Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2010

Capstone Advisor

Mark E. Rupert

Honors Reader

Mary E. Lovely

Capstone Major

Political Science

Capstone College

Citizenship and Public Affairs

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

American Politics | Comparative Politics | Political Science




There has been much talk over the past 50 years of the role of American labor in a changing American industrial market. As the world has become increasingly connected, American workers who tout high levels of labor rights, high wages, and safe working conditions have been hard pressed to compete with emerging economies that often share little of these same principles or legal decrees.

The debate over American competitiveness in the world has been fought on the picket lines, on the streets, in back rooms and most importantly in the stolid, white, columned halls of Congress. While liberalized trade was supported in Congressional platforms in the post-war period, this stance has undergone a dramatic change toward protectionism. With changing constituencies and increased globalization, the question remains as to what course on trade the American government will support, and in particular if the Democratic Party will continue down a path toward protectionism.


This study is the culmination of more than a year of research which began during my internship with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. I have sought to use a wide variety of sources and types of media, ranging from websites and working papers to interviews and textbooks. My goal was to present an impartial presentation of the Democratic Party’s change in support on trade starting in the 1930s and progressing throughout the century. I separated the work into sections which isolate the most interesting and dynamic periods in international trade.

A large majority of the information which is presented in this paper is derived from I.M. Destler’s book, American Trade Politics, which is widely considered to be one of the most comprehensive and well-written books on the history of trade and trade policy.


My argument in this paper is that the Democratic Party has undergone a dramatic change on trade policy, from supporting a liberalized framework to being an incubator of protectionist sentiment, based on the influence of certain trade industries and, most importantly, labor unions.


The Democratic Party has been influenced by changing constituencies into supporting a more protectionist platform. While Democrats had a stronghold in the South, the movement of the party to the Northern states forced Democrats to support trade which protected American manufacturing. The effects of the 2006 and 2008 elections have built a Democratic platform that is increasingly protectionist and supportive of Fair Trade and labor rights. I have shown that this change is due to labor union pressure and the increasing vulnerability of American manufacturing.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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