- The Tariff of 1828 was also known as the Tariff of Abominations owing to the disadvantages that it caused the Southern states
- John C. Calhoun conceptualised the nullification principle that provided states could ignore federal laws that were detrimental to them or violated the Constitution
- The nullification crisis is considered a precursor to the American Civil War
In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the young nation depended on taxes as the main revenue-raising avenue for the federal government. Further, after the new constitution, the federal government had the powers to regulate trade, and to protect the young industries in America, against cheap imports from European markets through protectionist policies.
There are three regions in the US at this time, the north, whose people were predominantly manufacturers for the local southern and European markets. Protectionist policies were favourable to them because the taxes increased the cost of imported goods, making their products and prices more competitive. Slave-owning agriculturalist who depended on imports from the north and Europe mainly occupied the southern region. Further, the western area was the third region in America at the time. In the 1800s, it was still evolving, attracting settlers for some reasons including the transcontinental railroad and the gold and silver rush.
In 1829, Andrew Jackson was elected as President with a landslide win against John Quincy Adams for two main reasons. The first was because his opponent, the immediate former President was perceived to be unfairly elected, corrupt with an ineffectual Presidency. Therefore, the majority of the people in voting for Jackson were voting against him Quincy. The second reason was that Jackson appealed to the ordinary person owing to his humble background. He was famous for serving in the Continental Army during the Revolution and the Confederate army in the 1812 war and was a Southerner, and the southerners believed that he would protect their interest.
Earlier on before Jacksons Presidency, President Madison had passed the Tariff of 1816, which placed a 20-25% tax on all foreign goods. The tariff was modest and was effective in boosting the northern manufacturers. The southerners were also benefiting from the discovery of the Cotton Gin, which enabled mass Cotton production. The tariff heralded the “Era of Good Feelings” when American were proud of their achievements, and the economy was rising due in part to the implementation of the “American System” devised by Henry Clay that sort to improve American lives.
The American System
In the aftermath of the War of 1812, a tide of nationalism swept across America, and one of the most significant political personalities at the time, Henry Clay proposed an economic plan with the goal of facilitating America’s economic prosperity called the American System.
Through the American system, a program for economic development, Clay argued that the increasing internal markets would spur American industries to growth if protected from foreign competition. He gave the example of iron produced in Pittsburg could have a ready market in the East Coast as opposed to importing iron from Britain.
His idea focused on building local markets for locally produced goods, and whereas there was contention, between the north and south concerning the federal government’s support agriculture or manufacturing, Clay essentially saw both forms of economic activities subsisting simultaneously.
His argument of strengthening the independence of America was very appealing to the people especially in light of the War of 1812 and the French War. He also suggested chartering the second National bank and building the National Road, the first major US highway.
The Tariff of 1828
In 1824, Quincy Adams passed the Tariff of 1828, owing to the plotting of President Jackson who wanted to sabotage Adam’s administration and make him appear as favouring the northern states over the southern states. The plot worked, because there was a lot of resentment towards the policy that contributed to Jackson’s landslide win.
The tariff raised the taxes to 35% and listed applicable imports to be taxed, to include iron, wool, cotton and hemp. The charge was highly divisive, and the southerners called it the Tariff of Abomination. The southern states stagnated in Agriculture while the northern states became even more industrialised. The foreign market in Europe was a larger market base for the southern cotton than the northern market. The tariffs in reducing the demand for imports, lead to reduced production of cotton by the European industrialist, which in turn lead to reduced demand for raw cotton produced by the southern states.
The wave of nationalism during the Era of Good feelings was replaced by sectionalism with bitter resentment from the southern states. The southern states hoped that Jackson would repeal the law, but when he became President in 1829, he passed the tariff of 1832, which was a mild attempt to remedy the 1828 policy. However, because of the controversy raised by the 1828 policy, nothing short of a complete repeal of the law was acceptable to the southerners.
The Nullification Crisis
In 1832, South Carolina proposed that states could in effect “nullify” federal law and passed the South Carolina Act of Nullification in November 1832. The Act provided that South Carolina could ignore or nullify federal law if it found it to be unconstitutional or harmful to its interest. The man behind this idea was John C. Calhoun and was president Andrew Jackson’s vice president in his first term of service.
Calhoun wrote a paper on the theory of nullification, providing a legal basis upon which states could disregard federal laws. He also resigned his vice presidency and returned to South Carolina where he was elected to the Senate and continued his advocacy on nullification. Jackson, on the other hand, secured the approval of Congress that allowed him to use the federal army to enforce federal laws through the Force Bill.
The Compromise Tariff
The nullification crisis was resolved by the Compromise tariff that immediately reduced the duties levied by the 1824 Tariff. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay negotiated it in bids to avert a civil war. It, however, revealed the deep divisions between the southern and northern states that eventually led to the Civil War of 1861 – 1865.