The Great Conspiracy

The Tariff Act of 1832, essentially modifying that of 1828, was passed
with a view, in part, to quiet Southern clamor. But the Southern Cotton
States refused to be mollified. On the contrary, the Free Traders of
South Carolina proceeded to extreme measures, putting in action that
which they had before but threatened. On November 19, 1832, the leading
men of South Carolina met in Convention, and a few days thereafter–
[November 24,1882]–unanimously passed an Ordinance of Nullification
which declared the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1832 “Unauthorized by the
Constitution,” and “null, void, and no law, nor binding on this State,
its officers, or citizens.” The people of the State were forbidden by
it to pay, after the ensuing February 1st, the import-duties therein
imposed. Under the provisions of the Ordinance, the State Legislature
was to pass an act nullifying these Tariff laws, and any appeal to the
United States Supreme Court against the validity of such nullifying act
was prohibited. Furthermore, in the event of the Federal Government
attempting to enforce these Tariff laws, the people of South Carolina
would thenceforth consider themselves out of the Union, and will
“forthwith proceed to organize a separate Government, and do all other
acts and things which sovereign and independent States may of right do.”

At the subsequent meeting of the Legislature, Mr. Hayne, who had been a
member of the Convention, having resigned his seat in the United States
Senate, was elected Governor of the State. He declared in his message
that he recognized “No allegiance as paramount to that which the
citizens of South Carolina owe to the State of their birth or their
adoption”–that doctrine of “paramount allegiance to the State” which in
after-years gave so much trouble to the Union and to Union-loving
Southerners–and declared that he held himself “bound by the highest of
all obligations to carry into effect, not only the Ordinance of the
Convention, but every act of the Legislature, and every judgment of our
own Courts, the enforcement of which may devolve upon the Executive,”
and “if,” continued he, “the sacred soil of Carolina should be polluted
by the footsteps of an invader, or be stained with the blood of her
citizens, shed in her defense, I trust in Almighty God * * * even should
she stand alone in this great struggle for constitutional liberty,
encompassed by her enemies, that there will not be found, in the wide
limits of the State, one recreant son who will not fly to the rescue,
and be ready to lay down his life in her defense.” In support of the
contemplated treason, he even went to the length of calling for an
enrolling of volunteer forces and of holding them ready for service.

But while South Carolina stood in this treasonable and defiant attitude,
arming for war against the Union, there happened to be in the
Presidential chair one of her own sons–General Jackson. Foreseeing
what was coming, he had, prior to the meeting of the Convention that
framed the Nullification Ordinance, ordered General Scott to Charleston
to look after “the safety of the ports of the United States”
thereabouts, and had sent to the Collector of that port precise
instructions as to his duty to resist in all ways any and all attempts
made under such Ordinance to defeat the operation of the Tariff laws
aforesaid. Having thus quietly prepared the arm of the General
Government for the exercise of its power, he issued in December a
Proclamation declaring his unalterable resolution to treat Nullification
as Treason–and to crush it.

In that famous document President Jackson said of Nullification: “If
this doctrine had been established at an earlier day, the Union would
have been dissolved in its infancy. The Excise law in Pennsylvania, the
Embargo and Non-intercourse law in the Eastern States, the Carriage-tax
in Virginia, were all deemed unconstitutional, and were more unequal in
their operation than any of the laws now complained of; but fortunately,
none of those States discovered that they had the right now claimed by
South Carolina. * * * The discovery of this important feature in our
Constitution was reserved for the present day. To the statesmen of
South Carolina belongs the invention, and upon the citizens of that
State will unfortunately fall the evils of reducing it to practice. * *
* 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. * * * To
say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union, is to say that
the United States are not a Nation, because it would be a solecism to
contend that any part of a Nation might dissolve its connection with the
other parts, to their injury or ruin, without committing any, offense.”

Farther on, in his moving appeal to the South Carolinians, he bids them
beware of their leaders: “Their object is disunion; be not deceived by
names. Disunion, by armed force, is Treason.” And then, reminding them
of the deeds of their fathers in the Revolution, he proceeds: “I adjure
you, as you honor their memory, as you love the cause of freedom to
which they dedicated their lives, as you prize the peace of your
country, the lives of its best citizens, and your own fair fame, to
retrace your steps. Snatch from the archives of your State the
disorganizing edict of its Convention–bid its members to reassemble and
promulgate the decided expression of your will to remain in the path
which alone can conduct you to safety, prosperity, and honor–tell them
that, compared to disunion, all other evils are light, because that
brings with it an accumulation of all–declare that you will never take
the field unless the Star-spangled banner of your country shall float
over you–that you will not be stigmatized when dead, and dishonored and
scorned while you live, as the authors of the first attack on the
Constitution of your country! Its destroyers you cannot be.”

After asserting his firm “determination to execute the laws-to preserve
the Union by all constitutional means”–he concludes with the prayer,
“May the great Ruler of Nations grant, that the signal blessings with
which He has favored, ours may not, by the madness of party, or personal
ambition be disregarded and lost; and may His wise providence bring
those who have produced this crisis to see the folly before they feel
the misery, of civil strife; and inspire a returning veneration for that
Union, which, if we may dare to penetrate His designs, He has chosen as
the only means of attaining the high destinies to which we may
reasonably aspire.”

The firm attitude of General Jackson, together with the wise
precautionary measures he had already taken, and the practical unanimity
with which his declaration to crush out the Treason was hailed in most
of the Southern as well as the Northern States, almost at once broke the
back of Nullification.
[In this connection the following letter, written at that time by
the great Chief Justice Marshall, to a cousin of his, on the
subject of State Sovereignty, is of interest, as showing how
clearly his penetrating intellect perceived the dangers to the
Union hidden in the plausible doctrine of State Rights:

RICHMOND, May 7, 1833.


“I am much indebted to you for your pamphlet on Federal Relations,
which I have read with much satisfaction. No subject, as it seems
to me, is more misunderstood or more perverted. You have brought
into view numerous important historical facts which, in my
judgment, remove the foundation on which the Nullifiers and
Seceders have erected that superstructure which overshadows our
Union. You have, I think, shown satisfactorily that we never have
been perfectly distinct, independent societies, sovereign in the
sense in which the Nullifiers use the term. When colonies we
certainly were not. We were parts of the British empire, and
although not directly connected with each other so far as respected
government, we were connected in many respects, and were united to
the same stock. The steps we took to effect separation were, as
you have fully shown, not only revolutionary in their nature, but
they were taken conjointly. Then, as now, we acted in many
respects as one people. The representatives of each colony acted
for all. Their resolutions proceeded from a common source, and
operated on the whole mass. The army was a continental army
commanded by a continental general, and supported from a
continental treasury. The Declaration of Independence was made by
a common government, and was made for all the States.

“Everything has been mixed. Treaties made by Congress have been
considered as binding all the States. Some powers have been
exercised by Congress, some by the States separately. The lines
were not strictly drawn. The inability of Congress to carry its
legitimate powers into execution has gradually annulled those
powers practically, but they always existed in theory.
Independence was declared `in the name and by the authority of the
good people of these colonies.’ In fact we have always been united
in some respects, separate in others. We have acted as one people
for some purposes, as distinct societies for others. I think you
have shown this clearly, and in so doing have demonstrated the
fallacy of the principle on which either nullification or the right
of peaceful, constitutional secession is asserted.

“The time is arrived when these truths must be more generally
spoken, or our Union is at an end. The idea of complete
sovereignty of the State converts our government into a league,
and, if carried into practice, dissolves the Union.

“I am, dear sir,

“Yours affectionately,



“FRANKFORT, KY.”] The Nullifiers hailed with pretended satisfaction the report from the
House Committee on Ways and Means of a Bill making great reductions and
equalizations of Tariff duties, as a measure complying with their
demands, and postponed the execution of the Ordinance of Nullification
until the adjournment of Congress; and almost immediately afterward Mr.
Clay’s Compromise Tariff Act of 1833 “whereby one tenth of the excess
over twenty per cent. of each and every existing impost was to be taken
off at the close of that year; another tenth two years thereafter; so
proceeding until the 30th of June, 1842, when all duties should be
reduced to a maximum of twenty per cent.”–[Says Mr. Greeley, in his
History aforesaid.]–agreed to by Calhoun and other Nullifiers, was
passed, became a law without the signature of President Jackson, and
South Carolina once more became to all appearances a contented, law-
abiding State of the Union.

But after-events proved conclusively that the enactment of this
Compromise Tariff was a terrible blunder, if not a crime. Jackson had
fully intended to hang Calhoun and his nullifying coadjutors if they
persisted in their Treason. He knew that they had only seized upon the
Tariff laws as a pretext with which to justify Disunion, and prophesied
that “the next will be the Slavery or Negro question.” Jackson’s
forecast was correct. Free Trade, Slavery and Secession were from that
time forward sworn allies; and the ruin wrought to our industries by the
disasters of 1840, plainly traceable to that Compromise Tariff measure
of 1833, was only to be supplemented by much greater ruin and disasters
caused by the Free Trade Tariff of 1846–and to be followed by the armed
Rebellion of the Free Trade and Pro-Slavery States of the South in 1861,
in a mad attempt to destroy the Union.

It will be remembered that during the period of the Missouri Struggle,
1818-1820, the Territory of Arkansas was formed by an Act of Congress
out of that part of the Missouri Territory not included in the proposed
State of Missouri, and that the Act so creating the Territory of
Arkansas contained no provision restricting Slavery. Early in 1836, the
people of Arkansas Territory met in Convention and formed a Constitution
under which, “and by virtue of the treaty of cession by France to the
United States, of the Province of Louisiana,” they asked admission to
the Union as a State. Among other provisions of that Constitution was a
section rendering the State Legislature powerless to pass laws for the
emancipation of slaves without the consent of the owners, or to prevent
emigrants to that State from bringing with them slaves. On June 15th of
the same year, Arkansas was, under that Constitution, admitted to the
Union as a Slave State, with the sole reservation, that nothing in the
Act of admission should be” construed as an assent by Congress to all or
any of the propositions contained” in the said Constitution.

Long ere this, all the Northern and Middle States had made provision for
the emancipation of such slaves as remained within their borders, and
only a few years previous (in 1829 and 1831-32) Virginia had made strong
but insufficient efforts toward the same end. The failure to free
Virginia of Slavery–the effort to accomplish which had been made by
some of the greatest of her statesmen–only served to rivet the chains
of human bondage more securely throughout all the Slave States, and from
that time on, no serious agitation occurred in any one of them, looking
toward even the most gradual emancipation. On the other hand, the
advocates of the extension of the Slave-Power by the expansion of Slave-
territory, were ever on the alert, they considered it of the last
importance to maintain the balance of power between the Slave States and
the Free States. Hence, while they had secured in 1819 the cession from
Spain to the United States of the Slave-holding Floridas, and the
organization of the Slave Territory of Florida in 1822–which
subsequently came in as a Slave State under the same Act (1845) that
admitted the Free State of Iowa–their greedy eyes were now cast upon
the adjoining rich territories of Mexico.

Efforts had (in 1827-1829) been made to purchase from Mexico the domain
which was known as Texas. They had failed. But already a part of Texas
had been settled by adventurous Americans under Mexican grants and
otherwise; and General Sam Houston, an adherent of the Slave Power,
having become a leading spirit among them, fomented a revolution. In
March, 1836, Texas, under his guidance, proclaimed herself a Republic
independent of Mexico.

The War that ensued between Texas and Mexico ended in the flight of the
Mexican Army and the capture of Santa Anna at San Jacinto, and a treaty
recognizing Texan independence. In October, 1836, General Houston was
inaugurated President of the Republic of Texas. Close upon this
followed (in August, 1837) a proposition to our Government from the
Texan envoy for the annexation of Texas to the United States. President
Van Buren declined the offer. The Northern friends of Freedom were as
much opposed to this annexation project as the advocates of Slavery were
anxious for it. Even such conservative Northern Statesmen as Daniel
Webster strongly opposed the project. In a speech delivered in New York
[1837], after showing that the chief aim of our Government in the
acquisition of the Territory of Louisiana was to gain command of the
mouths of the great rivers to the sea, and that in the acquisition of
the Floridas our policy was based on similar considerations, Mr. Webster
declared that “no such necessity, no such policy, requires the
annexation of Texas,” and that we ought “for numerous and powerful
reasons to be content with our present boundaries. He recognized that
Slavery already existed under the guarantees of the Constitution and
those guarantees must be fulfilled; that “Slavery, as it exists in the
States, is beyond the power of Congress. It is a concern of the States
themselves,” but “when we come to speak of admitting new States, the
subject assumes an entirely different aspect. Our rights and our duties
are then both different. The Free States, and all the States, are then
at liberty to accept or to reject;” and he added, “In my opinion the
people of the United States will not consent to bring into the Union a
new, vastly extensive and Slaveholding country, large enough for a half
a dozen or a dozen States. In my opinion, they ought not to consent to

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.