Nullification

Printable Version

Digital History ID 3831

Interpreting Primary Sources

Reading 1:

And, sir, let it be remembered that a revenue system, grossly and palpably unequal in itself--a system which, under the most favorable modification, would levy the entire amount of the federal taxes from one-fifth part of the productions of the Union, while the other four-fifths are entirely exempted...that this is the substratum upon which has been reared this monstrous and iniquitous superstructure--the protecting system....Let me, then, beseech the advocates of that system...relieve a high-minded and patriotic people from an unconstitutional and oppressive burden, which they cannot longer bear.

George McDuffie, attacking the Tariff of 1824

Reading 2:

The bill may be postponed, thwarted, defeated. But the cause is the cause of the country, and it must and will prevail. It is founded in the interests and affections of the people....I would pray God, in His infinite mercy, to avert from our country the evils which are impending over it, and , by enlightening our councils, to conduct us into that path which leads to riches, to greatness, to glory.

Henry Clay, defending the Tariff of 1824

Reading 3:

The great and leading principal is, that the General Government emanated from the people of the United States, forming distinct political communities, and acting in their separate and sovereign capacity, and not from all the people forming one aggregate political community; that the
Constitution of the United States is, in fact, a compact, to which each State is a party.

Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is, whether ours is a federal or a consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting ultimately on the solid basis of the sovereignty of the States or on the unrestrained will of a majority; a form of government, as
in all other unlimited one, in which injustice, and violence, and force must finally prevail.

John C. Calhoun defends the doctrine of nullification, 1831

Reading 4:

The proposition that, in case of a supposed violation of the Constitution by Congress, the states have a constitutional right to interfere and annul the law of Congress is the position of the gentleman. I do not admit it. If the gentleman had intended no more than to assert the right of revolution for justifiable cause, he would have said only what all agree to. But I cannot conceive that there can be a middle course, between submission to the laws, when regularly pronounced constitutional, on the one hand, and open resistance, which is revolution or rebellion, on the other.

Daniel Webster

Questions To Think About

1. What argument do protectionists make in favor of a protective tariff? How do opponents of a protective tariff respond?

2. Which, in your view, is correct--that the Union is a creation of the states or of the people?

3. Should states have the power to nullify federal law?

Interpreting Statistics

Political Democratization

Voter Participation 
Year Proportion of eligible voters casting ballots 
1824  27 percent 
1828  58 percent 
1832  55 percent 
1836  58 percent 
1840  80 percent 

Questions To Think About

1. What factors contributed to increased voter participation?

2. How does voter participation in 1840 compare to voter participation today? What in your view accounts for the difference?



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