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Tariff of 1832

July 14, 1832

Enacted on July 14, 1832, the Tariff of 1832 was an attempt to address Southern grievances over the high protective duties imposed by the Tariff of 1828. Hostility toward the new tariff in South Carolina nearly led to civil war.

On May 19, 1828, U.S. President John Quincy Adams approved "An Act in alteration of the several acts imposing duties on imports." Commonly known as the Tariff of 1828, the legislation raised revenue for the federal government by imposing duties (taxes) on manufactured products and some raw materials imported into the United States. Many Americans referred to the law as the Tariff of Abominations, because its provisions protected manufacturers in the Northeast and farmers in the West, at the expense of Southerners and New Englanders. The effects of the tariff were especially severe in the South, where the cotton-based economy, combined with limited manufacturing, dictated a high dependency on imported items.

Andrew Jackson's election to the presidency in November 1828 gave Southerners hope that their concerns would be addressed after the South Carolina native's inauguration in March 1829. Intent on paying down the national debt, however, Jackson failed to push for lower import duties.

By 1832, the American economy had recovered from the Panic of 1825 and two slight recessions in the previous decade. As the need for protectionism declined, Congress became more receptive to Southern grievances regarding the Tariff of Abominations. Consequently, on July 14, 1832, Congress enacted and President Jackson approved a bill titled An act to alter and amend the several act imposing duties on imports. Commonly known as the Tariff of 1832, the measure reduced or eliminated some of the protective measures adopted in 1828.

The floor votes in both houses of Congress on the final bill illustrate that the Tariff of 1832 did not go far enough to appease many Southerners. The House of Representatives passed the act by a vote of 132 to 65. Nearly half (thirty) of the dissenting votes were cast by Southern representatives. The final tally in the Senate was 32 yeas to 16 nays. Of the 16 senators who voted against the tariff, 15 were from the South.

Those who believed that the lower duties enacted in the Tariff of 1832 would be sufficient to appease firebrands in the South were soon disappointed. At the urging of United States Vice President John C. Calhoun and United States Senator Robert Hayne, South Carolina Governor James Hamilton, Jr. called a special session of the state legislature. On October 25, 1832, the legislature enacted a measure authorizing a statewide convention to consider a response to the enactment of the Tariff of 1832.

The convention convened in Columbia on November 19. On November 24, 1832, by a vote of 136 to 26 the delegates endorsed a proclamation drafted by William Harper entitled, An ordinance to nullify certain acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws laying duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities.

More commonly known as the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, the report declared that the Tariff of 1828 and the Tariff of 1832 were unconstitutional and that they were therefore considered to "be held utterly null and void" by the citizens of South Carolina. Seeking to punctuate the seriousness of their resolve, the convention members concluded the document by declaring that in response to "any act authorizing the employment of a military or naval force against the State of South Carolina . . . the people of this State will henceforth hold themselves absolved from all further obligation to maintain or preserve their political connection with the people of the other States; and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate government."

The convention adjourned on November 27, 1832 and distributed copies of the ordinance to President Jackson and the governor of each state in the Union. The document precipitated a Constitutional crisis that nearly led to warfare. Although bloodshed was averted by the enactment of a compromise tariff in 1833, South Carolina's adoption of the doctrine of nullification left the Palmetto State and, eventually, its Southern neighbors, only one step removed from secession and civil war.

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