Nullification, as it pertains to legislation, denotes the synthesized condition under which a law or governmental decree is rendered null and void within the boundaries of a particular state. One of the most famous implications of nullification in the United States occurred in 1832 during a situation that came to be known as the Nullification Crisis. The importance of this instance of nullification is evidenced through the implied possibility of succession involved with the description of current conditions expressed in the Ordinance of Nullification, which represented the government of South Carolina, and in effect the people thereof. The protective tariffs of America during the time of this crisis favored the economic development of the North and effectively hindered the economy of the South. This unwelcomed hindrance displeased Southerners as displayed by John C. Calhoun in his pro-nullification manuscript entitled “The North Carolina Exposition”. The ensuing nullification crisis created an air of disunity in the United States as is evidenced by the actions of Vice President John C. Calhoun, the actions of President Andrew Jackson, and the responses of South Carolinians to the Tariff of 1828 and its resulting nullification. These differences in opinion pitted Americans of the North directly against Americans of the South as is described by historian Hubert H. Bancroft in his book, “The Great Republic by Master Historians”.
John C. Calhoun, a prominent nationalist and vice president under the centralized government of the Jackson Administration, distanced himself from the President after the Peggy Eaton affair during which his wife played an integral part. The Peggy Eaton affair pitted Jackson against Calhoun, and resulted in his eventual resignation. Calhoun, who in the opinion of historian Richard E. Ellis was already increasingly becoming a state’s rightist, now openly defied Jackson. He aided the nullification act’s passing in the South Carolina legislature, promoted military preparations to defend South Carolina against tariff enforcement, and was among the supporters of succession if Washington attempted to collect taxes by force. Jackson was of the opinion summed up in his quote, “Our Union: it must be preserved!” Whereas, Calhoun held the notion described in his retort to the President, “The union, next to our liberty, most dear!”
The President’s nationalistic and unionist views are evidenced in his comments on the situation in South Carolina. Jackson is quoted as saying, “The vain threats of resistance by those who [in South Carolina] have raised the standard of rebellion shrew their madness and folly…In forty days, I can have within the limits of South Carolina fifty thousand men…The Union will be preserved!” Jackson’s military background is also evidenced in his continued responses to the Carolinians. According to historian William H. Freehling, Jackson’s anger towards the present situation was so insatiable that he reportedly threatened to have the nullies, including his former Vice President, hanged. The President, however, did make good on his comments regarding military action. He dispatched military and naval reinforcements to South Carolina, and gathered together a sizeable army in the event that conflict occurred. Although, despite the threats and military preparations of the national government, the people of South Carolina continued to practice nullification.
The South Carolina populace also reacted to the recent events, which culminated in nullification. In protest to the tariff of abominations, people of South Carolina began wearing improperly fitting garments of homespun, and untaxed, cloth to avoid commercial interaction with the North. Some Carolinian nullification supporters even began to clothe their slaves in broadcloth to further assert their capacity for commercial independence from the North. These nullies, as they were called, proudly displayed their palmetto ribbons on their hats in support of their state’s actions as they battled against the Unionists for riddance of the abominable tariffs. The majority of people in South Carolina were of the opinions expressed by Calhoun in his publications and oration, as is evidenced by the two-thirds majority vote victory of the nullies in the elections of 1832. This majority vote solidified the state’s course of action and sent it on a collision course with Andrew Jackson.
The nullification crisis created an air of disunity in the United States as is evidenced by the actions of Vice President John C. Calhoun, the actions of President Andrew Jackson, and the responses of South Carolinians to the Tariff of 1828 and its resulting nullification. These differences in opinion pitted Americans of the North directly against Americans of the South as is described by historian Hubert H. Bancroft in his book, “The Great Republic by Master Historians”. During the nullification crisis, the idea of succession was raised for one of the first times. Although, it would prove to be far from the last time that the strength of the union would be tested. In the end, however, the tariffs were reduced, nullification was ended, and both sides claimed victory. Jackson avoided an armed clash and induced the South Carolinians to repeal their ordinance of nullification and because of their actions, the people of South Carolina effectively reduced tariff and gained most of their concessions.
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