Reciprocity revised : the Jacksonians, navigation, and the shaping of United States commercial policy, 1829-1850
The study investigates the importance of the policy of reciprocal navigation within U.S. domestic politics and commercial diplomacy in the late Jacksonian era. Addressing the neglect by historians of the development of the policy after 1829, the study examines the basis of a strong minority in opposition to the existing equality in commercial exactions granted to the shipping of foreign countries which reciprocated with like terms. This opposition, located chiefly in the maritime centres of New England and Baltimore, and reaching its climax in the harsh economic climate of the early 1840s, made use of pressure group tactics in an attempt to persuade American policy-makers to suspend the policy, or to abandon it altogether. They also drew attention to similar problems in the related matter of trade with Britain's colonies in the western hemisphere. Their efforts met with varied results: the gradual improvement of the colonial trade problem until its final resolution with the reform of the British Navigation acts in 1849; short-term legislative attention to the issue of reciprocal navigation, but with no positive outcome; temporary suspension of the policy by diplomatic officers of the Tyler administration; and finally the further extension of reciprocity, and the exploitation by the Polk administration of the opposition to it as a negotiating tool to win commercial concessions from European states. The study concludes that reciprocal navigation, while not a party issue as such, did evoke responses which reflected prevailing partisan and sectional attitudes. At a time of growing sectional tension the issue tended to divide northern and southern Whigs, for and against sympathy for the critics of reciprocity respectively; while Democrats managed to maintain party unity on this issue, despite the apparent southern priorities of the Polk administration, as revealed by their manipulation of shippers' discontent.