Robert Benchley: The Tariff Unmasked

One of the hardest things to remember about United States history is that up to about 1939, if you wanted to get into an intractable, incredibly bitter fight, you mentioned the tariff. Since then, nobody’s cared about it. In this piece from his book Love Conquers All Robert Benchley looks over the then-current tariff revisions and mentions some objections.


Let us get this tariff thing cleared up, once and for all. An explanation is due the American people, and obviously this is the place to make it.

Viewing the whole thing, schedule by schedule, we find it indefensible. In Schedule A alone the list of necessities on which the tax is to be raised includes Persian berries, extract of nutgalls and isinglass. Take isinglass alone. With prices shooting up in this market, what is to become of our picture post-cards? Where once for a nickel you could get a picture of the Woolworth Building ablaze with lights with the sun setting and the moon rising in the background, under the proposed tariff it will easily set you back fifteen cents. This is all very well for the rich who can get their picture post-cards at wholesale, but how are the poor to get their art?

The only justifiable increase in this schedule is on “blues, in pulp, dried, etc.” If this will serve to reduce the amount of “Those Lonesome-Onesome-Wonesome Blues” and “I’ve Got the Left-All-Alone-in-The-Magazine-Reading-Room-of-the-Public-Library Blues” with which our popular song market has been flooded for the past five years, we could almost bring ourselves to vote for the entire tariff bill as it stands.

Schedule B

Here we find a tremendous increase in the tax on grindstones. Householders and travelers in general do not appreciate what this means. It means that, next year, when you are returning from Europe, you will have to pay a duty on those Dutch grindstones that you always bring back to the cousins, a duty which will make the importation of more than three prohibitive. This will lead to an orgy of grindstone smuggling, making it necessary for hitherto respectable people to become law-breakers by concealing grindstones about their clothing and in the trays of their trunks. Think this over.

Schedule C

Right at the start of this list we find charcoal bars being boosted. Have our children no rights? What is a train-ride with children without Hershey’s charcoal bars? Or gypsum? What more picturesque on a ride through the country-side than a band of gypsum encamped by the road with their bright colors and gay tambourine playing? Are these simple folk to be kept out of this country simply because a Republican tariff insists on raising the tax on gypsum?

Schedule D

A way to evade the injustice of this schedule is in the matter of marble slabs. “Marble slabs, rubbed” are going to cost more to import than “marble slabs, unrubbed.” What we are planning to do in this office is to get in a quantity of unrubbed marble slabs and then rub them ourselves. A coarse, dry towel is very good for rubbing, they say.

Any further discussion of the details of this iniquitous tariff would only enrage us to a point of incoherence. Perhaps a short list of some of the things you will have to do without under the new arrangement will serve to enrage you also:

Senegal gum, buchu leaves, lava tips for burners, magic lantern strips, spiegeleisen nut washers, butchers’ skewers and gun wads.

Now write to your congressman!

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

4 thoughts on “Robert Benchley: The Tariff Unmasked”

  1. Almost every time I read your posts I transported to another world and often another time … as in this case. You’re a very interesting person Mr. Nebus.

    And just for the record, HOW do YOU pronounce your last name? Is it Neh-bus or Knee-bus? Just wondering.


    1. Aw, well, thank you. I hope you like being transported.

      It’s ‘Knee-bus’, for the record. Stress on the first syllable. (I’m honestly surprised people find it tricky to tell, but it does mean I know when my name is about to be called: the person doing the calling suddenly stops reading a name. I could almost think my name was pronounced as a short, awkward silence.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so glad you answered this question. I missed your answer because my computer had problems — so, I just read this now. In my mind thought (well, actually, where ELSE do you think?) “Oh, no, now he thinks I’m some creepy weird blog stalker who wants to know his name more specifically (after all, you did post your name). What an @sshat I’ve been in asking that question in writing.” But thank you, because I hear myself when I read and I have been pronouncing your name as “knee-bus”. Whew! I’m sooooo relieved that you didn’t avoid my question and gave me an answer.

        Anyway, yes, I am transported BTW. Some of your posts call to me more than others, and please don’t take this in the wrong way, I think of my dad often when I read your posts because he used to watch Star Trek and has a liking for stats and I see you both as generally VERY high IQ people … high IQ people are interesting to me because they can share things I never thought of, or see things in ways I never see possible, or usually just confuse the sh*t out of me! LOL! 🙂

        I have to read A LOT of names out loud when I call patients either in person or by phone, and most of the time I simply power through pronouncing the name. I try to pronounce the name how I think it wouldn’t be pronounced — and often I’m right! 🙂

        Anyway, blah, blah, blah … how’s Mr. Bunny? 🙂


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