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   Chapter 19 THE TARIFF OF ABOMINATIONS AND THE SOUTH CAROLINA EXPOSITION (1827- 1828)

Rise of the New West, 1819-1829 By Frederick Jackson Turner Characters: 26856

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


While the slavery agitation was inflaming the minds of South Carolina and her sister states of the cotton region, and while Georgia, half a frontier state, was flinging defiance at the general government when it checked her efforts to complete the possession of her territory, the reopening of the tariff question brought the matter of state resistance to a climax.

The tariff of 1824 was unsatisfactory to the woolen interests. In the course of the decade there had been an astonishing increase of woolen factories in New England, [Footnote: See chap. ii., above.] and the strength of the protective movement grew correspondingly in that section. By a law which took effect at the end of 1824, England reduced the duty on wool to a penny a pound, and thus had the advantage of a cheap raw material as well as low wages, so that the American mills found themselves placed at an increasing disadvantage. Under the system of ad valorem duties, the English exporters got their goods through the United States custom-house by such under valuation as gravely diminished even the protection afforded by the tariff of 1824; and the unloading of large quantities of woolen goods by auction sales brought a cry of distress from New England. This led to an agitation to substitute specific duties in place of ad valorem, and to apply to woolens the minimum principle already applied to cottons. At the same time sheep-raisers were demanding increased protection.

Early in 1827, therefore, Mallory, of Vermont, a state which was especially interested in wool-growing, brought into the House of Representatives a report of the committee on manufactures, proposing a bill which provided three minimum points for woolen goods, with certain exceptions, those that cost less than 40 cents a square yard were to be rated as though they cost 40 cents in imposing the tariff; those which cost between 40 cents and $2.50 were reckoned at $2.50; and those which cost between $2.50 and $4, at $4. Upon unmanufactured wool, after 1828, a duty of forty per cent, was imposed, and all wool costing between 10 and 40 cents a pound was to be rated at 40 cents. [Footnote: Stanwood, Tariff Controversies, I., 255.]

The political situation exercised a dominant influence upon the tariff legislation at this time. As the campaign between Adams and Jackson was approaching its end, the managers of Jackson faced the problem of how to hold together the forces of the south, which were almost to a man opposed to tariff legislation, and those of Pennsylvania and New York, where protection was so popular. Jackson himself, as we have seen, announced his belief in the home-market idea, and, although with some reservations, committed himself to the support of the protective system.

While the forces of Jackson were not harmonious on the tariff, neither was there consistency of interests between the friends of protection in New England, the middle states, and the west. If New England needed an increased tariff to sustain her woolen factories, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and parts of New York were equally interested in extending the protection to wool, the raw material of the New England mills. If the New England shipping interests demanded cheap cordage, on the other hand, the Kentucky planters were ever ready to plead for an increased duty upon the hemp which made the ropes. If iron foundries were developing among the towns of the New England coast, where ships brought in the raw material from Sweden and from England, the Pennsylvania forges found an opposite interest in their desire for an increased duty on pig-iron to protect the domestic product.

The history of the tariff has always been the history of the struggle to combine local and opposing interests into a single bill. Such conditions furnished opportunity for the clever politicians who guided Jackson's canvass to introduce discordant ideas and jealousy between the middle states, the west, and New England. The silence of the New England president upon the question of the tariff, the "selfishness of New England's policy," and the inducements offered to the middle region and the west to demand protection for their special interests were all successfully used to break the unity of the tariff forces. Even protectionist Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, home of the champion of the American system, gave a large share of their votes against the bill. Although it passed the House (February 10, 1827), the Senate laid it on the table by the casting-vote of Vice-President Calhoun, who was thus compelled to take the responsibility of defeating the measure, [Footnote: See the account of Van Buren's tactics at this time, in Stanwood, Tariff Controversies, I., 258; and Calhoun, Works, III., 47.] and to range himself permanently with the anti-tariff sentiment of his section.

Hardly had the woolens bill met its fate when the rival forces began to reorganize for another struggle. From the south and from the shipping interests of New England came memorials in opposition to the tariff and in support of the theory of free-trade. [Footnote: Am. State Papers, Finance, V. passim.] At a convention which met in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 30, 1827, a hundred delegates from thirteen states met to promote the cause of protection. Finding it necessary to combine the various interests, the convention recommended increased duties both upon wool and woolen goods, and the establishment of the minimum system. This combination was made possible by the proposal of effectively counterbalancing the prohibitory duties on wool by such use of the minimum device as would give a practical monopoly of the American market to the domestic manufacturers in the class of goods in which they were most interested. To conciliate other sections, the convention adopted the plan of an additional duty on hammered bar-iron, hemp and flax, and various other products. [Footnote: Stanwood, Tariff Controversies, I., 264; Niles' Register, XXXII., 369, 386, XXXIII., 187; Elliott, Tariff Controversy, 239.]

When the twentieth Congress met, in December, 1827, Stevenson, of Virginia, defeated the administration candidate, Taylor, of New York, for the speakership, and both branches of Congress and the important committees were put in the hands of the opposition to Adams. Rejecting the plan of the Harrisburg Convention, the House committee brought in a bill framed to satisfy the producers of raw material, wool, hemp, flax, and iron, and to deny the protection desired by New England. [Footnote: Taussig, Tariff Hist., 89-92; Dewey, Financial Hist. of the U.S., 178-181.] Protection was afforded to raw material even where the producers did not seek it; and in some important cases high duties were imposed on raw material not produced in this country. The essential point of the provision respecting woolens favored by the Harrisburg Convention was the fixing of four minimum points, but the committee on manufactures interposed between the minimum of 50 cents and that of $2.50 a minimum of $1, which effectively withdrew protection from the woolen goods most largely manufactured in New England. Moreover, the committee refused to establish the increasing rate of duty asked for at Harrisburg.

Calhoun afterwards explained the attitude of the southern representatives as follows: [Footnote: Calhoun, Works, III., 49; cf. Houston, Nullification in S. C., 34, for similar explanations by Mitchell and McDuffie; Clay, Works (Colton's ed.), II., 13; Jenkins, Wright, 53.] Having before them the option of joining New England in securing amendments satisfactory to the section, or, by resisting all amendment, to force New England to join with the south in rejecting the bill, which would involve Adams in the responsibility for its defeat, they chose the latter alternative. Assurances were given them by Jackson men that the two tariff interests would not be united by mutual concession in the last stages of the discussion to insure the passage of the bill; and so the south consistently threw its weight against the passage of amendments modifying this designedly high tariff. "We determined," said McDuffie later, "to put such ingredients in the chalice as would poison the monster, and commend it to his own lips." At the same time the Jackson men in Pennsylvania, New York, and the west shifted their votes so as to deprive New England of her share in the protective system. When an amendment was proposed, striking out the duty on molasses-an article essential to the rum distilleries of New England, but obnoxious to the distillers of whiskey in Pennsylvania and the west- -Pennsylvania and a large share of the delegation from Ohio, New York, Indiana, and Kentucky voted with most of the south against the amendment. On the motion to substitute the proposals of the Harrisburg Convention with respect to wool and woolens, almost all of the delegation of Pennsylvania, and a large portion of that of New York and Kentucky, as well as the members from Indiana and Missouri and the south, opposed the proposition. Thus the interests of the seaboard protectionists were overcome by the alliance between the middle states and the south, while the west was divided.

Bitter as was the pill, it was swallowed by enough of the eastern protectionists to carry the act. The vote, 105 to 94, by which the measure passed in the House [Footnote: See map.] (April 22, 1828) showed all of the south in opposition, with the exception of certain districts in Maryland and the western districts of Virginia, while the great area of the states of the Ohio Valley and the middle region was almost a unit in favor. The lower counties of New York along the Hudson revealed their identity with the commercial interests by opposing the bill. New England broke in two; Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut voted almost unanimously in favor of the proposition; while Maine cast a unanimous vote in opposition. Rhode Island was divided, and in Massachusetts only two districts- that of the Berkshire wool-growing region and the Essex county area- -supported the bill.

In the Senate, an amendment was passed making the duty on woolens an ad valorem rate of forty-five per cent., but retaining the minima. Various considerations induced some New England friends of Adams to support the measure. Webster defended his action in voting for the bill by declaring that New England had accepted the protective system as the established policy of the government, and after 1824 had built up her manufacturing enterprises on that basis. Nevertheless, in the final vote in the Senate, the five northern members who opposed were all from New England.

Thus the "tariff of abominations," shaped by the south for defeat, satisfactory to but a fraction of the protectionists, was passed by a vote of 26 to 21 in the Senate, May 13, 1828, and was concurred in by the House. John Randolph did not greatly overstate the case when he declared that "the bill referred to manufactures of no sort or kind, but the manufacture of a President of the United States"; for, on the whole, the friends of Jackson had, on this issue, taken sides against the friends of Adams, and in the effort to make the latter unpopular had produced a tariff which better illustrated sectional jealousies and political intrigues than the economic policy of the nation. [Footnote: Register of Debates, 20 Cong., I Sess., IV., pt. ii., 2472; Niles' Register, XXV., 55-57, analyzes the votes to show the political groupings; cf. Taussig, Tariff History, 101, 102.]

The tariff agitation of 1827 and the passage of the act of 1828 inflamed the south to the point of conflagration. John Randolph's elevation of the standard of revolt in 1824 now brought him credit as the prophet of the gospel of resistance. "Here is a district of country," he had proclaimed, in his speech on the tariff in that year, "extending from the Patapsco to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Allegheny to the Atlantic; a district… which RAISES FIVE-SIXTHS of all the exports of this country that are OF HOME GROWTH…. I bless God that in this insulted, oppressed and outraged region, we are as to our counsels in regard to this measure, but as one man. We are proscribed and put to the ban; and if we do not feel, and feeling, do not act, we are bastards to those fathers who achieved the Revolution." [Footnote: Annals of Cong., 18 Cong., I Sess., II., 2360.]

It was South Carolina, rather than Virginia, however, that led in violent proposals. [Footnote: Houston, Nullification in S. C.] Dr. Cooper, an Englishman, president of South Carolina College, had long been engaged in propagating the Manchester doctrines of laissez- faire and free-trade, and he was greeted with applause when he declared that the time had come to calculate the value of the Union. [Footnote: Niles' Register, XXXIII., 59+] Agricultural societies met to protest and to threaten. Turnbull, an aggressive and violent writer, in a stirring series of papers published in 1827, under the title of The Crisis, over the signature of Brutus, sounded the tocsin of resistance. He repudiated the moderation and nationalism of "Messrs. Monroe and Calhoun," and stood squarely on the doctrine that the only safety for the south was in the cultivation of sectionalism. "In the Northern, Eastern, Middle, and Western States," said he, "the people have no fears whatever from the exercise of the implied p

owers of Congress on any subject; but it is in the SOUTH alone where uneasiness begins to manifest itself, and a sensitiveness prevails on the subject of consolidation." "The more NATIONAL and the less FEDERAL the government becomes, the more certainly will the interest of the great majority of the States be promoted, but with the same certainty, will the interests of the SOUTH be depressed and destroyed."

On their return from the session of 1828, the South Carolina delegation added fuel to the fire. In a caucus of the members, held shortly after the passage of the tariff, proposals were even made for the delegation to vacate their seats in Congress as a protest, and in this temper they returned to their state. [Footnote: Niles' Register, XXXV., 184, 202.] McDuffie told his constituents that there was no hope of a change of the system in Congress; that the southern states, by the law of self-preservation, were free to save themselves from utter ruin; and that the government formed for their protection and benefit was determined to push every matter to their annihilation. He recommended that the state should levy a tax on the consumption of northern manufactured goods, boycott the live-stock of Kentucky, and wear homespun; and he closed by drawing a comparison between the wrongs suffered by the colonists when they revolted from Great Britain and that by which the south was now oppressed. [Footnote: Niles' Register, XXXIII., 339; cf. ibid., XXXV., 82, 131.]

Although South Carolina and all of the staple-producing section except Louisiana and Kentucky were in substantial agreement upon the iniquity of the tariff, yet, in respect to the remedy, they were widely at variance. Protest had proven ineffective; proposals of resistance by force, plans for a southern convention, and threats of disunion were rife. [Footnote: Houston, Nullification in S.C., 49- 52, 73-75.]

Such was the situation which confronted Calhoun when he returned from Washington and found that his section had passed beyond him. The same considerations that had aroused this storm of opposition also had their effect upon him. But he was still hopeful that, by the election of Jackson, a cotton-planter, the current of northern power might be checked; and he looked forward also to the prospect that he himself might eventually reach the presidential chair. Before him lay the double task of uniting himself to his friends in South Carolina, lest he lose touch with the forces of his own section, and of framing a platform of opposition that should be consistent, logical, and defensible; and, at the same time, of providing some mode of avoiding the forcible revolution that the hotheads of his section threatened as an immediate programme.

It was by the very processes of western growth that the seaboard south now found itself a minority section and the home of discontent. As the rich virgin soil of the Gulf plains opened to cotton culture, the output leaped up by bounds. In 1811 the total product was eighty million pounds; in 1821 it was one hundred and seventy-seven millions; in 1826 it was three hundred and thirty millions. Prices fell as production increased. In 1816 the average price of middling uplands in New York was nearly thirty cents, and South Carolina's leaders favored the tariff; in 1820 it was seventeen cents, and the south saw in the protective system a grievance; in 1824 it was fourteen and three-quarters cents, and the South-Carolinians denounced the tariff as unconstitutional. When the woolens bill was agitated in 1827, cotton had fallen to but little more than nine cents, and the radicals of the section threatened civil war.

Moreover, the price of slaves was increased by the demands of the new cotton-fields of Alabama, Mississippi, and the rest of the southwest, so that the Carolina planter had to apply a larger capital to his operations, while, at the same time, the cheap and unexhausted soil of these new states tended still further to hamper the older cotton areas in their competition, and the means of transportation from the western cotton-fields were better than from those of South Carolina. By devoting almost exclusive attention to her great staple, South Carolina had made herself dependent on the grain and live-stock of the west and the manufactures of the north or of England; and, when the one crop from which she derived her means of purchasing declined in value, the state was plunged in unrelieved distress. Nevertheless, the planters of the old south saw clearly but two of the causes of their distress: the tariff, which seemed to them to steal the profits of their crops; and internal improvements, by which the proceeds of their indirect taxes were expended in the west and north. Their indignation was also fanned to a fiercer flame by apprehensions over the attitude of the north towards slavery.

In the summer of 1828, Calhoun addressed himself to the statement of these grievances and to the formulation of a remedy. After consultation with leading men in his home at Fort Hill, he was ready to shape a document which, nominally a report of a legislative committee (since it was not expedient for the vice-president to appear in the matter), put in its first systematic form the doctrine of nullification. This so-called Exposition, [Footnote: Calhoun, Works, VI., 1-59.] beginning with the unconstitutionality and injustice of protection, developed the argument that the tax on imports, amounting to about twenty-three million dollars, fell, in effect, solely on the south, because the northern sections recompensed themselves by the increased profits afforded to their productions by protection; while the south, seeking in the markets of the world customers for its staples, and obliged to purchase manufactures and supplies in return, was forced to pay tribute on this exchange for the benefit of the north. "To the growers of cotton, rice, and tobacco, it is the same whether the Government takes one-third of what they raise, for the liberty of sending the other two-thirds abroad, or one-third of the iron, salt, sugar, coffee, cloth and other articles they may need in exchange for the liberty of bringing them home."

Estimating the annual average export of domestic produce at fifty- three million dollars, the Exposition attributed to the planting section at least thirty-seven million dollars-over two-thirds of the total exports; the voting power of this section in the House of Representatives was but seventy-six, while the rest of the Union had one hundred and thirty-seven members. Thus, one-third of the political Union exported more than two-thirds of the domestic products. Assuming imports to equal exports, and the tariff of 1828 to average forty-five per cent., the south would pay sixteen million six hundred and fifty thousand dollars as its share of contributions to the national treasury. Calhoun then presented the ominous suggestion that, if the staple section had a separate custom-house, it would have for its own use a revenue of sixteen million six hundred and fifty thousand dollars from foreign trade alone, not counting the imports from the north, which would bring in millions more.

"We are mere consumers," he declared, "the serfs of the system-out of whose labor is raised, not only the money paid into the Treasury, but the funds out of which are drawn the rich rewards of the manufacturer and his associates in interest."

Taking for granted that the price at which the south could afford to cultivate cotton was determined by the price at which it received its supplies, he argued that, if the crop could be produced at ten cents a pound, the removal of the duty would enable the planter to produce it at five and one-half cents, and thus to drive out competition and to add three or four hundred thousand bales annually to the production, with a corresponding increase of profit. The complaints of the south were not yet exhausted, for the Exposition went on to point out that, in the commercial warfare with Europe which protection might be expected to engender, the south would be deprived of its market and might be forced to change its industrial life and compete with the northern states in manufactures. The advantages of the north would probably insure it an easy victory; but if not, then an attack might be expected on the labor system of the south, in behalf of the white workmen of the north.

What, then, was the remedy? Calhoun found this, although in fragmentary form, ready to his hand. The reserved rights of the sovereign states had long been the theoretical basis of southern resistance. In the argumentation of such writers as Taylor, Turnbull, and Judge Roane, not to mention Madison and Jefferson in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, there was material for the system; but as yet no one had stated with entire clearness the two features which Calhoun made prominent in his Exposition. First, he made use of reasoning in sharp contrast to that of the statesmen of the days of the American Revolution, by rejecting the doctrine of the division of sovereignty between the states and the general government. [Footnote: McLaughlin, in Am. Hist. Rev., V., 482, 484.] Clearly differentiating government from sovereignty, he limited the application of the division to the powers of government, and attributed the sovereignty solely to the people of the several states. This conception of the unity of sovereignty was combined with the designation of the Constitution as articles of compact between sovereign states, each entitled to determine whether or not the general government had usurped powers not granted by the Constitution, and each entitled peacefully to prevent the operation of the disputed law within its own limits, pending a decision by the same power that could amend the Constitution-namely, three-fourths of the states.

These doctrines were brought out with definiteness and with the deliberate intention of creating from them a practical governmental machinery to be peacefully applied for the preservation of the rights of the states. In effect, therefore, Calhoun, the logician of nationalism in the legislation that followed the War of 1812, became the real architect of the system of nullification as a plan of action rather than a protest. As it left his hands, the system was essentially a new creation. In the Exposition, the doctrine was sketched only in its larger lines, for it was in later documents that he refined and elaborated it. It was intended as a substitute for revolution and disunion-but it proved to be the basis on which was afterwards developed the theory of peaceable secession. Calhoun did not publicly avow his authorship or his adhesion to nullification until three years later.

The rallying of the party of the Union in South Carolina against this doctrine, the refusal of Georgia, Virginia, and other southern states to accept it as the true exposition of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, the repudiation of it by the planting states of the southwest, all belong to the next volume of this series.

Yet the Exposition marks the culmination of the process of transformation with which this volume has dealt. Beginning with nationalism, the period ends with sectionalism. Beginning with unity of party and with the almost complete ascendancy of republicanism of the type of Monroe, it ends with sharply distinguished rival parties, as yet unnamed, but fully organized, and tending to differ fundamentally on the question of national powers. From the days when South-Carolinians led in legislation for tariff and internal improvements, when Virginians promoted the Colonization Society, and Georgians advocated the policy of mitigating the evils of slavery by scattering the slaves, we have reached the period when a united south protests against "the American system," and the lower south asserts that slavery must not be touched-not even discussed.

In various southern states the minority counties of the coast, raising staples by slave labor, had protected their property interests against the free majority of farmers in the interior counties by so apportioning the legislature as to prevent action by the majority. Now the same conditions existed for the nation. The free majority embraced a great zone of states in the north and west; the south, a minority section, was now seeking protection against the majority of the Union by the device of state sovereignty; and Calhoun made himself the political philosopher of the rights of this minority section, applying to the nation the experience of South Carolina. [Footnote: Calhoun. Works, I., 400-405.]

Still the great currents of national growth ran on. New England was achieving unity and national feeling as a manufacturing region, and Webster was developing those powers which were to make him the orator of consolidation. While the leaders of the middle states played the game of personal politics, their people and those of the growing west were rallying around the man who personified their passion for democracy and nationalism-the fiery Jackson, who confused sectional opposition to the government with personal hostility to himself. This frontiersman was little likely to allow political metaphysics, or even sectional suffering, to check his will. And on the frontier of the northwest, the young Lincoln sank his axe deep in the opposing forest.

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