Proponents of protectionism often ground their support in a quasi-nationalism; trade should be restricted for the benefit of the nation. Economically, the argument holds little weight. The benefits of more trade, like more and cheaper goods, outweigh the costs, like some temporary unemployment that results from the closing of a factory that couldn’t compete with foreign companies.
Some protectionists may accept this, and still urge tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions. They argue that a nation can still benefit, even with economic disadvantages. Sure, consumers might pay in higher prices if there’s a tariff on steel, but think of all the jobs! The consequences of protectionism, however, are not simply economic. Rather than developing national and political unity, tariffs often lead to national discord.
Take the United States in the early nineteenth century. Its still developing economy was primarily agricultural, with a growing commercial and manufacturing sector. Many early American politicians advocated a tariff in order to protect, foster, and develop American manufacturing.
Ignoring the economic flaws of such a plan, the policy sowed the seeds for national disunion, culminating in the United States Civil War. How?