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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Calhoun was not the originator of Nullification


We

have seen how the strong Nationalist movement which had sprung from the war of 1812 had produced, among other effects, a demand for the protection of American industries. The movement culminated in the Tariff of 1828, which the South called the "Tariff of Abominations." This policy, popular in the North and West, was naturally unpopular in the Cotton States, which lived by their vast export trade and had nothing to gain by a tariff. South Carolina, Calhoun's State, took the lead in opposition, and her representatives, advancing a step beyond the condemnation of the taxes themselves, challenged the constitutional right of Congress to impose them. The argument was not altogether without plausibility. Congress was undoubtedly empowered by the Constitution to raise a revenue, nor was there any stipulation as to how this revenue was to be raised. But it was urged that no power was given to levy taxes for any other purpose than the raising of such revenue. The new import duties were, by the admission of their advocates, intended to serve a wholly different purpose not mentioned in the Constitution--the protection of native industries. Therefore, urged the Carolinian Free Traders, they were unconstitutional and could not be lawfully imposed.

This argument, though ingenious, was not likely to convince the Supreme Court, the leanings of which were at this time decidedly in favour of Nationalism. The Carolinians therefore took their stand upon another

principle, for which they found a precedent in the Kentucky Resolutions. They declared that a State had, in virtue of its sovereignty, the right to judge as an independent nation would of the extent of its obligations under the Treaty of Union, and, having arrived at its own interpretation, to act upon it regardless of any Federal authority. This was the celebrated doctrine of "Nullification," and in pursuance of it South Carolina announced her intention of refusing to allow the protective taxes in question to be collected at her ports.

Calhoun was not the originator of Nullification. He was Vice-President when the movement began, and could with propriety take no part in it. But after his quarrel with Jackson he resigned his office and threw in his lot with his State. The ablest and most lucid statements of the case for Nullification are from his pen, and when he took his seat in the Senate he was able to add to his contribution the weight of his admirable oratory.

Much depended upon the attitude of the new President, and the Nullifiers did not despair of enlisting him on their side. Though he had declared cautiously in favour of a moderate tariff (basing his case mainly on considerations of national defence), he was believed to be opposed to the high Protection advocated by Clay and Adams. He was himself a Southerner and interested in the cotton industry, and at the late election he had had the unanimous backing of the South; its defection would be very dangerous for him. Finally, as an ardent Democrat he could hardly fail to be impressed by the precedent of the Kentucky Resolutions, which had Jefferson's authority behind them, and, perhaps to enforce this point, Jefferson's birthday was chosen as the occasion when the President was to be committed to Nullification.


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