The Tariff of 1828 (Tariff of Abominations) had been passed by Congress to protect Northern industry; but was damaging to Southern states whose economy was primarily agricultural. Southern statesmen, primarily John C. Calhoun, argued that Congress did not have the power to pass a tariff for protection; but could only do so for revenue purposes. Southerners also feared that if the Tariff were allowed to stand, the next debate would be over the abolition of slavery, which was vital to the Southern economy.
It was in response to the Tariff of 1828 that Calhoun anonymously published his South Carolina Exposition and Protest which said the individual states could by called convention declare acts of Congress null and void within its their particular borders. Calhoun resigned as Vice President and ran for the Senate from South Carolina. Shortly thereafter, in a called convention, South Carolina attempted to nullify the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832.
Andrew Jackson, then President, immediately saw this as a threat to the Union itself. It was as a result of this controversy that he issued his famous Nullification Proclamation in which he said nullification of a Federal Law by a state was:
incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle for which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.
He also urged the people of South Carolina not to listen to leaders such as Calhoun:
The laws of the United States must be executed....Those who told you that you might peaceably prevent their execution deceived you; they could not have been deceived themselves....Their object is disunion.
The dispute raised by the Tariff of 1828 was then a serious threat to the survival of the Union. It was in response to the Tariff debate that Jackson made his famous toast: "Our federal union. It must be preserved." Not to be outdone, Calhoun returned the toast by stating:
The Union, next to our liberty the most dear! May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights the States and distributing equally the benefit and the burden of the Union.