The South, being predominantly agricultural, and reliant on the North and foreign countries for manufactured goods, saw the protective tariffs as severely damaging to their economy. During the administration of John Quincy Adams his Vice President, John C. Calhoun, had drafted the South Carolina Exposition, a document that declared the tariffs were unconstitutional that caused the Nullification Crisis bringing the sectional interests of the North and the South into open conflict for the first time.
What caused the Nullification Crisis? The Protective Tariffs
The 1832 Nullification Crisis was caused by the introduction of a series of protective tariffs. Tariffs are taxes placed on goods imported from foreign countries that firstly enable a nation to raise money from these taxes and secondly protect a nation's goods from cheaper priced foreign items - hence the term protective, or protectionist, tariffs. The 1828 Tariff of Abominations which sparked the Nullification Crisis was the third protective tariff implemented by the government.
The Tariff of 1816 placed a 20-25% tax on all foreign goods
The Tariff of 1824 was the second protective tariff that raised duties still higher. There was 35% duty on imported iron, wool, cotton, and hemp.
The Tariff of 1828 (the Tariff of Abominations) was the third protective tariff and taxes increased to nearly 50%
Nullification Crisis for kids: South Carolina Exposition
The South saw these protective tariffs as severely damaging to their economy. The Southern states contended that their livelihoods were being harmed firstly by having to pay higher prices on goods the South did not produce, and secondly because increased taxes on British imports made it difficult for Britain to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. The South Carolina legislature asked Vice President John C. Calhoun to prepare a report on the tariff situation. His 35,000 word draft, written anonymously, would become his "Exposition and Protest" otherwise known as the South Carolina Exposition that contended the tariffs were unconstitutional based on a Doctrine (principle) of Nullification. John C. Calhoun believed the 1828 Tariff of Abominations would bring "poverty and utter desolation to the South."
Nullification Crisis for kids: The Definition of Nullification
What is Nullification? What does Nullification mean? Definition of Nullification: The word 'Nullification' refers to the act of nullifying, canceling or making something (like a tariff law) null and void. The principle of Nullification is the term used to encompass the states' rights doctrine in that:
Nullification is used as a reason to override, or counteract the effect or force of something. John C. Calhoun used the Doctrine of Nullification in his 1828 South Carolina Exposition protesting against the laws passed in respect of protective tariffs (taxes) and moved the nation into the Nullification Crisis.
Nullification Crisis for kids: Doctrine of Nullification
John C. Calhoun's South Carolina Exposition was therefore a Doctrine of nullification. The Doctrine of Nullification explained the concept that a state has the right to reject federal law. The Doctrine of Nullification was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their 1798 and 1799 Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. The assertions made in the Doctrine of Nullification were based on the beliefs that:
The Constitution was a compact (contract or formal agreement) between the states
A state could determine whether any act of Congress was constitutional or not
Any state could refuse to permit an Act of Congress to be enforced within its limits.
The Doctrine of Nullification expressed the belief that the Constitution protected all economies in the union. Article 1, Section 8. Clause 1 of the Constitution states that "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States."
Nullification Crisis for kids: Tariffs declared Unconstitutional
The Nullification Crisis was further prompted by Calhoun. In his South Carolina Exposition John C. Calhoun expressed the arguments that the 1828 Tariff of Abominations was unconstitutional because:
It favored manufacturing over agriculture and commerce
Tariff power could only be used to generate revenue, not to provide protection from foreign competition for U.S. industries
The protective system was unjust and unequal in operation
The people of a state, or several states, had the power to veto (forbid, refuse, reject) any act of the federal government which violated the Constitution. The power of veto was the essence of the Doctrine of Nullification.
Nullification Crisis for kids: Robert Hayne and Daniel Webster
John C. Calhoun was Vice-President, and presided over the debates of the Senate, the ideas expressed in his South Carolina Exposition document were therefore first publicly conveyed by Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina. There were many heated debates in congress regarding the principle of Nullification, the Constitution and the differences between the North and the South. One response to the principle of Nullification came in January 1830 from Daniel Webster of Massachusetts in one of the most brilliant speeches ever delivered in Congress. Daniel Webster declared in his speech that the Constitution was:
"...the people's constitution, the people's government; made by the people and answerable to the people. The people have declared that this constitution ... shall be the supreme law." The Supreme Court of the United States alone could declare a national law to be unconstitutional; no state could do that. Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable."
Nullification Crisis: Tariff of 1832
Attempts were made to avert the brewing Nullification Crisis by referring the matter of tariffs to the Committee of Manufactures, chaired by John Quincy Adams, whose function was to draft tariff bills. The Tariff of 1832 was passed on July 14, 1832 to reduce the tariff rates in an attempt to resolve the conflict created by the passage of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations. The Tariff of 1832 reduced the tariff and returned to the 35% rate of the Tariff of 1824. The Tariff of 1832 failed to pacify the protestors in the South and resulted in the Nullification Crisis.
Nullification Crisis for kids: South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification
The Nullification Crisis erupted when the South Carolina legislature passed an Ordinance of Nullification on November 24, 1832. The Ordinance of Nullification declared the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void within the state borders of South Carolina. The strength of feeling of South Carolina is expressed in the Ordinance of Nullification:
"...we are determined to maintain this, our Ordinance and Declaration, at every hazard, do further Declare that we will not submit to the application of force, on the part of the Federal Government, to reduce this State to obedience..."
What's more the Ordinance of Nullification threatened to secede if the federal government attempted to collect the tariff duties:
"...to coerce the State, shut up her ports, destroy or harass her commerce, or to enforce the acts hereby declared null and void
...as inconsistent with the longer continuance of South Carolina in the Union
...and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate Government..."
Nullification Crisis for kids: Jackson issues the Nullification Proclamation
The Nullification Crisis exploded. President Andrew Jackson was furious that the Tariff of 1832 had been "Nullified" by South Carolina. Jackson issued a warning that he was prepared to enforce the law. It was called the Nullification Proclamation. On December 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued Nullification Proclamation to the people of South Carolina disputing a states' right to nullify a federal law. President Jackson sent ships and soldiers to Charleston and ordered the collector of that port to collect the duties indicated in the protection tariffs. The Nullification Crisis had moved to a dangerous level.
Nullification Crisis: John C. Calhoun Resigns
The Nullification Crisis had been well and truly ignited. On Dec 28, 1832 John C. Calhoun became the first vice president in U.S. history to resign the office as a result of the Nullification Crisis. John C. Calhoun resigned in protest against Jackson's continuing support of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations and then publicly admitted authorship of the South Carolina Exposition during the Nullification Crisis.
Nullification Crisis: The 1833 Force Bill
The Nullification Crisis raged on. President Jackson asked Congress to give him greater power and on March 2, 1833 the Force Bill was passed. The 1833 Force Bill authorized the use of military force against any state that resisted the tariff acts and rejected the Nullification Doctrine - the concept of individual states' rights to nullify federal law or to secede from the Union. South Carolina was about to nullify the Force Bill as well, but simultaneously, a Compromise Tariff was passed by Congress, that defused the Nullification crisis.
Nullification Crisis: The Compromise Tariff
John C. Calhoun, having resigned as Vice President, had taken the position of a South Carolina Senator, led the fight against the Force Bill. However, aware of the gravity of the Nullification Crisis, Calhoun cooperated with Henry Clay to drive a Compromise Tariff through Congress. The introduction of protective tariffs had played a vital part in the economic plan for the nation advocated in 'Henry Clay's American System'. The Compromise Tariff proposed by Henry Clay was passed by Congress in March 1833 and gradually lowered the tariff rates over the next 10 years until, in 1842, they would be as low as they were by the Tariff Act of 1816. The Compromise Tariff ended the Nullification Crisis.
The End of the Nullification Crisis
The Nullification Crisis finally ended when the South Carolina state convention reassembled and formally rescinded the Ordinance of Nullification nullifying the tariff acts.
The Significance of the Nullification Crisis
The significance of the Nullification Crisis was as follows:
The Nullification Crisis was the first time in which the sectional interests of the North and the South had truly came into conflict
The Nullification Crisis highlighted the states’ rights movement
The end of the Nullification crisis signified the beginning of a new era. On May 1, 1833 President Jackson wrote, "the tariff was only a pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question."
The Abolitionist Movement was established in 1833
The conflicts between the North and South beginning with the Nullification Crisis would ultimately lead to the American Civil war (1861-1865)
South Carolina eventually became First State to Secede from the Union on December 20th, 1860 followed by the establishment of the Confederate States of America
This event was one of the Causes of the Civil War
For additional facts and a timeline refer to Protectionism and Tariffs.