What is Wilkins Bill?

Wilkins Bill, also known as the Force Bill of 1833, was passed in response to the 1832-1833 nullification crisis between the federal government and the state of South Carolina. This was a severe crisis with vice-president John C. Calhoun having resigned June 1832 in protest. The different sides were preparing for full-scale battle as this letter from Joel Roberts Poinsett on Feb. 22nd, 1833, a former U.S. Rep and former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, states:

"I do not think therefore I over estimate the force of the Union party in the city at One thousand men. I should be much disappointed not to find this number, at least, at their rendevous in case of an alarm. The Nullifiers estimate their force in the City at 1600 men. We consider our strength equal to theirs here. In the State they report 16,000 Volunteers." - Source

He conviction later won him appointment to the position of U.S. Secretary of War under president Martin van Buren.

"It is rumoured, that if they do secede, which I verily believe they will do if the enforcem't law passes and the tariff is not modified ... I have addressed a circular to the Union members of the state convention urging them not to join that body in any act violating the constitution of the united states and not to go to the convention at all. This storm may yet pass off and not burst upon us, but we will be prepared to encounter and to resist it like men." - Source

South Carolina had earlier on passed the Ordinance of Nullification enumerating the reasons for secession (read here).

President Andrew Jackson wrote in inaugural address on March 1st, 1833:

"For myself, when I approach the sacred volume and take a solemn Oath to support and defend this constitution, I feel in the depths of my soul, that it is the highest, most sacred and most irreversible part of my obligation, to preserve the union of these states, although it may cost me my life." - Source

The day afterwards on March 2nd, 1833, Wilkins Bill was passed, named after William Wilkins, a Jacksonian ally representing Pennsylvania who proposed the bill in the senate.

William Wilkins, legislator, lawyer & judge. Source 

Later becoming Secretary of War as Poinsett, he generally supported Jacksonian principles during his varied career as a federal judge, U.S. Senator, U.S. Minister to Russia, U.S. Representative and Cabinet member. For example, during his tenure in Tyler's cabinet, he supported western expansionism.


His bill empowered the president to enforce the laws of the United States with regard to commerce and especially tariffs in the ports of South Carolina, whose leading politicians opposed the measures because they were designed to protect New England manufacturing interests (Source). There inspiration for this form of resistance came from the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions authored by certain founding fathers.

William Hendricks, a senator of Indiana, wrote at the time:

Commentary on the Tariff & Wilkins Bill. Source

"A crisis had indeed arisen, and it would have been, inconsistent with duty, to stand still, and see the revenue officers of the General Government delicacy, fall victims, to the military power of South Carolina, already organized for that purpose. That state must abandon her position, or there must be consequences the most unpleasant." - Source 


The passage of this bill essentially provided Jackson with the power to enforce the collection of the taxes regarding imports/exports, but Congress lowered the tariffs in a successful plot to avoid the implementation of the contents of this "Force" Bill.



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