Podcast – The Nullification Crises

The Nullification Crises

Podcast – The Nullification Crises

From the Book:
A Short History of United States Politics – Book 1

The threat of secession arose several times prior to 1861, the first time during the Nullification Crises in the early 1800’s.

The idea of states resisting Federal laws by nullifying them had simmered since 1798 when Kentucky protested Congress enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The subject flared up briefly again in 1828 with the passage of the Tariff of 1828, but the issue once again faded away. John C. Calhoun wrote, and published anonymously, a pamphlet entitled “Exposition and Protest,” during the 1828 election while he was the vice presidential nominee with Andrew Jackson. Calhoun was a staunch backer of the nullification theory while Jackson was opposed. The issue would cause a serious political divide between the two men in years to come.

Calhoun used the pamphlet to explain his theories of nullification and present his arguments against the Tariff of 1828. He argued that since the federal government derived its power with the consent of the states, then states had the right to nullify any law Congress passed that the state deemed unconstitutional. He felt that the Tariff of 1828 was unconstitutional because it was used to protect certain industries in the United States, not to generate revenue. His opinion was that tariffs were legal as a revenue generator, however using them to protect one product while leaving others unprotected was unconstitutional. After publication, he presented it to the South Carolina legislature. Though the legislature had 5000 copies of the pamphlet printed and distributed, it took no legislative action on the ideas it expressed at the time. Even though he did not reveal that he had authored it, word did leak out.

The Tariff of 1828, also called the Tariff of Abominations, created an economic disaster for the southern states. The tariff imposed high duties on imported manufactured goods, which helped protect manufacturers in the north from foreign competition. For the southern states it imposed higher prices on the goods they needed. Since they sold the bulk of their cotton to foreign markets they found less demand for their product. The higher tariff had resulted in less need for Southern cotton for foreign mills because of the drop in their sales in the United States due to the tariff. In addition to this, some nations instituted a boycott of United States cotton in retaliation for the high tariffs. The economic decline led many southern states, especially South Carolina, to revisit the Nullification Theory after Calhoun, their chief ally, gained the vice presidency in 1832.

Congress passed a new tariff law in 1832, attempting to diffuse the smoldering revolt of the southern states, especially hardest hit South Carolina. President Andrew Jackson signed the act into law on July 13, 1832. The Tariff of 1832 did not repeal the previous law, which the southern states found so odious. It merely reduced the duties. The new tariff did nothing to alleviate the crises.

Many in South Carolina were still dissatisfied with the tariff. Resistance to it built in the state, prompting the South Carolina Assembly to pass an Ordinance of Nullification on November 24, 1832. In essence, the bill declared the tariff unconstitutional and that the legislature deemed it null and void. With this legislation, South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union over the tariff.

President Andrew Jackson responded to South Carolina’s Ordinance of Nullification by issuing a proclamation on December 10, 1832 that denied that states had a right to nullify any law passed by Congress. In his Proclamation, he warned, “Should the nullifiers succeed in their views of separation, and the Union be in consequence dissolved.”

The United States Congress responded to South Carolina’s affront to its authority by passing the Force Bill on March 2, 1833. The Force Bill included eight sections, five of which were the most important.
Section 1 authorized the President to use whatever force was necessary to secure ports and harbors and protect United States customs agents. It also provided authorization for the President to detain vessels and cargoes in order to enforce the collection of tariffs. Any attempt to obstruct the collection of tariffs was illegal and the President could use whatever force was necessary to collect the revenue.
Section 2 expanded federal court jurisdiction to cases involving the collection of import duties.
Section 3 allowed the President to use military force to deal with states, or regions within states, that resisted federal law or the federal courts.
Section 6 dealt with some state’s resistance to imprison persons convicted of federal charges. It authorized United States Federal Marshals to arrest and confine these persons.
Section 8 was a sunset clause that ended the Force Bill at the end of the next session of Congress.

Henry Clay proposed a compromise to avert the crises in early 1833. Vice President John C. Calhoun, keeping a low profile, worked with Clay and members of Congress to produce a compromise to the Tariff of 1828. The legislation they produced lowered tariffs that were above 20% to ten percent every two years. It also excluded many of the raw materials American manufacturers needed. This legislation passed Congress on March 2, 1833. The South Carolina assembly eventually accepted the new tariff and rescinded the Ordinance of Nullification. Thus, the question of succession was averted, however the issue of nullification and secession would continue to fester in the decades thereafter.

Henry Clay, alarmed at what he considered executive excesses performed by President Andrew Jackson, began efforts to form a new party to oppose him in 1833. From his perch in the United States Senate, he began hosting dinners attended by opponents of Jackson to formulate a strategy of opposing him. His threatened use of force to end the Nullification Crises coupled with his decision to remove all the United States’ deposits from the Bank of the United States led the so far loosely allied leaders to label Jackson as a near monarch with unlimited powers. They borrowed the Whig name from an earlier group of American’s that had opposed the policies of King George III. These American Whigs had in turn borrowed the name from the British Whig Party that had formed on their opposition to the absolute British monarchy.

The Whigs used the derisive name, “Tories,” because of their support for “King Andrew.” This loose coalition established itself in the Senate by taking control in December, 1833. Many historians date the beginning of the Whig party to this time. The Whig Party attracted many factions of the Anti-Masonic Party, the now defunct National Republican Party as well as some southern Democrats. The Whigs used the network built up by the Anti Masonic Party and the National Republicans to begin building a framework to field a candidate for the 1836 election. Henry Clay formed an important part of the leadership of this new party.

This story is excerpted from my book, A Short History of United States Politics Book 1, which is part of my United States History Series. You can find the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other online retailers in both ebook and softbound format. You can also find the book on my website, http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com. You can contact me at mossyfeetbooks@gmail.com
Thank you for listening.

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