1887 One Hundred Years Ago

PrintPrintEmailEmail

President Grover Cleveland delivered his third annual message to Congress on December 6, setting a precedent by devoting the entire speech to tariff reform. His concern stemmed from the fact that the growing Treasury surplus kept money out of circulation; the federal income needed to be reduced. The solution favored by most politicians—and by most businessmen, who profited from the tariff—was cutting internal revenue taxation. But Cleveland was sufficiently impolitic to challenge business interests by insisting that “present tariff laws, the vicious, inequitable, and illogical source of unnecessary taxation, ought to be at once revised and amended.” The higher prices of imported products allowed domestic manufacturers to raise their prices; the tariff laws “thus create a tax upon all our people,” Cleveland said. The President attacked trusts as “selfish schemes” and argued that tariffs on “the necessaries of life used and consumed by all the people…should be greatly cheapened.” Despite the priority Cleveland gave tariff reform, no measure passed both houses before the next election, when the issue cost Cleveland several key states. He lost to Benjamin Harrison.