Tariff of Abominations
The "Tariff of Abominations" was a protective tariff passed by the Congress of the United States on May 19, 1828, designed to protect industry in the northern United States. Enacted during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, it was labeled the Tariff of Abominations by its southern detractors because of the effects it had on the antebellum Southern economy.
The major goal of the tariff was to protect industries in the northern United States which were being driven out of business by low-priced imported goods by taxing them. The South, however, was harmed directly by having to pay higher prices on goods the region did not produce, and indirectly because reducing the exportation of British goods to the U.S. made it difficult for the British to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. The reaction in the South, particularly in South Carolina, would lead to the Nullification Crisis that began in late 1832. The tariff marked the high point of U.S. tariffs.
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 low prices that American manufacturers often could not match. The first protective tariff was passed by Congress in 1816; its tariff rates were increased in 1824. Southern states such as South Carolina contended that the tariff was unconstitutional and were opposed to the newer protectionist tariffs, but Western agricultural states favored them, as well as New England’s industries.
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 President John Quincy Adams’s supporters in New England, the National Republicans, or as they would later be called, Whigs, 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:
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. New England importers and ship owners also had reason to oppose provisions targeting their industries—provisions inserted by Democratic Party legislators to induce New England constituents to sink the legislation.
Those in Western states and manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic States argued that the strengthening of the nation was in the interest of the entire country. This same reasoning swayed two-fifths of U.S. Representatives in the New England states to vote for the tariff increase:
|House Vote on Tariff of 1828||For||Against|
|Middle States (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware)||56||6|
|West (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky)||29||1|
A substantial minority of New England Congressmen (41%) saw what they believed to be long-term national benefits of an increased tariff, and voted for it; they believed the tariff would strengthen the manufacturing industry nationally (see table).
The Democratic Party had miscalculated: despite the insertion by Democrats of import duties calculated to be unpalatable to New England industries, most specifically on raw wool imports, essential to the wool textile industry, the New Englanders failed to sink the legislation, and their plan backfired.
The 1828 tariff was signed by President Adams, although he realized it could weaken him politically. In the Presidential election of 1828, Andrew Jackson defeated Adams with a popular tally of 642,553 votes and an electoral count of 178 as opposed to Adams’s 500,897 tally and 83 electoral votes.
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 weakened the southern economy even more. 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. Despite the sufferings of the South, the US experienced net economic growth with US GDP increasing from $888 million in 1828 to $1.118 billion by 1832 largely due to growth of the Northern manufacturing base.
Vice-President John C. Calhoun strongly opposed the tariff, anonymously authoring a pamphlet in December 1828 titled: The South Carolina Exposition and Protest in which he 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, Jackson signed into law the Tariff of 1832 which made some reductions in tariff rates. Calhoun resigned on December 28 of the same year.
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 with a compromise known as the Tariff of 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.
- "1816-1860: The Second American Party System and the Tariff", Tax History Museum
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- Taussig, F.W., The Tariff History of the United States, Part I, 5th ed. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1910, pages 70–74 (page 44–47 in .pdf format)
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- U.S. Senate profile of Calhoun