Tariff of Abominations - Business in United States of America
The Law: Protectionist U.S. import tax on manufactured goods instituted to safeguard nascent industrial and manufacturing centers in New England, Ohio, and Pennsylvania
Date: Passed on May 19, 1828
Place: United States
Significance: While protecting northern industrial interests, the tariff caused widespread economic hardship in the agricultural South: It led to higher prices on manufactured goods and the loss of valuable European markets for southern agricultural exports, primarily cotton.
Also known as the Tariff of 1828, the Tariff of Abominations was passed in May of 1828 to protect the northern states’ new industrial centers from competition from the more established manufacturing sectors of Europe. The tariff, however, ended up increasing prices on manufactured goods in the South, and southerners were unwilling to suffer for the benefit of the North.
In 1832, the legislature of South Carolina voted to “veto” the Tariff of Abominations, declaring it unconstitutional. In doing so, the legislators were following a doctrine previously advocated by Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Calhoun had argued that every state in the Union was a sovereign entity that had the power to decide the validity of federal legislation within its own borders, particularly if such legislation was harmful to a state’s interests.
Congress and President Andrew Jackson disagreed with Calhoun and South Carolina. Congress authorized the use of force to compel states to abide by federal laws. South Carolina responded by threatening to secede from the Union. The resulting standoff became known as the Nullification Crisis. Calhoun, his presidential ambitions damaged by his advocacy of states’ rights to nullify federal laws, ran for U.S. Senate and was elected at the end of the year.
This political cartoon criticizes major figures, depicting each riding a favorite “hobbyhorse.” Third from the right is John C. Calhoun, who is the driver of southern nullification of the Tariff of Abominations. (Library of Congress)
Tensions eased the following year. Many of the high tariffs on imported industrial goods were reduced by the Compromise Tariff Act of 1833. Nonetheless, many historians believe the Tariff of Abominations set the stage for the U.S. Civil War thirty years later: The Compromise Tariff Act of 1833 mitigated the worst of the economic hardship on the South but did little to clarify the question of states’ rights against the federal government. As a result of the Tariff of Abominations, regional differences began to harden between the protectionist industrial North and the free-trade agricultural South.
See also: Civil War, U.S.; Constitution, United States; Cotton industry; European trade with the United States; International economics and trade; taxation; Underwood Tariff Act.