South Carolina Exposition and Protest

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The South Carolina Exposition and Protest, also known as Calhoun's Exposition, was written in December 1828 by John C. Calhoun, then vice president under John Quincy Adams and later under Andrew Jackson. Calhoun did not formally state his authorship at the time, though it was known.

The document was a protest against the Tariff of 1828, also known as the Tariff of Abominations. The document stated that if the tariff was not repealed, South Carolina would secede. It stated also Calhoun's Doctrine of nullification, i.e., the idea that a state has the right to reject federal law, first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.

Events leading to the document

After the final vote on the Tariff of 1828, the South Carolina congressional delegation held two caucuses, the second at the home of Senator Robert Y. Hayne. They were rebuffed in their efforts to coordinate a united Southern response and focused on how their state, by itself, would react. While many agreed with George McDuffie that tariff policy could lead to secession at some future date, they all agreed that as much as possible the issue should be kept out of the upcoming presidential election. John C. Calhoun, while not at this meeting, served as a moderating influence. He did not feel that the first step in reducing the tariff was to defeat Adams and his supporters in the upcoming election. William C. Preston, on behalf of the South Carolina legislature asked Calhoun to prepare a report on the tariff situation. Calhoun readily accepted this challenge and in a few weeks time had a 35,000 word draft of what would become his "Exposition and Protest".[1][2]

Fearful that "hotheads" such as McDuffie might force the legislature into taking some drastic action against the federal government, Calhoun’s aimed for a more measured process:


Calhoun’s “Exposition” was completed late in 1828. In it, Calhoun argued that the tariff of 1828 was unconstitutional because it favored manufacturing over commerce and agriculture. The tariff power, he felt, could only be used to generate revenue, not to provide protection from foreign competition for American industries. He believed that the people of a state or several states, acting in a democratically elected convention, had the retained power to veto any act of the federal government which violated the Constitution. This veto, the core of the doctrine of nullification, was explained by Calhoun in the Exposition:

The report also detailed the specific southern grievances over the tariff that led to the current dissatisfaction. ”[5]


On December 19, 1828, the report was presented to the South Carolina State House of Representatives, which had five thousand copies of it printed and distributed. The presidential election had occurred, and John Quincy Adams had been defeated by Andrew Jackson. Calhoun, who still had designs on succeeding Jackson as president, was not identified as the author but word on this soon leaked out. The legislature took no action on the report at that time.[6]

In 1832, as Vice President under Jackson, Calhoun went public with these ideas, during the Nullification Crisis. He resigned in 1832 in protest against Jackson's continuing support of the 1828 tariff.


  1. Niven, John. John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union , pg. 135-137 (1988) ISBN 0-8071-1451-0
  2. Freehling, William W., Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Crisis in South Carolina 1816-1836, pg 143, (1965) ISBN 0-19-507681-8
  3. Niven pg. 161
  4. South Carolina Exposition and Protest
  5. Niven pg. 158-162
  6. Niven pg. 163-164