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Tariff History in the US

Trump is taking a page from the book of past American presidents, including George Washington, who put his signature on the Tariff Act of 1789 on July 4th of that year. This early law raised money for the new American government, helped to reduce Revolutionary War debt, and protected early American industries from foreign competition. Other well-known presidents were equally unafraid to impose tariffs on imported goods. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give us a protective tariff and we will have the greatest nation on earth,” and “the abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government…must produce want and ruin among our people.” Similarly, Theodore Roosevelt raved about tariffs in his 1902 State of the Union Address, asserting that “The country has acquiesced in the wisdom of the protective tariff principle. It is exceedingly undesirable that this system should be destroyed or that there should be violent and radical changes therein. Our past experience shows that great prosperity in this country has always come under a protective tariff.” Clearly, Trump’s tariff policy is not without precedent; Republican and Democratic presidents have both wielded protectionist policies throughout American history.