To the Senate and House of Representatives:
In submitting my annual message to Congress I have great satisfaction in being able to say that the general conditions affecting the commercial and industrial interests of the United States are in the highest degree favorable. A comparison of the existing conditions with those of the most favored period in the history of the country will, I believe, show that so high a degree of prosperity and so general a diffusion of the comforts of life were never before enjoyed by our people.
There never has been a time in our history when work was so abundant or when wages were as high, whether measured by the currency in which they are paid or by their power to supply the necessaries and comforts of life. It is true that the market prices of cotton and wheat have been low. It is one of the unfavorable incidents of agriculture that the farmer can not produce upon orders. He must sow and reap in ignorance of the aggregate production of the year, and is peculiarly subject to the depreciation which follows overproduction. But while the fact I have stated is true as to the crops mentioned, the general average of prices has been such as to give to agriculture a fair participation in the general prosperity. The value of our total farm products has increased from $1,363,646,866 in 1860 to $4,500,000,000 in 1891, as estimated by statisticians, an increase of 230 per cent. The number of hogs January 1, 1891, was 50,625,106 and their value $210,193,925; on January 1, 1892, the number was 52,398,019 and the value $241,031,415. On January 1, 1891, the number of cattle was 36,875,648 and the value $544,127,908; on January 1 ,1892, the number was 37,651,239 and the value $570,749,155.
If any are discontented with their state here, if any believe that wages or prices, the returns for honest toil, are inadequate, they should not fail to remember that there is no other country in the world where the conditions that seem to them hard would not be accepted as highly prosperous. The English agriculturist would be glad to exchange the returns of his labor for those of the American farmer and the Manchester workmen their wages for those of their fellows at Fall River.
I believe that the protective system, which has now for something more than thirty years continuously prevailed in our legislation, has been a mighty instrument for the development of our national wealth and a most powerful agency in protecting the homes of our workingmen from the invasion of want. I have felt a most solicitous interest to preserve to our working people rates of wages that would not only give daily bread but supply a comfortable margin for those home attractions and family comforts and enjoyments without which life is neither hopeful nor sweet. They are American citizens--a part of the great people for whom our Constitution and Government were framed and instituted--and it can not be a perversion of that Constitution to so legislate as to preserve in their homes the comfort, independence, loyalty, and sense of interest in the Government which are essential to good citizenship in peace, and which will bring this stalwart throng, as in 1861, to the defense of the flag when it is assailed.
It is not my purpose to renew here the argument in favor of a protective tariff. The result of the recent election must be accepted as having introduced a new policy. We must assume that the present tariff, constructed upon the lines of protection, is to be repealed and that there is to be substituted for it a tariff law constructed solely with reference to revenue; that no duty is to be higher because the increase will keep open an American mill or keep up the wages of an American workman, but that in every case such a rate of duty is to be imposed as will bring to the Treasury of the United States the largest returns of revenue. The contention has not been between schedules, but between principles, and it would be offensive to suggest that the prevailing party will not carry into legislation the principles advocated by it and the pledges given to the people. The tariff bills passed by the House of Representatives at the last session were, as I suppose, even in the opinion of their promoters, inadequate, and justified only by the fact that the Senate and House of Representatives were not in accord and that a general revision could not therefore be undertaken.
I recommend that the whole subject of tariff revision be left to the incoming Congress. It is matter of regret that this work must be delayed for at least three months, for the threat of great tariff changes introduces so much uncertainty that an amount, not easily estimated, of business inaction and of diminished production will necessarily result. It is possible also that this uncertainty may result in decreased revenues from customs duties, for our merchants will make cautious orders for foreign goods in view of the prospect of tariff reductions and the uncertainty as to when they will take effect. Those who have advocated a protective tariff can well afford to have their disastrous forecasts of a change of policy disappointed. If a system of customs duties can be framed that will set the idle wheels and looms of Europe in motion and crowd our warehouses with foreign-made goods and at the same time keep our own mills busy; that will give us an increased participation in the "markets of the world" of greater value than the home market we surrender; that will give increased work to foreign workmen upon products to be consumed by our people without diminishing the amount of work to be done here; that will enable the American manufacturer to pay to his workmen from 50 to 100 per cent more in wages than is paid in the foreign mill, and yet to compete in our market and in foreign markets with the foreign producer; that will further reduce the cost of articles of wear and food without reducing the wages of those who produce them; that can be celebrated, after its effects have been realized, as its expectation has been in European as well as in American cities, the authors and promoters of it will be entitled to the highest praise. We have had in our history several experiences of the contrasted effects of a revenue and of a protective tariff, but this generation has not felt them, and the experience of one generation is not highly instructive to the next. The friends of the protective system with undiminished confidence in the principles they have advocated will await the results of the new experiment.
The strained and too often disturbed relations existing between the employees and the employers in our great manufacturing establishments have not been favorable to a calm consideration by the wage earner of the effect upon wages of the protective system. The facts that his wages were the highest paid in like callings in the world and that a maintenance of this rate of wages in the absence of protective duties upon the product of his labor was impossible were obscured by the passion evoked by these contests. He may now be able to review the question in the light of his personal experience under the operation of a tariff for revenue only. If that experience shall demonstrate that present rates of wages are thereby maintained or increased, either absolutely or in their purchasing power, and that the aggregate volume of work to be done in this country is increased or even maintained, so that there are more or as many days' work in a year, at as good or better wages, for the American workmen as has been the case under the protective system, everyone will rejoice. A general process of wage reduction can not be contemplated by any patriotic citizen without the gravest apprehension. It may be, indeed I believe is, possible for the American manufacturer to compete successfully with his foreign rival in many branches of production without the defense of protective duties if the pay rolls are equalized; but the conflict that stands between the producer and that result and the distress of our working people when it is attained are not pleasant to contemplate. The Society of the Unemployed, now holding its frequent and threatening parades in the streets of foreign cities, should not be allowed to acquire an American domicile.
I have in each of the three annual messages which it has been my duty to submit to Congress called attention to the evils and dangers connected with our election methods and practices as they are related to the choice of officers of the National Government. In my last annual message I endeavored to invoke serious attention to the evils of unfair apportionments for Congress. I can not close this message without again calling attention to these grave and threatening evils. I had hoped that it was possible to secure a nonpartisan inquiry by means of a commission into evils the existence of which is known to all, and that out of this might grow legislation from which all thought of partisan advantage should be eliminated and only the higher thought appear of maintaining the freedom and purity of the ballot and the equality of the elector, without the guaranty of which the Government could never have been formed and without the continuance of which it can not continue to exist in peace and prosperity.
It is time that mutual charges of unfairness and fraud between the great parties should cease and that the sincerity of those who profess a desire for pure and honest elections should be brought to the test of their willingness to free our legislation and our election methods from everything that tends to impair the public confidence in the announced result. The necessity for an inquiry and for legislation by Congress upon this subject is emphasized by the fact that the tendency of the legislation in some States in recent years has in some important particulars been away from and not toward free and fair elections and equal apportionments. Is it not time that we should come together upon the high plane of patriotism while we devise methods that shall secure the right of every man qualified by law to cast a free ballot and give to every such ballot an equal value in choosing our public officers and in directing the policy of the Government?
Lawlessness is not less such, but more, where it usurps the functions of the peace officer and of the courts. The frequent lynching of colored people accused of crime is without the excuse, which has sometimes been urged by mobs for a failure to pursue the appointed methods for the punishment of crime, that the accused have an undue influence over courts and juries. Such acts are a reproach to the community where they occur, and so far as they can be made the subject of Federal jurisdiction the strongest repressive legislation is demanded. A public sentiment that will sustain the officers of the law in resisting mobs and in protecting accused persons in their custody should be promoted by every possible means. The officer who gives his life in the brave discharge of this duty is worthy of special honor. No lesson needs to be so urgently impressed upon our people as this, that no worthy end or cause can be promoted by lawlessness.
This exhibit of the work of the Executive Departments is submitted to Congress and to the public in the hope that there will be found in it a due sense of responsibility and an earnest purpose to maintain the national honor and to promote the happiness and prosperity of all our people, and this brief exhibit of the growth and prosperity of the country will give us a level from which to note the increase or decadence that new legislative policies may bring to us. There is no reason why the national influence, power, and prosperity should not observe the same rates of increase that have characterized the past thirty years. We carry the great impulse and increase of these years into the future. There is no reason why in many lines of production we should not surpass all other nations, as we have already done in some. There are no near frontiers to our possible development. Retrogression would be a crime.
Citation: Benjamin Harrison: "Fourth Annual Message," December 6, 1892. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29533