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Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act

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Gorman's Triumph – A Humiliating Spectacle, cartoon by W. A. Rogers depicting President Cleveland's humiliation by the Sugar Trust.

The Revenue Act or Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894 (ch. 349, §73, 28 Stat. 570, August 27, 1894) slightly reduced the United States tariff rates from the numbers set in the 1890 McKinley tariff and imposed a 2% tax on income over $4,000.[1] It is named for William L. Wilson, Representative from West Virginia, chair of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, and Senator Arthur P. Gorman of Maryland, both Democrats.

Supported by pro-free trade members of the Democratic Party, this attempt at tariff reform imposed the first peacetime income tax (2% on income over $4,000, or $88,100 in 2010 dollars, which meant fewer than 1% of households would pay any). The purpose of the income tax was to make up for revenue that would be lost by tariff reductions. The democrats under the Grover Cleveland administration wanted to move away from the protectionism proposed by the McKinley tariff while Cleveland was still in office. By coincidence, $4,000 ($88,100 in 2010 dollars) would be the exemption for married couples when the Revenue Act of (October) 1913 was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, as a result of the ratification of the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in February 1913.

The bill introduced by Wilson and passed by the House significantly lowered tariff rates, in accordance with Democratic platform promises, and dropped the tariff to zero on iron ore, coal, lumber and wool, which angered American producers. With Senator Gorman operating behind the scenes, protectionists in the Senate added more than 600 amendments that nullified most of the reforms and raised rates again. The "Sugar Trust" in particular made changes that favored itself at the expense of the foreign competitors.

President Grover Cleveland, who had campaigned on lowering the tariff and supported Wilson's version of the bill, was devastated that his program had been ruined. He denounced the revised measure as a disgraceful product of "party perfidy and party dishonor," but still allowed it to become law without his signature, believing that it was better than nothing and was at the least an improvement over the McKinley tariff.

Income Tax Amendment[edit]

The New York Times reported that many Democrats in the East "prefer to take the income tax, odious as it is, and unpopular as it is bound to be with their constituents" to defeating the Wilson tariff bill.[2] Democratic Representative Johnson of Ohio supported the income tax as the lesser of two evils: "he was for an income tax as against a tariff tax; but he believed, that it was un-Democratic, inquisitorial, and wrong in principle."[3]


The income tax provision was struck down in 1895 by the U.S. Supreme Court case Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429 (1895). In 1913, the 16th Amendment permitted a federal income tax.

The tariff provisions of Wilson-Gorman were superseded by the Dingley Tariff of 1897.


  1. ^ Curtis, S., ed., The Power of Cities in International Relations (New York, Routledge, 2014), p. 141.
  2. ^ "Democrats More Hopeful" (PDF). New York Times. January 30, 1894.
  3. ^ "Mr. Cockran's Final Effort" (PDF). New York Times. January 31, 1894.

Further reading[edit]

  • "The Income Tax of 1894". Quarterly Journal of Economics. 9 (2): 223–234. 1895. doi:10.2307/1885603. JSTOR 1885603.
  • Dunbar, Charles F. (1894). "The New Income Tax". Quarterly Journal of Economics. 9 (1): 26–46. doi:10.2307/1883633. JSTOR 1883633.
  • Lambert, John R. (1953). Arthur Pue Gorman. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Rhodes, James Ford (1967). History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the McKinley-Bryan Campaign of 1896. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press. pp. 418–424.
  • Summers, Festus P. (1953). William L. Wilson and Tariff Reform: A Biography. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
  • Taussig, F. W. (1894). "The Tariff Act of 1894". Political Science Quarterly. 9 (4): 585–609. doi:10.2307/2139850. JSTOR 2139850.
  • Taussig, Frank. Tariff History of the United States (1910) online
  • Williams, John Alexander (1973). "The Bituminous Coal Lobby and the Wilson-Gorman Tariff of 1894". Maryland Historical Magazine. 68 (3): 273–287. ISSN 0025-4258.

External links[edit]