The United States of Tariffs

1791

In his Report on Manufactures, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton proposes that tariffs be imposed on foreign goods to foster manufacturers at home. Although political opposition is intense, his ideas eventually prevail.

1824-1828

The powerful Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts switches from opposing tariffs to supporting them as New England evolves into a manufacturing economy. Tariffs rise to over 50 percent on many imports.

1832

South Carolina, dependent on cotton exports and with no industry to protect, nullifies the Tariff of 1828 inside the state. Congress compromises.

1861-1865

The cost of defeating the Confederacy drives the Republican-controlled Congress to push tariffs back up to 49 percent. After the war, tariffs stay high, despite the increasing efficiency of American factories.

1865-1914

The rift widens between free-trade farm states and pro-tariff industrial states. GOP leader William McKinley backs tariffs; Later, Teddy Roosevelt's breakaway Bull Moose Party attacks them.

1930

As Depression threatens, GOP Senator Reed Smoot and GOP Representative Willis Hawley push through a bill that raises tariffs on over 20,000 imported items to record highs. Canada and Europe hike their tariffs in response.

1947

Free-trade ideology triumphs as Western nations sign the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade. Sponsored by the U.S., the idea is to liberalize trade and avoid new trade wars. The WTO replaces GATT in 1995.

1994

The North American Free Trade Agreement creates one of the world's biggest free-trade zones.

2001

China enters the WTO. Soon, U.S. manufacturers protest that China is manipulating its currency to cheapen the cost of its exports.

2010

President Barack Obama tries but fails to persuade Chinese President Hu Jintao to strengthen the yuan. Congress threatens to impose punitive tariffs.

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