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Protectionism and the Farmer


On this date in 1914, the Pioneer Express of Pembina, North Dakota reported that livestock imports from Canada had increased substantially over the first nine months of the year. In January, just over 1,000 cattle had been imported. This number grew to over 7,000 in September. The number of imported hogs also grew, from just over 100 to over 3,000. The newspaper asserted that this was a grave concern to farmers in the state.

The newspaper said that Democrats had argued for free imports of food products, saying the elimination of tariffs would bring down prices for consumers. Consequently, tariffs had been reduced or eliminated on almost all food products. There was no tariff at all on cattle and hogs. But while the imports benefited the stockyards of the Twin Cities and Chicago, they seemed to have no corresponding effect for consumers. Prices in the butcher shop remained comparable to the year before despite the rise in Canadian imports.

American farmers, however, did not enjoy a corresponding reduction in tariffs for sending products to Canada. When the Halcrow Brothers Farm wanted to send a carload of potatoes to Winnipeg, they were told they would have to pay twenty cents per bushel. That import fee made the potatoes too expensive for the Canadian consumer, leaving American farmers unable to compete with their Canadian counterparts.

But let’s back up a few years … to 1906 when President William Henry Taft argued for higher tariffs. He said there had to be a balance to protect American business while not harming American consumers. This position was attractive to North Dakota farmers. When Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912, he announced in his Inaugural Address that he intended to lower tariffs. In 1913, Wilson stood up to the protectionist lobby and managed to pass the Underwood Tariff Act, which created the lower tariffs … the first time tariffs had been lowered since the Civil War.

When the Republicans regained power, President Warren Harding was determined to reinstate a tariff. The Emergency Tariff of 1921 increased the rates on agricultural products, with even higher tariffs the following year. The Fordney-McCumber Act also granted broad powers to the President to raise or lower tariffs.

The higher tariffs did give some relief to farmers, but other countries raised tariffs in response, hindering farm exports.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


The Pioneer Express. “Result of the Democratic Tariff.” Pembina, ND. 23 October 1914.

William Henry Taft. “In Defense of a Higher Tariff.” 61 Congress, 2 Session, Senate Document No. 164.

Lumen Learning. “From Roosevelt to Wilson.” "" Accessed 30 September 2017.

Office of the Historian. “Protectionism in the Interwar Period.” "" Accessed 30 September 2017.