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Nullification Crisis

The Era of the Common man stood as a high mark in the fight for state’s rights. Jackson, who was strongly against an over powered central government felt that efforts should be taken to reduce the federal government to benefit the states. However, Jackson also felt that nothing was more important than maintaining the stability of the union. While many people supported Jackson, other states, especially those affected by the tariff of abominations, believed that the states had the power to over turn unconstitutional rulings. This led to one of the most potentially dangerous times in America, the Crisis of Nullification.

The infamous “Tariff of Abominations” was a black spot in the eyes of the southern states and the cause of most of their rivalry with the north. There was significant backing behind the south’s outrage. The tariff’s actions stagnated the cotton and agricultural economy and made trade, both interstate and national, difficult. In addition, the land used for farming in most southern states was beginning to failing in crop production and many felt that action had to be taken to stop the tariff. The Carolinas were the strongest advocates against the tariff and they went as far as to having a convention on whether to secede from the union.

John Calhoun, the vice president of Jackson, was a native of South Carolina and felt sympathy with his fellow men. However, instead of promoting separation, he suggested that they fight for the state power to nullify any law that the states felt unconstitutional. This revolutionary idea, intended never to actually be used, existed to put pressure on congress to pass only the most necessary and vital laws.

In 1830, a debate broke out over a policy on the prevention of land being purchased in the west. Normally this would not have been such a grate issue, but both Daniel Webster, a senator from Massachusetts, and Robert Hayne, a South Carolina Senator, used the argument brought up by Thomas Benton, which claimed that the proposal only aided the tyrannical Northeast, to win power for their own section. Webster used his speeches in the debate to attack not only Hayne, but also Calhoun as well claiming that the union, above all things, was the most important.

Clearly, by the time of Jackson’s reelection it was evident that he and Calhoun stood very separate on the topic of nullification. Many states, especially the most militant, South Carolina, were moving towards secession, but Calhoun tried to promote nullification instead. To protect the stability of the union, Jackson had congress pass the Force Bill, which gave the president the right to use the military to enforce a law. Jackson then marched several troops into Charleston and surrounded the ports with naval ships. The quickly deterred the idea of secession, but in one last symbolic action, the states nullified the Force Bill.

As one can see, the idea of nullification was dangerous. If allowed states could easily destroy the central government and eventually led to the type of secession that the Carolinas moved for. Had it not been for Jackson’s desire for a stable union, the United States might have had a civil war. However, the strong hatred towards the federal government that many state advocates felt still remained alive.

Note: This is an original work and should be cited if used.

The idea of nullification was a response to the Tariff of Abominations (or the Tariff of 1828) led by vice-president John C. Calhoun. Under Calhoun's leadership the South had dug a hole, fallen into it, and pulled the dirt in over itself. Here in the next few days, I will explore in detail exactly how this issue was dealt with and how it was "resolved".

Table of Contents

Calhoun's Theory
The Webster - Hayne Debate
The Rift With Calhoun
The South Carolina Ordinance
Jackson's Firm Response
Clay's Compromise


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