Looking Beyond Parties and Elections: The Making of United States Tariff Policy during the Early 1820s
Abstract

“The vital interests of a great nation are too valuable to be offered a sacrifice to any man or any party.” So wrote Mathew Carey, vocal advocate of protection for American manufactures, in response to the defeat of the Baldwin tariff bill during the first session of the Sixteenth Congress (December 1819 – May 1820). Yet if Carey and his protectionist allies would not trust parties to make policy, then who would take the lead in addressing matters of public concern? And if partisan identities continued to prevail come election day, then how could those who rejected party hope to influence deliberations in the national legislature? This article seeks to answer these questions through reference to the debate surrounding the Baldwin tariff bill, which proposed to raise import duties in order to protect domestic industry from foreign competition. It shows that Carey and his allies developed an alternative mobilization strategy centered on non-partisan voluntary associations, and employed a variety of devices including petitioning and lobbying in their bid to shape federal policy. This episode demonstrates that if we want to better understand “who gets what, why, and how”, we must look beyond parties and elections for a more holistic approach to the politics of the early republic.


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