The previous major tariff legislation in 1833 had established a series of rate reductions over the course of 10 years. In 1842, however, President John Tyler, feeling the pinch of a protracted depression following the Panic of 1837, reluctantly cancelled the last of the scheduled reductions and signed a new tariff measure.
The Tariff of 1842 provided for upward revision, taking the average rates back to the level of 1833 before the recent reductions had been implemented.
Tylers decision to sign the tariff bill served as the straw that broke the camels back in his relationship with his fellow Whigs. In early 1843, a number of Whigs cooperated in an unsuccessful effort to impeach the president.
Support for high tariffs came principally from New England, where manufacturing was concentrated, and was resisted in the South and West, where people benefited from the competition created by cheap imports. The Whig Party was the strongest advocate for tariffs in Congress. Their argument included two points:
If the agricultural regions wanted strong markets for what the produced, it would be more likely to come from the needs of manufacturing workers in New England than in Britain, and
Since the tariff supported the federal government, a low tariff would either be insufficient to fund the national government or it would come from a flood of cheap imports that would bankrupt New England manufacturers and create a national depression.
In 1846, with the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, the Walker Tariff was enacted, instituting downward revision.
What is a tariff? Also see tariff table summary.