In the economy of the early United States, tariffs were a fact of life and a standard tool of political economy. In an economic system much less dependent on imports of cheap consumer goods, tariffs were a way to raise revenue without levying taxes that the average American would feel. Alexander Hamilton, the architect of many American economic institutions, favored high protective tariffs to develop domestic manufacturing. Without them, he feared, the U.S. would become wholly dependent on the more advanced economies of established powers like Britain and France.
The Tariff of 1828, called the “Tariff of Abominations” by its opponents, was the first tariff to create major controversy in the United States. By that time, the economies of the Northern and Southern states had reached a point of critical divergence. The tariff was highly favorable to the fledgling industrial state in the North, but it hurt the import-dependent slave economy of the Southern states. The tariff led to a hot-burning conflict now known as the Nullification Crisis, in which President Andrew Jackson dispatched troops to South Carolina, which had challenged the supremacy of the federal government by threatening to declare the tariff null and void.
After the crisis was resolved, tariff levels fluctuated throughout the 19th century. One faction would gain power and raise tariffs, and another would sweep them out a few years later and lower them. With the establishment of the income tax in 1913, tariffs hit a low ebb, but they would soon come back with a vengeance.