TO UNDERSTAND THE FACTORS that gave rise to the SmootHawley tariff, we need to understand the process by which Congress handled tariff revisions and the political forces at work in the late 1920s.
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to levy duties on imports. From the very beginning, the use of this power was controversial. Throughout the nineteenth century, the debate centered on whether tariffs should be levied to raise revenue for the federal government, or to protect domestic industries from foreign competition as well. With the introduction of the income tax in 1913, tariffs were no longer a major source of government revenue.1 As a result, Congress began to use tariffs mainly to protect domestic industries from imports.
1 After the Civil War, import duties raised about half of the revenue collected by the federal government. Following the introduction of the income tax, import duties generated less than 10 percent of the government’s revenue.