What Was the Tariff of Abominations?

The Tariff of Abominations was a protective tariff passed in 1828 designed to protect northern manufactured products from foreign competition. The tariff caused a constitutional crisis when South Carolina threatened to nullify the power of the federal government by refusing to collect the tariff.

The Tariff of Abominations increased the prices of foreign manufactured goods, allowing northern businessmen to sell their domestic products for a higher price and still remain competitive. However, many southerners were upset with the tariff because they believed it favored the interests of northern industrialists over those of southern planters. First of all, the tariff increased the prices of manufactured goods. Secondly, because one of the major imported manufactured goods was textiles, international demand for cotton produced in the South decreased, meaning that southern planters thought that they would make less money.

When the federal government refused to address the southerners' concerns, some began to advocate for secession. Others, such as Senator John C. Calhoun, proposed a more moderate plan: nullification. Theorizing that the United States was a union of sovereign states, these nullifiers argued that a state could declare a federal law null and void within its borders. The tariffs were renewed at lower rates in 1832, but these lower rates were still too high for the South Carolinians, who drew up an Ordinance of Nullification. However, after threats of force, the South Carolinians agreed to a compromise bill and acknowledged the authority of the federal government.