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The Age of Jackson: States’ Rights

States’ Rights versus Union: Daniel Webster's Union
During the early 19th century the idea of “America,” was not universally shared as regional loyalties often outweighed national feelings.

In 1830, South Carolina was contemplating nullification of the “Tariff of Abominations” and perhaps secession. A Unionist, Daniel Webster turned the debate from one over western lands and the tariff to an argument on states’ rights versus national sovereignty. Rejecting the charge that the eastern states had attacked Southern or Western interests, Webster claimed at the conclusion of a lengthy address that he could not contemplate life without the Union.

Jackson and Calhoun
Secretary of State Martin Van Buren and Vice President John C. Calhoun were in a fight over who would be President after Jackson; a position Van Buren easily attained as Calhoun moved farther and farther to the states’ right position.

During the controversy over state’s rights, Jackson and Calhoun both attended a dinner on April 15, 1830. Jackson raised a glass and looked directly at the South Carolina delegation and proclaimed, “Our Union, it must be preserved!” Calhoun then became the leading spokesman for the Southern states rights position, and his hopes for gaining the White House disappeared.

Jackson and the Bank
Jackson came into office suspicious of the Bank of the United States and made threats against it. With the backing of supporters in Congress, Bank President Biddle asked Congress to re-charter the Bank in 1832. Henry Clay took up the Bank’s cause, hoping that congressional approval of the Bank would embarrass Jackson. Bank supporters thought that if Jackson vetoed the bank bill it would cost him the election

Jackson indeed vetoed the Bank re-charter bill on the grounds that the Bank was unconstitutional, and Congress upheld the veto. Clay and Jackson took their argument to the public in the election of 1832 where Jackson’s victory spelled doom for the Bank.

After the election Jackson proceeded to destroy the Bank by withdrawing the government’s money and depositing it into selected state banks. Biddle then used his powers to bring on a nationwide recession, which he hoped would be blamed on Jackson. That failed, but Jackson’s destruction of the Bank cost him support in Congress, where fears of a dictatorship emerged.

The Election of 1832
The Presidential election of 1832 pitted Andrew Jackson against National Republican Henry Clay. The chief issue of the election was the National Bank, Jackson's opponents who sought to use the bank as an issue to unseat him found that their plan backfired. The outcome of the election was a huge victory for Jackson, the people’s man, despite charges that Jackson saw himself as “King Andrew” who could veto anything he did not like.

Jackson and the Tariff: The Nullification Controversy
The nullification controversy of 1832 was a major milestone in the national debate over federal versus state authority. At a time when agitation over slavery and other issues that tended to divide the country along sectional lines was growing, the nullification controversy brought the states’ rights debate into sharp focus.

The root of the problem of protective tariffs is that they are almost by definition designed to assist certain segments of the economy.

In 1828 Andrew Jackson's supporters proposed a very high tariff bill that would allow Jackson to look friendly toward manufacturing in the North, while in the South his supporters could claim that the proposed tariff was so high that it would never pass. But the tariff did pass. Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina anonymously wrote an “Exposition and Protest” of the Tariff of 1828, which became known as the “Tariff of Abominations.” When a tariff bill passed again in 1832, because it was still too high to suit the needs of Southern agricultural interests, the State of South Carolina decided to nullify the tariff— the Ordinance of Nullification, that claimed not only that the tariff was not enforceable in South Carolina, but that any attempt to enforce it by state or federal officials would not be permitted within South Carolina.

South Carolina's ordinance placed the state on a collision course with President Andrew Jackson, who issued his own Proclamation to the People of South Carolina in which he called their nullification ordinance an “impracticable absurdity.”

Congress supported Jackson by passing a Force Bill which explicitly authorized him to use whatever force was necessary to enforce the law in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Henry Clay set about getting a compromise tariff through Congress, and South Carolina, realizing that support for its position was weak, and not willing to push the fight any further, relented and repealed its Ordinance of Nullification.

Cherokee Indian Removal
Without much doubt the ugliest event in the Jackson years was the removal of the Cherokee Indians from Georgia to reservations located west of the Mississippi River.

An 1828 Georgia law declared that the state had jurisdiction over Indian Territory, and when gold was discovered on Indian land, Indians sought legal relief to hold onto their property. The issue came to the Supreme Court, which said that Georgia laws had no force on Cherokee land, but sent no marshals to Georgia to enforce their decision. Jackson defied the court ruling.

Still trying to hold onto their land the Cherokee again sought legal relief and brought the case of Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Marshall clearly sympathized with the Cherokee. Unfortunately, Marshall took a strict view of the Constitution and claimed that the Cherokee did not have the legal right to sue in the U.S. Supreme Court. Since there was no other court, the Cherokee were eventually forced to leave Georgia and settle in Indian country, now the state of Oklahoma.

Jackson felt that the Indians would be better off “out of the way” and settled his policy on “voluntary emigration west of the Mississippi.” Although the removals conducted under the control of the United States Army were generally peaceful, thousands of Cherokee were removed along the “Trail of Tears” to the West.


Source: The Age of Jackson: States’ Rights
© Created by Henry J. (Jud) Sage, 1996-2014,

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