The Great Conspiracy

Their drift may be gathered from the first of the Kentucky Resolutions
of ’98, which was in these words: “Resolved, That the several States
composing the United States of America are not united on the principle
of unlimited submission to their General Government, but that, by a
compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United
States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a General Government
for special purposes–delegated to that Government certain definite
powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to
their own self-government; and that whensoever the General Government
assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of
no force; that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and as an
integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party;
that the Government created by this compact was not made the exclusive
or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since
that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the
measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among
powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge
for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of

The Resolutions, after enumerating the Alien and Sedition and certain
other laws as in point, conclude by calling upon the other States to
join Kentucky in her opposition to such Federal usurpations of power as
thus embodied, and express confidence: “That they will concur with this
Commonwealth in considering the said Acts as so palpably against the
Constitution as to amount to an undisguised declaration that that
compact is not meant to be the measure of the powers of the General
Government, but that it will proceed in the exercise over these States,
of all powers whatsoever; that they will view this as seizing the rights
of the States, and consolidating them in the hands of the General
Government, with the power assumed to bind the States (not merely as to
the cases made federal (casus foederis) but) in all cases whatsoever, by
laws made, not with their consent, but by others against their consent;
that this would be to surrender the form of government we have chosen,
and live under one deriving its powers from its own will, and not from
our authority; and that the co-States, returning to their natural rights
in cases not made federal, will concur in declaring these Acts void and
of no force, and will each take measures of its own in providing that
neither these Acts, nor any others of the General Government, not
plainly and intentionally authorized by the Constitution, shall be
exercised within their respective territories.”

The doctrine of States Rights as formulated in these Resolutions,
including the assumed right of a State to nullify laws of the General
Government, naturally led up, as we shall see, not only to threats of
disunion, but ultimately to a dreadful sectional War waged in the effort
to secure it. That Jefferson, when he penned them, foresaw the terrible
results to flow from these specious and pernicious doctrines, is not to
be supposed for an instant; but that his conscience troubled him may be
fairly inferred from the fact that he withheld from the World for twenty
years afterward the knowledge that he was their author. It is probable
that in this case, as in others, he was a victim of that casuistry which
teaches that “the end justifies the means;” that he hoped and believed
that the assertion of these baleful doctrines would act solely as a
check upon any tendency to further centralization of power in the
General Government and insure that strict construction of the

Though afterward violated by himself at the same time that he for the
moment threw aside his scruples touching African slavery, when he added
to our domain the great French Slave Colony of Louisiana–was none the
less the great aim of his commanding intellect; and that he fortuitously
believed in the “saving common sense” of his race and country as capable
of correcting an existing evil when it shall have developed into ill

[Mr. Jefferson takes this very ground, in almost the same words, in
his letter, 1803, to Wilson C. Nichols in the Louisiana Colony
purchase case, when, after proving by his own strict construction
of the Constitution that there was no power in that instrument to
make such purchase, and confessing the importance in that very case
of setting “an example against broad construction,” he concludes:
“If, however, our friends shall think differently, certainly I
shall acquiesce with satisfaction; confiding that the good sense of
the country will correct the evil of construction when it shall
produce ill ejects.”]

Be that as it may, however, the fact remains that the seeds thus sown by
the hands of Jefferson on the “sacred soil” of Virginia and Kentucky,
were dragon’s teeth, destined in after years to spring up as legions of
armed men battling for the subversion of that Constitution and the
destruction of that Union which he so reverenced, and which he was so
largely instrumental in founding–and which even came back in his own
life to plague him and Madison during his embargo, and Madison’s war of
1812-15, in the utterances and attitude of some of the New England

The few Free Traders of the South–the Giles’s and John Taylor’s and men
of that ilk–made up for their paucity in numbers by their unscrupulous
ingenuity and active zeal. They put forth the idea that the American
Protective Policy was a policy of fostering combinations by Federal
laws, the effect of which was to transfer a considerable portion of the
profits of slave labor from the Slave States to other parts of the Union
where it was massed in the hands of a few individuals, and thus created
a moneyed interest which avariciously influenced the General Government
to the detriment of the entire community of people, who, made restive by
the exactions of this power working through the Federal Government, were
as a consequence driven to consider a possible dissolution of the Union,
and make “estimates of resources and means of defense.” As a means also
of inflaming both the poor whites and Southern slave-holders by arousing
the apprehensions of the latter concerning the “peculiar institution” of
Slavery, they craftily declared that “If the maxim advanced by the
advocates of the protecting duty system will justify Congress in
assuming, or rather in empowering a few capitalists to assume, the
direction of manufacturing labor, it also invests that body with a power
of legislating for the direction of every other species of labor and
assigning all occupations whatsoever to the care of the intelligence of
mercenary combinations”–and hence untold misery to labor.

They charged as a further means of firing the Southern heart, that this
moneyed power, born of Protection, “works upon the passion of the States
it has been able to delude by computations of their physical strength
and their naval superiority; and by boasting of an ability to use the
weakening circumstance of negro slavery to coerce the defrauded and
discontented States into submission.” And they declared as fundamental
truths upon which they rested that “The Federal is not a National
Government; it is a league between nations. By this league, a limited
power only over persons and property was given to the representatives of
the united nations. This power cannot be further extended, under the
pretext of national good, because the league does not create a national

It was the passage of the Tariff of 1824 that gave these crafty Free
Traders their first great success in spreading their doctrine of Free
Trade by coupling it with questions of slave labor, States Rights, and
nullification, as laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions.
These arguments created great excitement throughout the South–
especially in South Carolina and Georgia–which was still further
increased by the passage of the Tariff of 1828, since declared by
eminent authority to have been “the highest and most protective ever
adopted in this country.”

[Mr. Greeley, in his “History of the American Conflict,” 1864.]

Prior to the passage of this Tariff Act, excited assemblages met in some
of the Southern States, and protested against it as an outrage upon
their rights–arraying the South in seditious and treasonable attitude
against not only the North but the Union, with threats of Secession. At
one of these meetings in South Carolina, in 1827, one of their leaders–
[Dr. Thomas Cooper, President of South Carolina College.]–declared that
“a drilled and managed majority” in the House of Representatives had
determined “at all hazards to support the claims of the Northern
manufacturers, and to offer up the planting interest on the altar of
monopoly.” He denounced the American system of Protection exemplified
in that Tariff measure as “a system by which the earnings of the South
are to be transferred to the North–by which the many are to be
sacrificed to the few–under which powers are usurped that were never
conceded–by which inequality of rights, inequality of burthens,
inequality of protection, unequal laws, and unequal taxes are to be
enacted and rendered permanent–that the planter and the farmer under
this system are to be considered as inferior beings to the spinner, the
bleacher, and the dyer–that we of the South hold our plantations under
this system, as the serfs and operatives of the North, subject to the
orders and laboring for the benefit of the master-minds of
Massachusetts, the lords of the spinning jenny and peers of the power-
loom, who have a right to tax our earnings for their emolument, and to
burthen our poverty and to swell their riches;” and after characterizing
Protection as “a system of fraud, robbery and usurpation,” he continued
“I have said that we shall ere long be compelled to calculate the value
of our Union; and to enquire of what use to us is this most unequal
alliance, by which the South has always been the loser and the North
always the gainer. Is it worth our while to continue this union of
States, where the North demands to be our masters and we are required to
be their tributaries? who with the most insulting mockery call the yoke
they put upon our necks the ‘American system!’ The question, however,
is fast approaching the alternative of submission or separation.”

Only a few days after this inflammatory speech at Columbus, S. C.,
inciting South Carolinians to resist the pending Protective Tariff even
to the lengths of Secession, during a grand banquet at Richmond, Va.,
William B. Giles–another Free Trade leader–proposed, and those present
drank a toast to the “Tariff Schemer” in which was embodied a
declaration that “The Southerners will not long pay tribute.” Despite
these turbulent and treasonable mutterings, however, the “Jacksonian
Congress” passed the Act–a majority of members from the Cotton and New
England States voting against, while the vote of the Middle and Western
Free States was almost solidly for, it.

At a meeting held soon after the enactment of the Tariff of 1828, at
Walterborough Court House, S. C., an address was adopted and issued
which, after reciting the steps that had been taken by South Carolina
during the previous year to oppose it, by memorials and otherwise, and
stating that, despite their “remonstrances and implorations,” a Tariff
Bill had passed, not indeed, such as they apprehended, but “ten-fold
worse in all its oppressive features,” proceeded thus:

“From the rapid step of usurpation, whether we now act or not, the day
of open opposition to the pretended powers of the Constitution cannot be
far off, and it is that it may not go down in blood that we now call
upon you to resist. We feel ourselves standing underneath its mighty
protection, and declaring forth its free and recorded spirit, when we
say we must resist. By all the great principles of liberty–by the
glorious achievements of our fathers in defending them–by their noble
blood poured forth like water in maintaining them–by their lives in
suffering, and their death in honor and in glory;–our countrymen! we
must resist. Not secretly, as timid thieves or skulking smugglers–not
in companies and associations, like money chafferers or stock jobbers–
not separately and individually, as if this was ours and not our
country’s cause–but openly, fairly, fearlessly, and unitedly, as
becomes a free, sovereign and independent people. Does timidity ask
WHEN? We answer NOW!”

These inflammatory utterances, in South Carolina especially, stirred the
Southern heart more or less throughout the whole cotton belt; and the
pernicious principles which they embodied found ardent advocates even in
the Halls of Congress. In the Senate, Mr. Hayne, of South Carolina, was
their chief and most vehement spokesman, and in 1830 occurred that
memorable debate between him and Daniel Webster, which forever put an
end to all reasonable justification of the doctrine of Nullification,
and which furnished the ground upon which President Jackson afterward
stood in denouncing and crushing it out with the strong arm of the

In that great debate Mr. Hayne’s propositions were that the Constitution
is a “compact between the States,” that “in case of a plain, palpable
violation of the Constitution by the General Government, a State may
interpose; and that this interposition is constitutional”–a proposition
with which Mr. Webster took direct issue, in these words: “I say, the
right of a State to annul a law of Congress cannot be maintained, but on
the ground of the inalienable right of man to resist oppression; that is
to say, upon the ground of revolution. I admit that there is an
ultimate violent remedy, above the Constitution and in defiance of the
Constitution, which may be resorted to when a revolution is to be
justified. But I do not admit that, under the Constitution, and in
conformity with it, there is any mode in which a State Government, as a
member of the Union, can interfere and stop the progress of the general
movement by force of her own laws under any circumstances whatever.”
Mr. Webster insisted that “one of two things is true: either the laws of
the Union are beyond the discretion and beyond the control of the
States, or else we have no Constitution of General Government, and are
thrust back again to the days of the Confederation;” and, in concluding
his powerful argument, he declared that “even supposing the Constitution
to be a compact between the States,” Mr. Hayne’s doctrine was “not
maintainable, because, first, the General Government is not a party to
the compact, but a Government established by it, and vested by it with
the powers of trying and deciding doubtful questions; and secondly,
because, if the Constitution be regarded as a compact, not one State
only, but all the States are parties to that compact, and one can have
no right to fix upon it her own peculiar construction.”

While the comparatively miserable condition of the cotton-growing States
of the South was attributed by most of the Southern Free Traders solely
to the Protective Tariff of 1828, yet there were some Southerners
willing to concede–as did Mr. Hayne, in the Senate (1832)–that there
were “other causes besides the Tariff” underlying that condition, and to
admit that “Slaves are too improvident, too incapable of that minute,
constant, delicate attention, and that persevering industry which are
essential to manufacturing establishments,” the existence of which would
have made those States prosperous. But such admissions were unwilling
ones, and the Cotton-lords held only with the more tenacity to the view
that the Tariff was the chief cause of their condition.

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