The recently concluded War of 1812 forced Americans to confront the issue of protecting their struggling industries. The British had stashed large quantities of manufactured goods in warehouses during the war, but when peace was achieved in 1815, a flood of these goods was dumped on the American market. New England manufacturing concerns found it almost impossible to compete with the cheap foreign imports.
Voices for protective legislation were found among the former War Hawks. Henry Clay argued on behalf of the domestic mill and iron industries. John C. Calhoun, who would later be an ardent foe of high tariffs, supported protectionism because he believed that the South’s future would include industrial development.
The Tariff of 1816 was a mildly protectionist measure, raising the average rates to around 20 percent. New England manufacturers actually desired higher rates, but had not yet developed a sufficient political presence in Washington to have their way.
Daniel Webster, a great spokesman for New England interests, opposed the tariff measure. He did not want to see the nation’s industrial base broadened, fearing that New England’s commercial strength would be diluted.
John Randolph also opposed the tariff, arguing the Southern position:
It eventuates in this: whether you, as a planter will consent to be taxed, in order to hire another man to go to work in a shoemaker's shop, or to set up a spinning jenny. For my part I will not agree to it, even though they should, by way of return, agree to be taxed to help us to plant tobacco; much less will I agree to pay all, and receive nothing for it. No, I will buy where I can get manufactures cheapest; I will not agree to lay a duty on the cultivators of the soil to encourage exotic manufactures; because, after all, we should only get much worse things at a much higher price, and we, the cultivators of the country, would in the end pay all.
The 1816 tariff act was the first true protectionist measure, reversing the revenue-generation emphasis of the 1789 measure. Protectionist forces would gather strength and improve their position in 1824.
What is a tariff? Also see tariff table summary.