The United States of Tariffs


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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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