What is the Nullification Crisis?

James Doehring

The Nullification Crisis of 1832 involved the United States government wanting to enforce tariffs and South Carolina’s authority to nullify such laws. The tariffs of 1828 and 1832 had particularly negative economic implications for the state of South Carolina. When it became clear the tariffs would not be repealed, the state issued the Ordinance of Nullification, which declared both tariffs null and void within its boundaries. A new compromise tariff was issued in 1833, averting a possible confrontation between federal and South Carolinian troops.

The nullification crisis arose due to South Carolina's rejection of certain tariffs enforced by the U.S. government.
The nullification crisis arose due to South Carolina's rejection of certain tariffs enforced by the U.S. government.

During the economic downturn in the 1820s, South Carolina was mostly agricultural. The Tariff of 1828 was designed to protect American industries by imposing a tax on goods imported from other countries. This drove up prices of manufactured goods in South Carolina. It also reduced the amount of agricultural exports other countries bought from the United States. This law agitated citizens in South Carolina, who in turn looked to President Andrew Jackson to resolve the issue.

President Andrew Jackson equated the failure to pay tariffs with treason.
President Andrew Jackson equated the failure to pay tariffs with treason.

The president did not take action to repeal the tariff, but his vice president, John C. Calhoun, supported states’ rights to nullify these kinds of laws. The issue dominated state politics, and some factions began advocating nullification of the Tariff of 1828. The Tariff of 1832 turned out to be milder than the previous one, but was not enough to satisfy the citizens of the state. A state convention passed the Ordinance of Nullification on 24 November 1832, rendering both tariffs void within the state’s borders.

Andrew Jackson responded to the Nullification Crisis by dispatching seven naval vessels to the coast of South Carolina and strengthening federal fortifications in the state. He insisted that failure to pay the taxes of the tariffs would be tantamount to treason. A force bill was drafted that authorized the use of federal soldiers to enforce the tariff in the state. Meanwhile, Senator Henry Clay recognized the escalating conflict and initiated a new tariff bill that had the tariffs gradually taper off over a period of 10 years.

The Force Bill and Clay’s Compromise Tariff of 1833 were both passed on 1 March 1833. Though upset at the previous tariffs, other Southern states did not support South Carolina’s defiance of federal laws. The Ordinance of Nullification was soon repealed by South Carolina, and the latest tariff was accepted. The crisis did result in a reduced tariff, but the doctrine of states’ rights to nullification had been rejected.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@DentalFloss, The nullification crisis' significance was that events like it were also influential to the way that the government enforces things even to the present; these days many arguments still exist in government about the way that things become law, whether they be state or federal; though I do not imagine that a modern president would send naval ships to a state's coastline if its citizens refused to pay a tariff.


Issues like these are some of the lesser-known things which led to the Civil War. While the stereotypical, easy answer for the Civil War's cause was slavery, the reality for many of the people of the southern states at the time was the importance of state rights over federal rights. For people with these feelings, events such as the tariff of 1832 and Nullification Crisis gave them the feeling that war was the only way to achieve what they felt was necessary.

Post your comments
Forgot password?