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(This is part I of The Nullification Crisis)

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There is a fine irony to Calhoun's plight in the Jackson administration, for Calhoun was now in the midpassage from his early phase as a War Hawk nationalist to his later phase as a state's-rights sectionalist-- and open to thrusts on both flanks. Conditions in his home state has brought on this change. Suffering from agricultural depression, South Carolina lost almost 70,000 people to emigration during the 1820s and was fated to lose nearly twice that number in the 1830s. Most South Carolinians blamed the protective tariff, a series of taxes placed on imports, which tended to raise the price of manufactured goods. Insofar as the tariffs discouraged the sale of foreign goods in the United States, they reduced the ability of British and French traders to acquire American money and bills of exchange with which to buy American cotton. This worsened already exisiting problems of low cotton prices and exhausted lands. Compounding the South Carolian's malaise was a growing reaction against the North's criticism of slavery. Hardly had the country emerged from the Missouri controversy when Charleston was thrown into panic by the Denmark Vesey slave insurrection of 1822, though the Vesey plot was put down before it got very far.

The unexpected passage of the Tariff of 1828 (called the "Tariff of Abominations" by its critics) left Calhoun no choice but to join those in opposition or give up his home base. Calhoun's South Carolina Exposition and Protest(1828), written in opposition to that tariff, actually had been an effort to check the most extreme state's-rights advocates with a finespun theory in which nullication stopped short of secession from the Union. The unsigned statement accompanied resolutions of the South Carolina legislature porestesting the tariff and urging its repeal. Calhoun, it was clear, had not entirely abandoned his earlier nationalism. He wanted to preserve the Union by preserving minority rights that the agricultural and slaveholding South claimed. The fine balance he struck between states'-rights and central authority was actually not as far removed from Jackson's own philosophy as it migh tseem, but growing tension between the two men would complicate the issue. The flinty Jackson, in addition, was determined to draw the line at any defiance to federal law.

Nor would Calhoun's theory permit any state to take up such defiance lightly. The procedure of nullification or interposition, whereby a state could interpose state authority and in effect repeal a federal law, would follow that by which the original thirteen states had ratified the Constitution. A special state convention, like the ratifying conventions embodying the soverign power of the people, could declare a federal law null and void within the state's borders because it violated the Constitution, the original compact among the states. One of the two outcomes could be possible. Either the federal government would have to abandon the law, or it would have to get a constitutional amendment removing all doubts as to its validity. The main issue was the constitutionality of a tariff mainly to protect American industries against foreign competition. The South Carolinians argued that the Constitution authorized tariffs for revenue only.

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