Vermont citizens, concerned that American goods were not selling well because of foreign competition, sent this memorial to Congress in 1842. The signers supported a protective tariff, or import tax, with the aim of making domestic goods more attractive to consumers.
The dispute over tariffs was rooted in states’ rights: The doctrine of nullification asserted that states could invalidate federal laws within their borders when they believed the federal government had overstepped its authority. South Carolina had attempted to employ this prerogative in reaction to protective tariffs passed in 1828 and 1832, precipitating the so-called nullification crisis. In response, Congress passed and President Andrew Jackson signed the Tariff of 1833, also known as the Compromise Tariff of 1833, gradually reducing tariffs through 1842. The law placated Southern states’ objections to protective tariffs on imports, which they felt benefitted the northern manufacturing industries at the expense of their agricultural economy. The Vermont memorialists countered that the 1833 tariff directly affected their industries. “We respectfully, but most earnestly, entreat of Congress,” they wrote, “to at once enter upon the consideration of such a system . . . as will ensure adequate protection to our manufacturers and mechanicks [sic], a home market to our farmers, and true, and not merely nominal, independence to all.” This memorial and similar memorials were referred to the House Committee on Manufactures and contributed to the enactment of H.R. 547, also known as the Tariff of 1842, which reinstated the protective tariffs.