The Atlantic

There’s Something Fishy About U.S.-Canada Trade Wars

In the 19th century, a tariff dispute actually came to blows, with 30 million frozen herring caught in the middle.
Source: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

If U.S. politicians’ love affair with tariffs seems novel, it’s really the latest installment in an on-again, off-again romance. And it’s one that has been much more passionate in the past. In the decades after the Civil War, the “tariff question” was the biggest issue in American elections. On everything from wool to sugar, the U.S. government slapped steep fees on goods passing through its borders. These tariffs protected domestic industry and paid the government’s bills.

But sometimes tariffs also led to trade wars with America’s neighbor to the north. Today, America and Canada fight over dairy and aluminum. In the late 19th century, they fought over frozen herring—and these trade wars meant real violence. When T. Aubrey Byrne alighted from his train in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on the last day of 1894, he stepped into the middle of one such war.

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