Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South: A Rhetoric of Defense

By W. Stuart Towns | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Nullification: South Carolina Versus the Union

During the second decade of the nineteenth century, the new American nation struggled to preserve its independence. The War of 1812 helped to reaffirm America's political freedom, but its economic independence was far from assured. In 1816, Congress first adopted the concept of a protective tariff, as part of Henry Clay's American System, in order to nurture the newly developing industries in the northeast. At first, much of the leadership in the southern states warmly endorsed the concept, and the South, indeed the whole nation, strongly accepted the idea of nationhood.

Even that early, though, there were some southern voices crying out against the concept of protectionism. John Randolph of Roanoke asserted during the debates in 1816, that he "will not agree to lay a duty on the cultivators of the soil to encourage exotic manufactures; because, after all, we should only get much worse things at a much higher price, and we, the cultivators of the country, would in the end pay for all."1

The economic panic of 1819 led to calls for increased protection of the North's newly emerging industries. The following year, a higher tariff on imported manufactured goods was defeated. Pressure continued, and in 1824 the higher tariff gained sufficient support to move through Congress. Southern members of Congress argued that the national government could only tax to raise revenue--in their view, protective tariffs were therefore unconstitutional.

In 1828, Congress enacted the so-called Tariff of Abominations and the South truly felt financial pressure. Some argued that the tariff caused southern plantations to pay an average of 40 percent more for manufactured goods such as woolens for slave clothes, sugar, and iron products. In a famous speech, George McDuffie of South Carolina asserted that forty bales of cotton out of every 100 went to pay for increased costs to the southern cotton-grower, for the sole benefit of northern industry.

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