Tariff of 1828

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The Tariff of 1828 was a tariff law that significantly raised import duties on a wide range of manufactures and raw materials. It was the product of political intrigue during an election year that became a rallying point for the supporters of Andrew Jackson against the incumbent John Quincy Adams. Because the duties were so high, the tariff was called the "Tariff of Abominations" by its detractors.

Origins of the Bill

Following the election of John Quincy Adams in 1824, the supporters of Andrew Jackson were looking for an issue to bring New Englanders to the Jacksonian cause. New Englanders tended to favor old-line conservatives, similar to the by-this-time defunct Federalist Party. Chief among these schemers was Adams's Vice President John C. Calhoun, who was positioning himself as Jackson's running mate in many states during the 1828 election.

The Adams's supporters in Congress (such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster), were quickly adopting the party name National Republicans (after Jackson's election they'll become known as the Whigs). They proposed a program of economic nationalism and included higher tariffs on imported manufactures. The Tariff of 1824, favored New England and Middle State manufacturers of woolen and cotton textiles and of metal goods. With Henry Clay's backing, Kentucky got protection of its hemp production. Other taxed items included sugar, molasses, coffee, and salt.

But Southerners and Westerners generally opposed high tariffs as European goods were often cheaper or at least competitive to domestic manufactures, and the Southern and Western states manufactured little and imported much. Campaigning against the tariff in the off-year 1826 election, Democratic-Republicans (the Jacksonians) gained control of Congress. This showed the political power of the tariff issue.

Because the Congressional sentiment seemed to favor protectionism, Calhoun hatched a plan whereby Jacksonian supporters everywhere could claim victory and advance Jackson's presidential prospects during the 1828 election year. The plan called for outrageously high duties on the importation of raw materials used by New England industries. New England Jacksonians could claim to support a higher tariff, since this would be their measure, thus undercutting the National-Republicans issue. Southern and Western Jacksonians would band together with New England National Republicans (who Calhoun counted on to favor cheap imports of raw materials needed in their factories) to defeat the measure. But it was an overly complex plan that relied on many politicians behaving as Calhoun predicted they would.

John Randolph saw clearly Calhoun's intent and denounced the proposed legislation. The law, he said, "referred to manufactures of no sort or kind but the manufacture of a President of the United States."

However the plan, much like Clay's bank rechartering scheme of 1832, backfired. New York Democrat Martin Van Buren came out in favor of the bill as did many New England National Republicans. Both proposed even higher and more extensive duties. All of which passed as the Tariff of 1828. And because the tariffs were so high, the whole law became known as "abominations."


Calhoun then found himself in the difficult position of arguing against the measure that he fathered. He anonymously wrote the South Carolina Exposition and Protest to explain southern opposition to the tariff and promoted the doctrine of nullification. South Carolina would agitate around this issue for the next three years eventually provoking Jackson to the point of war (see the Nullification Crisis).

Calhoun's plan, though, did have the desired effect of inspiring Jacksonian supporters as the Tariff of Abominations became a major election year issue in 1828, propelling Jackson into the White House.