The theory of nullification, that since the U.S. federal government's power came from the states, then a state had the right to nullify a federal law, caused a lot of conflict in the antebellum American South.

In 1832, the state of South Carolina (under the leadership of John C. Calhoun) decided to nullify a protective tariff that had been passed by the federal government, because that tariff on imported goods protected the industries in the northern states but placed an economic penalty on the South which imported more goods from Europe than from the North. President Andrew Jackson, though a Southerner by birth, threatened to send in the U.S. Army to collect the tariff money on imports. (The bill to do so passed the Senate because most of the nullifier politicians had already walked out of the Senate.) Politician Henry Clay negotiated a lowering of the tariff in exchange for the dropping of the nullification by the state (which followed up with the pointless act of nullifying the bill which would have allowed the Federal government to send in troops).

The idea of nullification and that the state was more important than the federal government also made the Southern state more receptive to the idea of secession, which they threatened to do several times in the next few decades before finally doing so in 1860-1861 to form the Confederate States of America.

Nul`li*fi*ca"tion (?), n. [L. nullificatio contempt. See Nullify.]

The act of nullifying; a rendering void and of no effect, or of no legal effect.

Right of nullification (U. S. Hist.), the right claimed in behalf of a State to nullify or make void, by its sovereign act or decree, an enactment of the general government which it deems unconstitutional.


© Webster 1913.

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