1832 Nullification Crisis

The Nullification Crisis of 1832 centered on Southern protests against a series of protective tariffs that taxed all foreign goods. The tariffs were intended to boost the sales of U.S. products and protect manufacturers in the North from cheap British goods.

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

South Carolina Exposition

The South was largely agricultural and relied on the North and foreign countries for manufactured goods. Southerners viewed these protective tariffs as severely damaging to their economy. First, they had to pay higher prices on goods. Furthermore, 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 report—known as the South Carolina Exposition—claimed that the tariffs were unconstitutional.

Doctrine of Nullification

John C. Calhoun's South Carolina Exposition outlined a Doctrine of Nullification. It claimed that a state has the right to reject federal law.

Tariffs Declared Unconstitutional

In his South Carolina Exposition, John C. Calhoun argued that the 1828 Tariff of Abominations was unconstitutional for several reasons:

  • 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.
  • One or more states had the power to veto any act of the federal government that violated the Constitution.

Robert Hayne and Daniel Webster

The ideas expressed in John C. Calhoun’s South Carolina Exposition document were first publicly conveyed by Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts responded in a brilliant speech: "... 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.

The 1833 Force Bill

President Jackson passed the Force Bill, 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 passed in March 1833. It gradually lowered the tariff rates over the next 10 years until they returned to the level of the Tariff Act of 1816. And so the Nullification Crisis ended.

Source: 1832 Nullification Crisis
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