Most Favored Nation: The Republican Revisionists and U.S. Tariff Policy, 1897-1912

Most Favored Nation: The Republican Revisionists and U.S. Tariff Policy, 1897-1912

Most Favored Nation: The Republican Revisionists and U.S. Tariff Policy, 1897-1912

Most Favored Nation: The Republican Revisionists and U.S. Tariff Policy, 1897-1912


Most Favored Nation discusses the movement for tariff revision under Republican administrations in the critical years preceding World War I. Paul Wolman shows how and why some Republicans turned away from their party's -- and the nation's -- traditional tariff reduction and revision. Wolman describes how the revisionists of this period developed a comprehensive program that sought to replace the "logrolling" system of protectionist interest trading that had prevailed in the United States since the 1860s. In its place they proposed a multiple-rate tariff embodying substantial reductions; commercial reciprocity agreements, especially with Germany, France, and Canada; and a "scientific" tariff administered by a commission.

According to Wolman, all revisionists hoped to further American leadership in an open-door world economy. But as their movement developed, revisionists split into two competing groups. One group, the "radical" revisionists, wished to use lower tariffs to restrain the growing power of corporations. Led by agricultural implement manufacturer H.E. Miles of Wisconsin, the radical revisionists hoped that freer importation of goods such as steel bars and billets would break the growing strangehold of U.S. Steel and International Harvester on markets for intermediate goods and restore more competitive pricing.

The second group, or "cooperationists," accepted the emerging hegemony of large corporations, which were beginning to supplant traditional American propriety enterprises. Encouraged by Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, these revisionists worked to rationalize the emerging corporate market system and U.S. foreign commercial relations without promoting anticorporate activism.

Wolman suggests that through both consensus and conflict, the Republican revisionists of the McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft era laid the foundation for modern systems of liberal trade. In detailing how they did so, Wolman offers new insights not only on the tariff question but also on related concerns in U.S. foreign economic policy, including business-state relations, corporate development, international treaty making, and imperialism.

Originally published 1992.


This study explores the movement for tariff revision in the early twentieth century and examines its efforts to reshape U.S. commercial policy. the emphasis on revisionism as a "movement" emerged from the hypotheses that the tariff politics of this period are best understood as spanning more traditional groupings such as political parties and that revisionism encompassed a coherent array of business groups, policymakers, and intellectuals that had a distinctive and purposive influence on policy. in fact, although revisionism took its predominant tone from Republicans, who then dominated executive and legislative politics, it drew strength and substance from conservative, largely nonagrarian Democrats and from Progressives as well.

As a group, revisionists sought to direct the United States away from high protectionism, but they did not advocate free trade. Instead, they sought substantial and systematic reduction -- not elimination -- of U.S. tariffs. Initially they worked to expand the number and scope of the United States' bilateral reciprocity treaties, particularly with European nations. These efforts, although instrumental in defining revisionism politically and ideologically, foundered on resistance from protectionists and on the requirement that treaties had to be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Revisionists then regrouped, advocating a more comprehensive restructuring that would lower tariffs by simple congressional majority, without treaty making. the new structure, essentially an analog of European or unconditional most-favored-nation practice, proposed a dual-tariff system: uniform, low tariffs for all nations that cooperated with U.S. goals in foreign trade and higher, countervailing rates for those that did not. To shift tariff making away from the "political" House Ways and Means Committee, the revisionists advocated and essentially created a "scientific" tariff commission to carry out economic analyses of trends in world production and trade.

In stationing themselves between high protectionism and free trade, the . . .

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