What Has Been the Main Reason for Tariffs in American History?

Tariffs have been a major part of American economic policy since the country’s founding. A tariff is a tax on imported goods, and it has been used for various reasons throughout history. However, there has been one main reason for tariffs in American history: protectionism.


Protectionism is the idea that a country should protect its domestic industries from foreign competition. This can be done through various means, such as tariffs, quotas, and subsidies. The main goal of protectionism is to give domestic industries an advantage over foreign ones, which can help them grow and create jobs.

The Early Years

In the early years of American history, tariffs were primarily used to generate revenue for the government. However, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, protectionism became a major issue.

At that time, America was still a developing country with a small industrial base. Many politicians believed that protecting domestic industries was essential to the country’s economic growth.

The Tariff of 1816

The Tariff of 1816 was the first protective tariff in American history. It was passed by Congress to protect American manufacturers from British competition after the War of 1812. The tariff placed duties on imported textiles, iron products, and other goods that were produced by British manufacturers.

The Civil War Era

During the Civil War era, tariffs were used to raise revenue for the war effort. However, protectionism also played a role during this time. The Morrill Tariff Act of 1861 raised tariffs on imported goods to help finance the war and protect American manufacturers.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 is perhaps the most famous example of protectionism in American history. This law raised tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods in an attempt to protect American farmers and manufacturers during the Great Depression. However, it ultimately backfired and led to a decrease in international trade, which worsened the economic crisis.

Recent Times

In recent times, protectionism has once again become a major issue in American politics. President Trump’s administration has implemented tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, as well as other goods from China and other countries. The goal of these tariffs is to protect American industries from foreign competition and encourage domestic production.

  • Conclusion

Overall, protectionism has been the main reason for tariffs in American history. From the early years of the country to modern times, politicians have used tariffs to protect domestic industries from foreign competition.

While protectionism can have some benefits for certain industries, it can also lead to unintended consequences such as trade wars and economic downturns. As with any economic policy, it is important for policymakers to carefully consider all of the potential effects before implementing tariffs or other protectionist measures.