The Nullification Crisis

Set in Charleston, South Carolina in 1832, this VOXPOP revolves around the question of nullifying the Tariff of 1828. Students take on the roles of Laborers, Plantation Owners, Abolitionists, Northerners and Merchants. After being introduced to the situation, students work with other members of their group to define their values.

Students then debate and vote on how South Carolina should handle three main issues:

Finance - How can we save South Carolina’s economy?

Law - How do we keep South Carolina safe?

Power - Who controls South Carolina: the federal government, or the state?

At the end of the VOXPOP, an epilogue video lays out what actually happened.


Our role-plays take roughly 60-90 minutes for a class to play through. To run the role-play over multiple days, use the link VOXPOP will send you to re-open your session.

You should create a different session for each class that you intend to use this role-play with.

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The VOXPOP software will deliver this content to students during the role-play. Use this outline to familiarize yourself with the content of the scenario, the roles students will be assigned and the choices they will be asked to make.


Students: 6 to 50

Running Time: 70-90 minutes (the role-play can be broken into multiple sessions)

Teacher Guide: Nullification Teacher Walkthrough PDF


This video provides historical context.


Students are assigned to the following groups:

Plantation Owner

Plantation Owners feel trapped by a new federal tariff that helps the North and hurts the South. They say that the tariff is unconstitutional, and we should ignore it!


Merchants say that ignoring the tariff breaks federal law. This could start a civil war!


Northerners say that every state makes sacrifices to be part of the union. States can't ignore federal laws; if they did, the country would fall apart!


Laborers fear the growing unrest between Black and White people in South Carolina. They worry that another slave rebellion will wipe out life as they know it.


Abolitionists say that the tariff is only an excuse: what Plantation Owners really care about is slavery. They fear that if the state ignores the federal tariff now, they'll ignore future federal laws against slavery.


These videos will provide students with more detailed background on specific issues.

How should we save South Carolina's economy?
Proposals students consider:

Buy Local Goods

Encourage Carolinians to buy only Southern goods.


Declare the tariffs unconstitutional and stop paying them. S.C. will reject a federal law but remain part of the union.

How do we keep South Carolina safe?
Proposals students consider:

More Arrests in Charleston

Demand more law enforcement to punish small crimes like loitering and public drunkenness.

Stop Citizen's Arrests

Deny civilians the power to arrest or detain another person if they see them committing a crime.

Who should get the final say: the federal government, or the state?
Proposals students consider:

Build a South Carolina Army

Unlike the S.C. militia, which can be commanded by the president, the new army will only be controlled by the state.

Stop Jailing Black Sailors

The federal government commanded us to stop jailing Black sailors because it violates a trade agreement with Britain.


A short video that lets students know what really happened.


Here are a few suggested discussion questions to pose at the end of the role-play.  Please feel free to use your own.

  • How much power should the federal government have?

  • What responsibility do regular citizens have to uphold or enforce the law?



Jenny Lim

Mattia Romeo

Greg Trefry

Testing & Evaluation

Camillia Matuk

Talia Hurwich


William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, Oxford University Press, 1966.


Library of Congress

National Gallery of Art

Wikimedia Commons

Special Thanks

Tamara Gordon

Julie Grindstaff

Mordecai Moore

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