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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Ordinance of Nullification
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[One chief cause of political disturbance in America was temporarily removed in the passage of the "Missouri Compromise" measure. Another remained, which was destined to produce no small sum of future trouble. It sprang from the same source as the other, the institution of slavery, and the diversity of interests that necessarily grew up between the free and the slave States. The tendency to territorial expansion, which was due to the exclusively agricultural interests of the cotton-raising States, and to the need of a market for their steadily- increasing slave property, was provided for, for the time being, by the one measure. The remaining cause of controversy was of a different character, and one which could be satisfactorily settled by no compromise. It became then, and to a great extent yet remains, the main controversial feature of American political parties, and is a source of difference of opinion which can be definitively removed only by the growth of a harmony of interests throughout America.

For a long period after the settlement of the American colonies their industries were mainly agricultural. The growth of commercial interests was restricted by English laws. The colonies were permitted to trade only with the mother-country, even their trade with one another being made illegal. And the products of America were largely carried in English ships. After the Revolution this state of affairs ceased to exist. The shipping interests of America rapidly extended, its commerce spread to all parts of the habitable world, and in the early years of the nineteenth century the business of importation and exportation grew with extraordinary rapidity.

Up to this period the main industries of America were in harmony. The excess products of the farm, the forest, and the mine needed a market, which could be found only in foreign lands. Articles of comfort and luxury were demanded in return, and these also had to be sought for abroad. The commercial population of America grew rich through this double duty of carrying home products abroad and bringing foreign products home. Tariff charges, or taxation of imports and exports, militated against both these interests, and were restricted to the absolute demands of revenue. The call for protection of American productive interests was as yet too feeble to be clearly heard.

Only very slowly did the manufacturing interests of the United States develop, and a home market for the products of mine, forest, and farm grow up. The restrictive policy of England had borne even more severely on this than on the commercial interest. During the long colonial period manufacturing industry languished, discouraged by these restrictions, and at the opening of the Revolution it was of minor importance as compared with the other industries of the country. The establishment of American independence removed the legal restrictions which had been imposed by the jealousy of English manufacturers, but there remained the influence of an overpowering competition. The vast capital, the abundant machinery, and the skilled labor of English workshops depressed,. by their unequal rivalry, the infant manufactures of America, the cost of ocean-transportation and the small duty-charges being insufficient to overcome the difference in advantages for production. There was no hindrance to the minor trades, which required labor on the spot, and iron and some other branches of general manufacture made some progress, but the competition was too severe for any rapid growth of the manufacturing industries on this side of the ocean.

The conditions attending the second war with Great Britain changed this state of affairs, and tended to the special encouragement of American manufactures. The commercial restrictions established by England and France, which cut off America from both its buying and its selling market, the embargo and non-intercourse acts, which intensified this difficulty, and the disturbance to commerce by the war that succeeded, had the tendency to force America to consume nearly all its products at home, and to produce by home labor, as fully as possible, the much- needed articles which had previously been received from the workshops of England and the Continent. As a consequence, the manufacturing interests of America grew and diversified with a rapidity that was in decided contrast with the slowness of their preceding development, and by the close of the war a marked and important advance had been made. The manufacture of cotton, for instance, increased from ten thousand bales in 1810 to ninety thousand bales in 1815, nearly enough iron was made to supply the country, and several other branches of manufacture were highly prosperous.

With the close of the war, however, competition again came into active play. The country was flooded with English goods, at a price and of a quality which American goods could not rival. The high rates of labor which followed the war added to the discrepancy in price, and many American manufacturers were ruined, while the remainder sustained themselves only with great difficulty. Congress was called upon to remedy the evil which had thus suddenly arisen. Protection of American industry against foreign competition became necessary, if our workshops were to continue in existence, and to the old party cries a new one was added, that of protective tariff.

Two interests, as we have seen, were opposed to this, those of agriculture and commerce. Neither these nor manufactures were at first such sectional interests as they later became. Pennsylvania was the State in which manufactures had most developed. Commerce was the leading pursuit farther north, and the tariff of 1816 was carried by the support of several Southern members against New England generally. Yet the rapid development in the South of agricultural industry, and the natural desire to obtain the cheapest goods in return for the products of their fields, without regard to whether they came from the North or from abroad, soon brought non-tariff into prominence as a Southern party principle. In the North opinion was more divided. Its shipping interest was large, and for the advancement of that low tariff seemed desirable. But its manufacturing interest was growing steadily more important, and for the rapid development of that a protective tariff had become a necessity.

That protection of manufactures against undue competition until grown strong enough to stand without support, and the consequent development on American soil of all the industries adapted to its people, climate, and natural conditions, were measures essential to the best good of the country, was theoretically undeniable. But theoretical considerations, and the question of future advantage, have very little to do with the management of human affairs. Men are governed by their present interests, in many cases even where wise enough to see that those interests are opposed to the present or future interests of mankind at large. A tariff controversy therefore at once arose, which developed into what has been denominated, a "thirty-year tariff war," since it extended from 1816 to 1846, during which period it was among the most prominent political questions of the country.

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. The crushing reply which Webster gave to this argument, and the remarkable ability with which he unfolded the principles of the constitutional government of the United States, had little effect on the discontented State, which two years afterwards passed an ordinance of nullification of the tariff laws. A brief account of the manner in which this act of rebellion was crushed by President Jackson we extract from the "Biographical Memoir of Daniel Webster," by Edward Everett, including in our selection a description of other vigorous measures adopted by the hard-headed "hero of New Orleans."]

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. The second administration of President Jackson, beginning in March, 1833, was mainly devoted to the war on the United States Bank, which had been begun by his veto of the bill to re-charter that institution.]

The removal of the deposits of the public moneys from the Bank of the United States [was] a measure productive of more immediate distress to the community and larger train of evil consequences than perhaps any similar measure in our political history. It was finally determined on while the President was on his Northern tour, in the summer of 1833, receiving in every part of New England those demonstrations of respect which his patriotic course in the great nullification struggle had inspired. It is proper to state that up to this period, in the judgment of more than one committee of Congress appointed to investigate its affairs, in the opinion of both Houses of Congress, who in 1832 had passed a bill to renew the charter, and of the House of Representatives, which had resolved that the deposits were safe in its custody, the affairs of the bank had been conducted with prudence, integrity, and remarkable skills. It was not the least evil consequence of the warfare waged upon the bank, that it was finally drawn into a position (though not till its Congressional charter expired and it accepted very unwisely a charter as a State institution) in which, in its desperate struggle to sustain itself, it finally forfeited the confidence of its friends and the public, and made a deplorable and shameful shipwreck at once of its interests and honor, involving hundreds, at home and abroad, in its own deserved ruin.

Edward Everett

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