Tariffs from the Gilded Age to the 21st Century

U.S. History Tutorial

Tariffs from the Gilded Age to the 21st Century


One of the most contentious issues of the Gilded Age (late 19th century) was how tariffs should be applied. Around it circled other political concerns such as currency, civil service reform, farmer discontent, the rise of agrarian revolt, and industrial values.

Sample Problem

Simply stated, tariffs are taxes on goods coming into the country (imports). What arguments were made by its proponents and its detractors, and what bearing do those arguments have for 21st century America?


Supporters argued that America’s prosperity was tied intimately to tariffs, ostensibly making foreign goods more expensive and thus protecting home-grown industries.
Opponents argued that free trade would make markets more competitive, thus ostensibly making goods more affordable for workers. At the same time, tariffs would help disintegrate monopolies and trusts that had benefited so much from the restraints put on foreign competition.
Today’s political debates over “free trade” vs. “fair trade” thus have a long–and ongoing–history!

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