McKinley Tariff

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The McKinley Tariff was a name popularly given to a law enacted by the United States Congress in 1890 increasing the tariffs on some goods imported into the United States. It was named after Congressman William McKinley, who would later become President of the United States.[1]



The bill which would become popularly known as the McKinley Tariff was reported to Congress on May 21, 1890, by the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives, of which William McKinley was chairman. McKinley was also a major proponent of the bill. The bill became a law in October 1890. It increased the duties on wool, woolen manufactures, on tin plate, barley and some other agricultural products and remitted the duty on raw sugar. The bill had a reciprocity feature which provided for the remission of duty on certain products from those countries which should remove duties on products imported from the United States. The law was repealed in 1894.[1]

The result of the bill was an average ad valorem tariff rate for imports to the United States of 48.4 percent. It protected manufacturing. In return for its passage, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was given Republican support.


The Silver Purchase Act raised the prices in the United States under President Benjamin Harrison, which may have cost him his bid for re-election in the 1892 election.

The tariff was detrimental to the American farmers. It drove up the prices of farm equipment (since wages and imported components were more expensive) and failed to halt sliding agricultural prices, possibly since there wasn't much competition with imported goods since American agricultural produce was already cheaper than imports. These price changes upset many rural voters, who voted many Republicans out of office in the next congressional elections (1890).[2] The following agrarian resentment would help give rise to the Free Silver movement and the Populist Party.

The McKinley Tariff was, arguably, a direct contributing factor to the Panic of 1893 which resulted in the defeat of Democrats in the 1894 Congressional mid-term elections. The reverberations of the Panic were still being felt during the Presidential Election of 1896 which helped sweep Republican William McKinley into the White House.



  • Ayala, César J. (1999). American Sugar Kingdom: The Plantation Economy of the Spanish Caribbean, 1898-1934. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807847887. .
  • McKinley Tariff, Ohio History Central, July 1, 2005.

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