manufacturers were selling for.
Alter Mr. Hoge had concluded, Mr. Fitzhugh rose and said he would reply to Mr. Lyons on this single point. Now, said
he, you, Mr. Lyons, have aided me in making the demonstration which I imended, by your argument and admissions.
-You say truly, that the British manufacturers can undersell the American, because labor and capital, the chief
elements of the cost of manufactures, are vastly cheaper in England than here. He must sell cheaper because
it is his cheap labor and capital which begets excessive competition, or more properly, it is excessive competition
which make, labor and capital so cheap. Competition in trade, especially In-Europe, forces all men to employ
their capital at about the same and at very low rates of profit. The moment a single ship load of English
manufactures is sold at high profits in the American market, that moment thousands of persons engaged in
less profitable pursuits will throw them up and commence supplying the American market. I have thus shown
that competition must ever compel the European manufacturer to sell to us as cheap as he can afford, and
you, Mr. Lyons, have clearly shown that his cheap capital and pauper labor enables him to manufacture and
sell vastly cheaper than we can. Thus, by it demonstration as succinct and clear as any in Euclid, I have proved
that the Yankee asked for increased protection and obtained it in 1842, because he found that the English could
and would sell for about half that the Yankee was willing to take. I have also by consequence shown, that high
duties produce high prices, and are consequently a burden on the Southern consumer, for the benefit of the
Northern manufacturer. The Senators from Massachusetts admit that this Tariff law sustains the vast redundant
population of the North-for they say, that without this protective Tariff, that region would be unpopulated!