The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina/Chapter 1



At the session of the South Carolina legislature which convened in November of 1825, Judge William Smith introduced a set of anti-bank, anti-internal improvement, and anti-tariff resolutions. They were adopted. Before this session there had appeared in South Carolina scattered evidences of opposition to nationalism, but this episode may be said to mark the beginning of the formidable anti-nationalist movement in the state.[1] South Carolina was not unique in this respect; other southern states were showing signs of a similar movement. In Virginia, Thomas Ritchie had been preaching strict construction and had thereby forfeited some of his popularity in the western counties, while William B. Giles, more to the satisfaction of the eastern counties, was even more outspoken in his anti-nationalistic doctrine.[2]

From the time of the South Carolina resolutions of 1825 against "governmental usurpations" until the South Carolina Exposition of 1828, the people of the state became more and more outraged by the "usurpations," chief among which was the tariff, until most of the people of the state considered not only warrantable, but highly proper, an opposition of a decidedly strong character. But until the fall of 1828 few dared to think, or to admit thinking, of a direct conflict of state and federal authorities. Even then, when th proposition which might bring about such a conflict came, it had to come in the guise of a peaceable measure, if not honestly so.

After the passage of the tariff bill of 1824 numerous anti-tariff meetings were held in various parts of the state. The tariff was denounced as a system of robbery and plunder, destructive to the southern states. Meetings adopted resolutions which pledged the participants to purchase no northern manufactures and no Kentucky horses; men delighted to talk of sacrifices for the sake of principle. George McDuffie was reported to have pulled off his broadcloth coat and to have given it to his servant, saying that it was fit only for the livery of a slave. Judge Daniel £. Huger is said to have refused to eat Irish potatoes because they were from the North, and General Waddy Thompson was reported as having declared that he would live on snowbirds and make the judicial circuit on foot rather than eat Kentucky pork or ride a Kentucky horse. But in spite of all the talk about the injustice and oppression of the tariff, few questioned its constitutionality. And as for disunion as a measure of resistance, many of the people who later supported it were now horrified at the expression of Dr. Thomas Cooper, president of South CaroHna College, that it was time to "calculate the value" of the federal Union.

During 1827 there appeared in the Charleston Mercury a series of articles, later published in pamphlet form, written by Robert J. Turnbull under the name of "Brutus." The writer endeavored to show that Congress and the Supreme Court had made the Constitution "A DEAD LETTER" which might "mean ANYTHING or … NOTHING."[3] The broad-constructionists were severely arraigned, and McDuffie was particularly shown the error of his ways on this point. Sufficient opposition was aroused by the time the legislature met in November for that body to feel justified in making an official declaration for the state. Both houses approved a set of resolutions which asserted the right of the people or the legislature of any state "to every extent not limited, to remonstrate against violations of the fundamental compact … between the people of the different states with each other as separate independent sovereignties." All tariff acts, the object of which was not the raising of revenue nor the regulation of foreign commerce but the promotion of domestic manufactures, were pronounced violations of the Constitution, "in its spirit," which ought to be repealed. They also denied the constitutional power of Congress to construct internal improvements.[4]

By this time John C. Calhoun saw clearly the danger to which the power of Congress to pass protective tariffs might lead; this power might "make one section tributary to another, and be used by the administration and artful and corrupt politicians to buy up partisans and retain power." A meeting of the manufacturing interests at Harrisburg to devise measures to pass a tariff bill then pending set the dangerous example of—

separate representation and association of great geographical interests to promote their prosperity at the expense of other interests … which of all measures that can be conceived is calculated to give the greatest opportunity to art and corruption and to make two of one nation … It must lead to defeat or oppression or resistance, or the correction of what perhaps is a great defect in our system; that the separate geographical interests are not sufficiently guarded.[5]

Calhoun even then was probably contemplating some such remedy as he framed for presentation to the state legislature at the end of the next year. He soon came to feel confident that the tariff was one of the greatest instruments of southern impoverishment, and that if persisted in it must reduce the South to poverty or compel an entire change of industry.[6] By the middle of 1828 he was convinced that the South was so alienated because of the tariff system that if a speedy and effective check upon this system were not soon applied a shock might shortly be expected.[7]

In Congress the South Carolina delegation did much to present the southern reasons for opposing the passage of the tariff act of 1828. At one stage of the debate William Drayton moved to amend the title of the bill so as to read, "An act to increase the duties on certain imports, for the purpose of increasing the profits of certain manufacturers." He hoped this to make possible an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States to try the constitutionality of the system, which could not be done if the title remained unchanged.[8]

In spite of southern opposition the tariff of "abominations" was passed. But this did not settle the matter, for, as the Mercury announced, the "passage of this pernicious measure" did not quell the feeling with which the people of South Carolina remonstrated against it, and with which it was opposed by her delegates in Congress.[9] The people saw remonstrances proving futfle and began to think of the next necessary step. This, then, became the great question of the hour: What next? Various views were immediately set forth; while one of the South Carolina representatives at Washington said a complete union of the whole South alone could save South Carolina and the South, other writers in the press of the state looked to the state legislature to decide on the proper course of resistance. At this juncture the Mercury, which later became an ardent nullification sheet, took a very sane and moderate position; it merely advocated caution and careful consideration before any step should be taken.[10]

By the middle of July communications denouncing the tariff were numerous in the southern papers, and especially in South Carolina many men wrote for publication. These communicated articles were signed with various fantastic names. The nom de plume was sometimes the name of some famous historic character of the state, nation, or world, some doctrine or theory, or was indicative of some class which the writer thought he represented. A man occasionally wrote under more than one name. Some of these anonymous writers wrote long series of articles and became widely known literary characters, though their real identity remained long or permanently unknown to the public. There were hundreds of these writers who produced merely one or a few articles of no merit, who wrote simply to see something of their own in print; others, however, had marked ability which was recognized by the people of the state and country.

"Leonidas," one of these anon3anous writers, in July, 1828, noted a rising spirit of discontent against the tariff bill "now in operation by the usurped powers of the Congress of the United States," and asserted that those who were confident in the belief that this spirit would exhaust itself or be smothered by opposition and intimidation, considered too lightly the genius of the southern states and the principles for the sake of which the awakened people were gathering up their energies to meet the alarming crisis.[11]

As regards the attitude of the North to the outcry of the South, it seemed to one South Carolina editor impossible for anyone who did not read the northern papers to form the slightest conception of the general tone of contempt, affected pity, and ridicule which they invariably employed toward the southern states, and especially of late toward South Carolina.[12]

In the various districts of the state[13] the first Monday of each month was designated as "sale day." On that day, when the sheriffs sale was held at the county seat, throngs of farmers and planters journeyed to their respective courthouse towns to attend the sales, do their trading, meet and converse with neighbors of the district, and discuss questions of politics. Meetings were announced for this day, or were spontaneously convened, whenever any subject of importance was being agitated. The people always knew that if any subject became important during any month, there was likely to be a meeting on the next sale day to consider it; prominent leaders were occasionally present to address the people, and at times open debates were held. If there was intense party feeling and sharp division, the parties would meet separately.

On the sale days of August and succeeding months in 1828, meetings were held at various places over the state to express again the opposition of the people to the tariff, and to discuss possible plans of resistance. The tariff was now attracting so much attention that in many instances the people would not wait for sale day, but held special meetings; and in some cases the local districts of a congressional district met together in convention. Some of these anti-tariff meetings attracted special attention as being "the largest and most respectable meetings ever held in the district."[14] The Abbeville meeting, in Calhoun's district, was anticipated as one which, perhaps more distinctly than any other yet held, would embody the feeling of the interior and announce the course likely to be pursued by that section. Expectations were not disappointed. It was estimated that 5,000 were present, and resolutions were passed which strongly denounced the tariff. Although the protestants looked to state sovereignty for relief, they intrusted the subject to the legislature. They expressed a willingness to join in the non-intercourse plan, a contemplated southern agreement to use no northern manufactures, but they had no faith in it as a permanent policy.[15]

In reviewing and indorsing the work of these various meetings, the editor of the Mercury drew a picture which was surely an exaggeration. He contrasted the situation of South Carolina then with her condition a few years earlier, and contended that by the tariff South Carolina had been transformed from a garden to a wilderness.[16] For these meetmgs and complaints, however, the participants were censured by "all the presses in the pay of the administration, led on and marshalled by the National Intelligencer." These presses held that the attacks upon the tariff act were mere pretexts to cover deep and traitorous designs of the leaders of the Jackson party looking to the dissolution of the Union, with a view to the erection of a separate empire for Andrew Jackson and themselves. The Mercury answered, however, that the question was really distinct from the presidential issue and that the National Intelligencer was trying to make political capital out of it to defeat Jackson.[17] The South Carolinians evidently regarded the tariff of 1828 as of greater importance than did many Virginians, who looked upon it as simply an aid to the "manufacture of a President of the United States."[18]

In view of the accusation of the "administration presses" there arises at once a question as to just what modes of resistance were advocated at this time. In the first place, there was as yet no well-defined, well-organized Disunion or even Nullification party. Certain hints at disunion had been dropped by a few writers, and the resolutions of some of the local meetings had led some of the more sensitive patriots to believe that they had scented a secret movement which might grow and lead to disunion. But these Union watchdogs, who raised the preliminary warning and later became leaders of the Union party, were now making much more stir than was warranted by anything the press disclosed.

Throughout the year 1828 the Charleston Courier bristled with denunciations of anything and everything that could be interpreted as tending toward disunion. Early in the year "Hamilton" published a series of twenty-eight articles in answer to Turnbull's The Crisis, which, with kindred publications, "Hamilton" said, had made the term "disunion" familiar to the ears of the people—a term which he held should never have found its way into the political vocabulary, but should be forever regarded as of evil omen. "Hamilton" denounced these essays as enkindling animosity, sowing dissension between the South and the North, and weakening the ties that bound them together. He did not refer to particular expressions, but to the general tone of the essays and to the inferences which they suggested. He thought it impossible to rise from their perusal without the impression that the authors regarded the dissolution of the Union as an event, not only probable, but hardly to be deprecated. He said that it would not only be impossible ever to bring the government back to the principles "Brutus" (Turnbull) styled pure, but that it would not be desirable if possible, for such a government could not last a twelvemonth. Such principles could not bind the parts together; the very interests and prejudices which, in the view of "Brutus," forbade a closer union were the premises on which "Hamilton" relied to demonstrate its necessity.[19]

The Charleston City Gazette, as early as June 19, 1828, observed that the "question of disunion" was "at last seriously and openly submitted to the consideration of the people of South Carolina," and that the people were asked, not only to calculate the advantages of the Union, but to resist its laws and dissolve the political bonds which held the confederacy together. The editor repeated the usual story of South Carolina's wrongs and sufferings in the Union,[20] and added:

Such is the gloomy picture which is artfully drawn to excite popular frenzy to an act of irretrievable desperation. A measure of the general government (to say the worst of it) of doubtful policy is thus worked up into the most horrid phantom which can disturb the vision of freemen; and over their terrified imagination a demoniac sorcery is thus exercised to lead them into crime and to tempt them to their destruction. For it would be a crime, unpardonable before God and man [to] violate and tear down the only true altar which has ever been erected to civil and religious liberty; and a desolation wider and more destructive than has ever darkened the fortunes of the human race would mark and signalize its accomplishment.[21]

The editor admitted that the state had suffered somewhat along with the general agricultural interests of the South, but he believed that the evil would right itself.

Many men now wrote or spoke against disunion. On July 4, at Columbia, Alfred Bynum delivered an address which a correspondent said did much to stop seditious expressions in that part of the state. He reported that never before had he seen the tide of party feeling so suddenly arrested in its course as by this speech. This he insisted was no exaggeration, for at the several barbecues not a toast was permitted which had the least savor of disaffection toward the government. The efforts of both William C. Preston and William Harper to answer Byniun were pronounced failures.[22]

"One of the People," dating his letter from Pineville, now started a series of articles to show the dangers of disunion. He said that Colleton, Richland, and Abbeville, the districts which had been most clamorous on the subject of state rights and the federal government's usurpations, had lost sight of the original purpose of the State Rights party and had come to think too much of immediate and unconditional separation from the Union; they had perverted the state rights doctrines and misled the people simply for their own selfish ends.[23] Many other writers kept the Courier supplied with anti-disunion copy.[24] Some of the anti-tariff meetings during the summer had features which attracted special attention. For example, at the Columbia meeting Professor Robert Henry, of South Carolina College, moved to strike out of the address those parts professing love for the Union. For this he was severely criticized by many, some of whom said that they would cry shame on the legislature if he were retained in the college. He had his defenders, however, in such papers as the Cheraw Radicals.[25]

A letter by David R. Williams, former governor of the state, to a committee of citizens of York district, attracted attention. He pictured the people of Kershaw district as extremely indignant, and averred that ninety-nine out of every hundred of the people of his congressional district believed the tariff unjust to the South and unconstitutional. He could not say as yet what proportion would oppose the operation of the law; but he feared that a number of young spirits would willingly risk their lives for a military career "if only for the fun of it," though the discreet and soberminded would countenance only such opposition as he outlined. He was decidedly against any thought of forcible resistance, for he preferred to suffer as long as burdens were tolerable rather than encounter evils more terrible. He had as yet heard of no project which really assured relief. He could not see that the legislatiure could better things by taking affairs into its own hands. He preferred associations for non-consumption of eastern and western articles, and favored no project that might tend to dismember the Union.[26] Such were the views of the conservatives.

This was in direct opposition to the sentiment of a large and respectable meeting of the inhabitants of Colleton district" at the courthouse in Walterboro, on June 12.[27] The official addresses of the meeting to the people of the state and to the governor spoke strongly for resistance and asked that the governor convene the legislature at once to consider the situation, or call a convention to do so. The editor of the Mercury commended this as showing proper disdain for anything like a mean evasion of the law; the people of Colleton, he was glad to see, would not form associations to counteract the tariff law, nor agreements not to use northern manufactures, nor would they resort to any step whatever which, while it would circumvent the law, would be tantamount to an acknowledgment of the right of Congress to enact it and thus tend to fix the oppression irrevocably upon the country. He praised them for clearly denying the constitutionality of the act and recommending distinctly such "open resistance" as became "a Sovereign and Independent State."[28]

But the Walterboro meeting was proceeding too fast for the rest of the party, or at least faster than the other opponents of the tariff thought politic. While the Mercury itself later admitted this, the Columbia Telescope, which was generally understood to be the principal organ of the less conservative anti-tariff men of the interior, at once disapproved of the proceedings of the meeting and declared itself as preferring non-consumption as a more advisable mode of defeating the operation of the system.[29] The Winyaw Intelligencer, although firmly opposed to the tariff, also regretted the proceedings as premature, and the Richmond Enquirer, taking the same ground, called upon the citizens of Colleton to pause and avoid such a program as their enemies were most anxious they should adopt.

As yet the doctrine of nullification was not generally indorsed nor even discussed; other methods were proposed. These were non-consumption, the establishment of state excises, and the establishment of southern manufactures. Each had a few strong advocates,[30] but many objections were raised. The Mercury regarded the non-consumption plan as equivalent to submission, and the establishment of southern manufactures as absolutely hopeless and only calculated to benefit a few individuals without effecting anything like general relief. George McDuffie was one of those who suggested these measures, which were to be made effective by a tax on all northern manufactured goods and Kentucky live stock after they had been incorporated in the property of the state; thus the people were to be encouraged to raise all their own horses, mules, and cows, and to manufacture their own wearing apparel.,[31] Some confidently believed that a successfiil beginning in manufacturing had already been made in South Carolina. "Homespun" left at the Courier office, for the inspection of planters, a sample of cotton osnaburgs for negro clothing, manufactured by the South Carolina Manufacturing Company at Society Hill in Darlington district. This company also manufactured other sorts of cloth for winter or summer clothes for negroes, and cotton bagging, "at prices most essentially anti-tariff," said "Homespun." The writer endeavored to show how South Carolina had at her command every means for avoiding extravagant duties.[32] Other writers recommended the manufacture of cottonseed oil and the culture of the vine to help lighten the burden of the tariff. During this year and the next, noticeable attention was directed to agricultiural improvements, and announcement was made of an agricultural paper which was to begin publication on January 1, 1830.[33]

While some writers were in sympathy with all suggestions and efforts which might enable the planters to bear up against the tariff, they contended that the iniquity of protectionism itself must never for a moment be forgotten. They believed that substitutes and experiments might produce temporary alleviation, but that the South could never be permanently prosperous until the restrictive policy was destroyed. Many writers deprecated the plans of non-consumption and home manufactures as impossible of enforcement. While the Edgefield meeting of July 26 pledged its participants not to use northern manufactures or live stock, this expedient was viewed as having only slight and temporary value. Though faith was expressed in the state legislature, a committee of five was appointed to correspond with similar committees in South Carolina and other southern states. Thus a step was early taken to promote union of policy in the South.[34]

For most of the disunion talk, so generally decried, the "Mercury Junto" was blamed, and the men connected with the paper were classed together as a dangerous group. Those who formed this junto were said to be some "apostate republicans"; ambitious office-holders and hungry expectants of office, deluded or wicked men, who would sacrifice on the altar of interest their dearest rights; "blind partisans of Calhoun, McDuffie, Hamilton, etc."; and "disorganizing ultra-federalists," who were "never so happy as when successful in fomenting dissensions among the different sections of the United States."[35] Strategem as well as disunion purpose was attributed to the junto. Though not one of the "big leaders" had declared openly for separation, these cunning old politicians, it was said, had allowed a few of the very young men to speak for it; these young men were sent forth from the citadel of sedition, like little dogs, whose barking, if it aroused the citizens, should be the signal to the wary soldiers within to raise the Union standard and avert the impending attack. When public opinion was seen to be strongly Unionist, the Mercury, the organ of the Disunion party, protested against being called the advocate of disunion. "Thus," said the Gazette, "although we have stripped from the Mercury party the mask of virtue with which it woiild have concealed its treachery, we are yet unable to name the persons who would dismember the Union. The light of day shines not upon them; poor, cowardly assassins, they stab only in the dark."[36]

Such accusations were based purely upon suspicion. The accusers had to admit that their charges could not be substantiated by positive citations. In May the Mercury had advised caution and careful consideration before action. In June it had approved the suggestion of the Walterboro meeting, that the legislature or a convention be asked to take steps toward such "open resistance" as became a "Sovereign and Independent State"; but in July it interpreted this to be simply a forcefiil declaration that the tariff act was unconstitutional and must be repealed; that the rights of the southern states had been destroyed and must be restored; that the Union was "in danger, and must be aved."[37] Surely there was no earnest advocacy of disunion in that; it merely suggested disunion as a possibility if the tariff system were not altered, and the suggestion was offered more for moral effect than with any immediate purpose.

As yet there were no clearly defined party lines throughout the state, as there came to be later when the State Rights party and the Union party were definitely organized. At this time, in the summer and fall of 1828, the main body of the people were just beginning to be aroused to the point where they were ready to contemplate other methods than resolutions against the tariff.

The hostility between the two factions kept increasing, however, and the leaders of the conservatives were especially severe in their accusations and denunciations of the radicals, whom they styled Disunionists. In Edgefield district the Disunionists seem to have boycotted the Edgefield Hive, edited by Dr. A. Landrum. This action the Charleston Gazette declared to be simply typical of the policy of coercion pursued by that party in both the upper and the lower country, to force into the views of "the wild and heated demagogues of the day" all who would not "throw up the cap and hurrah for disunion." This editor continued his fight against the "traitors" who worked in secret to destroy the Union, and hoped that ere long they would be dragged forth and exposed. By the last of August he noticed that the gang of professional office-hunters connected with the junto, seeing that the idea of disunion was not becoming popular, began to talk more for the Union side, in order to get elected. He favored putting the clique out of office and electing industrious, sober-minded citizens.[38]

Not only were the majority of the people strongly against disunion at this time, but some were even pro-tariff in sentiment. A series of articles in the Courier, signed by "A Native,"[39] denounced the talk of disunion and expressed alarm at the meetings which asked that the legislature or a convention do something, for the author believed that revolutionary purposes were in contemplation. He held that a certain set of men was bent upon separation from the Union and was using the tariff controversy as a cloak. Though he claimed not to be a tariff man, he showed himself a thoroughgoing one. He tried to show that the South and South Carolina were not subjected to all the intolerable load of injury and injustice which had been urged as the motive for separation. The subject of the tariff had unfortunately become very much involved; what with pamphlets, speeches, memorials, reports, and resolutions, the mass of argument had become so enormous that men were taking their opinions at second hand; they would rather expose themselves to error and imposition than undertake the intolerable work of wading through such oceans of ink. He attempted a simple statement of the case.

"A Native" did not deny the right of revolution, but presented its dangers and seriousness, and held that just cause for its exercise did not exist. He then proceeded to show the fallacy of the contention that the tariff operated so as to levy on one part of the community a tribute to be bestowed as a bounty on another. To him the idea of regarding it as a tribute levied by a few, the manufacturers, upon the many, the consumers, was absurd, and the calculations by which the consumers of goods not actually imported were shown to be tributary to the manufacturers in proportion to the amount of the duty that would be paid on the goods if imported seemed to him theoretical folly contradicted by the clearest practical proof. The tariff was not an arbitrary, uncalled-for interference of the government, but an institution arising from a combination of circumstances which could not be well overlooked by a vigilant and paternal government striving to assist the laudable aims of one part of the community without imposing any sacrifice upon another. Neither would it in its remote, any more than in its immediate, effects result in injustice or oppression to the consumers of the South. There were certain classes in the North whom it would affect indeed far more than it would the South. As for the southern agriculturists, the writer endeavored to prove that to them the tariff act was a benefit. The effect of the tariff upon prices, the writer held, was incapable of calculation, but he contended that it only steadied prices at the outset, and invariably resulted in a reduction ultimately, as had been established by experience everywhere. The aid of a reasonable tariff to support manufactiurers in the competition to supply a pre-occupied market was indispensable, he argued, and in the end would fully indemnify the consumers, for it contained in itself a counteracting influence, which, by exciting competition, secured the community against increase of price, and furnished an indenmity by communicating a value to labor of every description. Beyond all question the power of Congress had been constitutionally exercised in this instance.

This was typical of a number of pro-tariff arguments,[40] of more or less merit, all of which were characterized by writers in the Mercury as anything but convincing.[41]

A planter near Augusta, who saw at least one phase of the situation clearly, wrote that he thought that the noise about the tariff would all end in smoke, for the people would soon learn that they could get their coarse clothing cheaper that year than the year before. He wrote:

I have bought my negro clothing and shoes l0 per cent lower this than last year, and 60 per cent less than when I imported the former direct from England a few years ago; and the fabric is at least 16 per cent better in wearing. And, besides, what has our tariff to do with the fall in price of all the cottons raised in other parts of the world? It is all madness and folly. The whole secret is, we raise too much of it and ought to turn our attention to something more promising and productive.

This was apparently the theory of the Courier editor also.[42]

There were champions, not only of the tariff, but of federal internal improvements also. "One of the People" said he did not believe that all the people of the state were strongly opposed to internal improvements directed by the general government, despite the fact that the South Carolina representatives in Congress had declared against this function, for the planters of the interior sorely needed means of communication and had been shamefully neglected.[43] As already hinted, such disunion advocacy as was expressed attracted little attention in the North, save as it made capital in the presidential contest. The National Intelligencer held that the attempts in the South to bring about a separation of the Union originated with, and were promoted by, the friends of General Jackson; that the Jackson party was a dangerous one, because Jackson's election would result in the destruction of the confederacy. The Mercury denounced this as a mean artifice to help John Quincy Adams, and, after disavowing disunion, gave Jackson warm praise, in sharp contrast with its bitter censures a few years later.

If there is a man in the United States whose whole soul is devoted to his country, and who would esteem no sacrifice too great for the preservation of her liberty, that man is Andrew Jackson. … If any individual can preserve the Union; if any one man can compose the agitated waves which threaten to engulf us, he is that man. To him the people look emphatically as their last, sole hope.[44]}}

The Adams administration, however, was not without its friends. The Courier and the Gazette were both Adams papers. The friends of the administration in various parts of the state ventured to hold a few meetings during the year, but the fall elections showed that not only Charleston, but the state at large, was overwhelmingly for Jackson. In Charleston the administration party made a desperate fight, but while the highest vote for a Jackson man elected as representative to the state legislatiure was 1,510, and the lowest number of votes for a winning candidate was 1,096, the highest vote for an administration candidate was 706.

In denying that it was a Disunion sheet, the Mercury always made the point that it sought merely to bring the Union back to the constitutional basis, and that if the Union were ever broken the blame would be on the North— with those who trampled the Constitution under foot and who, forgetting that the states of the South were coequal sovereignties with the others, seemed determined to exploit them as colonies at their own discretion and pleasure. In September, when it was seen that the state was decidedly against disunionism in any phase, the Mercury announced that the South did not really think of disunion, but that the real issue was simply as to how the violations of the Constitution were to be remedied and how Congress could be induced to abandon forever the doctrine of implied powers.[45]

As a matter of fact, very few if any of the small number of men who did talk disunion actually contemplated a recourse to it. And even those few saw that they must hide behind at least a pretendedly peaceable remedy, and one with little apparent implication of disunion. Nullification would serve.

The doctrine of nullification was brought to conspicuous notice by James Hamilton, Jr., at a Walterboro gathering, on October 12, 1828. "Our reliance, then, is on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of '98—and upon these we put our citadel where no man can harm it." Nullification, he said, might be applied by the state either through its legislature or by a convention of the people in their sovereignty, and need not result in a dissolution of the Union, unless that was willed by their opponents. If the tariff were declared null and void within South Carolina, one of three courses would be open to the general government: first, to submit to this mode of redress, by leaving the people of South Carolina to themselves, with a hope that solitude would bring repentance and submission; secondly, to appeal to a convention of the states and thereby obtain a decision on the constitutional question; or, thirdly, to use direct coercion with the bayonet. As to the first, consideration of the commercial tribute South Carolina was paying would prevent its use. The third would destroy the Union and was but a wild speculation, unworthy of serious thought. The second was, he believed, the remedy which would be applied. If three- fourths of the states should decide for the tariff, then South Carolina, resting on her sovereignty, could decide whether to join a confederacy in which the prohibitory system was sanctioned by the very Constitution of the Union. But he confidently believed that the tariff would be rejected and that a purified Constitution would be the result.[46]

Many looked eagerly to the session of the state legislature to point out the way for the state. These were doomed to disappointment. In 1824 Judge Samuel Prioleau, as chairman of a committee to which was referred the part of Governor John L. Wilson's message touching the usurpations of Congress in the matters of internal improvements, protective tariffs, and the United States Bank, had reported that the legislature had no right to interfere with the legislation of Congress. Many prominent members took this view but at the next session Judge William Smith brought forward resolutions, which were adopted, declaring that a state legislature had the right to watch over the proceedings of Congress, express opinions therein, and remonstrate against such legislation as it disapproved. This it proceeded to do, and the same course was pursued in 1827. This was the doctrine of state rights as then understood.

When the legislature met in November, 1828, the subject of chief interest was of course the tariff, and parties were beginning to form with regard to future action by the state. Virtually all were opposed to the tariff, but there were wide differences as to the mode and measure of redress. There were the moderates and the radicals; Hugh S. Legaré was a prominent leader of the former, and Chancellor William Harper of the latter. During two weeks of discussion in the legislature a number of resolutions were offered and all referred to a committee. In the meantime Colonel William C. Preston asked John C. Calhoun to write a report for adoption by the legislature. Calhoun wrote this report, and it was sent to the committee and reported by it to the House for adoption. The legislature was not ready to adopt the report, which was the very embodiment of nullification disguised by a great deal of metaphysical ingenuity, but it adopted instead a set of relatively tame resolutions, and ordered the report to be printed. These, resolutions declared that the tariff acts were unconstitutional and should be resisted, and invited the other states to co-operate with South Carolina in resistance. The resolutions were sent to the several southern governors to be submitted to the state legislatures. Many erroneously took the policy of the Exposition to be that officially approved by the legislature. The authorship of the Exposition was anonymous; Calhoun was as yet behind the scenes, and was not to appear openly as an actor in the nullification episode until he was later forced to do so.[47]

During the next year, 1829, the state was much less agitated over the tariff, because early in the year it seemed that the South Carolina protest would at last be received in Washington with proper attention. Indeed, there appeared to be much opposition to the tariff act even in the North.[48] The editors in the state, even the most vehement ones, must have felt no little confidence that Jackson and Congress would reduce the tariff at the coming session; for, during the summer and fall, up to the time of the opening of Congress, the press was noticeably silent on the subject.[49] This must not be interpreted to mean that the people of the state, unanimously confident, were simply waiting patiently for Congress to meet and redress their every grievance. There were quite audible scattered grumblings. At the Walterboro celebration on the Fourth of July the toasts again reflected an ardent desire for resistance; one denounced the legislature of 1828 as having given a stone to the people when they were asking for bread. The Columbia Telescope did not rest so quietly on its oars as did other papers of the state, and in its comments on the Independence Day celebration took occasion to remark that the government since its establishment had changed very materially for the worse.[50]

The Telescope now studiously answered the northern papers which were attacking South Carolina with charges of "Treason, Rebellion, Disunion, Blood, Carnage, Etc.," and admitted with Thomas Jefferson that even disunion was not the greatest scourge which could afflict the nation, and that whenever the original terms and purposes of the Union had been essentially and permanently changed (which condition, it strongly hinted at various times, was at hand), it could no longer be desirable to any sensible, honest, or patriotic man. A little later this editor argued that disunion would not be so disastrous to the South as pictured by some,[51] and accused the Edgefield Carolinian, and the whole community thereabout, of being too nationalistic in their views and n0t strong enough supporters of state sovereignty and state rights.[52]

The Telescope thus, contrary to the prevailing attitude of the state and that of the Disunion party, advanced from a moderate anti-tariff position to an open advocacy of the disunion doctrine in theory, and an announcement that it would be ready to follow that doctrine in practice if matters were not speedily righted. While there were a few tilts in that year over the question of disunion,[53] there was a decided lull on the issue throughout the state. Toward the end of the year, as the time approached for the assembling of the state legislature and of Congress, it was, in view of what some expected from the latter, a pertinent question what action the former should take. Early in the year, in its first issue, the Greenville Mountaineer[54] had thoroughly indorsed the course of the last session of the legislature as the only one for South Carolina to pursue, for it believed that there was no step between the one already taken—legislative protest—and open, unqualified resistance. The plan of non-consumption of all products which were either grown or manufactured in the tariff states was approved as the only proper mode of resistance, however feeble it might be.

As the time approached, other suggestions were ventured. Two writers in a Columbia paper differed as to what they considered the proper policy. "Lowndes" felt, in view of the forbearance of the state in the past, when there was not a single ray of hope for help from Congress, that it would be folly for the legislature to take a positive stand now, just at the time when there was a prospect, even though a slight one, of justice. He favored an adjourned meeting of the legislature to be called after Congress had acted. The coming session of Congress would decide the question forever; if the decision went against the South, then the only alternatives would be for the legislature to declare a peaceable secession or declare the unconstitutional laws a nullity not to be obeyed.

The other writer, "State Rights," could see in such a course nothing better than the "wordy warfare," bordering upon the ridiculous, which the legislature, as " Lowndes " admitted, had kept up for the last five or six years. He would have the legislature demand of Congress (he calling of a convention of the states. "Lowndes" pronounced this nothing short of chimerical for if the South was unable to get a simple majority of Congress for the repeal of the obnoxious laws, it was more than obvious to him that it need never think of relief by means of so complicated and tedious a way as a convention, even though that was an essential feature in the plan of the author of the Exposition. The editor himself simply remarked that whether the next legislature would talk and talk and deal in rhetorical flourishes, as the last had done, until the members bewildered themselves and disgusted their hearers, he knew not, but he firmly believed that no good would be done.[55]

In this period of waiting some predicted that if Congress should persist in its past course it would find that, even though there were apparently now a moderate and a violent party, the line between them was either faint or undiscernible;[56] others raised their voices in warning against the dangers of petty jealousies, local prejudices, selfish interests, apathy, timidity, or anything that would cause division before the enemy.[57] But, in spite of such opinions and warnings, South Carolina was by no means a unit even as to the doctrine of state rights. Quite a number of men in the state were more or less nationalistic in their political leanings, and, among those who were reckoned adherents of a pure state-rights belief there were many who, deep in their hearts, did not believe in that doctrine implicitly, but supported it because they thought it the best for the state and the South under the circumstances.

An excellent example of this class was an ambitious, earnest young lawyer, striving to convince himself honestly, by close study, as to the true status of political affairs. He wrote to an intimate friend[58] that he had read much and thought more on politics during the past year than he was willing to acknowledge, since he should have devoted his time chiefly to law. The result of his reading and reflection had been first to throw him into the ranks of those who thought the strict and liberal constructionists both went too far, and that the true constitutional ground lay somewhere between them. But, in spite of his conviction, he had gained another, a sad one: that it was to the interest of the South to cling to state rights. Therefore he was a state-rights man and believed that the state should prepare to act according to the implications of that doctrine. Any one of the respectable class who believed as this honest young citizen did, but in whom the latter conviction, that it was to the interest of the South to cling to state rights, even to the literal and logical conclusions of that doctrine, was not sufficiently strong, would not throw his hat into the ring until more thoroughly convinced that it was necessary as a last and only measure.

When the legislature—with which some in the state were disgusted, but to which many still confided their hope for the future—met on the last Monday in November, it spent much time in lively debate on the question of federal relations, and ended by adopting another set of resolutions which in reality went little if at all farther than the previous ones. The usurpations of the general government were solemnly deliberated upon, and in the House were referred to a special committee of seven[59] upon "Relations with the General Government," which was the precursor of a standing committee upon the same matter in later years, known as the "Committee on Federal Relations." This committee recommended a preamble and resolutions which the House adopted after slightly amending them.

They expressed confidence in the President and his inaugural promises in all particulars except as to the tariff; they declared that a mere modification of the tariff of 1828 without a relinquishment of the principles on which it was founded would not satisfy South Carolina; that they would not express any fears now that Congress would not do justice in that regard, but "relying on the firmness and energies of the state," they would simply "wait for the proceedings of Congress to show whether the constitutional confederacy had been overthrown by a combination of interested majorities against which there was no conservative power but that which resided in the states as sovereigns." They recommended that the governor open a correspondence with the South Carolina delegation in Congress and concert such measures with them, during the recess of the legislature, as the events of the present Congress might make necessary; they expressed high confidence in the zeal, firmness, and discretion of the governor and the delegation in Congress, but asked that such measures as they might decide upon as best be laid before the legislature or the people. Although they did nothing now, it seemed to be agreed in the debates that, if nothing had then been done by 1831 to redress southern grievances,[60] the state should then take action.

  1. For a review of the position up to this time, see Houston, Nullification in South Carolina, chaps. i–iv.
  2. See Charles H. Ambler, Thomas Ritchie and Sectionalism in Virginia from 1776 to 1861.
  3. The Crisis: Thirty-three Essays on the Usurpations of the Federal Government. By Brutus, Charleston, 1827. Eleven essays were added to the series as originally published in the Charleston Mercury.
  4. And, having become somewhat exercised over the recent activities of the American Colonization Society, they resolved that, since it was not an object of national interest, Congress had no power in any way to patronize or direct appropriations for its benefit. The South Carolina senators in Congress were "instructed" and the representatives "requested" to act in accordance with these views (Report and Resolutions of the Special Committee of the Senate on the Subject of State Rights. Pamphlet).
  5. Calhoun Correspondence, American Historical Association Report, 1899, Vol II: Calhoun to J. E. Calhoun, August 26, 1827.
  6. Calhoun Correspondence: Calhoun to J. E. Calhoun, May 4, 1828.
  7. Calhoun Correspondence: Calhoun to James Monroe, July 30, 1828.
  8. Charleston Mercury, April 30, 1828. This paper will be referred to hereafter as the Mercury.
  9. Mercury, May 28, 1828.
  10. Mercury, May 29, 1828. The editor wrote that the citizens of South Carolina felt with grief that the Constitution had been violated and that the great object of the confederacy had been shamefully perverted; that their remonstrances had been disregarded, their rights denied, and the solemn protests of their delegates laughed to scorn; that they had been reduced to a condition almost tantamount to colonial vassalage, and that they were never regarded except for the purpose of discovering in what way they could be rendered serviceable to the interests of others; that the burdens under which they then labored were but the probable forerunners of others still more oppressive, and that the future held for them nothing but wretchedness and embarrassment; that the great sources of their wealth were about to be dried up, and that the dignity of their state and their prosperity as a people were on the eve of leaving them forever. But, in spite of the fact that the people felt all this so deeply, and in spite of the impression nearly every reader of this editorial must have been forming before he finished it—that the editor was showing that there was surely but one course left for the South honorably to pursue—the editor concluded with a plea for careful consideration of the question on the part of every citizen before he formed his opinion as to what the policy of the state should be. "Whether," he said, "the spirit of just dissatisfaction which now prevails should be allayed or extended; whether, as we have borne before, we shall magnanimously bear again, or by a convulsive effort shake off the burden which afflicts us; whether by any possible course of conduct, we can avert the misfortunes which threaten us, without incurring the hazard of others still more dreadful and appalling—are questions which will naturally arise to the mind of every man, and which the people of this state may possibly be called upon to determine."
  11. Mercury, July 14, 1828.
  12. Mercury, July 11, 1828.
  13. The coastal political divisions, smaller than those of the interior, were called parishes, while those of the interior were called districts.
  14. Mercury, August 7, 1828, report of anti-tariff meeting at Barnwell; August 9, Orangeburg; August 19, Newberry; September 9, Union, Lexington York, Greenville; October 3, Abbeville; October 7, anti-tariff convention of delegates from York, Chester, Lancaster, and Fairfield at Chester; October 14, Pendleton; October 15, St. James', Goosecreek; October 22, Darlington.
  15. Mercury October 3, 1828.
  16. Mercury, August 23, 1828: "Many can well remember the time when the sails of our commerce whitened every sea; when our planters were well remunerated for their labor; when improvements were daily adding to the size and beauty of our towns; when industry of all kinds was abundantly employed and amply rewarded; and when ease and contentment marked the circumstances and reigned in the hearts of all classes of our people. But that time has passed, and, as we fear, forever.
    "Government thought proper to interfere in our concerns and has succeeded at last, by continued acts of injustice and oppression, in blighting the hopes and ruining the prospects of our people. Commerce, which once poured its treasures at our feet, is now driven from our shores. Agriculture, which amply repaid the labor of our planters, now scarcely affords them a bare subsistence. Plantations, once the abode of elegance and wealth, have been deserted and abandoned. Property, once immensely valuable, has fallen to less than half its value. Industry no longer finds employment. Poverty and embarrassment universally prevail, and nothing is to be seen or heard, from the seaboard to the mountains, but the signs of decay and the language of despair."
  17. Mercury, August 23, 1828.
  18. Charles H. Ambler, Thomas Ritchie, p. 114.
  19. Charleston Courier, February 12, 1828. This paper will be referred to hereafter as the Courier. See Houston, Nullification in South Carolina, pp. 49-51, 71-73.
  20. Such as quoted from the Mercury in n. 1, p. 12.
  21. Charleston City Gazette, June 19, 1828. This paper was a daily. The Charleston City Gazette was a weekly edition published by the same editors for country circulation. The Charleston City Gazette will be referred to hereafter as the Gazette, while the Charleston Carolina Gazette will be referred to as the Carolina Gazette
  22. Courier, July 9, 1828.
  23. Courier, July 12, 1828.
  24. In the Courier, on July 22, 1828, "A Citizen of the U.S." started a series of articles. On July 25, "A Southern" appeared. Soon "Lowndes" followed, and then many others in August. On August 28 "Union" began a series.
  25. Courier, August 15, 1828; Carolina Gazette, September 12.
  26. Courier, August 27, 1828.
  27. This section of the state, the southeast corner, seemed consistently to take an advanced position. The Bluffton movement of 1844 was another instance.
  28. Mercury, June 18, 1828.
  29. Mercury, July 4, 1828.
  30. Courier, August 19, 1828.
  31. Mercury, July 4, 18, 1828.
  32. Courier, January 26, 1829.
  33. Mercury, September 23, October, 1829; Courier, November 10. The Southern Planter and Practical Agriculturist was to be a monthly of 44 or 48 pages.
  34. Mercury, August 4, September 23, 1828
  35. Gazette, July 26, 1828.
  36. Gazette, July 26, August 1, 1828.
  37. Mercury, May 29, June 18, July 4, 1828.
  38. Gazette, August ii, 26, 30, 1828.
  39. Seventeen in all, beginning on June 5 and ending on July 18, 1828.
  40. In the Gazette on August 18, 1828, "Prudence" started a series.
  41. Mercury, June 11, 1828. "The Astonished Natives" declared that "A Native" had soon "got into thick darkness from which no light could be seen."
  42. Courier, September 30, 1828; see also Houston, Nullification in South Carolina, chap. iii.
  43. Courier, June 18, 1828.
  44. Mercury, June 27, August 6, 1828.
  45. Mercury, September 3, 1828.
  46. Speech of James Hamilton, Jr., at Walterboro, on October 21, 1828, at a public dinner given to him by his constituents of Colleton district (pamphlet).
  47. Mercury, December 23, 1828; Gazette, July 1, 1831; B. F. Perry, Reminiscences and Speeches.
  48. Courier, February 11, 1829.
  49. Many men believed, as James H. Hammond said in his July 4 address at Columbia, that "the Powers that presided in our day of darkness are no longer lords of the ascendant. Another star has risen and there are streaks of light already visible in the horizon which augur the dawn of a new and bright day. The night will pass away"; its memory, he said, would serve as a warning against future attempts at usurpation (James fl. Hammond, Papers).
  50. Columbia Telescope, July 10, 1829. This paper will be referred to hereafter as the Telescope.
  51. He declared that the South could go out, as far as the results of disunion were concerned, with security; but that he was not anxious for disunion, unless driven to it; that it was to be preferred, however, to further submission to the tariff and internal improvements — the American system.
  52. Telescope, September 4, October 16, November 6, 20, 1829. This charge was called forth by an article in the Edgefield Carolinian calling Dr. Thomas Cooper a "foreigner" and dangerous radical, and saying that his speech in July, 1827, in which he said that it was time for the South to calculate the advantages of the Union, was a sentiment uttered at an improper time by an improper person, and that it had been injurious to the cause of the South. The Carolinian said: "It certainly enabled those enlisted against our rights to appeal with great success to the prejudices of the people in favor of the Union, before they had been sufficiently enlightened as to the outrageous oppression practiced upon them. It was argued with great adroitness and effect that the opposition to the tariff was a mere scheme of some of the southern politicians to gratify their ambition in obtaining that power which would be inaccessible while we maintained our political relations with the other portions of the country. We are as well satisfied as we can be of any fact from observation, that the friends of spirited resistance to the tariff have had to encounter no obstacle more embarrassing than the revulsion of feeling produced by the indiscreet violence of Dr. Cooper and some of his confederates. Love for the Union is too deeply seated in the American bosom to be lightly shaken by any reasoning on its pecuniary advantages."
  53. Courier, August 4, 1829, "A Carolinian"; October 15, "Anti-Cato"; Gazette, September 17, "Union"; August 4, "Caution."
  54. Greenville Mountaineer, January 10, 1829. This paper, soon to prove itself a strong Union paper, will be referred to hereafter as the Mountaineer.
  55. Telescope, October 9, 30, 1829.
  56. Mercury, August 6, 1829.
  57. Telescope, October 30, 1829; Hammond Papers: Hammond's July|4 address.
  58. Hammond Papers: T. W. Brevard to J. H. Hammond, October 11 1899.
  59. Composed of Preston, Gregg, Elliott, Hayne, Smith, Toomer, and Wardlaw.
  60. Telescope, December 24, 1829; Courier, December 7; Mercury, December 21.