Tariff on the Brain
DESCRIPTION: "Come all you honest people, Whoever you may be, And help the honest workingmen Resist monopoly." The "brokers" have "Tariff on the brain (x2), Look out for politicians Who have tariff on the brain." They have Grover to support their gold standard
EARLIEST DATE: 1938 (Nevada Folklore pamphlet; probably written in the 1890s)
KEYWORDS: money political nonballad derivative gold
1885-1889 and 1893-1897 - Presidencies of Grover Cleveland
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Welsch, pp. 73-74, "Tarriff on the Brain" (1 text, tune referenced)
ADDITIONAL: Nebraska Folklore, Pamphlet Eighteen, "Farmers' Alliance Songs of the 1890's," Federal Writers' Project, 1938, p. 13, "Tarriff on the Brain" (1 text)
cf. "Brennan on the Moor" [Laws L7] (tune)
NOTES [423 words]: This song is somewhat unclear about conditions in the 1890s, because while Grover Cleveland stood for hard money (i.e. no silver purchase at 16:1, a major cause of the Panic of 1893), he was a Democrat, and the Democrats were generally the low-tariff party:
"A [low] tariff came in in 1857. This remained until 1861, when the Morrill Tariff went into effect, in accordance with the policy of the Republicans, now in power, who favored high protective duties. The Civil War caused a large increase of the rates to meet government expenses and stimulate manufactures. This continued long after the war. In 1882 a Tariff Commission was appointed to consider readjusting the rates, and the Republicans made some slight reductions. Since then they have returned to advocacy of high protection, while the Democrats, since President Cleveland's message of 1887, have favored reduction of the rates. The McKinley Act of 1890 maintained the protective system. A Democratic bill for moderate reduction was introduced into the House in December, 1893." Jameson, pp. 642-643.
Farmers, including the members of the Farmers Alliance who sang this song, wanted a lower tariff because they were exporting raw materials and importing expensive finished goods; manufacturers wanted high tariffs because they had to compete with more efficient European factories. Hence the tariff struggles. The farmers also wanted high inflation, to moderate their mortgages. So they opposed the "gold bugs" of this song, and disliked Cleveland, who favored hard money even though he had an acceptable view of the tariff. Graff, p. 114, notes how the Panic of 1893 placed the U. S. government under great financial strain, and President Cleveland covered the shortage of gold by borrowing gold from J. P. Morgan on favorable terms. Hence the popular opinion of Cleveland reflected in this song: "The president, screamed his critics, was in league with the 'money trust,' The terms that [Morgan's] syndicate exacted were rightly regarded as exorbitant.... The condemnation of Cleveland is probably unfair because Cleveland ha bargained hard and, in the acute crisis, had no other way out" (Graff, p. 115).
On p. 117, though, Graff admits that "in the interregnum [i.e. presumably while Benjamin Harrison was President in 1889-1893], Cleveland had beome much more sympathetic to the needs and concerns of businessmen and eastern bankers. Nor was he alone in his inclination. Quite simply, the leaders of both parties were impervious to the cries of farmers and workingmen." - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Graff: Henry F. Graff, Grover Cleveland [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2002
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson's Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
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