Tariff of Abominations

Tariff of 1828

The Tariff of 1828, also known as the Tariff of Abominations, enacted on May 19, 1828 (ch. 55, ), was a protective tariff passed by the U.S. Congress. It was labeled the "Tariff of Abominations" by its southern detractors because of the effects it had on the Antebellum southern economy.

The goal of the tariff was to protect industry in the northern United States from competing European goods by increasing the prices of European products. The reaction in the South, particularly in South Carolina, would lead to the Nullification Crisis that began in late 1832.

Passage of the bill

The 1828 tariff was part of a series of tariffs that began after the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars, when the blockade of Europe led British manufacturers to offer goods in America at prices American manufacturers often could not match. The first protective tariff was passed by Congress in 1816, with tariff rates increased in 1824. Southern states were opposed to the newer protectionist tariffs, but Western agricultural states favored them as well as New England's industry.

In an elaborate scheme to prevent passage of still higher tariffs while at the same time appealing to Andrew Jackson's supporters in the North, John C. Calhoun and other southerners joined them in crafting a tariff bill that would also weigh heavily on materials imported by the New England states. It was believed that Adams' supporters (Whigs) in New England would uniformly oppose the bill for this reason and that the southern legislators could then withdraw their support, killing the legislation while blaming it on New England:

What that plan was, Calhoun explained very frankly nine years later, in a speech reviewing the events of 1828 and defending the course taken by himself and his southern fellow members. A high-tariff bill was to be laid before the House. It was to contain not only a high general range of duties, but duties especially high on those raw materials on which New England wanted the duties to be low. It was to satisfy the protective demands of the Western and Middle States, and at the same time to be obnoxious to the New England members. The Jackson men of all shades, the protectionists from the North and the free-traders from the South, were to unite in preventing any amendments; that bill, and no other, was to be voted on. When the final vote came, the southern men were to turn around and vote against their own measure. The New England men, and the Adams men in general, would be unable to swallow it, and would also vote against it. Combined, they would prevent its passage, even though the Jackson men from the North voted for it. The result expected was that no tariff bill at all would be passed during the session, which was the object of the southern wing of the opposition. On the other hand, the obloquy of defeating it would be cast on the Adams party, which was the object of the Jacksonians of the North. The tariff bill would be defeated, and yet the Jackson men would be able to parade as the true “friends of domestic industry.”

The plan backfired. Despite the tariffs targeted at them, a majority of Northeastern representatives concluded that they would support the legislation. This combined with support of Western/Middle states was enough to overcome the opposition.

Southern opponents generally felt that the protective features of tariffs were harmful to southern agrarian interests and claimed they were unconstitutional because they favored one sector of the economy over another. Importers and ship owners in the Northeast also had reason to oppose provisions targeting their industries. Proponents found no constitutional restriction on the purposes for which tariffs could be enacted. Those in Western/Middle states and manufacturers in the Northeast argued that strengthening the industrial capacity of the nation was in the interest of the entire country.

The 1828 tariff was signed by President John Quincy Adams, although he realized it could weaken him politically. In the Presidential election of 1828, Andrew Jackson defeated Adams.

Effects of the tariff

Faced with a reduced market for goods and pressured by British abolitionists, the British reduced their imports of cotton from the United States, which hurt the South. The tariff forced the South to buy manufactured goods from U.S. manufacturers, mainly in the North, at a higher price, while southern states also faced a reduced income from sales of raw materials.

South Carolinian Senator John C. Calhoun strongly opposed the tariff, anonymously authoring a pamphlet in December 1828 titled: The South Carolina Exposition and Protest in which urged nullification of the tariff within South Carolina. The South Carolina legislature, although it printed and distributed 5,000 copies of the pamphlet, took none of the legislative action that the pamphlet urged.

The expectation of the tariff’s opponents was that with the election of Jackson in 1828, the tariff would be significantly reduced. When the Jackson administration failed to address its concerns, the most radical faction in South Carolina began to advocate that the state itself declare the tariff null and void within South Carolina.

In Washington, an open split on the issue occurred between Jackson and Vice-President Calhoun. On July 14, 1832, after Calhoun had resigned his office, Jackson signed into law the Tariff of 1832 which made some reductions in tariff rates.

The reductions were too little for South Carolina. In November 1832 the state called for a convention. By a vote of 136 to 26, the convention overwhelmingly adopted an ordinance of nullification drawn by Chancellor William Harper. It declared that the tariffs of both 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and unenforceable in South Carolina. While the Nullification Crisis would be resolved in early 1833, tariff policy would continue to be a national political issue between the Democratic Party and the newly emerged Whig Party for the next twenty years.


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