The Republicans chose to interpret the election of Benjamin Harrison as President in 1888 as a mandate to create higher tariffs. The tariff bill of 1890 was sponsored by Republican Senator William McKinley of Ohio. The measure gained support from seemingly unlikely sources: Western and Southern Democrats. This was thanks to a bargain between these regional forces to support protectionism in return for cooperation on the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.
The final version of the tariff gave a small nod to reform by adding a few items to the free (not taxed) list. Taxes on alcohol and tobacco were reduced. Bounties were given to sugar growers and for the first time a reciprocity agreement was included. However, many more were subject to higher rates. The result was the highest protective tariff in American history to that point with an average rate of 48 percent.
President Benjamin Harrison successfully persuaded his fellow Republicans to support provisions in the law in order to establish reciprocity.
The McKinley Tariff was truly onerous and led to a sharp rise in the prices of many products. Many who had supported the Tariff of 1890 were defeated at the polls in 1892.
What is a tariff? Also see tariff table summary.