1832 Nullification Crisis

The Nullification Crisis of 1832 centered on Southern protests against the series of protective tariffs that had been introduced to tax all foreign goods in order to boost the sales of U.S. products and protect manufacturers in the North from cheap British goods. The South, was largely agricultural, and reliant on the North and foreign countries for manufactured goods, and saw the protective tariffs as damaging to their economy. During the administration of John Quincy Adams his Vice President, John C. Calhoun, had drafted the South Carolina Exposition, a document that declared the tariffs were unconstitutional that caused the Nullification Crisis bringing the sectional interests of the North and the South into open conflict for the first time.

  • The Tariff of 1816 placed a 20-25% tax on all foreign goods
  • The Tariff of 1824 was the second protective tariff that raised duties still higher.
  • The Tariff of 1828 (the Tariff of Abominations) was the third protective tariff and taxes increased to nearly 50%.

South Carolina Exposition

The South saw these protective tariffs as severely damaging to their economy. In addition to paying higher prices on goods, the increased taxes on British imports made it difficult for Britain to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. The South Carolina legislature asked Vice President John C. Calhoun to prepare a report on the tariff situation. This would become known as the South Carolina Exposition that contended the tariffs were unconstitutional.

Doctrine of Nullification

John C. Calhoun's South Carolina Exposition was therefore a Doctrine of nullification. The Doctrine of Nullification explained the concept that a state has the right to reject federal law. The Doctrine of Nullification was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Tariffs Declared Unconstitutional

In his South Carolina Exposition John C. Calhoun argued that the 1828 Tariff of Abominations was unconstitutional because:

  • It favored manufacturing over agriculture and commerce
  • Tariff power could only be used to generate revenue, not to provide protection from foreign competition for U.S. industries
  • The protective system was unjust and unequal in operation
  • The people of a state, or several states, had the power to veto (forbid, refuse, reject) any act of the federal government which violated the Constitution.

Robert Hayne and Daniel Webster

John C. Calhoun presided over the debates of the Senate, the ideas expressed in his South Carolina Exposition document were therefore first publicly conveyed by Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina. One response to the principle of Nullification came in January 1830 from Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in one of the most brilliant speeches ever delivered in Congress: "... The people have declared that this constitution ... shall be the supreme law."

South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification

The Nullification Crisis erupted when the South Carolina legislature passed an Ordinance of Nullification on November 24, 1832, declaring the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void within the state borders of South Carolina.

Jackson issues the Nullification Proclamation

President Jackson was furious that the Tariff of 1832 had been "Nullified" by South Carolina. Jackson issued a warning he was prepared to enforce the law. It was called the Nullification Proclamation—disputing a states' right to nullify a federal law. Jackson sent ships and soldiers to Charleston and ordered the collector to collect the duties indicated in the protection tariffs.

The 1833 Force Bill

President Jackson asked Congress to give him greater power and on March 2, 1833 the Force Bill was passed, authorizing the use of military force against any state that resisted the tariff acts and rejected the Nullification Doctrine.

The Compromise Tariff

A Compromise Tariff proposed by Henry Clay was passed by Congress in March 1833 and gradually lowered the tariff rates over the next 10 years until, in 1842, they would be as low as they were by the Tariff Act of 1816. The Compromise Tariff ended the Nullification Crisis.

Source: 1832 Nullification Crisis
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