The Great Tariff Debate, 1820-1830

The Great Tariff Debate, 1820-1830

The Great Tariff Debate, 1820-1830

The Great Tariff Debate, 1820-1830

Excerpt

"Next to currency problems no purely economic subject has aroused so much interest in the United States, and played so great a part in political discussion both in and out of Congress as the tariff policy of the federal government. From the first measure to raise a revenue from import duties in 1789 until the present time no generation of the American people has escaped the tariff controversy." These words of Guy S. Callender are perhaps not quite as true today as when he wrote them forty-four years ago, yet problems of international trade restriction continue to be political issues of major importance. In recent times hardly a year has gone by without a congressional battle over the reciprocal trade agreement acts and the struggle grows increasingly serious as crucial issues of domestic and foreign policy become involved. Thus those who for military and strategic reasons wish to restore the health of the Japanese economy urge the United States to lower, or at least not to raise, trade barriers against Japanese imports. On the other hand, American business and labor groups affected by Japanese competition clamor for increased protection.

Though conditions have changed in many respects since the initial major struggle over the protective tariff took place in this country in the decades following the War of 1812, there is much to be learned from a study of that controversy. This is especially true of the Tariff of 1824. Before that time sectional divisions on the issue had not yet hardened; even John C. Calhoun had favored the Tariff of 1816. But the impact of the depression of 1819-1820, the rising manufacturing industries of New England and the Middle States, and the rapid commitment of the South to cotton growing had by 1824 led to a clarification of interests and viewpoints. These views were now carefully formulated by the great sectional leaders of the period and given expression in public debates and speeches which remain to this day a storehouse of arguments for speakers on both sides of the question. It is true that bitter debates on this issue continued from time to time, for the tariff has remained a constantly recurring national problem. But most of the issues were clearly spotlighted in 1824. Moreover, at this time they were somewhat less complicated by political intrigue as in 1828 or by nullification as in the early 1830's. This, added to the caliber of the participants in the debate of 1824, has led to the focusing of this volume on the 1820's, with special attention to the Tariff of 1824.

The leading contention of the early protectionists was, as in the arguments for the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930, that protection would alleviate the depression in agriculture and industry. And most of the other standard arguments such as that for the home market, aid to . . .

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