Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate

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Author: Robert J. Dole  | Date: May 13, 1828

Senate Passes "Tariff of Abominations"

On May 13, 1828, the Senate passed the "Tariff of Abominations," a high-protective tariff that inflamed sectional passions and triggered a major constitutional crisis.

Tariff rates were tricky business. Manufacturing interests generally favored a higher tariff to raise the cost of imports and promote American manufactured goods; agricultural interests favored a lower tariff to promote cheaper imports and encourage overseas sales of their produce. Those representing agrarian interests in Congress thought they had found an ingenious solution. They would vote for the highest possible tariff rates—exactly the opposite of what they wanted. They believed President John Quincy Adams, who was sympathetic to the manufacturers, would be forced to veto the high tariff. He would then carry that stigma in his election campaign against Andrew Jackson.

But the high tariff passed and Adams signed it. The South was outraged, and some southerners began to talk of secession. It was the "Tariff of Abominations," as they called it, that prompted Vice President John C. Calhoun to write an anonymous pamphlet denouncing the tariff as unconstitutional and unjust, and declaring that the state legislatures had the power to refuse to enforce—or nullify—a federal law. When South Carolina adopted Calhoun’s proposal, President Jackson hotly denied the right of nullification and threatened to send troops to uphold the tariff. The crisis was at last averted when Senator Henry Clay devised the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which removed some duties immediately and gradually lowered the rest But the sectional angers thus aroused never completely disappeared in those tense decades before the Civil War.

The moral to this story, I suppose, is that senators should be careful of what they vote for, because they might actually get it.

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Chicago: Robert J. Dole, "Senate Passes Tariff of Abominations," Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S Government Printing Office, 1989), in Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MTCA7YX3SUBUNM.

MLA: Dole, Robert J. "Senate Passes "Tariff of Abominations"." Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office, 1989, in , Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MTCA7YX3SUBUNM.

Harvard: Dole, RJ 1989, 'Senate Passes "Tariff of Abominations"' in Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, U.S Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.. cited in , . Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8MTCA7YX3SUBUNM.