After 1887, the tariff become the central issue in American
politics. Democrats, led by Grover Cleveland, charged that the
tariff raised prices, enriched the wealthy, and fostered inefficiency.
Republicans argued that tariffs promoted infant industries, protected
established industries, raised workers wages and protected them
against low-wage competition, and fostered a rich home market
for farm goods.
In fact, the tariff was not especially important for manufacturers.
European manufacturers could not compete with the American advantages
of large efficient factories, vast internal markets, ample raw
materials, sophisticated advertising, and a highly efficient distribution
system. By 1885, the United States had become the world's low
cost, high volume manufacturers. In 1900, a London newspaper lamented:
We have lost to the American manufacturer electrical machinery,
locomotives, steel rails, sugar-producing and agricultural machinery,
and latterly even stationary engines, the pride and backbone
of the British engineering industry.
The actual beneficiaries from a high tariff were sugar growers
and producers of wool, leather hides, coal, timber, and iron ore.
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