Tariff Reform League


Tariff Reform League
   A lobby formed in London July 21, 1903, to advocate the adoption of tariff protection for British or imperial industry and the abandonment of unilateral free trade. It was formed in reaction to Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain ’ s call for the rejection of Britain’s post- Corn Law adhesion to free trade, in favor of a system of imperial preference. Free trade had been increasingly challenged in the previous two decades, beginning with the founding of the Fair Trade League in 1881.
   The increased popularity of protectionist ideas derived from increasing foreign competition, from the obvious successes of protectionist countries such as Germany and the United States, and from a desire to establish more formal bonds within the empire. The cause attracted much support from former members of the Imperial Federation League. Chamberlain’s call for protection nevertheless aroused strong resistance, especially, but not only, from the Liberal Party, the inheritor of the tradi tion of free trading radicalism. Britain abandoned free trade, largely for revenue reasons, during World War I. Imperial preference gained a victory at the 1931 Ottawa conference, but the interests of the different parts of the empire were so varied that the movement never produced the kind of unified imperial market that its supporters wanted.
   FURTHER READING:
    Marsh, Peter. Joseph Chamberlain. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992;
    Semmel, Bernard. Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought, 1895–1905. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960.
   MARK F. PROUDMAN

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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