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Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America

Author(s): William K. Bolt

Before the Civil War, the American people did not have to worry about a federal tax collector coming to their door. The reason why was the tariff, taxing foreign goods and imports on arrival in the United States. Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America attempts to show why the tariff was an important part of the national narrative in the antebellum period. The debates in Congress over the tariff were acrimonious, with pitched arguments between politicians, interest groups, newspapers, and a broader electorate.

The spreading of democracy caused by the tariff evoked bitter sectional controversy among Americans. Northerners claimed they needed a tariff to protect their industries and also their wages. Southerners alleged the tariff forced them to buy goods at increased prices. Having lost the argument against the tariff on its merits, in the 1820s, southerners began to argue the Constitution did not allow Congress to enact a protective tariff. In this fight, we see increased tensions between northerners and southerners in the decades before the Civil War began.

As Tariff Wars reveals, this struggle spawned a controversy that placed the nation on a path that would lead to the early morning hours of Charleston Harbor in April of 1861.

Biography of Author(s)

William K. Bolt is Assistant Professor of History at Francis Marion University and former assistant editor on the James K. Polk Project.


  • "Bolt wisely integrates the discussion of the economic aspect of tariff rates with the political dimension. We discover shifting viewpoints, pledges, promises, half-truths, and outright deceit deftly engaged in by the likes of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk. This volume is critical to understanding the intersection of the American economy and politics in the antebellum period."
    John Belohlavek, author of Broken Glass: Caleb Cushing and the Shattering of the Union
  • "Bolt's focus on the various congressional debates and popular disputes regarding the tariff provides ample evidence of his thesis. Readers will appreciate the author's frequent use of relevant quotes from the powerful as well as the popular. Congressional votes are helpfully illustrated in tables. While the book is most useful for students of the Jacksonian era, Bolt's accessible prose provides general readers with a valuable read. . . . Highly recommended."