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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

This compromise the Nullifiers


A

Democratic banquet was held at Washington in honour of the founder of the party. Jackson was present, and so were Calhoun and the leading Nullifiers. Speeches had to be made and toasts given, the burden of which was a glorification of State Sovereignty and a defence of Nullification. Then Jackson rose and gave his famous toast: "Our Union: it must be preserved." Calhoun tried to counter it by giving: "Our Union, next to our liberties most dear." But everyone understood the significance of the President's toast. It was a declaration of war.

The Nullifiers had quite miscalculated Jackson's attitude. He was a Southerner by birth, but a frontiersman by upbringing, and all the formative influences of his youth were of the West. It has been noted how strongly the feeling of the West made for the new unity, and in no Westerner was the national passion stronger than in Jackson. In 1814 he had told Monroe that he would have had the leaders of the Hartford Convention hanged, and he applied the same measure to Southern as to Northern sectionalism. To the summoning of the Nullifying Convention in South Carolina, he replied by a message to Congress asking for powers to coerce the recalcitrant State. He further told his Cabinet that if Congress refused him the powers he thought necessary he should have no hesitation in assuming them. He would call for volunteers to maintain the Union, and would soon have a force at his disposal that should invade South Carolina,

disperse the State forces, arrest the leading Nullifiers and bring them to trial before the Federal Courts.

If the energy of Jackson was a menace to South Carolina, it was a grave embarrassment to the party regularly opposed to him in Congress and elsewhere. That this party could make common cause with the Nullifiers seemed impossible. The whole policy of high Protection against which South Carolina had revolted was Clay's. Adams had signed the Tariff of Administrations. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, the leading orator of the party and the greatest forensic speaker that America has produced, had at one time been a Free Trader. But he was deeply committed against the Nullifiers, and had denounced the separatist doctrines which found favour in South Carolina in a speech the fine peroration of which American schoolboys still learn by heart. Webster, indeed, whether from shame or from conviction, separated himself to some extent from his associates and gave strenuous support to the "Force Bill" which the President had demanded.

But Clay was determined that Jackson should not have the added power and prestige which would result from the suppression of Nullification by the strong hand of the Executive. His own bias was in favour of a strong and unified Federal authority, but he would have made Congress that authority rather than the President--a policy even less favourable than Jackson's to State Rights, but more favourable to the Parliamentarianism in which Clay delighted and in which his peculiar talents shone. At all costs the Kentucky politician resolved to discount the intervention of the President, and his mind was peculiarly fertile in devising and peculiarly skilful in executing such manoeuvres as the situation required. The sacrifice of his commercial policy was involved, but he loved Protection less than he hated Jackson, and less, to do him justice, than he loved the Union. Negotiations were opened with Calhoun, and a compromise tariff proposed, greatly modified in the direction of Free Trade and free of the "abominations" of which South Carolina specially complained. This compromise the Nullifiers, awed perhaps by the vigour of Jackson, and doubtful of the issue if matters were pushed too far, accepted.


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