The Nullification Crisis

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    Were the tariffs that sparked the Nullification Crisis unconstitutional under and original interpretation of the Constitution? If so, how could one formulate a clear, concise argument against their constitutionality.

    A history teacher at my High School was teaching about the Nullification Crisis and when the students were asked to list reasons why what Jackson did was good or bad at that time, they all focused on the effects of the tariff and no one even raised the question of constitutionality.


    South Carolina claimed the Tariff of 1828 and subsequent tariff of 1832 were unconstitutional because they violated the premise that taxes should benefit the “general welfare” of the Union as a whole (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1). They were clearly intended to enrich certain interests while unnecessarily burdening the South. Revenue tariffs were not and are not unconstitutional, but protective measures were and are because they are a form of targeted welfare and thus do not benefit and burden all states equally.


    Thanks Mr. McClanahan!


    James Madison opposed Nullification because he knew that the reasons he had pushed for Congress to be given power to regulate trade with foreign countries included his desire that Congress should be able to protect select domestic industries. In other words, although he believed that the tariff laws were unduly interventionist, he insisted they were constitutional. For a full account of Madison’s thinking about these questions, from the 1770s to his death in 1836, please consult my JAMES MADISON AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA.

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