Tariffs were made possible the U.S. Constitution and the first piece of legislation ever enacted by Congress was a tariff, passed on July 4, 1789. A tariff provided both revenue to the federal government and protection for local manufacturers against low-cost imports. As a result of the Embargo and the War of 1812, more items began to be produced domestically and demand for their protection increased. Accordingly, the Tariff of 1816 gave some protection and, as demands continued, the Tariff of 1824 raised rates and extended the applicability of the list of items.
Agitation for still more protection continued, and in particular New England textile manufacturers pressed Congress and the administration for higher protective measures, arguing that British woolens were being dumped on American markets at artificially low prices. Western support for increases could be obtained only by agreeing to include an increase on duties for the importation of certain raw materials. When the West was accommodated, the New Englanders objected. The South under any circumstance was opposed to protectionism. In short, no one was really pleased with the 1828 Â“tariff of abominations.Â"
John Quincy Adams reluctantly signed the tariff measure, fully realizing he was being made a scapegoat by his political enemies. This measure effectively ended his hopes for reelection. Little thought was given to vetoing the tariff; the inclination of the early presidents was to exercise that power only for matters of dubious constitutionality.
The Tariff of 1828 had been purposely drafted to make Andrew Jackson appear as a free trade advocate in the South and as a protectionist in the North.
After enactment of this measure, Southern cotton producers became deeply alarmed when they learned of British threats to seek other markets, given that the cost of American cotton had become so high. South Carolina declared the Tariff of 1828 and its more moderate successor, the Tariff of 1832, to be null and void and not binding on the state or its citizens. To placate the South, yet another tariff was adopted in 1833, calling for a gradual reduction in rates.
What is a tariff? Also see tariff table summary.