The Force Bill of 1833

March 2, 1833

Approved by Congress on March 1, 1833, and signed by President Andrew Jackson the next day, the Force Bill of 1833, known in South Carolina as the "Bloody Bill," authorized President Andrew Jackson to employ military forces for the purpose of protecting customs officials and for enforcing U.S. tariff laws.

Andrew Jackson, Portrait, Painting

On March 1, 1833, Congress enacted the Force Bill, authorizing President Andrew Jackson to use American military forces to enforce the provisions of the Tariff of 1832 after a Convention of the People of South Carolina endorsed a proclamation commonly known as the “South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification”. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Force Bill of 1833 Summary

In 1828, President John Quincy Adams approved a new tariff that taxed some products and raw materials that were being imported into the United States. The purpose of the tariff was to raise money for the government. However, it was heavily criticized and was referred to as the “Tariff of Abominations.” Four years later, President Andrew Jackson passed the Tariff of 1832, but the people of South Carolina were still not satisfied. In November, South Carolina issued a proclamation called the “South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification” that declared the tariffs of 1828 and 1838 unconstitutional — and started the “Nullification Crisis.” President Jackson responded with military action by sending General Winfield Scott to Charleston, along with a small fleet of ships. Jackson gave South Carolina officials until February 1, 1833, to start enforcing the tariffs. However, Jackson continued to prepare for further military action. On January 16, he asked Congress to extend his authority to allow Federal Customs Officials to enforce the tariffs. Five days later, a bill was introduced in the Senate that gave Jackson the authority he wanted. The “Force Bill” was passed by both houses of Congress and Jackson signed it on March 2. The possibility of war was real and the people of South Carolina called it the “Bloody Bill.” However, war was averted when John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay drew up a compromise, which became the Tariff of 1833. South Carolina agreed to enforce the tariff and rescinded the Ordinance of Nullification. However, it passed a new ordinance that nullified the Force Act. Although the Nullification Crisis was over, the idea of secession and the threat of civil war remained very real.

Important Dates for the Force Bill

  • January 16, 1833 — President Jackson asks Congress to grant him an extension of his executive authority.
  • January 21, 1833 — Pennsylvania Senator William Wilkins introduces the Force Bill to the Senate.
  • February 20, 1833 — The Senate approves the Force Bill by a vote of 32-1.
  • March 1, 1833 — The House of Representatives passes the Force Bill by a vote of 149-47.
  • March 2, 1833 — President Jackson signs the Force Bill.

History of the Force Bill

Impact of the Tariff of Abominations and the Tariff of 1832

On May 19, 1828, U.S. President John Quincy Adams approved An Act in alteration of the several acts imposing duties on imports. Commonly known as the Tariff of 1828, the legislation raised revenue for the federal government by imposing duties (taxes) on manufactured products and some raw materials imported into the United States. Many Americans referred to the law as the Tariff of Abominations, because its provisions protected manufacturers in the Northeast and farmers in the West, at the expense of Southerners and New Englanders. The tariff impacted the South severely because its cotton-based economy, combined with limited manufacturing, dictated a high dependency on imported items.

By 1832, Congress became more receptive to Southern grievances regarding the Tariff of Abominations. On July 14, 1832, it enacted, and President Andrew Jackson approved, a new tariff commonly known as the Tariff of 1832. Although the new law reduced or eliminated some protective measures adopted in 1828, it did not go far enough to appease some Southerners, especially in South Carolina.

South Carolina Nullifies the Tariffs and the Nullification Crisis Begins

The lower duties enacted in the Tariff of 1832 did not placate firebrands in the South. On November 24, 1832, the Convention of the People of South Carolina endorsed a proclamation commonly known as the “South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification.” The ordinance declared the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 to be “null and void” in South Carolina because they were unconstitutional. The proclamation also stated that if “any act authorizing the employment of a military or naval force against the State of South Carolina . . . the people of this State will henceforth hold themselves absolved from all further obligation to maintain or preserve their political connection with the people of the other States; and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate government.”

John C Calhoun, Portrait
John C. Calhoun was a Senator from South Carolina and led the protest against the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832. Image Source: Wikipedia.

President Jackson Threatens to Use Military Force Against South Carolina

On December 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson responded with his own proclamation stating that “I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union.” Jackson made clear his determination “to execute the laws (and) to preserve the Union by all constitutional means,” including “recourse to force; and . . . the shedding of a brother’s blood,” if necessary.

To ensure that Southern firebrands did not take his warning this warning as an idle threat, Jackson sent General Winfield Scott to Charleston to take charge of federal troops garrisoned in South Carolina. Jackson also moved the U. S. Customs Office in Charleston to Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor, and he dispatched seven naval vessels to safeguard that facility. Not intimidated by Jackson’s threat to use force to enforce the tariff laws, the South Carolina legislature mobilized the state militia.

On January 16, 1833, as South Carolina’s non-enforcement date of February 1 approached, President Jackson sent a message to Congress reinforcing his belief that “The right of the people of a single State to absolve themselves at will and without the consent of the other States from their most solemn obligations, can not be acknowledged.” He then requested that Congress grant him an extension of his executive authority to ensure that federal customs officials could continue to enforce U.S. tariff laws in South Carolina without interference from state officials.

Congress Empowers Jackson

In compliance with Jackson’s request, on January 21, 1833, Pennsylvania Senator William Wilkins introduced An Act further to provide for the collection of duties on imports, which would strengthen the president’s hand. After a month of debate, the Senate passed an amended version of Wilkin’s bill on February 20, 1833, by a vote of 32-1. Just prior to the roll-call South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun and thirteen of his followers left the Senate floor in protest and did not vote. Virginia Senator (and future U.S. President) John Tyler was the only member to vote against the bill. The House of Representatives approved the bill on March 1 by a margin of 149-47 and President Jackson signed it into law the next day.

The Force Act of 1933

Commonly known as the Force Act of 1833, South Carolinians also called the legislation the “Bloody Bill”.  The main provisions of the Force Act:

  • Authorized the president to move custom offices to more secure locations.
  • Required the payment of customs duties in cash.
  • Affirmed and expanded the supremacy of federal courts in cases involving the collection of import duties.
  • Authorized the establishment of temporary jails for persons convicted of violating U.S. customs laws.
  • Authorized the president to use land, naval, or militia forces for the purpose of protecting customs officials and enforcing U.S. tariff laws.

The final section of the act underscored the impermanent nature of the bill by specifying that it “shall be in force until the end of the next session of Congress, and no longer.”

Clay and Calhoun Avoid Civil War — The Compromise Tariff of 1833

With the nation teetering on the brink of civil war, Senators Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun hurriedly brokered a compromise measure to diffuse the situation. Congress designed the new tariff to reduce protectionist duties gradually until 1842. In 1842, all duties would revert to a uniform level in line with the Tariff of 1816. The compromise provided Southerners the tariff relief they sought while giving domestic manufacturers nine years to adjust to reduced government protection when competing with foreign rivals.

The Outcome of the Force Bill

The Force Act, coupled with the enactment of the compromise tariff, achieved the desired results. On March 15, 1833, the Convention of the People of South Carolina voted 153-4 to rescind the Nullification Ordinance. Although the delegates repealed the Nullification Ordinance, they did not repudiate the doctrine of nullification. Before dissolving the convention on March 18, 1833, the delegates approved an ordinance nullifying the Force Act by a vote of 132-19. With bloodshed averted, and the Union preserved, President Jackson wisely ignored the convention’s final act of defiance. Still, the issues of nullification and secession remained undecided, and the ominous specter of civil war lingered on the horizon.

Significance of the Force Bill

The Force Bill was significant to the history of the United States because it set a precedent of Congress giving the President the authority to enforce Federal law on a state. In essence, it was an early battle over the concept of “State’s Rights,” which was used, in part, to justify the secession of the Southern States prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.

The Force Bill AP US History (APUSH) Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study the Force Bill, Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, and the Nullification Crisis for the AP US History Exam.

Force Bill APUSH Definition

The definition of the Force Bill for APUSH is an act passed by Congress in 1833 that gave President Andrew Jackson the authority to use the military to collect customs duties in South Carolina. The bill was in effect for one year, but the military force was not used after the Tariff of 1833 diffused the Nullification Crisis.

American History Central Resources and Related Topics

External Websites to Explore

The Force Bill and the Nullification Crisis for APUSH Video

This video provides an overview of the Nullification Crisis, including the Force Bill of 1833 and its impact on the outcome of the crisis.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Force Bill

Where did the concept of Nullification come from?

The basis for South Carolina’s argument — a concept called “nullification” — was developed in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, written by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

How long was the Force Bill in place?

The Force Bill was only in place through the next session of Congress. Section 8 of the act was a “sunset clause” and said, “first and fifth sections of this act, shall be in force until the end of the next session of Congress, and no longer.”

What was the South Carolina Exposition and Protest?

After the Tariff of Abominations was passed, John C. Calhoun wrote the “South Carolina Exposition and Protest.” At the time, Calhoun was Vice President of the United States, so he wrote the Exposition and Protest anonymously. Calhoun argued the Tariff of 1828 was unconstitutional and referred to the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions as the basis for Nullification. South Carolina did not adopt the Exposition and Protest, however, it played a role in forming the argument for the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification in 1832.

What is a tariff?

A tariff is a tax on foreign goods. A tariff raises the price of foreign-made goods and products that are imported into the United States. A tariff is typically meant to help American businesses that manufacture or produce similar items. In effect, tariffs are meant to protect American businesses.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title The Force Bill of 1833
  • Date March 2, 1833
  • Author
  • Keywords Force Bill, Force Act, Nullification Crisis, South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 16, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 5, 2024