Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 8-12-1966


Based primarily on the Edward P. Costigan Papers in the University of Colorado's Norlin Library and on government documents, this study traces a progressive's career on the United States Tariff Commission. Costigan's early political experience is briefly examined to reveal the forces which caused him to enter reform politics. A highly moralistic individual with a deep faith in the efficacy of government regulation in a growing, corporate economy, the Coloradan entered politics primarily because he was interested in eliminating corruption in municipal government and attaining a more predominant role in Denver's society. The Tariff Commission was an idea which had been discussed in political circles in the late nineteenth century. Woodrow Wilson finally made it a permanent institution in 1916. Originally designed to gather data to help Congress in making scientific tariffs, the agency became, in 1922, a fact-finding body to aid the President in raising or lowering specific duties. Edward Costigan served for five years on the Commission without special distinction, probably because the other Commissioners shared his belief in a low tariff and because the agency was not involved in controversial tasks. After 1922, he, David Lewis, and William S. Culbertson comprised a faction interested in a publicized, aggressive program for the agency. They wanted to force the President to lower tariffs on important consumer items. Furthermore, they were aware that the United States needed to open her markets to other nations so that foreign countries could acquire enough dollars to repay war-time debts and buy American goods. Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge both acted to change the Commission's composition so that it would reflect their own views. By the spring of 1925, Costigan was the only original member remaining on the agency. In the next three years, he proved to be a constant source of irritation to the President. He also fought hard within the Commission to influence its policy and maintain its independence from Coolidge and special interest groups. When this tactic failed, the Coloradan publicized the agency's problems in the hope of arousing public and Congressional support. Although he succeeded in attracting some backing, he ultimately failed to preserve the board's non-partisan status. Neither the people nor their political representatives really cared what happened to the board. Democrats and Progressives were both willing to embarrass Coolidge over selected issues, but they did not unite to defend the Commission. Costigan finally resigned in 1928, when it became apparent that the Senate would not reorganize the agency's personnel. For three years he had made a nuisance of himself, opposing the President's clearly authorized control of the agency. Not until the following decade was the Colorado Progressive able to work with a government which supported policies he had advocated most of his political life.