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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

In the 19th century there were a number of popularisers of free market thinking who took the ideas of an Adam Smith or a Jean-Baptiste Say and made them more approachable to a broader audience. In England there was Richard Cobden, Harriet Martineau, and Thomas Hodgskin. In France there was the incomparable Frédéric Bastiat. Martineau is especially noteworthy for a number of of reasons, perhaps most notably because as a woman she found it particularly hard to make a living as a full-time author. She did not let her gender or her precarious way of life prevent her from being an outspoken and radical defender of free market ideas. For example, in 1861 the American Civil War divided English liberals into two camps, the free traders and states rights advocates who supported the South, and the anti-slavery abolitionists who favored the North (reluctantly perhaps because of its strong protectionist stance). Martineau took the radical position of arguing that, in supposedly “democratic” America, tariffs were class based and reflected a “vicious aristocratic principle” which benefited the “selfish interest of certain classes” at the expence of ordinatry working people.

Other quotes about Free Trade:

17 September, 2007

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Harriet Martineau condemns tariffs as a “vicious aristocratic principle” designed to harm the ordinary working man and woman (1861)

Read the full quote in context here.

In a series of letters written to Mrs. Chapman in 1861 Harriet Martineau argued that tariff protection not only harmed foreign workers but domestic American workers as well, by means of what she termed this “vicious aristrocratic principle”:

I perceive you ground your disapprobation of the protective system on the injustice and unkindness to foreign peoples. This is a very strong and quite indisputable ground, but it is not the one I have at all had in view at this time, or wished to bring forward in discussing the matter in the “Standard” or elsewhere. I protest against the vicious aristocratic principle, and the rank oppression exercised over the American people at large, for the selfish interest of certain classes. It is true your shippers and merchants are concerned in and injured by every injury inflicted on foreign commerce; but it is a graver consideration to my mind that every workingman in the country is injured for the illicit benefit of wealthier classes. Popular ignorance alone can have permitted it thus long.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

October 31, 1861.

I don’t believe Fremont will do for a hero. A man who has done, in such a way, what he has done, cannot be a statesman or a farsighted or adequate man in any way, unless a purely military way, which remains to be proved.

I perceive you ground your disapprobation of the protective system on the injustice and unkindness to foreign peoples. This is a very strong and quite indisputable ground, but it is not the one I have at all had in view at this time, or wished to bring forward in discussing the matter in the “Standard” or elsewhere. I protest against the vicious aristocratic principle, and the rank oppression exercised over the American people at large, for the selfish interest of certain classes. It is true your shippers and merchants are concerned in and injured by every injury inflicted on foreign commerce; but it is a graver consideration to my mind that every workingman in the country is injured for the illicit benefit of wealthier classes. Popular ignorance alone can have permitted it thus long. It is true the disposition to tyranny and greed, which is conspicuous wherever a democracy exists, has made protectionists of all or most democratic associations, such as the most stringent trades-unions, and other socialistic organizations; but still, it is inconceivable that, in a country full of workingmen like yours, a handful of monopolists will be permitted to saddle and bridle the industrial majority, as at present. When the case is understood, it is inconceivable that the majority will put up with it. I wish some Member of Congress, or other man who would be listened to, would propose, as a matter of economy, a handsome direct appropriation to the iron-masters and mill-owners, instead of preserving the tariff. It would be a vast, incalculable saving to pension them in a thoroughly handsome way and throw trade open. The proposal would open people’s eyes to the aggression they are submitting to.

I look anxiously for some sort of news of Anderson’s wife. I fear the poor fellow is in wearing suspense. C. Sumner has sent me his speech, which I am glad of, (but, entre nous, how very bad it is!)

Your

H. M.

[More works by Harriet Martineau (1802 – 1876)]