Tariff of 1828 (Tariff of Abominations)

May 19, 1828

The Tariff of 1828, also known as the Tariff of Abominations, prompted John C. Calhoun to anonymously pen his Exposition and Protest, which invoked the Doctrine of Nullification in challenging the Constitutionality of the act.

John Quincy Adams, Portrait, Healy

On May 19, 1828, U.S. President John Quincy Adams signed into law congressional legislation entitled An Act in alteration of the several acts imposing duties on imports. Commonly known as the Tariff of 1828, the measure raised revenue for the federal government by imposing duties (taxes) on manufactured products and some raw materials imported into the United States. Image Source: Google Arts & Culture.

Tariff of 1828 Summary

The Tariff of 1828, signed into law by President John Quincy Adams, imposed taxes on imported goods to raise federal revenue. The Tariff favored Northeastern manufacturers and Western farmers while harming Southerners and New Englanders. It passed narrowly in Congress, with strong support from Middle and Western states and opposition from the South and New England. Southern opposition, especially in South Carolina, was intense due to the region’s reliance on imported goods. Vice President John C. Calhoun argued the tariff was unconstitutional, leading to the Doctrine of Nullification, which allowed states to reject federal laws they deemed unconstitutional. The Tariff contributed to the Nullification Crisis, a precursor to the Secession Crisis and the Civil War.

Tariff of 1828 Facts

  • The Tariff of 1828 was signed into law by President John Quincy Adams on May 19, 1828.
  • It was also known as the “Tariff of Abominations.”
  • The Tariff imposed duties on manufactured products and some raw materials.
  • It was intended to raise federal revenue and protect Northern and Western interests.
  • The Tariff faced strong opposition from Southern and New England states.
  • It passed the House by a vote of 105-94 and the Senate by 26-21.
  • The Tariff sparked significant Southern dissent, particularly in South Carolina.
  • Vice President John C. Calhoun authored the “Exposition and Protest” against it.
  • Calhoun’s protest led to the Nullification Crisis and increased the sectional divide between the North and South.

Tariff of 1828 Significance

The Tariff of 1828, or “Tariff of Abominations,” increased sectional tensions by favoring Northern manufacturers and Western farmers at the expense of the South, leading to Southern opposition and the Nullification Crisis, a direct cause of the Civil War.

John C. Calhoun, 1834, Portrait, Peale
John C. Calhoun. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Tariff of 1828 History and Overview

On May 19, 1828, U.S. President John Quincy Adams signed into law congressional legislation entitled “An Act in alteration of the several acts imposing duties on imports.” Commonly known as the Tariff of 1828, the measure 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.

Congressional Approval

The bulk of support for the law came from the Middle and Western states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky), whose representatives voted 85 to 7 in favor of the bill. Members from New England and the South voted against the bill by a margin of 87 to 19. In a close ballot on April 22, 1828, the House approved the bill by a vote of 105-94.

In the Senate, the results were much the same. Four Southerners (one from Tennessee, one from Louisiana, and two from Kentucky) joined with six New Englanders and ten Senators from the Middle and Western states in favor of the bill. Five Northeasterners joined 16 Southerners who opposed the act. The tariff received Senate approval by a final vote of 26-21.

Southern Opposition

Nowhere was opposition to the Tariff of 1828 more pronounced than in the South, whose cotton-based economy, combined with limited manufacturing, dictated a high dependency on imported items. Compounding Southern concerns was the probability that higher tariffs would reduce commerce with England, making cotton less affordable for British merchants negatively impacted by the act.

South Carolina was the hotbed of Southern dissatisfaction with the Tariff of 1828. In response to the enactment of the bill, Vice-president John C. Calhoun (a native of the Palmetto State) anonymously penned a challenge entitled the “Exposition and Protest”. Calhoun acknowledged that Article I, Section 10, Clause 2 of the Constitution empowered Congress to establish import duties. However, he contended that the Constitution also limited Congressional authority to impose duties for the sole purpose of raising revenue.  Calhoun claimed that Congress enacted the Tariff of 1828 to protect special interests, besides raising revenue. Thus, he argued that it was unconstitutional.

Nullification Crisis

Calhoun also embraced the doctrine of nullification introduced by Thomas Jefferson in his Kentucky Resolutions of 1799. Writing in protest to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Jefferson argued that the U. S. Constitution limits the powers of the federal government to those specifically enumerated in the document. He further stated that “the several states who formed” the Constitution, “being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under colour of that instrument, is the rightful remedy.” To paraphrase, within their sovereign borders, each state may nullify federal laws they deem to be unconstitutional.

The South Carolina legislature considered, but did not adopt Calhoun’s Exposition in December 1828. Four years later, in reaction to the Tariff of 1832, a statewide convention convened by the South Carolina legislature fully endorsed the doctrine of nullification, precipitating a Constitutional crisis that nearly led to warfare. Although the enactment of a compromise tariff in 1833 averted bloodshed, South Carolina’s adoption of the doctrine of nullification left the Palmetto State, and eventually its Southern neighbors, only one step removed from secession and civil war.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Tariff of 1828 (Tariff of Abominations)
  • Date May 19, 1828
  • Author
  • Keywords Tariff of 1828, Tariff of Abominations, John C. Calhoun, John Quincy Adams
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 10, 2024

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