The nullification crisis was a sectional crisis between the federal government of the United States of America and the state of South Carolina. It occurred during the presidential reign of Andrew Jackson. The federal government passed the Tariff of 1828 and the Tariff of 1832, two acts which had an adverse economic impact on South Carolina. As such, the state government protested the decision, but the central government refused to repeal them. So, the Ordinance of Nullification was issued by the state, which declared these laws null and void within the boundaries of the state. This is what led to the crisis.
What Was the Nullification Crisis?
The state government of South Carolina tried to bypass the laws of the national government, giving rise to what is known as the nullification crisis. The South believed that the nation was a loose confederation of states with a weaker federal government and strong state governments. As such, South Carolina declared that the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional, as they believed that the power of the state outstripped the power of the federation.
The state was primarily rural and agrarian, with few urban areas. It also had abundant stores of natural resources and raw materials, but hardly any industry to exploit them. So, the Northern states, which had several industries at that time, took away all these resources and produced finished goods. South Carolina didn't wish to pay protective tariffs, as they didn't receive any money from the northern states for the natural resources which South Carolina supplied.
The state protested, claiming that the tariffs were discriminatory, and that the goods which the federal government wanted to protect didn't need any protection. Several of these protected products were needed in South Carolina, and they believed that such laws were beneficial for the northern states. As such, the state proclaimed that these tariffs were null and void.
What Caused the Nullification Crisis
In the 1820s, South Carolina was mostly an agrarian state. The aim of the Tariff of 1828 was to protect the American manufacturing industry, for which the federal government imposed a tax on imported goods. As South Carolina had to import most of its finished products, the tax increased prices of manufactured goods. Moreover, the tax was also responsible for reducing exports of agricultural goods, since now they were diverted to American industries. The people of South Carolina were angered by these two factors and hoped that President Andrew Jackson would solve this crisis.
However, the president did not take any steps in this regard. On the other hand, John C. Calhoun, the then-vice president, supported the idea of the right of the states to nullify federal laws. This made the president take note, and so he got the Tariff of 1832 passed, but it was not enough to satisfy the people of South Carolina. Thus, the Ordinance of Nullification was passed in a state convention.
The president dispatched seven naval vessels to South Carolina in response to this crisis, besides strengthening federal forces present in the state. He proclaimed that if the state did not pay taxes, it would be treated as treason. A force bill, which sanctioned the use of the federal army to enforce tariffs, started to be drafted. In the meantime, Henry Clay, a senator, realizing the consequences of such a conflict, initiated a new bill. This bill proposed to reduce the tariffs in phases over 10 years.
The bill which Henry Clay proposed was passed on March 1, 1833. Even though other southern states were not happy with the previous bills, they didn't support the defiance shown by South Carolina. As it didn't have the support of other southern states, and a compromise worked out, the state repealed the Ordinance of Nullification and accepted the latest tariffs.
Thus, the nullification crisis was an important event in the history of the United States of America. The previous doctrine of the right of a state to nullification was rejected and the federal government reigned supreme. This precedent has been followed since, and no attempt by any state to nullify federal laws has ever been successful.