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1832 One Hundred And Fifty Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

They had been warned by President Andrew Jackson: “Tell the Nullifiers from me that they can talk and write resolutions to their hearts’ content. But if one drop of blood be shed there in defiance of the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man of them I can get my hands on to the first tree I can find.” All in vain. On November 24, 1832, a special convention of the South Carolina legislature passed an Ordinance of Nullification prohibiting the collection in the state of tariff duties by the federal government after February 1, 1833. Aware of the probable consequences, the legislature authorized the raising of an army and appropriated money to equip it.

The Nullifiers relied heavily, in their attempts at justification, on a pamphlet published four years earlier by Vice-President John Calhoun: “South Carolina Exposition and Protest.” Calhoun argued that since the states created the Union, it followed that they were the final arbiters of the meaning of the Constitution that was its framework. If a state convention, representing the sovereignty of the people, decided that an act of Congress violated the Constitution, it could interpose its authority and “nullify” the law within its boundaries.

Jackson grasped the essential truth that if a state could nullify a law of Congress, the Union could not exist. He prepared to meet force with force but still he hoped to avoid bloodshed. He addressed a “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina”: “The laws of the United States must be executed. I have no discretionary power on the subject. Those who told you that you might peaceably prevent their execution deceived you. ” He also sent a message to Congress asking for a modification of the tariff, and Calhoun, now a senator and perhaps frightened of what he had wrought, helped push through a compromise measure. South Carolina professed itself satisfied with this and repealed the Ordinance of Nullification. At the brink of Civil War both parties drew back, and the Union was preserved in peace—for a while.

November 14 —Charles Carroll, reputed to be the richest man in America and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, died at ninety-five in Baltimore.

November 14 —The world’s first streetcar, horse-drawn on tracks, appeared in New York City.

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