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Andrew Jackson Denounces Nullification in a Presidential Proclamation
Digital History ID 371

Author:   Andrew Jackson
Date:1832

Annotation:

In 1832, in an effort to conciliate the South, Jackson proposed a lower tariff. Revenue from the existing tariff (together with the sale of public lands) was so high that the federal debt was quickly being paid off. In fact, on January 1, 1835, the U.S. Treasury had a $440,000 surplus. The new tariff was somewhat lower than the Tariff of 1828, but still maintained the principle of protection. In protest, South Carolina's fiery "states' righters" declared both the Tariff of 1832 and the Tariff of 1828 null and void. To defend nullification, the state legislature voted to raise an army.

Although President Jackson owed his election to the presidency to southern slaveholder votes, he was an ardent unionist who was willing to risk civil war in order to defy South Carolina's nullification threats. In the proclamation that follows, Jackson declared nullification illegal and became the first President to declare the Union indissoluble. He then asked Congress to empower him to use force to execute federal law; Congress promptly enacted a Force Act. Privately, Jackson threatened to "hang every leader...of that infatuated people, sir, by martial law, irrespective of his name, or political or social position." He also dispatched a fleet of eight ships and a shipment of 5000 muskets to a federal installation in Charleston harbor.


Document:

Whereas a convention assembled by the State of South Carolina, have passed an ordinance by which they declare, "That the several acts...of Congress...for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities...are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null and void, and have no law" nor binding on the citizens of that State....

And...the said ordinance declares that the people of South Carolina...have said that they will consider any act passed by Congress abolishing or closing the ports of the said State...as inconsistent with the longer continuance of South Carolina in the Union....

And whereas the said Ordinance prescribes on the people of South Carolina a course of conduct in direct violation of their duty as citizens of the United States, contrary to the laws of their country, subversive of its constitution, and having for its object the destruction of the Union.... To preserve this bond of our political existence from destruction, to maintain inviolate this state of national honor and prosperity, and to justify the confidence my fellow-citizens have reposed in me, I, Andrew Jackson, President of the United States, have thought proper to issue this my PROCLAMATION, stating my views of the Constitution and laws applicable to the measures adopted by the Convention of South Carolina....

The Ordinance is founded not on the...right of resisting acts which are plainly unconstitutional and too oppressive to be endured; but on the strange position that nay one State may not only declare an Act of Congress void, but prohibit its execution.... It is true, they add, that to justify this abrogation...it must be palpably contrary to the constitution; but it is evident that to give the right of resisting laws of that description, coupled with the uncontrolled right to decide what laws deserve that character, is to give the power of resisting all laws. For, as by the theory, there is no appeal, the reasons alleged by the State, good or bad, must prevail....

I consider then the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE EXISTENCE OF THE UNION, CONTRADICTED EXPRESSLY BY THE LETTER OF THE CONSTITUTION, UNAUTHORIZED BY ITS SPIRIT, INCONSISTENT WITH EVERY PRINCIPLE ON WHICH IT WAS FOUNDED, AND DESTRUCTIVE OF THE GREAT OBJECT FOR WHICH IT WAS FORMED....

The law in question was passed under a power expressly given by the Constitution, to lay and collect imposts.... The Constitution has given expressly to Congress the right of raising revenue and of determining the sum the public exigencies will require. The States have no control over the exercise of this right, other than that which results from the power of changing the Representatives who abuse it, and thus procure redress....

On such expositions and reasonings the Ordinance grounds not only an assertion of the right to annul the laws of which it complains, but to enforce it by a threat of seceding from the Union if any attempt is made to execute them.

This right to secede is deduced from the nature of the Constitution, which they say is a compact between sovereign States, who have preserved their whole sovereignty, and therefore are subject to no superior: that because they made the compact, they can break it, when, in their opinion, it has been departed from by the other states. Fallacious as this course of reasoning is, it enlists State pride, and finds advocates in the honest prejudices of those who have not studied the nature of our Government sufficiently to see the radical error on which it rests.

The people of the United States formed the Constitution, acting through the State Legislatures in making the compact, to meet and discuss its provisions, and acting in separate conventions when they ratified those provisions; but the terms used in its construction show it to be a government in which the people of all the States collectively are representative. We are ONE PEOPLE in the choice of the President and Vice President. Here the States have no other agency than to direct the mode in which the votes shall be given.... The people, then, and not the States, are represented in the Executive branch....

When chosen, they [members of the House of Representatives] are all representatives of the United States, not representatives of the particular State from which they come. They are paid by the United States, not by the State; nor are they accountable to it for any act done in the performance of their legislative functions; and however they may in practice, as it is their duty to do, consult and prefer the interests of their particular constituents when they come in conflict with any other partial or local interest, yet it is their first and highest duty, as representatives of the United States, to promote the general good.

The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league, and whether it be formed by compact between the States, or in any other manner, its character is the same. It is a government in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States--they retained all the power they did not grant. But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single Nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because each secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a Nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offence against the whole Union....

No one fellow citizens, has a higher reverence for the reserved rights of the States than the Magistrate who now addresses you.... The States, severally have not retained their entire sovereignty. It has been shown that in becoming parts of a nation, not members of a league, they surrendered many of their essential parts of sovereignty. The right to make treaties--declare war--levy taxes--exercise exclusive judicial and legislative powers--were all of them functions of sovereign power. The States then, for all these important purposes, were no longer sovereign. The allegiance of their citizens was transferred in the first instance to the Government of the United States--they became American citizens, and owed obedience to the Constitution of the United States and to laws made in conformity with the powers it vested in Congress.... Treaties and alliances were made in the name of all. Troops were raised for the common defence. How then, with all these proofs that under all changes of our position we had, for designated purposes and with defined powers, created national Governments--how it is, that the most perfect of those several modes of union, should now be considered as a mere league that may be dissolved at pleasure? It is an abuse of terms....

Fellow citizens of my native State! let me not only admonish you, as the first Magistrate of our common country, not to incur the penalty of its laws, but use the influence that a Father would over his children whom he saw rushing to certain ruin.... You are free members of a flourishing and happy union. There is not settled design to oppress you.--You have indeed felt the unequal operation of the laws which may have been unwisely, not constitutionally passed; but that inequality must necessarily removed. At the very moment when you were madly urged on to the unfortunate course you have begun, a change in public opinion has commenced. The nearly approaching payment of the public debt, and the consequent necessity of a diminution of duties, had already produced a considerable reduction, and that too on some articles of general consumption to your State....

If your leaders could succeed in establishing a separation, what would be your situation? Are you united at home--are you free from the apprehension of civil discord, with all its fearful consequences? Do our neighboring republics, every day suffering some new revolution or contending with some new insurrection--do they excite your envy?.... The laws of the United States must be executed. I have no discretionary power on the subject--my duty is emphatically pronounced in the Constitution. Those who told you that you might peaceably prevent their execution, deceived you--they could not have been deceived themselves. They know that a forcible opposition could alone prevent the execution of the laws, and they know that such opposition must be repelled. Their object is disunion: but be not deceived by names: disunion, by armed force, is TREASON....

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Andrew Jackson, A Proclamation

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