Antebellum Tariff Politics: Regional Coalitions and Shifting Economic Interests
Throughout U.S. history, import tariffs have been put on a sustained downward path in only two instances: from the early 1830s until the Civil War and from the mid-1930s to the present. This paper analyzes the political economy of tariff reductions in the antebellum period. Tariff politics was highly sectional: the North supported high tariffs, the South favored low tariffs, and the West was a swing region. In the 1820s, a coalition between the North and West raised tariffs by exchanging votes on import duties for spending on internal improvements. President Andrew Jackson delinked these issues by vetoing several internal improvements bills. The nullification crisis led to the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which phased out tariffs above 20 percent over a 9-year period. By this time, transportation improvements gave the West access to foreign markets, giving the region a stake with the South in maintaining a low tariff equilibrium. Thus, the West's changing position on trade policy helps explain the rise and fall of tariffs over this period. (c) 2008 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.
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