During the years 1832 and 1833, the United States of America went through a sectional political crisis called the Nullification Crisis.
The State of Carolina and the federal government confronted each other due to the tariffs imposed in the years 1828 and 1832.
The Tariffs were imposed to protect the industries of the Northern States and were created by President John Quincy Adams.
The southern states believed that the tariffs were unfair and unconstitutional because of their largely agrarian economy.
The southern states depended on the north for the importation of manufactured goods as the northern states were able to develop their industry.
When President Andrew Jackson was elected to office, the south anticipated that the tariffs would be reduced.
However, no action was initiated by the new president which propelled a section of the South Carolina society to declare the taxes null and void.
Even in the White House, the animosity was palpable as the Vice President at the time was a South Carolinian and the chief proponent of the constitutional theory of state nullification.
In 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed the Tariffs of 1832 as a way of compromise.
Even though it garnered the support of the Northerners and half the Southerners in the Senate, it did not satisfy the demands of the South Carolinians.
As a result, on November 24, 1832, the state of South Carolina adopted the Ordinance of Nullification.
According to the Ordinance of Nullification, the Tariffs issued in 1828 and 1832 by the federal government would be considered unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable in the territory of South Carolina.
This led to the Nullification Crisis wherein the federal government and the South Carolina state government prepared their military to face each other.
However, further talks and negotiations resulted in the Compromise Tariff of 1833 which satisfied the South Carolinians and averted the threat of a military conflict.
The American industries were booming since 1816 and as a way to protect them, the United States government had imposed tariffs to prevent foreign competition.
Henry Clay was a well-respected statesman and he had formed the American System based on protective tariffs.
This system was the primary economic policy in the United States of America until President Andrew Jackson got elected.
The initial tariffs were not too high and hence were accepted by all the states easily. However, when they started to increase they caused resistance, especially in the south.
On May 19, 1828, a new tariff was passed by the Congress of the United States of America known as the Tariff of 1828.
It was formed during the presidency of John Quincy Adams and passed after President Andrew Jackson took office.
The Tariff of 1828 was strongly condemned by opponents in the south because they believed it could have negative effects on the largely agrarian economy of the South.
They termed the tariff as the Tariff of Abomination because it taxed the Southerners heavily for imported goods from Europe.
On some imported goods the southerners were required to pay a tax of up to 38% and on some raw materials imported from Europe, the southerners would have to pay taxes as high as 45%.
The goal of the Tariff of 1828 was to protect the mainly industrial economy of the North as it was suffering from the low prices offered by European manufacturers.
The federal government believed that if they heavily taxed the goods imported from Europe, the people of the United States would prefer to buy locally rather than internationally.
However, this economic policy backfired when the South retaliated to the taxes imposed on them.
They argued that they should not be made to pay exorbitant taxes to protect the economy of the North.
They were also afraid that the reduction of imports from Britain could cause a reduction in agricultural exports to Britain further hampering the southern economy.
The federal government had begun imposing tariffs in 1816 under its protectionism policy.
The first tariff introduced in 1816 gained widespread support from all the states of America, even John C Calhoun was in favor of this tariff.
The southerners viewed the Tariff of 1816 as logical and accepted the 25% tax levied on several imports from Europe to protect the Union’s economy.
However, the taxes were hiked to 35% in 1824 in a tariff proposed by Henry Clay. It also increased the duties on items such as iron, woolens, cotton, and hemp.
This tariff was strongly resisted and barely made past the federal house of representatives with a vote count of 107 against 102.
Various protests were staged against the increase in tariffs by the southern and southwestern states.
Many people like William Branch Giles questioned the authority of the federal government to pass higher taxes that favor the north but disadvantage the south.
William Branch Giles cited the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 to reject the powers of the Congress to impose higher taxes under protectionism.
He also quoted the arguments posed by James Madison to defend the state’s right to oppose the federal tariffs.
The Tariff of 1828 was designed to ensure the victory of President Andrew Jackson. Both Silas Wright and Martin Van Buren were aware that the south would vote for Andrew Jackson regardless of what the tariffs looked like.
However, the north could be moved in Jackson’s direction only if a clear benefit was offered.
The increased taxes played a crucial role in moving the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, New York, and Missouri in favor of Jackson.
However, even after the results of the elections were announced President Andrew Jackson made no comment on the tariffs forcing the southern governments to launch attacks against Congress and threaten secession.
The State of South Carolina was at the forefront of these protests as they were still recovering from the economic devastation caused by the Panic of 1819.
William Smith and Thomas Cooper had advocated for state’s rights to reject federal rulings since the Tariff of 1816.
George Mcduffie, the South Carolina governor was especially influential in leading the protests against the federal government.
In his Forty Bale theory, he said that a 40% tariff on finished cotton goods translates to 40 bales of cotton out of every 100 that the South Carolinians produced.
This theory was mathematically incorrect, however, the simplicity of his arguments appealed to many South Carolinians and forced influential people such as Vice President John C Coulhan to change their stance on the tariffs.
The issue of slavery had also caused South Carolinians to advocate for nullification in 1822. They resented the free Black sailors recruited by the UK and passed the Negro Seamen Act.
Under the act, all the free Black sailors who docked in Charleston were put in jail and had to pay the costs of their imprisonment failing which they were sold as slaves.
Supreme Court Judge William Johnson had declared that this act was grossly unconstitutional and was in violation of the treaties signed between the UK and the United States.
However, the South Carolina Senate ignored the ruling and labeled it invalid and unenforceable. So strong was their retaliation that even the federal government refused to enforce Johnson’s decision.
Key Figures and Important Events
The Tariff of 1828 was proposed by Silas Wright who supported the presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson.
These taxes are said to have been the highest in the United States of America and received different responses.
In the Mid-Atlantic and Western states, it was viewed favorably. The 30 to 50 percent rise in taxes secured the industries in New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio which mainly produced raw materials.
But in the south, especially in South Carolina, the cotton and tobacco farms received no such protections.
In fact, it had a very adverse impact on the economy of the southern states, both directly and indirectly.
The taxes made the import of raw materials from Europe extremely expensive and practically unaffordable.
While the trade deficit caused the European markets to block the import of cotton from the southern states further breaking the back of the southern economy.
Despite the opposing views on the tariff, Andrew Jackson secured his presidency garnering support from the North as well as the South.
The southerners hoped that the new president would change or at least reduce the taxes, however, when he failed to act, Vice President John C Calhoun took matters into his own hands.
In 1828, he anonymously opposed the tariffs through a pamphlet called ‘Exposition and Protest’ which outlined the faults of the tariff and declared it unconstitutional.
It was the first step toward formulating the nullification theory introduced by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the late 18th century.
Though the objections raised by the southerners were largely ignored until 1830, an open debate on the Senate floor between South Carolina’s Senator Robert Hayne and Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster brought America’s attention back to the issues faced by the south.
According to Senator Hayne, the federal government had no right to impose laws on states which clearly violated their constitutional rights.
He also argued that the rulings of the federal government can be nullified by the state government if they found them to be infringing their sovereignty.
The Nullification Crisis
During the presidential election of 1828, the South Carolinians agreed that defeating John Quincy Adams was more important than fighting against the taxes.
They felt confident that after the elections were won by Andrew Jackson and John Calhoun the taxes would be reduced.
John Calhoun had submitted a 35,000-word document called Exposition and Protest to assure the South Carolina legislature that he would lead a campaign against the tariff after Andrew Jackson won the elections.
In the document, John Calhoun stated that any taxes that favored the manufacturers of the North but disadvantaged the agriculturists of the South were unconstitutional.
He also stated that the taxes could only be imposed to generate revenue and cannot be used to protect American industries from foreign competition.
He advocated that the democratically elected state conventions had the authority to veto acts that are unfair and unconstitutional.
This became the core of the nullification doctrine and 5000 copies were soon circulated among the South Carolinians.
Robert Barnwell Rhett, one of the most radical South Carolinians, pushed his constituents to reject the majority rule in the Congress and urged his constituents to act immediately.
However, his ideas were considered too radical by many South Carolinians, and most preferred to either formally challenge the tariffs or wait for Jackson to take office.
The opinions kept widening with a significant minority seeking to secede if the federal government did not reduce the taxes.
Many moderates were forced to take more radical positions due to the growing support for nullification in the south.
The Nat Turner insurrection where 51 white people were killed by Black slaves further hastened the need for drastic action against the federal government.
James Hamilton led the conventions and rallies in South Carolina to gather momentum for the cause of nullification.
After the violent state elections of 1832, the nullifiers won with a clear majority and soon held a convention to discuss Nullification in November 1832.
The convention declared that the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and hence cannot be enforced in the state of South Carolina after February 1, 1833.
They also warned that if the federal government ignored their declaration then the state of South Carolina will be forced to secede from the Union.
To prepare for a possible confrontation, the South Carolinians bought arms worth $100,000 from the North and mobilized 27,000 men to fight the federal forces.
The federal government could not ignore the South anymore and made attempts to reason with them.
President Andrew Jackson on December 10, 1832, issued a Proclamation to the People of South Carolina urging them to understand the need for protectionism.
He also explained that the tariffs are a temporary measure until the federal government pays off its debt.
However, the proclamation made no difference to the opinions in South Carolina and it became apparent that the crisis could not be averted unless the taxes were reduced.
President Jackson attempted to enforce the tariffs by sending a Force Bill to Congress but it was rejected by the Judiciary committee.
It was clear that the Nullification Crisis could only be resolved by working on compromise tariffs that are acceptable to South Carolina.
In January 1833 work on a compromise tariff began with the goal of reducing the tariffs to pre 1816 levels.
Finally, on March 2, 1833 the Compromise Tariff of 1833 was enacted as a measure to end the Nullification Crisis.
Henry Clay and John C Calhoun were the people behind the compromise. Under this act, the tariffs would gradually reduce over 10 years until they were as low as 20%.
Though the compromise resolved the Nullification Crisis, it did not prevent the sectional politics that would eventually lead to the American Civil War in 1861.