Bill Bennett

 Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Bill Bennett’s latest book, America: The Last Best Hope, released today. The book can be purchased here.

South Carolina was in turmoil over what it called the "Tariff of Abominations 1828." The Constitution did not permit the federal government to tax exports. South Carolinians and other planter aristocrats would never have signed the document if it had. But tariffs—taxes on imports—could prove onerous for an agriculture-based economy. They had to import many of their machines and nearly all their luxuries.

As planters and slaveholders, they expected Jackson to side with them against the "Tariff of Abominations of 1828" that Congress had approved in 1828. Vice President Calhoun had not-so-anonymously penned his famous "Exposition and Protest of 1828." In that document, Calhoun went beyond the positions staked out by Madison and Jefferson in their Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. Calhoun argued that when a state’s rights were violated by the federal government, the state had a right to nullify the offending federal law and prevent its enforcement within the borders of the state. If that failed, Calhoun clearly implied, the state had a right to leave the Union.

Thus, secession, the logical end result of nullification, began seriously to be argued by slaveholders. The South was, to be sure, not the only section that had argued for secession. High Federalists had toyed with it in New England during the War of 1812. Westerners had from time to time threatened it. But this was the first time disunion was incorporated into a serious political philosophy.

Bill Bennett

Bill Bennett is the author of Our Country's Founders .

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