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Nullification Crisis of 1832 Lesson for Kids: Definition & Summary

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

The Nullification Crisis of 1832 was a showdown between the U.S. government and South Carolina over certain taxes. Come learn about this crisis, South Carolina's secret supporter and how it ended.

Tariff of Abominations

Imagine that it's a summer day and you're opening a lemonade stand. Your neighborhood grocery is out of supplies, so you try another store. It has everything you need, but because you live in a different neighborhood, the store adds a high fee called a tax to your total. You decide to forget about selling lemonade because you can't afford the tax.

A similar thing happened in the United States back in the early 1800s. At that time, the northern states had more factories that made things like fabrics, while the southern states had more farms that grew crops, including cotton, to sell.

To get people to buy U.S. goods the federal government taxed goods from other countries, like fabric made in Great Britain, making them more expensive. If you were buying a chocolate bar and one was a dollar less, wouldn't you buy the cheaper good, like fabric from a northern factory?

Increasingly high taxes or tariffs hurt southern states like South Carolina because Great Britain bought a lot of cotton from them. Since Great Britain wasn't selling much cotton fabric anymore, they weren't buying much cotton. When a third tariff was passed in 1828, which South Carolina called the Tariff of Abominations, the state asked for help from a powerful friend.

South Carolina's Secret Supporter

South Carolina lawmakers asked Vice President John C. Calhoun for help getting rid of the tariffs. He wrote the South Carolina Exposition, which tried to solve the tariff problem and support states' rights. Calhoun said the tariffs were unconstitutional and that a state could ignore an unconstitutional federal law by not enforcing it. However, he wrote this statement anonymously, so that no one would know he was its author.

John Calhoun
John Calhoun

To try and calm everyone down, the U.S. Congress passed a new tariff in 1832 that lowered the taxes on goods made in other countries, but just a little. But South Carolina still wasn't happy.

The Nullification Crisis of 1832

South Carolina lawmakers passed the Ordinance of Nullification in 1832, which said that the tariffs were invalid in the state and that it wouldn't collect them. It also said that South Carolina would leave the Union and set up its own government if the federal government tried to make it collect the tariffs; this set off the crisis.

Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

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