The Tariff Of Abominations-1828


Rhode Island and Massachusetts woolen manufacturers were complaining that the British were exporting textiles (cloths) to the United States at extraordinarily low rates. The local manufacturers could not compete with the low prices the English were offering. As a result, their businesses were suffering and they demanded action by the federal government.

United States in 1828

As a response to the demands from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the federal government implemented a new tariff in 1828. In an effort to win approval from more than the northeastern states, the conditions of the tariff were expanded to incorporate importation taxes on other items, aside from wool. This was meant to discourage the importation of goods by foreign countries and encourage both the local production and consumption of goods. Suddenly it was far more expensive to bring foreign goods into the country and, as a result, their prices grew. Meanwhile, local prices remained fairly constant. It was now more economical to buy locally.

Political Retribution:

In the effort to appeal to as many states as possible, the bill was made to include more than just wool. This had the effect of alienatingboth the original supporters of the bill from Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as the southern states. The South was upset about the bill because the cost of exporting their crops was suddenly increased. They were not able to earn as much profit from their products as they were prior to the bill's introduction. The economic backlash was so strong that southern Americans began referring to the bill as the "Tariff of Abominations." Similarly, the producers who originally called for the bill were forced to pay more for raw materials derived from foreign countries. They, too, saw less profit than they normally would have without the tariff. The question became whether or not the benefits of limiting foreign competition outweighed the rise in costs for raw materials. The western states still benefitted from the tariff as they little to no importation from foreign countries. The products produced in those states were almost completely locally based because there was no access to foreign trade without sea ports.

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina
Later Historical Significance:

The tariff became the motivation for John C. Calhoun's Theory of Nullification to be utilized in South Carolina. Many South Carolineans blamed the tariff for the stagnation of their economy, claiming that the high tax rates prevented them from making significant profit. In reality, their trouble was rooted in the land's inability to compete with the fertile land of the southwestern region. Regardless, citizens of South Carolina were infuriated to the point where they were considering secession. Calhoun proposed nullifying the tariff, i.e. refusing to pay it. In response, President Jackson marched the federal army into South Carolina and occupied it.

Relevance to Nationalism/Sectionalism:

From a large viewpoint, the Tariff of Abominations resulted in the same sectionalist separation that sparked the Civil War. This tariff became a key part in the debate over federal vs. state power. On one side, there was the South, which opted for state governments to have the supreme authority. Many in the South felt they should be allowed to choose whether or not they wanted to implement tariffs. The antithesis argument was made
Federal-vs-State.jpgby many of the northern states who needed federal protection and action because they were less formidable on their own. Smaller states, naturally, opted for a unified group that would provide security. This tariff threw into question just how much power the federal government should have over those at the state level. The north advocated for the federal government to take action so that profit could be made. The South, meanwhile, was having an easier time with foreign trade because they mostly exported materials like cotton. Their need for importation was less than that of the North. The federal government attempted to work for the greater good but,in doing so, it alienated the South.
The perspective of most of the northern states, that federal government should reign supreme, is in itself, nationalistic. They argue for a single, united nation that is strongest when it stands together.

For clarification of what the power at the state level can accomplish and what the federal government can accomplish...

Where should the line of federal power be drawn? Let's hear from you!
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