It is said that the tariff was the most contentious issue in the United States between 1808 and 1832, and this exploded with South Carolina threatening tariff nullification in that latter year. This was settled with Congress steadily lowering tariffs. Economist Frank Taussig wrote in 1931 that by 1857 the maximum duty on imports had been reduced to twenty-four percent and a relative free trade ideal was reached, due to Southern pressure. He also noted that the new Republican-controlled Congress increased duties in December 1861 and that by 1862 the average tariff rates had crept up to 47.06%.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
No Submission to Northern Manufacturers
“South Carolina had opposed the tariff from the earliest days of the republic. The very first Congress, in 1789, had included a group of Carolina representatives known as “anti-tariff men.” When the Washington administration sponsored a mild import measure, Senator Pierce Butler of the Palmetto State brought the charge that Congress was oppressing South Carolina and threatened a “dissolution of the Union, with regard to that State, as sure as God was in his firmament.”
The tariff of 1816, passed in a wave of American national feeling after the War of 1812, found six out of ten Carolina members voting against the bill. John C. Calhoun and the other three members who supported the measure were severely censured at home.
Almost the entire South opposed the tariff of 1824. The spreading domain of King Cotton now had a well-defined grievance: the Northeast and the Northwest were uniting to levy taxes on goods exchanged for exported cotton; their protective tariff policy, and concomitant program for internal improvements, was benefiting their entire section at the expense of the South.
The policy protected New England [cotton] mills and furnished funds for linking the seaboard States of the North with the new Northwest by means of canals and turnpikes. The Southern planters paid the bills: they were forced to buy their manufactured supplies in a high market and their chief article of exchange, cotton, had fallen from thirty cents a pound in 1816 to fifteen cents in 1824. In addition, the internal improvements program offered them no compensation; the rivers took their cotton to the shipping points.
When the “Tariff of Abominations” passed in 1828, all the Southeastern and Southwestern members of the house opposed it, except for three Virginians. In the Senate, only two Southerners supported “the legislative monstrosity.”
The opposition to Northern tariff policy was most vociferous in the Palmetto State. [English-born South Carolinian Thomas Cooper presented] Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy (1826) and other writings of the period [which] receive credit for doing much toward shaping opinion on the tariff.
In 1827, he told Senator Martin Van Buren of New York that if [Henry Clay’s] American system were pushed too far, the Carolina legislature would probably recall the State’s representatives from Washington.
Seven years after [Cooper’s] arrival in the Palmetto State, he made the famous declaration that it was time for South Carolina “to calculate the value of the Union.” This historic utterance of July 2, 1827, gave rise to shocked expressions of horror, even among some Carolina hotheads, but it had been indelibly burned into the thinking of a generation. It had a habit of cropping out down through the years. Webster and Hayne both alluded to it during their famous debate.
An English traveler, stopping at Columbia . . . in 1835, had the opportunity to hear Cooper expressing his opinions and to observe the attitude of those who surrounded the strong-minded college president [of South Carolina College]. After this occasion, he noted in his diary:
“I could not help asking, in a good-natured way, if they called themselves Americans yet; the gentleman who had interrupted me before said, “If you ask me if I am an American, my answer is No, Sir, I am a South Carolinian.” [These men] are born to command, it will be intolerable to them to submit to be, in their estimation, the drudges of the Northern manufacturers, whom they despise as an inferior race of men. Even now there is nothing a Southern man resents so much as to be called a Yankee.”
(Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, Rollin G. Osterweis, LSU Press, 1949, excerpts, pp. 139-141)