Tariff of 1828

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The Tariff of 1828, was a protective tariff passed by the Congress of the United States on May 19, 1828 designed to protect industry in the northern United States. It was labeled the Tariff of Abominations by its southern detractors because of the effects it had on the antebellum Southern economy.

The goal of the tariff was to protect industries in the northern United States which were being driven out of business by low-priced imported goods by putting a tax on them. The South, however, was harmed firstly by having to pay higher prices on goods the region did not produce, and secondly because reducing the importation of British goods made it difficult for the British to pay for the cotton they imported from the South.[1] The reaction in the South, particularly in South Carolina, would lead to the Nullification Crisis that began in late 1832.[2]

The Tariff marked the high point of US tariffs, being approached but not exceeded by the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1930.[3]

Passage of the bill

The 1828 tariff was part of a series of tariffs that began after the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars, when the blockade of Europe led British manufacturers to offer goods in America at low prices American manufacturers often could not match.  The first protective tariff was passed by Congress in 1816, with tariff rates increased in 1824.  Southern states such as South Carolina contended that the tariff was unconstitutional and were opposed to the newer protectionist tariffs, but Western agricultural states favored them as well as New England’s industry.[4]

In an elaborate scheme to prevent passage of still higher tariffs while at the same time appealing to Andrew Jackson’s supporters in the North, John C. Calhoun and other southerners joined them in crafting a tariff bill that would also weigh heavily on materials imported by the New England states.  It was believed that Adams’s supporters (the National Republicans, or as they would later be called, Whigs) in New England would uniformly oppose the bill for this reason and that the southern legislators could then withdraw their support, killing the legislation while blaming it on New England:

Southern opponents generally felt that the protective features of tariffs were harmful to southern agrarian interests and claimed they were unconstitutional because they favored one sector of the economy over another.  New England importers and ship owners also had reason to oppose provisions targeting their industries—provisions inserted by Democratic Party legislators to coerce New Englanders to sink the legislation.

Those in Western states and manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic States argued that strengthening the industrial capacity of the nation was in the interest of the entire country.  This same reasoning swayed two-fifths of U.S. Representatives in the New England states to vote for the tariff increase:

A substantial minority of New England Congressmen (41%) saw what they believed to be long-term national benefits of an increased tariff, and voted for it; they believed the tariff would strengthen the manufacturing industry nationally (see table).[6]

The Democratic Party had miscalculated: the New Englanders failed to sink the legislation, and their plan backfired.  This, despite the insertion of import duties by Democrats calculated to be unpalatable to New England industries, most specifically on raw wool imports, essential to the wool textile industry

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