Republicans and the Tariff Question


 "A Question of Labor"
  Cartoonist:  William Allen Rogers
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   September 29, 1888, p. 725

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
This cartoon undermines the Republican argument, articulated in the caption by James Blaine, that protective tariffs primarily benefited American laborers. It allegedly did so by making foreign products more costly than American-made products, which encouraged the latter’s purchase and, in turn, kept American business and industry prosperous and jobs plentiful. Democratic and independent tariff reformers countered that high protective tariffs placed the financial burden on working- and middle-class Americans by raising the cost of products they buy. This idea is conveyed across the top of the cartoon by pictures of common consumer items, each labeled with its corresponding tariff rate. The artist was careful not to depict luxury goods, but to emphasize everyday items, including a Bible to add moral weight to the cartoon. The beneficiaries of high tariffs are identified as large business corporations (“trusts” and “monopolies”).

The central image of the cartoon indicts Republican tariff policy for encouraging the importation of foreign workers who take jobs away from native-born Americans. As a senator, Benjamin Harrison, the Republican presidential nominee, had voted against the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banning the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States for ten years. (He believed it violated the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China.) The issue was particularly important on the West Coast, where Harrison hoped to win needed electoral votes in the close presidential contest. The 1888 Republican platform (like the Democratic one) expressed strict opposition to “foreign contract labor and of Chinese labor, alien to our civilization and constitution…” In his letter of acceptance, Harrison stated his opposition to the importation of Chinese labor—a “question [that] has passed entirely beyond the stage of argument”—and his support of additional legislation to curb evasion of current laws or “to stop further Chinese immigration…” In 1892, near the end of his administration, President Harrison signed the Geary Act, which extended Chinese exclusion for another ten years. (For more information, visit HarpWeek’s website on Chinese-Americans.)













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