Andrew Johnson

Veto Message

February 22, 1869

To the House of Representatives:

The accompanying bill, entitled "An act regulating the duties on imported copper and copper ores," is for the following reasons, returned, without my approval, to the House of Representatives, in which branch of Congress it originated.

Its immediate effect will be to diminish the public receipts, for the object of the bill can not be accomplished without seriously affecting the importation of copper and copper ores, from which a considerable revenue is at present derived. While thus impairing the resources of the Government, it imposes an additional tax upon an already overburdened people, who should not be further impoverished that monopolies may be fostered and corporations enriched.

It is represented--and the declaration seems to be sustained by evidence--that the duties for which this bill provides are nearly or quite sufficient to prohibit the importation of certain foreign ores of copper. Its enactment, therefore, will prove detrimental to the shipping interests of the nation, and at the same time destroy the business, for many years successfully established, of smelting home ores in connection with a smaller amount of the imported articles. This business, it is credibly asserted, has heretofore yielded the larger share of the copper production of the country, and thus the industry which this legislation is designed to encourage is actually less than that which will be destroyed by the passage of this bill.

It seems also to be evident that the effect of this measure will be to enhance by 70 per cent the cost of blue vitriol--an article extensively used in dyeing and in the manufacture of printed and colored cloths. To produce such an augmentation in the price of this commodity will be to discriminate against other great branches of domestic industry, and by increasing their cost to expose them most unfairly to the effects of foreign competition. Legislation can neither be wise nor just which seeks the welfare of a single interest at the expense and to the injury of many and varied interests at least equally important and equally deserving the consideration of Congress. Indeed, it is difficult to find any reason which will justify the interference of Government with any legitimate industry, except so far as may be rendered necessary by the requirements of the revenue. As has already been stated, however, the legislative intervention proposed in the present instance will diminish, not increase, the public receipts.

The enactment of such a law is urged as necessary for the relief of certain mining interests upon Lake Superior, which, it is alleged, are in a greatly depressed condition, and can only be sustained by an enhancement of the price of copper. If this result should follow the passage of the bill, a tax for the exclusive benefit of a single class would be imposed upon the consumers of copper throughout the entire country, not warranted by any need of the Government, and the avails of which would not in any degree find their way into the Treasury of the nation. If the miners of Lake Superior are in a condition of want, it can not be justly affirmed that the Government should extend charity to them in preference to those of its citizens who in other portions of the country suffer in like manner from destitution. Least of all should the endeavor to aid them be based upon a method so uncertain and indirect as that contemplated by the bill, and which, moreover, proposes to continue the exercise of its benefaction through an indefinite period of years. It is, besides, reasonable to hope that positive suffering from want, if it really exists, will prove but temporary in a region where agricultural labor is so much in demand and so well compensated. A careful examination of the subject appears to show that the present low price of copper, which alone has induced any depression the mining interests of Lake Superior may have recently experienced, is due to causes which it is wholly impolitic, if not impracticable, to contravene by legislation. These causes are, in the main, an increase in the general supply of copper, owing to the discovery and working of remarkably productive mines and to a coincident restriction in the consumption and use of copper by the substitution of other and cheaper metals for industrial purposes. It is now sought to resist by artificial means the action of natural laws; to place the people of the United States, in respect to the enjoyment and use of an essential commodity, upon a different basis from other nations, and especially to compensate certain private and sectional interests for the changes and losses which are always incident to industrial progress.

Although providing for an increase of duties, the proposed law does not even come within the range of protection, in the fair acceptation of the term. It does not look to the fostering of a young and feeble interest with a view to the ultimate attainment of strength and the capacity of self-support. It appears to assume that the present inability for successful production is inherent and permanent, and is more likely to increase than to be gradually overcome; yet in spite of this it proposes, by the exercise of the lawmaking power, to sustain that interest and to impose it in hopeless perpetuity as a tax upon the competent and beneficent industries of the country.

The true method for the mining interests of Lake Superior to obtain relief, if relief is needed, is to endeavor to make their great natural resources fully available by reducing the cost of production. Special or class legislation can not remedy the evils which this bill is designed to meet. They can only be overcome by laws which will effect a wise, honest, and economical administration of the Government, a reestablishment of the specie standard of value, and an early adjustment of our system of State, municipal, and national taxation (especially the latter) upon the fundamental principle that all taxes, whether collected under the internal revenue or under a tariff, shall interfere as little as possible with the productive energies of the people.

The bill is therefore returned, in the belief that the true interests of the Government and of the people require that it should not become a law.


Andrew Johnson, Veto Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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