Nullification Controversy

1 January 2018

In the era in question, the country was distinctly divided along economic lines. Because a large percentage of Southern capital was put into land, cotton, and slaves, less capital was available for industrial for manufacturing enterprises, since in that volatile period in history they such investments were far riskier than cotton, the prime resource of the booming textile industry.

Economists have determined that a reasonable expectation for return On investments in cotton was per annum, an excellent return at any time.But because the cotton South did not produce much in the way of farm equipment, tools or other manufactured goods, they were dependent upon manufactured goods produced mostly in the north or in foreign countries. High protective tariffs on manufactured goods, designed to aid American manufacturing, had the effect of raising prices on goods purchased throughout the country, but needed most heavily in South. Support for manufacturing interests was strong in the north, where the population had grown faster, meaning that there were more members in the House of Representatives from the North then from the South.Thus high protective tariffs were regularly passed. In 1 828 Andrew Jackson’s supporters proposed a very high tariff bill that would allow Jackson to look friendly toward manufacturing in the North, while in the South his supporters to claim that the proposed tariff was so high that it would never pass, and that they therefore had nothing to worry about. But then the tariff did pass after all.

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Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina anonymously wrote an “Exposition and Protest” of the Tariff of 1 828, which became known as the “Tariff of Abominations. When a tariff bill passed again in 1832, because it as still too high to suit the needs of Southern agricultural interests, the State of South Carolina decided to nullify the tariff. They took their action very deliberately, calling a special convention and passing an “Ordinance of Nullification” that claimed not only that the tariff was not enforceable in South Carolina, but that any attempt to enforce it by state or federal officials would not be permitted within South Carolina.South Carolina’s ordinance placed the state on a collision course with President Andrew Jackson. Although Jackson was from Tennessee, and thus a Southerner (and slave owner), he was still much more a nationalist than an advocate of states’ rights. To Jackson, the notion that a state could nullify a federal law, and that it could furthermore prevent him from exercising his constitutional duty, which is to “see to it that the laws are faithfully executed,” was too much.

Jackson issued his own Proclamation of the people of South Carolina in which he called their nullification ordinance an “impracticable absurdity. ” Congress supported Jackson by passing a Force Bill which explicitly authorized him to use whatever force was necessary to enforce the law in South Carolina. (The Force Bill was more symbolic than real, as Jackson already had authority to enforce the law under the Constitution. Not willing to push the fight any farther, South Carolina, realizing that support for its position was weak, relented and repealed its ordinance of nullification. But then as a sort of slap in the face to President Jackson, it nullified the force bill, which was of no consequence since the force bill had become moot upon South Carolina’s repeal of the ordinance of nullification. To summarize, would say that the nullification controversy is important because of its focus on the issue of states’ rights.Most historians believe that behind South Carolina’s nullification of the tariff was a deeper concern over the slavery question.

The abolitionist movement was gathering steam, and there was fear throughout the South that somehow the federal government might move to abolish slavery. Nullification of the tariff then was seen by some as a test case as to whether or not nullification Was viable. President Jackson’s reaction and the support from Congress suggested that nullification could not be sustained.The next logical step, therefore, in opposing federal authority within a state was the act of secession, which South Carolina exercised almost 30 years later as the first state to secede from the Union following President Lincoln election in 1860. It is worth reading South Carolina’s ordinance of nullification and Andrew Jackson’s proclamation to understand the depth of the arguments on both sides. Jackson’s argument carried the day, but for many Southerners the issue of states’ rights was still an open question.

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