The early United States was an agricultural country with import tariffs at a low 5%. As Northern industrialism grew by 1808, the next 24 years saw the protective tariff as the most contentious debate in Congress. Anti-tariff leaders argued that protective duties were ultimately paid by consumers in the form of higher prices for manufactured products, and thus more oppressive for Southern consumers, who received no compensating benefits, than for northern consumers, who enjoyed higher incomes.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
No Treason in Resisting Oppression
“Jackson and Calhoun differed almost as much on governmental policies as on constitutional principles. In 1828 the Vice-President was vehemently against the protective tariff and mildly in favor of the national bank. The President, as did [Martin] Van Buren, mildly approved of the tariff and detested the bank.
Calhoun considered the tariff a crucial issue because he regarded the conflict between North and South as the overriding national problem. But Jackson was more disturbed by the monster bank because he was distressed about the capitalists and stock jobbers who supposedly made profits by spewing forth paper money instead of producing a material product. The President was determined to stop rich, moneyed interests from using government funds to secure paper profits at the expense of the people.
The early ideological differences between Calhoun and Jackson became particularly evident on the question of distributing the federal surplus to the States after the national debt was paid. Jackson vigorously favored distribution; Calhoun adamantly opposed it.
For Jackson, retiring the debt, and thereby stopping the moneyed interests from employing the peoples’ funds, was an important end in itself. For Calhoun, on the other hand, retiring the debt was only a means of lowering the tariff. Once the debt was repaid, expanding federal surpluses would force the government to cut taxes. But if the surplus was distributed, the federal government would retain an excuse for high tariffs. Distribution would destroy the reason for repayment.
To Jackson, equal division [of the surplus] meant division according to population. But Calhoun considered distribution according to population completely unequal. The majority North would continue to drain away the wealth of the minority South. Jackson’s distribution would institutionalize the worst evils of Adams’ nationalism.
The increasing tension between Calhoun and Jackson became blatantly public at the April 13, 1830, Jefferson Day dinner. Glaring at Calhoun, signaling the boisterous crowd to rise, the President toasted “Our Federal Union – It must be preserved!” [Calhoun’s] reply, when it came, was an anticlimax: “The Union – Next to our liberties most dear.”
Moments later, George McDuffie was more blunt: “The memory of Patrick Henry: the first American statesman who had the soul to feel, and the courage to declare, in the face of armed tyranny, that there is no treason in resisting oppression.”
(Prelude to War, the Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836; William W. Freehling, Harper & Row, 1965, excerpts pp. 190-192)