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A Speech in Opposition to the Tariff

March 24, 1909
A Speech in Opposition to the Tariff Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A long-serving Member, Sereno Payne of New York chaired the Committee on Ways and Means and the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries.

On this date, Minority Leader Champ Clark of Missouri spoke for more than five hours, from shortly after 11 a.m. until just after 4 p.m. that afternoon. Clark languorously unwound his speech opposing New York Representative and Ways and Means chairman Sereno Payne’s tariff bill, starting with congratulations to his colleagues across the aisle on a myriad of general life events and legislative achievements that elicited chuckles from the chamber. Clark touched on individual provisions of the bill, but largely kept his discussion to the broader philosophical context of the national tariff. “Of course it is extremely difficult under any circumstances whatever to discuss a tariff bill, and the trouble about it is that it is so immense—containing about 4,000 articles of everyday consumption,” Clark stated at the opening. He added later, “The study of the tariff has been the favorite study of my life. I have studied it much. I thought when these hearings began that I knew practically all about it. When we got through, I felt like Sir Isaac Newton said he felt after making those great scientific discoveries which placed his name at the top of the scanty list of the immortals—‘like a boy walking upon the seashore, picking up shells.’ ”

Debate on the tariff began on March 22, when James Mann of Illinois asked unanimous consent that Payne "may proceed until he concludes his remarks." After Payne wrapped up on March 23, Mann asked the same for Clark's rebuttal. Under the rules governing the Committee of the Whole House, Clark frequently yielded the floor for questions, entertaining diversions from Democrats and Republicans. Payne had spoken at similar length defending the bill during the previous two days, likewise yielding for questions from opponents. Clark ended his speech to considerable applause from fellow Democrats. As a significant revision to the tariff schedules in the McKinley Act of 1890 and the Dingley Act of 1897, the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act called for lowering certain duties while making significant increases to other duties. The act also established a tariff board to advise the President and the U.S. Court of Customs Appeals duties. The bill passed 217 to 161 on April 9, 1909.

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