The Tariff of 1828

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  • 0:00 What Was the Tariff of 1828?
  • 0:46 Background to the…
  • 2:14 The Nullification Crisis
  • 4:04 States' Rights and Secession
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

The Tariff of 1828, also known as the Tariff of Abominations, was a problematic attempt to protect the economy of the United States. Learn about the troublesome tariff in this lesson, explore the later issues it caused, and take a short quiz to see what you learned.

What Was the Tariff of 1828?

The Tariff of 1828 was a law/bill that started the U.S. down the road to a split between North and South. Although there were many issues that tore the nation apart, this tariff, also known as the Tariff of Abominations, would benefit Northern states while crippling the economies of the South. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina would be the leader of the bill's opposition, called the Nullification Crisis, which was based in states' rights. The tariff would be one of the first items to start the rumblings of secession, an issue that would lead to the Civil War. The tariff and subsequent nullification combined with states' rights issues leading to secession would be a drastic one-two punch.

Background to the Tariff of 1828

The U.S. in the 1800s was like an infant: learning through making choices. With little past reference, every decision had a large and unknown future impact. When it came to trade, early leaders took a protective approach in order to safeguard the interests, economy, and livelihood of the nation. In the early 1800s, prices of imported and exported goods fluctuated significantly, affecting the economy. The government wanted to do what it could to protect the economy, from the agricultural raw materials of the South to the industrial might of the North.

So lawmakers passed tariffs, or taxes and fees to be paid on imports and exports. These included the Tariff of 1828. Ultimately, by putting an extra cost on items shipped in and out, the government would make sure that Americans were always benefiting. If an import had no tariff and was cheaper than an American product, foreign producers would make more money and put the American version out of business. Likewise, a tariff on exports would mean higher prices in other countries, but more money in American pockets as the good's high price covered the tariff.

The problem was the North favored tariffs because of their heavy industrial base; they were producing final products. The South was opposed to it because of their agricultural base; they were producing raw materials to be exported for final products. They worried that high tariffs would lead foreign customers elsewhere for raw materials. This would hurt their economy, but also would lead to Southerners with no income to buy higher priced products made by Northerners.

The Nullification Crisis

Immediately the South, with South Carolina as its focal point, opposed the tariff, but surprisingly not because of its economic effects. Instead, they cleverly asserted the federal government had overstepped its bounds. States had the right to reject, or nullify, federal laws that would not benefit the nation economically. Well, it would benefit the North economically, but just not the South.

John C. Calhoun, who was both Vice-President and from South Carolina, was the opposition's leader. He later resigned as Vice President. Calhoun was second-in-command to John Quincy Adams, who was president during tariff passage, and Andrew Jackson, who was president during opposition. He wrote a response to the tariff, South Carolina Exposition and Protest, that stated it was the right of states to nullify federal laws. Calhoun also questioned whether or not the government's actions were constitutional.

The Constitution does permit imposing tariffs, but they must be for paying off debts the nation owes, defending the country (military funding), or for people's general welfare. Calhoun argued the tariff met neither of the first two provisions. In regards to the third, welfare was being supported, but not for the country as a whole.

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