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Tariff of Abominations - History

Tariff of Abominations - History

President Adams fully supported The Tariff of Abominations; designed to provide protection for New England manufacturers. The tariff was opposed, however, by supporters of Jackson. The Tariff of 1828, which included very high duties on raw materials, raised the average tariff to 45 percent. The Mid-Atlantic states were the biggest supporters of the new tariff. Southerners, on the other hand, who imported all of their industrial products, strongly opposed this tariff. They named the tariff "The Black Tariff" or "Tariff of Abominations." They blamed this tariff for their worsening economic conditions.

From the early days of the United States there was support to place tariffs (taxes on imported goods) to help new American industries to effectively compete. After the War of 1812, the British were able to flood the American markets with cheaper goods. Support grew to increase tariffs. Leading that charge to increase tarriffs was Henry Clay of Kentucky. Clay believed in an American system of trade; a system where American manufacturers were protected and allowed to grow, while the income from the tariffs would be used for internal improvements. Clay also wanted to insure that the US would not be dependent on the British. The rising quantity of manufacturing in the North converted some New Englanders, including Daniel Webster, who had supported free trade, to become supporters of a rise in tariffs.

In 1816, in the aftermath of the war, the Congress passed another tariff Act that levied a Tariff of 25% on many imported goods. While this represented a rise, it was not considered very high for the times. The Panic of 1819, largely caused by the worldwide drop in the commodity prices, encouraged many in Congress to try to wall the US off, as much as possible, from the vagaries of the world wide markets. In 1820 a more protective measure passed the House, but failed to pass the Senate, due to Southern opposition. The South, however, was fighting a losing battle. The North continued to develop industry rapidly, while the South relied more and more on growing and selling cotton. The population of the North continued to expand. More importantly, in the battle over the tariffs, the western states that were being added to the Union tended to favor stronger tariffs. Finally, in 1824, with Henry Clay in the powerful position of Speaker of the House, tariffs were raised to 35 percent on imported iron, wool and hemp. Many supporters of tariffs thought that 35 percent was not high enough. There were many tariff supporters who wanted to raise the tariffs even higher. Supporters of soon to be President Jackson devised a plan to increase tariffs in a way to help the Mid Atlantic states, states that would be crucial to Jacksons election hopes. They did this, despite the clear opposition of Southern states, led by Senator Calhoun. Supporters of a tariff rise were victorious and some tariffs were increased to as much as 50%.

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), was a prominent U.S. statesman and spokesman for the slave-plantation system of the antebellum South. As a young congressman from South Carolina, he helped steer the United States into war with Great Britain and established the Second Bank of the United States. Calhoun went on to serve as U.S. secretary of war, vice president and briefly as secretary of state. As a longtime South Carolina senator, he opposed the Mexican-American War and the admission of California as a free state, and was renowned as a leading voice for those seeking to secure the institution of slavery.

A nationalist at the outset of his political career, Calhoun was one of the leading War Hawks who maneuvered the unprepared United States into war with Great Britain in 1812. After the Treaty of Ghent that ended that conflict, Calhoun was responsible for establishing the Second Bank of the United States, and he wrote the bonus bill that would have laid the foundation for a nationwide network of roads and canals if President James Madison had not vetoed it.

A candidate for the presidency in 1824, Calhoun was the object of bitter partisan attacks from other contenders. Dropping out of the race, he settled for the vice presidency and was twice elected to that position. But after Andrew Jackson’s assumption of the presidency in 1829, Calhoun found himself isolated politically in national affairs.

At first he supported the Tariff of 1828, the so-called Tariff of Abominations, but responding to his constituents’ criticism of the measure and believing that the tariff was being unfairly assessed on the agrarian South for the benefit of an industrializing North, Calhoun drafted for the South Carolina legislature his Exposition and Protest. In this essay he claimed original sovereignty for the people acting through the states and advocated state veto or nullification of any national law that was held to impinge on minority interests. He later developed the argument in his two essays Disquisition on Government and Discourse on the Constitution, presenting the classic case for minority rights within the framework of majority rule. A moderate during the nullification crisis of 1832-1833, Calhoun joined with Henry Clay in working out the Compromise Tariff.

By then he had resigned from the vice presidency and had been elected a senator from South Carolina. For the rest of his life he defended the slave-plantation system against a growing antislavery stance in the free states. He continued his strident defense of slavery even after he joined the Tyler administration as secretary of state. In that position he laid the groundwork for the annexation of Texas and the settlement of the Oregon boundary with Great Britain. Reelected to the Senate in 1845, he opposed the Mexican-American War because he felt American victory would result in territorial concessions that would place the Union at jeopardy. Similarly he opposed the admission of California as a free state, and the free-soil provision in the Oregon territorial bill. In his last address to the Senate, he foretold the disruption of the Union unless the slave states were given adequate and permanent protection for their institutions.

Calhoun, along with Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson, dominated American political life from 1815 to 1850. A tall, spare individual, Calhoun was a gifted debater, an original thinker in political theory, and a person of broad learning who was especially well read in philosophy, history, and contemporary economic and social issues. His public appearance as the so-called Cast Iron Man was belied by his personal warmth and affectionate nature in private life.

The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Tariff of Abominations - History

John Quincy Adams was one of the most brilliant and well-qualified men ever to occupy the White House. A deeply religious, intensely scholarly man, he read Biblical passages at least three times a day--once in English, once in German, and once in French. He was fluent in seven foreign languages, including Greek and Latin. During his remarkable career as a diplomat and secretary of state, he negotiated the treaty that ended the War of 1812, acquired Florida, and conceived the Monroe Doctrine.

But Adams lacked the political skills and personality necessary to create support for his program. Like his father, Adams lacked personal warmth. His adversaries mockingly described him as a “chip off the old iceberg.” Adams’s problems as president did not arise exclusively from his temperament. His misfortune was to serve as president at a time of growing partisan divisions. The Republican Party had split into two distinct camps. Adams and his supporters, known as National Republicans, favored a vigorous role for the central government in promoting national economic growth, while the Jacksonian Democrats demanded a limited government and strict adherence to laissez-faire principles.

As the only president to lose both the popular vote and the electoral vote, Adams faced hostility from the start. Jackson and his supporters accused the new president of “corruptions and intrigues” to gain Henry Clay’s support. Acutely aware of the fact that “two-thirds of the whole people [were] averse” to his election as president, Adams promised in his inaugural address to make up for this with “intentions upright and pure a heart devoted to the welfare of our country.” A staunch Nationalist, Adams proposed an extraordinary program of federal support for scientific and economic development that included a national university, astronomical observatories (“lighthouses of the skies”), federal funding of roads and canals, and exploration of the country’s territory--all to be financed by a high tariff.

Adams’s advocacy of a strong federal government and a high tariff enraged defenders of slavery and states’ rights advocates who clung to traditional Jeffersonian principles of limited government and strict construction of the Constitution. They feared that any expansion of federal authority might set a precedent for interference with slavery. Thomas Jefferson himself condemned Adams’s proposals, declaring in a stinging statement that they would undermine the states and create a national elite--“an aristocracy. riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”

Adams met with further frustration because he was unwilling to adapt to the practical demands of politics. Adams made no effort to use his patronage powers to build support for his proposals and refused to fire federal officeholders who openly opposed his policies. During his entire term in office he removed just 12 incumbents, and these only for gross incompetence. He justified his actions by saying that he did not want to make “government a perpetual and unremitting scramble for office.”

Adams’s Indian policies also cost him supporters. Although he, like his predecessor Monroe, wanted to remove Native Americans in the South to an area west of the Mississippi River, he believed that the state and federal governments had a duty to abide by Indian treaties and to purchase, not merely annex, Indian lands. Adams’s decision to repudiate and renegotiate a fraudulent treaty that stripped the Georgia Creek Indians of their land outraged land-hungry Southerners and Westerners.

Even in the realm of foreign policy, his strong suit prior to the presidency, Adams encountered difficulties. His attempts to acquire Texas from Mexico through peaceful means failed, as did his efforts to persuade Britain to permit more American trade with the British West Indies. The “American System” and the “Tariff of Abominations” President Adams was committed to using the federal government to promote national economic development. His program included a high protective tariff to promote industry, the sale of public lands at low prices to encourage western settlement, federally financed transportation improvements, expanded markets for western grain and southern cotton, and a strong national bank to regulate the economy.

Adams’s secretary of state, Henry Clay, called this economic program the American system because it was supposed to promote growth in all parts of the country. But the program infuriated Southerners who believed that it favored Northeastern industrial interests at their region’s expense. Southerners particularly disliked a protective tariff, since it raised the cost of manufactured goods, which they did not produce.

Andrew Jackson’s supporters in Congress sought to exploit the tariff question in order to embarrass Adams and help Jackson win the presidency in 1828. They framed a bill, which became known as the Tariff of Abominations, to win support for Jackson in Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania while weakening the Adams administration in New England. The bill raised duties on iron, hemp, and flax (which would benefit Westerners), while lowering the tariff on woolen goods (to the detriment of New England textile manufacturers). John Randolph of Virginia accurately described the object of the bill as an effort to encourage “manufactures of no sort or kind, except the manufacture of a President of the United States.”

The Tariff of Abominations created a political uproar in the South, where it was denounced as unconstitutional and discriminatory. The tariff, southerners insisted, was essentially a tax on their region to assist northern manufacturers. South Carolina expressed the loudest outcry against the tariff. At a public meeting in Charleston, protesters declared that a tariff was designed to benefit “one class of citizens [manufacturers] at the expense of every other class.” Some South Carolinians called for revolutionary defiance of the national government.

Vice President John C. Calhoun, a skilled logician well versed in political theory, offered a theoretical framework for Southern discontent. Retreating from his early nationalistic position, the South Carolinian anonymously published the “South Carolina Exposition,” an essay that advanced the principle of nullification. A single state, Calhoun maintained, might overrule or “nullify” a federal law within its own territory, until three-quarters of the states had upheld the law as constitutional. In 1828 the state of South Carolina decided not to implement this doctrine but rather to wait and see what attitude the next president would adopt toward the tariff.

Tariff of Abominations of 1828

The Panic of 1819 and the subsequent depression stimulated widespread criticism of the economic forces and Government policies that many considered responsible for the hard times in the early 1820's. This criticism, in turn, triggered a reconsideration and reevaluation of the Nation's tariff policies.

The great tariff controversy of the late 1820's revolved as much around constitutional and sectional questions as it did strictly economic considerations.' It was during this period, however, that many Americans first became convinced that the Nation's economic health depended, to a large degree, on the level of the tariffs. Through the next century and beyond, an incessant, unresolved debate raged over whether high rates or low would most effectively pull the Nation out of an economic decline. Both. strategies were tried several times, yet depressions and recessions continued to occur. In retrospect, it seems that the specific level of the tariff rates actually had a relatively minor influence on the well-being of so complex and differentiated an economic entity as the United States in that period. Nevertheless, the debate continues even today.

In the 1820's the manufacturers and producers who suffered competition from imports first suggested that higher, protective tariff rates might bring about overall economic recovery. This helped them to justify their calls for protection of their particular branch of industry. As one critic lamented, "The history of the American tariffs records the triumph of special interests over the general welfare."

Special-interest groups very quickly learned how to exploit the cumbersome process of tariffmaking. Because the Constitution assigns the House of Representatives responsibility for initiating all money bills, the development of a general tariff measure usually began in the House Committee on Ways and Means. While under consideration within the committee, a tariff proposal became the subject of considerable logrolling and compromise among the committee members. As the committee's proposal made its glacial progress toward approval by the full House, the Representatives had ample opportunity to mold and amend the bill.

The completed House measure then went to the Senate Committee on Finance, which could add a number of amendments for consideration on the Senate floor. Few Senators missed taking an opportunity to comment on a tariff bill before voting on it. Because the Senate and House versions usually differed quite substantially, a conference committee had to iron out the differences. At each of these stages, lobbyists for particular industries, producers, or sections of the country could bring pressures to bear in order to influence the outcome.

The tariff bills that finally reached the President's desk for signature seldom reflected any rational scheme or program. As one political scientist who had studied the process concluded, "In tariff making, perhaps more than in any other kind of legislation, Congress writes bills which no one intended."

Partly because of this factor, tariff revisions were quite common, with new ones emanating from Capitol Hill about every 5 or 6 years. For example, four major tariff acts won approval between 1824 and 1833. Because the U.S. Treasury was amply supplied with funds at the beginning of this period, the 1824 Tariff Act can be considered the first clearly protectionist tariff legislation in US history.

The only justification advanced for the raising of duties on a number of items was that it would insulate U.S. manufacturers, farmers, and workers from foreign competition. Among the most controversial aspects of the act were great increases in duties on raw wool and finished woolen goods. Despite the protection thus granted, spokesmen for the woolens industry remained dissatisfied. Three years later they were back in Washington, promoting a woolens bill to raise the protective walls still higher. Though it failed, this particular bill came so close to winning approval that it set off a flurry of negotiation and debate in the following year which culminated in the so-called Tariff of Abominations of 1828.

Opponents of a protectionist tariff policy had originally planned for the 1828 bill to be so extreme as to discredit the whole protectionist philosophy. Their strategy called for the raising of tariff barriers on almost every conceivable article of domestic manufacture, and Congressmen willingly joined in, making increasingly ridiculous upward revisions. The strategy backfired, however, when the advocates of protective rates proved capable of accepting almost anything as long as it promised high duties on the commodities they particularly favored.

To the horror of some of its original sponsors, the grotesque bill worked its way through both Houses of Congress and won Presidential approval. Overnight, the Tariff of Abominations became the leading campaign issue in the Presidential election of 1828, which elevated Andrew Jackson to the White House.

The compromise tariff of 1833 set in motion a gradual reduction of the protectionist rates over a 10-year period, and it contained a pledge that at the end of that period the tariff would revert almost exclusively to a revenue measure. Protectionist rates were defined as any levies in excess of 20 percent ad valorem in the 1832 bill. All such rates would decrease 10 percent every other year until 1841, at which point they would drop by half. In 1842 even these residual protectionist features would lapse. The standard rate for most imports would be 20 percent ad valorem, and a number of goods would be added to the free list of items, on which no duties whatsoever were levied.

As a legislative compromise, Clay's proposals worked very well: tariffs dropped out of the political picture for the next decade. Protected industries had several years to grow and to prepare for the major rate reductions, and the opponents of high tariffs were assured that protectionism was on the road to extinction. As a practical method for collecting customs duties, however, the 1833 compromise proved extremely awkward, with the existing complexity of its rate structure compounded by the periodic reductions.

1828 Tariff of Abominations

Summary and Definition of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations
Summary and Definition: The Tariff of Abominations was the name given by its southern opponents to the Tariff of 1828, which was passed by Congress on May 19, 1828. The controversial 1828 Tariff of Abominations was designed to protect American industry from cheaper British commodities. Opposition to the rise of taxes on raw materials, like cotton and tobacco, in the South led to the Nullification Crisis.

Definition of a Tariff
Tariff Definition: What is a tariff? A Tariff is a tax placed on goods imported from foreign countries. Tariffs enable a nation to raise money from these taxes and at the same time protect a nation's goods from cheaper priced foreign items.

1828 Tariff of Abominations for kids
John Quincy Adams was the 6th American President who served in office from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829. One of the important events during his presidency was the 1828 Tariff of Abominations.

What was the Purpose of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations?
The purpose was to provide even more protection to the Industrialists and manufacturers in the North by increasing duties on imported foreign (British) goods to nearly 50%. The bill also included a clause that considerably increased the taxes on raw materials.

1828 Tariff of Abominations
Why was the Tariff of 1828 called the Tariff of Abominations? It was called the Tariff of Abominations by Southerners who strongly resented the protection the increase in duties gave the Northerners and the Westerners at the expense of the Southerners. The word 'Abomination' encompasses the meaning of words such as outrage, hatred, scandal and disgrace - this conveys the level of opposition by Southerners to the Tariff of 1828.

Who opposed the 1828 Tariff of Abominations? Why was it opposed?
The 1828 Tariff of Abominations was opposed by the Southern states that contended that the tariff was unconstitutional. The Southern states whose livelihoods were being harmed firstly by having to pay higher prices on goods the South did not produce, and secondly increasing taxes on British imports made it difficult for Britain to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. Some New England industries were also opposed to the bill because it included the clause by which the taxes on raw materials increased considerably.

1828 Tariff of Abominations for kids: The Three Protective Tariffs
The 1828 Tariff of Abominations was the third protective tariff implemented by the government. The protective tariffs taxed all foreign goods, to boost the sales of US products and protect Northern manufacturers from cheap British goods.

● The Tariff of 1816 placed a 20-25% tax on all foreign goods
● ● It followed the wave of Nationalism in the country following the War of 1812.
● ● The Tariff of 1816 greatly benefited the manufacturers in the North
● ● The invention of the Cotton Gin had turned cotton into a highly lucrative cash crop so the Southerners were making money
● ● The 'American System', the economic plan for the nation advocated by Henry Clay, was being implemented by the government to improve the lives of Americans
● ● Everything was going well during the Era of Good Feelings

● The Tariff of 1824 was the second protective tariff. It raised the duties still higher. There was 35% duty on imported iron, wool, cotton, and hemp.
● ● But there was opposition from the Southerners who did not benefit from the Tariff of 1824
● ● Nationalism was transforming into Sectionalism
● ● The north was becoming increasingly industrialized whilst the south was remaining agricultural
● ● The sectional interests of the North and the South truly came into conflict for the first time
● ● The South, who had once favored Henry Clay's Tariff 1816 and his American System which financed the construction of new roads to the west, now opposed both

● The Tariff of 1828 (the Tariff of Abominations) was the third protective tariff and taxes increased to nearly 50%
● ● The Southern politicians, led by Andrew Jackson, had come up with a scheme to prevent a law being passed. But their plan backfired.

1828 Tariff of Abominations for kids: The Political Schemes
The presidential election was to be held in 1828 and the campaigns were underway. John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson were the only two candidates. National Republicans voted for John Quincy Adams and Democratic-Republicans and voted for Andrew Jackson. Both were working to obtain votes. Jackson supporters, with a strong southern base, normally opposed the protective tariffs advanced by the Adams political party.

● The manufacturers and industrialists in the North had started to agitate the Adams administration for even higher protective duties
● The campaigners for Andrew Jackson men devised a plan by which they would appear to favor higher duties, thus appealing to voters in the North, while at the same time they were really opposing them
● They therefore proposed high duties on manufactured goods to curry favor with the Northern manufacturers
● They also proposed high duties on raw materials
● Jackson's men believed that the manufacturers would oppose the passing of the bill because the high duties on raw materials would cause them considerable damage
● They also believed that when the bill failed to pass it would please the Southern cotton growers

But the plan did not work - the Bill was passed and branded by Southerners as the Tariff of Abominations. The Northern members of Congress surprisingly voted for the bill because the Northern manufacturers were so keen to have the high duties on manufactured goods, that they took the view that before long they would secure the repeal of the duties on raw materials.

1828 Tariff of Abominations for kids
The info about the 1828 Tariff of Abominations provides interesting facts and important information about this important event that occured during the presidency of the 6th President of the United States of America.

Significance and Importance of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations to Adams and Jackson
The Significance of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations to Adams and Jackson was:

● John Quincy Adams was made a scapegoat for the 1828 Tariff of Abominations by his political enemies and lost the election. He took the blame from both sides for the increased taxes on imported goods and for the increased duties on raw materials
● Andrew Jackson won the election as the Tariff of 1828 had been purposely drafted to make him appear as a protectionist in the North and as a free trade advocate in the South
● ● John C. Calhoun responded to the Tariff of Abominations with the South Carolina Exposition .
● ● The Tariff of 1832 was passed to act as remedy for the conflict created by the Tariff of 1828
● Jackson had to deal with the controversy incited by the 1828 Tariff of Abominations known as the Nullification Crisis

National Significance and Importance of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations
The 1828 Tariff of Abominations had an extremely important and significant impact on American history:

● The sectional interests of the North and the South truly came into conflict for the first time
● The conflicts between the North and South would lead to Secession and ultimately the American Civil war (1861-1865)
● This event was one of the Causes of the Civil War

Protective Tariffs
For additional facts and a timeline refer to Protectionism and Tariffs.

1828 Tariff of Abominations for kids - President John Quincy Adams Video
The article on the 1828 Tariff of Abominations provides an overview of one of the Important issues of his presidential term in office. The following John Quincy Adams video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 6th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1825 to March 4, 1829.

1828 Tariff of Abominations

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The Tallmadge Amendment (1819)

The debate in Congress over the admittance of Missouri to statehood was complicated by New York Congressman James Tallmadge's amendment. Have students read the amendment in the EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory collection.

Ask students to answer the following questions:

  • What is the main point of this amendment?
  • Why did this amendment trigger a passionate debate about Missouri's application for statehood?

Tariff of Abominations - History

Following the crises with France and Britain, the federal government came to rely almost exclusively on the tariff as a source of funding. As the nation’s economic and political systems began to mature and diversify, however, the consensus on the tariff’s role gradually broke down. Particularly within the context of sectional and partisan conflict, the tariff assumed a political significance beyond its putative revenue-generating function.

1816 The 14th Congress passed the Tariff Act of 1816 levying a series of 25 percent duties designed to encourage domestic manufacturing. In the wake of the conflict with Britain, nationalist war-hawks like Henry Clay and John Calhoun sought to nurture independent industry that had sprung up during the Embargo era, while reducing reliance on British manufactures. Even so, the Tariff Act of 1816 was only mildly protectionist, more in keeping with those enacted since 1789 than with those that would follow after 1820. Manufacturing interests in the United States (particularly in the West and New England) did not yet carry the political clout in Congress that mercantile and shipping interests (who tended to oppose tariffs) did. In fact, no sustained popular support for protection developed much before 1819.

1819 In the wake of the Panic of 1819, a credit crisis sparked by a sharp drop in world agricultural prices, numerous economic interests pushed for protective tariffs to minimize the threat of cheap imported goods from Europe, setting the stage for the later tariffs of 1824 and 1828.

In the landmark case McCulloch v. Maryland, the Supreme Court struck down a Maryland state tax on notes issued by the Baltimore branch of the Second National Bank of the United States. The Maryland legislature had designed the tax to preserve the competitive advantage of state-chartered banks and to reign in the Second Bank’s powers to monitor reserves and regulate credit. Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice John Marshall rejected the defendants’ claims that (1) Congress had no constitutional authority to charter a Bank and (2) Maryland had a right to tax activities within its borders. He rebutted the first argument with an expansive reading of the "necessary and proper" clause. Favoring the Federalists’ "loose construction" of the Constitution, he determined control of currency and credit well within the purview of congressional authority. In rejecting the second point, Marshall concurred with Daniel Webster, legal counsel for the bank, who insisted that a tax employed in this manner would render the national government dependent on the states. "The power to tax is the power to destroy," Marshall asserted, and in so doing he proclaimed the dominance of national statutes over state legislation.

1820 A House bill to increase the entire tariff schedule by 5 percent — with even higher duties on cotton and wool cloth, finished clothing, iron, and hemp — passed the House but was not enacted. Nevertheless, the failed measure reflected important trends that would influence the course of tariff policy in the future. Middle and Western states provided the bulk of support for the tariff. New England, with its mix of powerful mercantile interests and budding manufacturers, split evenly over the bill, while the South, lacking any real industrial base, voted solidly against it. But the South was swimming against the demographic tide, on its way to becoming a regional minority in Congress.In the decade from 1810 to 1820, the South's rate of growth peaked at 28 percent, as compared with 38 percent for the rest of the nation. The states below the Mason-Dixon line and the Ohio River comprised 47 percent of the population in 1810, but only 45 percent just 10 years later. Congressional reapportionment based on the Census of 1820 redounded to the advantage of the West and Middle Atlantic regions, where support for a protective tariff grew enthusiastically. Similarly, 8 of the 12 Senate seats added since 1816 tended to represent pro-tariff states.

1824 Henry Clay, a champion of federally sponsored internal economic development (articulated in a set of policies, including protective tariffs, known collectively as the American System) served as Speaker of the House. He controlled the selection of committee chairman, and installed John Tod of Pennsylvania, an ardent protectionist, to head the Committee on Manufactures. Tod wasted little time reporting out a bill that levied a 35 percent duty on imported iron, wool, cotton, and hemp. Since the federal Treasury reported a surplus, the rate increases had little to do with revenue needs.

Congressional reapportionment reflecting population increases in the Ohio Valley and the North enabled the protective tariff to pass over southern opposition. More unified support for the tariff among New England legislators bespoke of the expansion of manufacturing in the region. Representatives like Daniel Webster of Massachusetts who previously opposed protection now advocated it unconditionally. Without protective duties, which accounted for an estimated three-fourths of textile manufacturing’s value added, half the New England industrial sector would have gone bankrupt, since European technology produced cloth much more cheaply than American mills could.

1828 During the administration of John Quincy Adams, Jackson supporters lobbied to raise tariffs on hemp, wool, fur, flax, liquor, and imported textiles, a package catered to the benefit of states in the Mid-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and New England. In fact, the tariff elevated the rate on manufactured goods to about 50 percent of their value, resulting in significantly greater protection for New England cloth manufacturers. The South, by contrast, did not benefit at all from this scheme, and stood to get soaked by higher prices on goods the region did not produce. The tariff also threatened to reduce the flow of British goods, making it difficult for the British to pay for the cotton they imported from the south.

Jackson supporters, with a strong southern base, normally opposed the protective tariffs advanced by the Adams faction. The 1828 bill represented a blatant appeal to sections where the Jacksonians were weaker politically. Congressional supporters of Jackson felt they had little to lose, figuring their rivals would shoulder the blame in the upcoming election anyway. The marked upward revision of the tariff rates enacted by the Tariff of 1828, dubbed the Tariff of Abominations by its southern opponents, formed the basis for the nullification crisis.

Calhoun was one of the most fervent War Hawks during the 1812 crisis with Britain, and a sponsor of the tariff enacted in 1816. Constitutionally speaking, his early career seemed to mark him as a loose contructionist. During the late 1820s, however, his views began to undergo significant revision. The South Carolina senator ultimately emerged as the era’s leading states’ rights sectionalist.

Calhoun had based his earlier support for the tariff on the perceived need to assist fledgling, defense-related industries ­ part of a broader strategy to overcome the nation’s commercial dependence on Britain. By 1826, defense was no longer a salient issue. The infant industries of 1816 were now querulous adolescents, clamoring for an extension of the protective tariff system. The economy of Calhoun’s South Carolina was exclusively a slave economy, producing agricultural products like cotton, rice, and indigo. Having no manufacturing concerns of its own, South Carolina depended on imports from the North and abroad tariffs made both more expensive. The so-called "40 bales theory" articulated southern economic reservations. The theory attempted to explained how tariffs on manufactured goods reduced demand for the South’s raw cotton: a 40 percent tariff on cotton finished goods led to 40 percent higher consumer prices, which translated to 40 percent fewer sales, since consumers had less money to spend following the Panic of 1819. And 40 percent fewer sales meant cotton manufacturers purchased 40 percent less cotton. Calhoun’s rise to prominence as a national figure led him to take up the fight against economic policies that hurt the South.

Calhoun’s opposition to tariffs, or more accurately the federal powers they implied, cannot be separated from his pressing desire to preserve the slave system. He feared that as border-south states gravitated to northern economic orbits, slavery in those states would grow less economically viable, their percentage of black slaves would diminish, and anti-slavery factions would succeed in eliminating slavery there (the percentage of slaves in states like Maryland had dropped precipitously since 1790). If slavery evaporated at the periphery, Calhoun believed, southern slave interests would face perpetual political perils. The same geographic coalitions that enacted the tariff laws in Congress could succeed in limiting slavery’s expansion into western territories, and might even threaten the institution in the deep south. Kentucky’s Henry Clay, one of the congressional champions of the tariff, actually proposed that some of the revenue collected be used to fund state colonization societies dedicated to relocating African Americans overseas. By diffusing the American black population abroad, such organizations effectively sought to phase out slavery in the United States. In this context, Calhoun and his supporters targeted the tariff issue to test the limits of federal power, since the south had continually lost tariff-related battles.

From Calhoun’s perspective, tariffs redistributed wealth from the South to northern manufacturers, which meant that federal power was being routinely employed to benefit one section over another. The fear that certain factions would capture federal powers to repress minorities had resonated since the Constitution had first been debated. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolves of 1798 [external link] , drafted in reaction to Alien and Sedition Act, hypothesized a limited compact among states authorizing a federal government of limited powers. Under this scheme, Congress could pass only those acts that served a common purpose — protective tariffs didn’t fit those requirements.

Calhoun believed a measure’s constitutionality turned on whether it provided equal benefits to all interests. In his South Carolina Exposition and Protest (1828) he argued that the Tariff of 1828 was unconstitutional, and that the states had the right to nullify such laws within their borders by calling nullification conventions. Following this act of interposition, if three-fourths of the rest of the states affirmed Congress’s power to enforce the law, the dissident state had the option of seceding from the Union. Implicit in this scheme was the concept of the concurrent majority: If each state possessed a veto, then every conceivable interest would theoretically be represented. Calhoun trusted such a system to ensure a truly disinterested government where all interests had to be in accord. The threat of a state veto would prevent federal taxes not fair to all, which, in fact, meant most taxes. An institutionalized paucity of funds would discourage patronage-minded office seekers. For Calhoun, the concurrent majority would foster both disinterested laws and disinterested representatives, tempering the excesses of a corrupt democratic spoils system.

1832 In July, Congress passed legislation that lowered tariff rates somewhat, but retained the high 1828 rates on manufactured cloth and iron. In November, South Carolina’s special Nullification Convention declared the Tariffs of 1832 and 1828 unconstitutional [external link], and forbade collection of customs duties within the state.

Democrat Andrew Jackson served as both president and the leader of a national party. That party included pro-tariff states like Pennsylvania that had proffered supported for his candidacy. Jackson had never been as captivated by the tariff issue as most southern, agrarian, states-rights Jacksonians had (particularly South Carolinians), even though they represented his majority constituency. Jackson concerned himself more with defeating the National Bank and Indian removal. In December, he called for a further easing of tariff rates. Simultaneously, however, he declared secession a "revolutionary act" in his Nullification Proclamation [external link], and specifically attacked the idea that secession represented a viable constitutional option.

1833 Jackson responded to the nullification controversy with an olive branch and a sword. The Tariff of 1833, or Compromise Tariff, instituted automatic reductions in duties between 1833 and 1842. The corresponding Force Bill authorized the president to use arms to collect Customs duties. Henry Clay, known as the Great Compromiser, negotiated the Compromise Tariff directly with Calhoun. He feared the possibility of civil war, and wanted to preserve the tariff principle. Jackson desired to preserve the principle of national supremacy while mitigating the high tariffs that had triggered conflict in the first place.

1837 A financial panic induced by a reduction in the flow of British capital investment triggered an extended economic depression, lasting from 1837 to 1843. The Whig Party made its greatest political gains campaigning for more active government programs to stimulate the economy along the model of Henry Clay’s American System. This platform included higher tariffs.

1840 In an electoral sweep, the Whigs gained a congressional majority and won the presidency (their candidate, William Henry Harrison, died soon after the election, with Virginia’s John Tyler replacing him). The party platform endorsed revenue tariffs designed to generate significant funds, part of which were to be distributed to the states to pay for internal improvements (roads and canals), another component of the American System.

1842 During the depression, the Whigs wanted to cancel the final round of rate reductions mandated under the Compromise Tariff, because they needed revenue to distribute to the states for internal improvements. President Tyler, however, vetoed the measure. Eventually he, too, realized the need for funds, and signed a new bill that maintained some tariffs above 20 percent, while abandoning revenue distribution. Tyler was an aristocratic Virginia planter and more of a states-rights, anti-Jackson Whig than an advocate of the Whig economic program. He actually opposed the urban commercial interests of his own state. Because the conservative Tyler viewed Jackson as a threat to states rights, he had joined an opposition movement that included a wide variety of Jackson opponents, including those like Clay and Daniel Webster who desired a stronger federal government. The organization that eventually coalesced into the Whig party was a "big tent," initially galvanized in opposition to a single individual. Subsequently, its opposing wings coexisted uneasily. Tyler scuttled most of the party’s economic initiatives, infuriating northern interests.

1846 Robert Walker, a Mississippian and Secretary of the Treasury for the Democratic Polk administration, convinced Congress to pass the Walker Tariff. The act slashed all duties to the minimum necessary for revenue. Polk believed the Democrats had a mandate to overturn the Clay-Whig American System. But numerous northern Democrats had supported a modestly protective tariff, and were disappointed that Polk broke his campaign promise to combine the revenue tariff with a measure of protection. Polk alienated this constituency just as he had done with Western Democrats when he vetoed the 1846 Rivers and Harbors Bill.

In Britain, Parliament repealed the Corn Laws (external link] (tariffs on imported bread grains). Along with the Walker Tariff, the repeal of the Corn Laws seemed to signal a new era of freer world trade.

1846-1848 Trade and tariff revenues were so buoyant that the Polk administration did not have to raise taxes to pay for the Mexican War. Existing rates funded more than 60 percent of the $100 million of wartime costs, while borrowing covered the rest. After the war, the persistent robustness of Customs duties enabled the federal government to pay off nearly all its Mexican War debts by the time of the Civil War. Demoralized by the popularity of the Polk administration’s economic programs, congressional Whigs lost their enthusiasm for campaigning on the American System.

1850s Low tariffs became less of a salient issue in the 1850s, when wages and profits rose during economic boom-times. But the economic upturn caused political problems for the Whig Party. The American System seemed more and more irrelevant. Elected in 1848, Whig President Zachary Taylor was not personally connected with Clay or the American System. He had run instead on a "Friend of South" campaign in wake of the northern Democrat-inspired Wilmont Proviso (the 1846 proposal that slavery be excluded from the territory annexed during the war with Mexico). Slavery issues tended to dominate political debate.

1857 Democrats lowered tariffs further. An economic panic hit soon thereafter, precipitating a fall-off in imports in the wake of the recession that followed. Government revenues plummeted by 30 percent. In response, the nascent Republican Party called for higher tariffs.


After the Civil War, domestic policies continued to favor high tariffs, strengthened perhaps by the fact that industry was spreading through more of the nation. By the 1890s Congress had added an important innovation to the legislation: a delegation of power to the executive branch to adjust tariffs in specific circumstances. An early example was what are now called "countervailing duties." These were tariffs the executive branch would order to counteract foreign subsidies on products exported to the United States. The executive branch, without further action by Congress, could measure the foreign subsidy and determine the duty to countervail, or compensate for, that duty. This became one of a large number of such adjustment devices.

A History of U.S. Tariffs

Tariffs are essentially a tax on imports. Last year, the U.S. expected to take in about $40.4 billion in customs duties and fees on imported goods.

You’re hearing a lot of partisan talk these days about increases in tariffs — especially goods from China. But the truth is, this kind of talk is nothing new. Tariffs in the U.S. have always been politicized. They’re often protectionist or retaliatory.

And while it’s easy to argue that higher tariffs often backfire — like during the Great Depression — one can also argue that they’ve been effective at times in protecting U.S. business interests.

Tariff of Abominations: 1828

Tariffs become a sectional dispute, with industrial northern states wanting to protect its businesses and southern states wanting low tariffs. Once the national debt is paid off in 1834, President Andrew Jackson cuts tariff rates sharply.

The Black Tariff: 1842

The Whig Party takes control of Congress and, in a new wave of protectionist support, raises tariff rates.

Morrill Tariff: 1861

A wave of southern resignations from Congress after the election of Abraham Lincoln allows northern congressmen to raise tariffs once again.

Mongrel Tariff: 1883

President Chester Arthur reduces some tariffs, keeps others and enters into reciprocal trade agreements with some nations.

Dingley Act: 1897

President William McKinley brings back protectionism by doubling tariff rates for wool, linen, silk, china and sugar.

Underwood Tariff: 1913

Democrats replace high tariffs with a new federal income tax.

Emergency Tariff: 1921

Passed by Republicans in hopes of saving U.S. farming operations.

Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act: 1930

Protectionist law raises tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods to their second-highest rate in 100 years. This law and retaliatory tariffs by other nations lead to a reduction in U.S. trade by more than half at a time when the country could have used more trade: During the Great Depression.

Reciprocal Tariff Act: 1934

Authorizes President Franklin Roosevelt to negotiate 32 reciprocal trade agreements with 27 countries over the next 11 years.

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT): 1947

Signed by 23 nations as part of a United Nations effort to reduce trade barriers like tariffs and quotas. Would stand until the World Trade Organization is created in 1994.

Trade Agreements Act: 1979

Since passage of the Smoot-Hawley Act in 1930, the U.S. government has been required to buy its own goods from U.S. suppliers. This law gives the president the ability to waive this policy for imports from 57 countries.

Omnibus Foreign Trade and Competitiveness Act: 1988

Authorizes President Ronald Reagan to enact tariffs on imports from nations that place protectionist tariffs on U.S.-made goods.

World Trade Organization: 1994

Agreement signed by 124 nations to replace GATT in resolving trade disputes and helping to negotiate agreements.

Trump Tariffs: 2018

President Donald Trump increases tariffs on solar panels, washing machines, steel, aluminum and pretty much everything from China.

Watch the video: The Tariff of Abominations! YouTube (January 2022).