Tariffs in United States history
Tariffs in United States history have played important roles in trade policy, political debates and the nation's economic history. The main goal of the tariff was uncontroversial—to raise money to pay the federal budget. Controversy arose over whether manufacturing interests were favored and consumer interests hurt by high tariffs. The 1st United States Congress, wanting a straightforward tax that was not too onerous and easy to collect, passed the Tariff Act of 1789. Treasury agents collected the tariff before goods could be landed, and what became the Coast Guard prevented smuggling. Tariffs were the largest (approaching 95% at times) source of federal revenue until the Federal income tax began after 1913. For well over a century the federal government was largely financed by tariffs averaging about 20% on foreign imports. There are no tariffs for imports or shipments from other states. Since the 1940s, foreign trade policies have focused more on reciprocal tariffs and low tariff rates rather than using tariffs as a significant source of Federal tax revenue. The goal of using higher tariffs to promote industrialization was urged by the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and after him the Whig Party. They generally failed because Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democrats said the tariff should be only high enough to pay the government's bills; otherwise, it would hurt the consumers. The Republicans, however, made high tariffs the centerpiece of their economic policy beginning in 1861, and as late as 1930. Since 1930, tariffs have not been a major political issue.