In my latest reading of The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy, Pat Buchanan talks about protectionism in antebellum America.
In the early days of the American republic, Buchanan argues, there was a tendency towards protectionism because prominent founders wanted for the United States to be self-sufficient and independent. The reason was that they had seen what had happened when the thirteen colonies were dependent on the British for certain goods—-they could be negatively impacted when Britain imposed high taxes on goods that it shipped to the thirteen colonies!
Like Edward Gresser in Freedom from Want, Buchanan portrays Thomas Jefferson as a free-trader. Unlike Gresser, however, Buchanan maintains that Jefferson became a protectionist after seeing the pitfalls to relying on other nations such as Britain and France for goods, and Buchanan also presents Jefferson’s free-trade stage as a time of naievity. At the same time, Buchanan notes an ideological motivation for Jefferson’s commitment to free-trade: Jefferson wanted an agrarian nation rather than a manufacturing one.
According to Buchanan, Jefferson’s agrarian motivation for supporting free trade was taken up by others. There were southerners who wanted to trade with other countries, and they resented the tariffs. One reason was that, like Jefferson, they wanted an agrarian nation, and one southerner even contrasted an agrarian culture with the dirtiness and pollution that comes with manufacturing. (Buchanan remarks that this sentiment was similar to that of environmentalism!) Another reason was that the southerners wanted to trade with people who actually bought their products (i.e., cotton, tobacco, and rice). Foreigners like the British bought southern products. By and large, according to Buchanan, the North did not. (But I wonder: Wouldn’t the North need southern cotton for the textile industry?)