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.
Andrew Jackson’s election to the presidency in November 1828 gave Southerners hope that the Carolina native would address their concerns after his inauguration in March 1829. Intent on paying down the national debt, however, Jackson did not push for lower import duties.
Congress Addresses Southern Grievances
By 1832, the American economy had recovered from the Panic of 1825 and two slight recessions in the previous decade. As the need for protectionism declined, Congress became more receptive to Southern grievances regarding the Tariff of Abominations. On July 14, 1832, Congress enacted, and President Jackson approved, a bill entitled An act to alter and amend the several acts imposing duties on imports. Commonly known as the Tariff of 1832, the measure reduced or eliminated some protective measures adopted in 1828.
The floor votes in both houses of Congress on the final bill illustrate that the Tariff of 1832 did not go far enough to appease many Southerners. The House of Representatives passed the act by a vote of 132-65. Southern representatives cast nearly half (30) of the dissenting votes. The final tally in the Senate was 32 yeas to 16 nays. Of the 16 senators who voted against the tariff, 15 were from the South.
South Carolina Reacts
The lower duties enacted in the Tariff of 1832 did not placate firebrands in the South. At the urging of U.S. Vice-president John C. Calhoun and U.S. Senator Robert Hayne, South Carolina Governor James Hamilton, Jr. called a special session of the state legislature. On October 25, 1832, the legislature enacted a measure authorizing a statewide convention to consider a response to the enactment of the Tariff of 1832.
The convention convened in Columbia on November 19. On November 24, 1832, by a vote of 136 to 26, the delegates endorsed a proclamation drafted by William Harper entitled, An ordinance to nullify certain acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws laying duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities.
More commonly known as the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, the report declared that both the Tariff of 1828 and the Tariff of 1832 were unconstitutional and that the citizens of South Carolina considered to “be held utterly null and void.” Seeking to punctuate the seriousness of their resolve, the convention members concluded the document by declaring that in response to “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.”
The convention adjourned on November 27, 1832, and distributed copies of the ordinance to President Jackson and the governor of each state in the Union. The document precipitated 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.