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John C. Calhoun, South Carolina Exposition and Protest, 1828

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John C. Calhoun influenced national policy in numerous elected and appointed positions for forty years. A skilled and brilliant orator, Calhoun initially was known as a fervent nationalist. During his first term as vice president in 1824, Calhoun became disillusioned with President John Quincy Adams’s policies matters such as high tariffs and internal improvements. Calhoun saw Adams’s policies as enhancing the scope of the national government at the expense of the interests of states, such as his native South Carolina. In 1828, Congress enacted and Adams signed the protectionist Tariff of 1828, known in the South as the “Tariff of Abominations.” The tariff benefited manufacturing and commercial interests in the northern states because the new high taxes increased the price of foreign-made goods. Southerners feared it would harm foreign manufacturers, resulting in a trade war that would damage the agricultural South, which depended on exporting its raw materials. In response, Calhoun anonymously authored the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, a lengthy document in which he argued for what he believed would restore the powers of the states to their proper dignity in the Constitution’s design of federalism. Thousands of copies of the pamphlet were printed and distributed across the state, and Calhoun submitted his reasoning to a committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

Sourcing Questions

  1. What event provoked the South Carolina Exposition and Protest?
  2. Who wrote the South Carolina Exposition and Protest?
  3. Why did he write the document anonymously?
  4. Who was the intended audience for the document?

Vocabulary Text
duty (n): tax, especially a tax on imported or exported goods

revenue (n): money that government collects to pay public expenses
The Committee [after study of the evidence presented has reached] an unanimous opinion, that the Act of Congress of the last session, with the whole system of legislation imposing duties on imports, not for revenue, but for the protection of one branch of industry, at the expense of others, is unconstitutional, unequal and oppressive; calculated to corrupt the public morals, and to destroy the liberty of the country. . . .
conversant (adj): familiar If it be conceded, as it must by every one who is the least conversant with our institutions, that the sovereign power is divided between the states and general government, and that the former holds its reserved rights, in the same high sovereign capacity, which the latter does its delegated rights; it will be impossible to deny to the states the right of deciding on the infraction of their rights, and the proper remedy to be applied for the correction. . . .
The Senate and House of Representatives of South Carolina, now met and sitting in general assembly, through the Honorable Wm. Smith and the Hon. Robert Y. Hayne, their Representatives in the Senate of the United States, do, in the name and on behalf of the good people of the said Commonwealth, solemnly protest against the system of protecting duties, lately adopted by the Federal Government, for the following reasons:
delegate (v): to entrust

unwarrantable (adj): unjustifiable
1st. Because the good people of this Commonwealth believe, that the powers of Congress were delegated to it, in trust for the accomplishment of certain specified objects which limit and control them, and that every exercise of them, for any other purposes, is a violation of the Constitution as unwarrantable as the undisguised assumption of substantive, independent powers not granted or expressly withheld. . . .
principal object: main goal

perversion (n): twisting; misapplication

federal purposes only: actions that benefit the whole nation, rather than only a narrow category of people
3d. Because they believe that the Tariff Law passed by Congress at its last session, and all other acts of which the principal object is the protection of manufactures, or any other branch of domestic industry . . . and to apply the money raised to objects not specified in the Constitution, is a violation of these fundamental principles, a breach of a well defined trust and a perversion of the high powers vested in the Federal Government for federal purposes only. . . .
peculiar institutions: a euphemism for slavery; this is one of the early uses of the term 8th. Finally, because South Carolina from her climate, situation, and peculiar institutions, is, and must ever continue to be, wholly dependent upon agriculture and commerce, not only for her prosperity, but for her very existence as a state—because the valuable products of her soil . . . are among the very few that can be cultivated with any profit by slave labor—and if by the loss of her foreign commerce, these products should be confined to an inadequate market, the fate of this fertile state would be poverty and utter desolation . . .
perpetuate (v): to make permanent

encroachment (n): threat

precedent (n): example from the past
Deeply impressed with these considerations, the Representatives of the good people of this Commonwealth, anxiously desiring to live in peace with their fellow citizens and to do all that in them lies to preserve and perpetuate the Union of the States and the liberties of which it is the surest pledge, but feeling it to be their bounden duty to expose and resist all encroachments upon the true spirit of the Constitution, lest an apparent acquiescence in the system of protecting duties should be drawn into precedent, do in the name of the Commonwealth of South Carolina, claim to enter upon the Journals of the Senate their protest against it as unconstitutional, oppressive, and unjust.

Comprehension Questions

  1. According to this argument, the Tariff of 1828 was unconstitutional because of its purpose. What is the difference between a tariff whose purpose is to raise revenue to pay for public expenses, and a tariff whose purpose is to protect domestic industry from foreign competition?
  2. In this passage, what power does the author maintain that state governments have?
  3. How did the South Carolina legislature convey its message to the U.S. Congress?
  4. According to this passage, do the people of South Carolina believe Congress’s enactment of the Tariff of 1828 failed to accomplish what the people needed, or that Congress was exercising more power than the Constitution allows?
  5. Why might the people of South Carolina have objected to a law that protects domestic industry from foreign competition?
  6. In what ways does the author explain that South Carolina’s economic situation was unique?
  7. To what extent is this statement a vague threat of secession?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 provides the taxing power to Congress: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” For what purpose is Congress permitted to impose taxes?
  2. Name some specific principles the author may have had in mind in writing that the tariff law is a “violation of these fundamental principles.”
  3. What does the author mean by the “true spirit of the Constitution?”
  4. What action does the author of the South Carolina Exposition and Protest want his listeners to take?

South Carolina Exposition and Protest, 1828

Political Dissent: A Global Reader: Ancient to Early-Modern Sources, Lexington Books, 2012 edited by Derek Malone-France, pages 236 and following