The nullification crisis of 1832



The tariff bill of 1816 was a sort of compromise between the conflicting interests. A high duty was advocated on all goods which could unquestionably be produced in sufficient quantity in the United States. A bill was passed in which this classification of dutiable articles was adopted, but in which protection was admitted as an incidental feature only, and the raising of revenue made the predominant principle in calculating duties. With this compromise nobody was satisfied. New agitation at once began, and in 1820 a bill was passed by the House in favor of an openly protective system. This bill was rejected by the Senate. Yet the protectionists, who were steadily growing in power, would not let the question rest, while the North and the South became definitively divided on this measure, the latter losing its earlier division of sentiment and becoming decidedly in favor of low tariff.

With this change in opinions and national questions came a change in parties. With the end of the war the old Federal party had virtually passed out of existence. The Republican party, which became overwhelmingly predominant, now split into two new parties, the Democratic and the National Republican (which later became known as the Whig party), between which the country was for many years afterwards divided. The tariff for a considerable period remained the leading political problem. The depression of industries which followed the era of high prices and prosperity after the war gave the protectionists a strong weapon, of which they did not fail to make active use. In 1824 the question again became prominent before Congress. The plantation States were now unanimous in their opposition to the tariff measure, yet it passed both Houses by small majorities. In 1828 a new revision of the tariff was made in favor of protection. The fight had now become bitter. The general growth of manufacturing interests throughout the North had given the protectionists the balance of strength, and the free-traders, finding themselves powerless to gain their ends in Congress, began to indulge in treasonable language, claiming that individual States had the right to refuse to submit to laws which worked adversely to their interests.

It was particularly in South Carolina that this doctrine was advocated, and the power of a State to nullify, or to render null and void the operation of a Federal law, was openly advocated by hot-headed Congressmen of that State, who wished to apply this dangerous principle, which was but a step short of secession from the Union, to the tariff bill of 1828. Mr. Hayne of South Carolina, the opponent of Daniel Webster in the most famous oration of the latter, was an ardent advocate of this doctrine, and, while bitterly denouncing New England in that famous controversy, he openly urged on the floor of Congress the doctrine of "Nullification," claiming that any State when deeming itself oppressed by a law of Congress considered unconstitutional by the State legislature, had the right to declare this law null and void and to release its citizens from the duty of obedience.

IT may be stated as the general characteristic of the political tendencies of this period that there was a decided weakening of respect for constitutional restraint. Vague ideas of executive discretion prevailed on the one hand in the interpretation of the Constitution, and of popular sovereignty on the other, as represented by a President elevated to office by overwhelming majorities of the people. The expulsion of the Indian tribes from the Southern States, in violation of the faith of treaties and in open disregard of the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States as to their obligation; the claim of a right on the part of a State to nullify an act of the general government; the violation of the charter of the bank, and the Presidential veto of the act of Congress rechartering it; the deposit of the public money in the selected State banks with a view to its safe keeping and for the greater encouragement of trade by the loan of the public funds; the explosion of this system, and the adoption of one directly opposed to it, which rejected wholly the aid of the banks and denied the right of the government to employ the public funds for any but fiscal purposes; the executive menaces of war against France; the unsuccessful attempt of Mr. Van Buren's administration to carry on the government upon General Jackson's system; the panic of 1837, succeeded by the general uprising of the country and the universal demand for a change of men and measures,--these are the leading incidents in the chronicle of the period in question. .

In the Twenty-Second Congress (the second of General Jackson's administration) the bank question became prominent [the question of rechartering the Bank of the United States, founded in 1816, and whose charter would expire in 1836]. General Jackson had in his first message called the attention of Congress to the subject of the bank. No doubt of its constitutionality was then intimated by him. In the course of a year or two an attempt was made, on the part of the executive, to control the appointment of the officers of one of the Eastern branches. This attempt was resisted by the bank, and from that time forward a state of warfare, at first partially disguised, but finally open and flagrant, existed between the government and the directors of the institution. In the first session of the Twenty-Second Congress (1831-32) a bill was introduced by Mr. Dallas, and passed the two Houses, to renew the charter of the bank. This measure was supported by Mr. Webster, on the ground of the importance of a national bank to the fiscal operations of the government, and to the currency, exchange, and general business of the country. No specific complaints of mismanagement had then been made, nor were any abuses alleged to exist. The bank was, almost without exception, popular at that time with the business interests of the country, and particularly at the South and West. Its credit in England was solid; its bills and drafts on London took the place of specie for remittances to India and China. Its convenience and usefulness were recognized in the report of the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. McLane), at the same time that its constitutionality was questioned and its existence threatened by the President. So completely, however, was the policy of General Jackson's administration the impulse of his own feelings and individual impressions, and so imperfectly had these been disclosed on the present occasion, that the fate of the bill for rechartering the bank was a matter of uncertainty on the part both of adherents and opponents. Many persons on both sides of the two Houses were taken by surprise by the veto. When the same question was to be decided by General Washington, he took the opinion in writing of every member of the Cabinet.

But events of a different complexion soon occurred, and gave a new direction to the thoughts of men throughout the country. The opposition of South Carolina to the protective policy had been pushed to a point of excitement at which it was beyond the control of party leaders. Although, as we have seen, that policy had in 1816 been established by the aid of distinguished statesmen of South Carolina [Mr. Calhoun and others], who saw in the success of American cotton manufactures a new market for the staple of the South, in which it would take the place of the cotton of India, the protective policy at a later period had come to be generally considered unconstitutional at the South. A change of opinion somewhat similar had taken place in New England, which had been originally opposed to this policy, as adverse to the commercial and navigating interests. Experience gradually showed that such was not the case. The enactment of the law of 1824 was considered as establishing the general principle of protection as the policy of the country. It was known to be the policy of the great central States. The capital of the North was to some extent forced into new channels. Some branches of manufactures flourished, as skill was acquired and improvements in machinery made. The coarse cotton fabrics which had enjoyed the protection of the minimum duty prospered, manufacturing villages grew up, the price of the fabric fell, and as competition increased the tariff did little more than protect the domestic manufactures from fraudulent invoices and the fluctuation of foreign markets. Thus all parties were benefited, not excepting the South, which gained a new customer for her staple..

Unfortunately, no manufactures had been established in the South. The vast quantities of new and fertile land opened in the west of Georgia, in Alabama, and Mississippi, injured the value of the old and partly exhausted lands of the Atlantic States. Labor was drawn off to found plantations in the new States, and the injurious consequences were ascribed to the tariff. Considerations of a political nature had entirely changed the tolerant feeling which, up to a certain period, had been shown by one class of Southern politicians towards the protective policy. With the exception of Louisiana, and one or two votes in Virginia, the whole South was united against the tariff. South Carolina had suffered most by the inability of her worn lands to sustain the competition with the lands of the Yazoo and the Red River, and to her the most active opposition, under the lead of Mr. Calhoun, was confined. The modern doctrine of nullification was broached by her accomplished statesmen, and an unsuccessful attempt made to deduce it from the Virginia resolutions of 1798. Mr. Madison, in a letter addressed to the writer of these pages in August, 1830, firmly resisted this attempt; and, as a theory, the whole doctrine of nullification was overthrown by Mr. Webster in his speech of the 26th of January, 1830. But public sentiment had gone too far in South Carolina to be checked; party leaders were too deeply committed to retreat; and at the close of 1832 the ordinance of nullification was adopted by a State convention.

This decisive act roused the hero of New Orleans from the vigilant repose with which he had watched the coming storm. Confidential orders to hold themselves in readiness for active service were sent in every direction to the officers of the army and the navy. Prudent and resolute men were quietly stationed at the proper posts. Arms and munitions in abundance were held in readiness, and a chain of expresses in advance of the mail was established from the Capitol to Charleston. These preparations made, the Presidential proclamation of the 11th of December, 1832, was issued. It was written by Mr. Edward Livingston, then Secretary of State, from notes furnished by General Jackson himself; but there is not an idea of importance in it which may not be found in Mr. Webster's speech on Foot's resolution [the oration in reply to Hayne].

The proclamation of the President was met by the counter-proclamation of Governor Hayne; and the State of South Carolina proceeded to pass laws for carrying the ordinance of nullification into effect, and for putting the State into a condition to carry on war with the general government. In this posture of affairs the President of the United States laid the matter before Congress, in his message of the 16th of January, 1833, and the bill "further to provide for the collection of duties on imports" was introduced into the Senate, in pursuance of his recommendations. Mr. Calhoun was at this time a member of that body, having been chosen to succeed Governor Hayne, and having of course resigned the office of Vice-President. Thus called, for the first time, to sustain in person before the Senate and the country the policy of nullification, which had been adopted by South Carolina mainly under his influence, and which was now threatening the Union, it hardly need be said that he exerted all his ability and put forth all his resources in defence of the doctrine which had brought his State to the verge of revolution. It is but justice to add that he met the occasion with equal courage and vigor. The bill "to make further provision for the collection of the revenue," or "Force Bill," as it was called, was reported by Mr. Wilkins from the Committee on the Judiciary on the 21st of January, and on the following day Mr. Calhoun moved a series of resolutions affirming the right of a State to annual, as far as her citizens are concerned, any act of Congress which she may deem oppressive and unconstitutional. On the 15th and 16th of February he spoke at length in opposition to the bill, and in development and support of his resolutions. On this occasion the doctrine of nullification was sustained by him with far greater ability than it had been by General Hayne, and in a speech which we believe is regarded as Mr. Calhoun's most powerful effort. In closing his speech Mr. Calhoun challenged the opponents of his doctrines to disprove them, and warned them, in the concluding sentence, that the principles they might advance would be subjected to the revision of posterity.

His speech was answered by Mr. Webster in a vigorous constitutional argument, concerning whose power and effect we may quote from Mr. Madison: "It crushes `nullification,' and must hasten an abandonment of `secession.'" It will suffice to say here, in conclusion of this subject, that the passage of the Force Bill, and the energetic preparations of the President, deterred the nullifiers. The President had declared in his proclamation that as chief magistrate of the country he could not, if he would, avoid performing his duty; that the laws must be executed; that all opposition to their execution must be repelled, and by force, if necessary. That Jackson meant all that he said no one for a moment questioned, and South Carolina hastened to "nullify" her hostile action, though still loudly advocating her favorite doctrine of "State rights."

The tariff difficulty, which had led to this controversy, was for the time quieted by another "compromise bill," offered by Henry Clay. This provided for the gradual reduction of duties till 1843, when they were to reach a general level of twenty per cent. This bill was accepted by Calhoun and his friends as a practical concession to their doctrines, and as enabling them to retire with some dignity from the discreditable attitude into which they had forced their State.





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