The Gilded Age
|The Tariff Question||Previous||Next|
|Digital History ID 3118|
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.