Tariff of 1897: McKinley, the Republicans, and Protection

Northern manufacturing interests were active donors during the 1896 campaign, reacting to candidate William Jennings Bryan's perceived radicalism. Their munificence was rewarded in 1897, when re-elected William McKinley summoned a special session of Congress to revisit the tariff issue.

Nelson Dingley, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman from Maine, helped to craft a measure in line with the manufacturers' desires. It took just thirteen days to push Dingley's bill through the House of Representatives in March, 1897, but another two months of Senate debate and 872 amendments were endured before the bill finally emerged from Congress. The new tariff measure raised the rates above those of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff, arriving at an average rate of 49 percent—with some rates pegged as high as 57 percent.

Farm state representatives fought to block the new duties, but lacked the political strength. The measure was so blatantly protectionist that many Republican politicians sought cover behind another issue. Many settled on the Cuban insurrectionists' continuing struggle against Spanish rule as a means to divert public attention from the tariff.

The Dingley Tariff would remain on the books until the passage of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff in 1909.

What is a tariff? Also see tariff table summary.

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