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Reexamining the Origins of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act

In: Research in Economic History


  • Bernard C. Beaudreau


It is generally believed that the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act (SHTA) of 1930 was an electoral response on the part of the Republican Party to Midwestern farmers’ concerns in the 1928 general election which via the legislative process (pork-barreling and log-rolling) was transformed into a generalized upwards tariff revision. There are, however, problems with this view, not the least of which is the fact that the farmers themselves were well aware of the fact that higher tariffs would not improve their lot, and hence favored the price support/equalization measures found in the Haugen–McNary Farm Relief Bill. This paper presents an alternative explanation. Specifically, it is argued that the SHTA had its origins in manufacturing states where the demand for a comprehensive upward revision of tariffs was transformed via the electoral process – and not the legislative process – into an omnibus upward tariff revision that included agriculture. The omnibus nature of the bill, it is argued, was intended as both (i) an electoral strategy and (ii) a hedge against near-certain revolt in rural America over anticipated higher prices for manufactures. We show that while successful electorally (i.e., in the 1928 presidential election), the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Bill fell apart in the legislature in the summer of 1929 when 13 Insurgent Republicans broke with the party to vote with the Democrats to lower tariffs on manufactures.

Suggested Citation

  • Bernard C. Beaudreau, 2017. "Reexamining the Origins of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act," Research in Economic History, in: Christopher Hanes & Susan Wolcott (ed.), Research in Economic History, volume 33, pages 1-18, Emerald Publishing Ltd.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:rehizz:s0363-326820170000033001

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