President Jackson rejected John Calhoun and the state legislature of South Carolina's insistence that states were sovereign and therefore had the right to nullify laws passed by the federal government. Jackson also rejected South Carolina's threat to secede if the federal government tried to enforce its tariff in South Carolina. In response to the crisis, Congress passed the Force Bill granting President Jackson the power to enforce the tariff with federal troops, should they be needed. The Nullification Crisis ended without direct confrontation when Congress passed the Compromise Tariff of 1833 which slowly lowered duties.
As you read, examine Jackson╠s argument rejecting a state╠s right
to nullify federal laws and rejecting a state╠s right to secede from the
Union. How does Jackson defend his position?
The Ordinance (of Nullification) is founded... on the strange position that any one state may not only declare an act of Congress void, but prohibit its execution; that they may do this consistently with the Constitution; that the true construction of [the Constitution] permits a state to retain its place in the Union and yet be bound by no other of its laws than those it may choose to consider as constitutional.... Look for a moment to the consequence. If South Carolina considers the revenue laws unconstitutional and has a right to prevent their execution in the port of Charleston, there would be a clear constitutional objection to their collection in every other port; and no revenue shall be collected anywhere.... If this doctrine had been established at an earlier day, the Union would have been dissolved in its infancy....
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 explicitly 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.
In vain these sages [the framers of the Constitution] declared that Congress should have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, etc.; in vain they have provided that they shall have the power to pass laws which shall be necessary and proper to carry those powers into execution, that those laws and the Constitution should be the ╬supreme law of the land, and that judges in every state shall be bound thereby...╠ Vain provisions! ineffectual restrictions! vile profanation of oaths! miserable mockery of legislation! if a bare majority of voters in any one state may, on real or supposed knowledge of the intent with which a law has been passed, declare themselves free from its operation....
The 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 are subject to no superior: that because they
make the compact they can break it when their opinion has been departed
from by other states....
The Constitution forms a government, not a league.... Each state having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with other nations, a single nation, cannot from that period, posses any right to secede, because such succession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation.... To say that any state may at pleasure secede from the union is to say that the United States is not a nation.... Because the union was formed by a compact, it is said that the parties to that compact may, when they feel themselves aggrieved, depart from it; but it is precisely because it is a compact that they may not. A compact is a binding obligation....
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