The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina/Chapter 2


CHAPTER II

NULLIFICATION ADVOCATED AND DENOUNCED (1830)

There were few citizens of South Carolina who did not feel some degree of hope that the session of Congress which began in December of 1829 would reform the tariff in a manner satisfactory to the South. But as the months of the session passed without action, the conviction rapidly, spread that the congressional prospect was hopeless. A report of the House Committee on Manufactures very early declared it inexpedient to make any alteration whatever in the existing protective system. But the question was not to be thus easily dropped. Proposals of change were submitted, and in the debates George McDuffie, of South Carolina, was a brilliant advocate of tariff reduction. He offered a bill which would in two years have reduced the duties upon all the prime necessities of life, including woolen and cotton goods, iron, etc., to the standard of the tariff of 1816. But even the genius of a McDuffie was without force against what seemed to be the grasping hand of avarice. His bill was laid upon the table by a decisive vote.[1] The bill which was finally passed, based largely upon the Mallory bill of the House Committee on Manufactures, met with little favor in South Carolina."[2]

After the receipt of the first report in which the House committee declared itself adverse to any change, one paper after another in South Carolina began to urge that the state should be "anchored on her own energies" and "rely upon her own virtues." The report seemed to say that a System of consolidation would be fixed upon them, under which the southern states, taxed and oppressed for the benefit of the manufacturers, could not fail to sink into a deplorable state of poverty and degradation, unless!—unless they asserted their rights and strove for redress "by exercise of their own energies as sovereign states."[3] It is worthy of notice that during these months the appeals were largely to the South as a whole, and that the talk of action was largely in vague phrases. The appeal for definite state action came later.

When the Mallory bill appeared, the main features of which seemed destined to be retained, it was despised, both for its rates and for its obstructive machinery.[4] The bill as finally passed by Congress did have in it what many South Carolinians interpreted as a pretense at conciliation of southern demands; but this was soon shown in its true light by the press of the state, and by all but a few was distinctly rejected as a concession. The duties on tea, coffee, salt, and molasses were either materially reduced or removed; but the protection of manufactures was retained. The majority of the papers of the state soon pointed out that the North was not concerned in growing any of these articles; it was concerned, like the South, only in consuming them. It was, therefore, highly beneficial to the northerners to have light duties on these comforts of life. They were, no doubt, willing to go on in this way until every cent which they contributed toward the support of the government should be taken off and the South left to pay the expenses of government and support the northern manufactories besides.[5] When this so-called trick was exposed, others, formerly hopeful, joined the ranks of those who believed that not a shade of hope remained for the South. Whatever would be done would be "in further insult or injury to the despised Plantations" and in further violation of the "prostituted parchment" which they "called in mockery a constitution."[6] Some of these joined the ranks of the bold and asked how long such things were to be borne. Could a sovereign state, having in herself the undoubted means of redress, "with worse than womanish weakness" forbear to use them? Had her citizens who did so the hearts of men? The doctrine of state rights must be their sole safety, and many rejoiced at the spread of this doctrine as a result of the Webster-Hayne debate.[7]

There were some, however, who viewed the action of Congress as a promise of a better program for the future.[8] The Courier was even accused of trying to show the tariff to be not an evil to the South, but a positive good.[9] There were also some few in the state who were said, with some degree of truth, to be ready to sacrifice the principle for which the state stood as regarded internal improvements.[10] The tariff defenders cited, as a precedent worthy of following, the stand taken by South Carolina statesmen in 1816.[11] The anti-tariff South Carolinians of 1830, however, excused these men of 1816 on the ground that they had voted for the tariff distinctly as a temporary measure, to be reduced to 20 per cent in three years, and as a special concession to the manufacturers to allow them to withdraw their capital with little loss. But the manufacturers had betrayed the trust of the South Carolina delegation by applying for an extension of the system, unsuccessfully in 1820, but successfully in 1824. James Hamilton, Jr., now published his famous confession that in 1821 he was laboring under "an honest but blind delusion" in advocating the exercise by Congress of powers which he had since come to see were ruinous to South Carolina. He added that he was not alone in this change of sentiment between 1821 and 1830, but that nineteen-twentieths of South Carolina citizens had also thus changed.[12]

Although the South Carolina Exposition came out during the legislative session of 1828, the following year, as has been shown, was one of lull. During and after the session of Congress, which sat through the first part of 1830 without giving satisfactory relief, many went back to the nullification doctrine and from that time on a number of leaders urged that it be carried to the point of action. At first the doctrine suffered because of the disunion imputation, and soon the main object of the nullification advocates became the removal of the disunion stigma.

In this period of educating the people as to the merits of nullification, one of the writers who early in the year attracted considerable attention was "Hampden." This writer was Francis W. Pickens, of Edgefield, a statesman of no mean ability.[13] "Hampden" as a literary character became widely known, but his identity was long kept a secret.[14] These articles appeared first in the Edgefield Carolinian, but were copied by other papers in the state.[15] But as yet only the more courageous would openly and actively support the nullification theory. Pickens agreed with Hammond[16] that the people were not as advanced in position as were many of the leaders, particularly in their stand on disunion as a possible ultimate necessity; to educate the people up to this final point, Pickens wrote the "Hampden" numbers. But at the same time he believed that a great body of the intelligent citizens were far ahead of some of the would-be leaders, lawyers particularly, who would not risk the loss of popular favor by associating themselves with the tenet of disunion. When the people showed signs of being ready for it, these petty leaders would be in the van; but they would not declare themselves thus early, when their leadership would count for most. For such men he had only contempt, and he predicted that they would inevitably be lost "in the great struggle that must sooner or later agitate this country deeper than it has ever yet anticipated."

In reading such statements one is likely to think that the authors must have anticipated a clash of physical forces, of arms, indeed; yet nearly invariably these writers maintained, as did Pickens, that the states had under the Constitution a moral power, in their reserved powers, which could give entire redress, and to the support of which at least half the states would rally if it became an issue. Some of the defendents of the faith might have added privately, as did Pickens, "but if we do not succeed constitutionally and peaceably, I am free to confess that I am for any extreme, even 'war up to the hilt,' rather than go down to infamy and slavery 'with a government of unlimited powers.'" He favored immediate action, for to his mind there never had been as good a time for the state to act as then. The administration was really weak, and from the constitution of the parties in the general government its power was lessened; it might in a few years be otherwise."[17]

The possibility that nullification might involve disunion caused many to hesitate; this is abundantly shown by the correspondence, pamphlets, and newspapers of the time. Many, however, believed implicitly that there was a conception of nullification in which even the possibility of secession had no place, and that, in fact, in so far as resistance to the obnoxious laws of Congress was likely to be successful or even beneficial, it must be legal or constitutional.[18] Some openly broached the subject of peaceable secession from the Union and contended that such action was not only justifiable but would leave the general government without power or pretense of a reason for coercion.[19] Others thought of nullification and secession as two entirely distinct measures by no means closely related, the latter to be thought of only as a last resort.[20] This class thought that there was great evil in writing and talking about disunion or secession, because it would shock and disgust the people to such an extent that it would prejudice them against any remedy whatever and prepare them for submission.

While many saw clearly the relation between nullification and secession, and that the latter might follow the former, they differed widely as to their predictions of what would actually happen in case nullification were tried. Many of this class clearly defined nullification as an exercise of the sovereign authority of the state, declaring a law of the general government void and inoperative in that state on account of its unconstitutionality. In other words, they held that authority to pass it was not delegated by the states in the formation of the Union, and, that the state, not having agreed when it entered the confederacy to the exercise of such authority by Congress, would not allow it to be exercised now unless three-fourths of the states, according to the terms of the Constitution, agreed to make this sanction an addition to that Constitution. In that event the state must submit, or rebel against its own stipulations and revolutionize the government.[21] In the case of the tariff the consent of the three-fourths of the states, necessary to give the power to continue to pass tariffs, would not be secured;[22] the southern cause would be triumphant and the republic saved. Surely there was nothing dreadful about that.[23]

Still others who saw clearly the relation of nullification to secession professed loudly that the party in South Carolina opposed to the usurpations of the federal government did not desire disunion; they claimed to contemplate nothing but a peaceable and constitutional assertion of the rights of the state; but they admitted that if she were opposed in restoring the Constitution to her conception of its purity, the Union might be dissolved; they then placidly washed their hands of all blame in such an event by saying that such blame must be laid at the door of those who first trampled on the Constitution. Many of this class were not entirely honest in their public professions. In reading the editorials of many of the ardent nullification sheets the reader feels that while they tried to belittle the possibility of disunion, and to shift all blame for such an event from their shoulders, yet they really saw that disunion was quite likely to result from the step they urged.[24]

Another large class, then becoming known as the Union party, decried nullification in any form whatsoever. To them the doctrine, however disguisedly spelled revolution.[25]

During the greater part of 1830, men were reading and talking, and perhaps thinking; they were preparing themselves to be aligned when party lines became rigidly and severely drawn. By the middle of the year the moderates seemed to be gaining the upper hand in a way that set the action party on its guard.[26] Judge William Smith, General Stephen D. Miller, and General James Blair were now looked upon by the nullification supporters as prominent among the advocates of moderation whom it would be desirable to crush or cajole into shifting their position. More work of education had to be done in the cause of nullification; the people did not understand it well enough. Pickens thought the Nullification party was neglecting its campaign of education by not publishing more pamphlets, which he considered far more effective with the people than newspaper articles.[27]

Public dinners and barbecues came thick and fast in June and July. The toasts reported from the various campaign feasts showed a great variety of sentiment. The sentiments were nearly unanimous in their deep sense of the wrongs of the South and their determined resolution to redress them; but as to the measure of redress they differed widely. Nullification by the legislature, by state convention, secession, disunion, a convention of southern states, were all proposed. Some, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the state rights and "Carolina" doctrines. Most of them professed love for the Union, but greater love for state sovereignty to resist oppression. Clearly, however, there was no strong demand for nullification, and secession was far from the thoughts of all but a few.[28]

At Charleston on July 1 a "public dinner" was given in honor of William Drayton and Robert Y. Hayne, "exclusively by Friends of the Southern States,"[29] About six hundred banqueters were accommodated at the city hall. Hayne had before been the spokesman for the Nullifiers and he did not disappoint them this time. Drayton, however, spoke against nullification, and upheld the federal judiciary in a way that long rankled in the minds of the Nullifiers and called forth many an article and editorial to show that there were cases in which a state might throw itself upon its sovereignty and protect its citizens from an unconstitutional law, in spite of a decision of the Supreme Court that the law was constitutional; the Constitution itself, indeed, needed the protecting shield of state sovereignty against Congress and the Supreme Court.[30] To Drayton's assertion that a government whose acts were not obligatory on its citizens would be a strange anomaly, it was answered that a government whose every act was obligatory on its citizens would be much more dangerous, if not equally anomalous; the peculiarly happy feature of our government was, it was said, that to resist the unconstitutional and oppressive abuses of power was not rebellion nor revolution, as in other governments, because of the possible intervention of the state veto.[31]

Other men spoke at this dinner, among whom were James Hamilton, Jr., Robert J. Turnbull, Henry L. Pinckney, and Langdon Cheves. The first three were Nullifiers; but the last-named observed that the southern states were all equally interested in the existing crisis and that it would not do for South Carolina to take any step without their co-operation.[32] The dinner was looked upon by many Unionists as a political move on the part of the Nullification-Disunion party to popularize its doctrines.[33]

The Webster-Hayne debate was a fortunate piece of advertising for the doctrine of nullification, and came just at a time when such publicity was most needed. The South Carolina papers printed many of the speeches almost entire.[34] The nullification press of course gave most of its space to Robert Y. Hayne, enthusiastically approved his exposition, and slurringly referred to Daniel Webster as the "Janus-faced, blue-light federalist" or in other terms equally reproachful. Webster was not without his worshipers, however, even in South Carolina, and a few papers pronounced his to be a lucid and just exposition of the true principles of our government, an able and unanswerable defense of the Constitution against the dangerous construction of its powers which would render not only its efficiency, but its very existence, dependent upon the caprice of a state legislature.[35]

The feature of the debate which seemed most to encourage the Nullifiers was the indorsement of Hayne's position by certain men from all parts of the North; what had lately been called a treasonable tendency and derided as the "Carolina doctrine" thus gained supporters from sections supposed to be completely inimical; the increasing popularity of the cause seemed abundantly witnessed. The whole issue gained importance by being transferred from the newspapers and some of the state legislatures to the Senate of the United States. Since some of the friends of the administration supported the principles set forth by Hayne, the Mercury ventured to predict that the President himself would consistently maintain them. With the right of a state to nullify a dangerous and unconstitutional law apparently admitted by some of the ablest statesmen of all sections, the nullification papers boasted that their doctrines were rapidly extending to all parts of the Union. This had its effect on many of the doubtful and the timid in South Carolina, and encouraged the leaders to press more boldly their demands for action. Siurely, they argued, now when the cause seemed on the way to victory, its parent state. South Carolina, should not falter.[36]

Others thought that the debate decided nothing except that "orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is your doxy." Some of the Nullifiers admitted that the debate on abstract principles left the issue an open one until decided by a concrete case. This they thought to be at hand, and they held it the duty of South Carolina to force the issue. It would be a glorious achievement if the people of South Carolina asserted and maintained her sovereignty. But if they meanly shrank from the contest, awed by imaginary fears, and submitted to all the wrongs heaped upon them, unmitigated oppression would be their present doom, and future infamy their merited reward. The October elections must decide her fate.[37] In the movement leading to the organization of the Union party the most prominent figure, in the uplands at least, was Benjamin F. Perry, who in January, 1830, launched the Greenville Mountaineer.[38] Perry was a clear thinker, an able writer, and a fearless advocate. In contrast to the Nullifiers, who preached state sovereignty as the sine qua non of existence and belittled the Union on all occasions, the first principle in Perry's faith was a belief in the people as the only true and legitimate sovereigns; and the next dearest object of his thoughts was the Union of the United States. The only circumstance that could induce him to contemplate a dissolution would be the necessity of doing so to preserve republican government; but that such a contingency would ever arise he could not believe.

The great body of the Union men were opposed to all protective duties; they thought the existing tariff unjust, oppressive, and a fraud upon the Constitution, because it purported to be a revenue measure and was avowedly a protective measure. But they preferred to suffer while evils were sufferable, relying on a returning sense of justice in the American people. To them the Constitution was a complex but harmonious scheme of civil polity, every part of which was equally necessary to the support and well-being of the whole. The powers of sovereignty were distributed among the several state legislatures and the government of the United States. To the federal government had been delegated certain express powers, and in the exercise of these powers this government was unlimited. To the state governments belonged all powers not ceded to the general government and not expressly denied them in the federal Constitution or in their own respective constitutions. In the exercise of their legitimate powers the state authorities were supreme, and any encroachment upon their spheres by the United States was an unwarrantable usurpation. But to call either the state authorities or the people of any state an independent sovereignty, in the true sense of the word, was unquestionably a misnomer; for neither the state governments nor the people of the states had the right to declare war, make peace, form alliances, regulate foreign commerce, keep an army, or build a navy, all of which powers were essential to sovereignty.[39] At one period in the history of our country, said the Union men, the states were independent sovereignties. This was immediately after their separation from the British crown and before the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. Then each state had the power to do what it pleased and was under the control of no authority. It could declare war, make peace, and enter into treaties of alliance. But on the adoption of the Articles, and still more on the adoption of the federal Constitution, the states had yielded up a large portion of their sovereignty for the purpose of forming a government which should be able to protect and defend their rights. They from that time on ceased to be sovereign. They were from then on unknown among the nations of the earth. The states might properly be called sovereigns in the exercise of their reserved rights, but to apply the term any further was a misnomer.

The consolidation of all power in the general government on the one hand, said the Union men further, and the separation of the several states on the other, would be equally fatal to liberty. There would arise out of the one a despotism which would grind and crush everything to earth; and out of the other would come confusion, anarchy, and civil war, with a horrible train of calamities. In construing the federal Constitution equal care should be observed to avoid both these issues. An unlimited latitudinarian construction would give rise to the one, and a rigid literal construction, by disarming the national government of its ceded power, would cause the other.

The federal judiciary, to the Union men, was the great arbiter between the national and state governments, and they believed that this tremendous power of settling disputes between these governments could not have been lodged anywhere else with so much propriety. To say that each state had the right, either in convention or in its legislature, to determine on the constitutionality of the proceedings of the general government, would be to place the country in that desperate extremity in which it was under the Articles of Confederation. The power to settle disputes between the general and state governments had to be vested somewhere; it was the intention of the Federal Convention to make the judiciary the interpreter and guardian protector of the Constitution; this intention was clearly and indisputably expressed in the Constitution itself; this was the sense of all parties at the time of the adoption of that social compact; the Supreme Court had invariably exercised this power ever since its first establishment; and, consequently , this tribunal was properly the great arbiter in all matters arising between the national and state governments.

The opinions of many national statesmen from the time of the Federal Convention, including many South Carolinians, and the Exposition of 1828 itself, were cited to verify this view. The federal judges were not, as some persons said, the interested creatiures of the general government. They were indebted for their appointment to the United States Senate, whose especial care it was to guard the sovereign rights of the states. They held their offices during good behavior and were selected for their talents, learning, and purity of character. Their salaries could not be diminished and they were responsible to Congress for nothing but misdemeanors in office. Such men, under such circumstances, were not easily influenced. But this view was somewhat marred by a willingness to admit that the federal judges were more likely to have a partiality for the national than for the state governments. On the whole, the Union men were quite as dogmatic about the place occupied by the Supreme Court as were the Nullifiers.

As to the power of nullification vested in a state, whence was it derived? The Unionists answered, Surely not from the federal Constitution itself. There was nothing in that compact which would warrant such a deduction. Some of the Nullifiers, however, averred that it was derived from the very nature of an agreement entered into by independent sovereignties. But the Union men did not think so. It appeared to them utterly impossible, from the nature of the federal Constitution, that such a power should inhere in the states. They could not conceive how the right of nullification could be exercised compatibly with the principle of the Union.

If to each state were given the power of deciding on the constitutionality of the proceedings of the general government, where would be the bond of union? Would it not have been always discretionary with the states whether they would submit to an act of Congress or put their veto upon it? What obligation or compulsion would they be under to be governed by a law of the United States? None, answered the Union men, save their own arbitrary will or pleasure. If a measure of the general government were unacceptable to any one state, she would have nothing to do but to pronounce it unconstitutional and by this means get rid of it. It was no argument to say that some laws could not be called unconstitutional; for men when prompted by passion and interest would see everything through jaundiced eyes. The plainest and most positive gifts of power would be doubted and misunderstood. It seemed to the Union men beyond the possibility of a doubt that this power of nullification would make for an infinitely weaker government than that which had existed under the Articles of Confederation. The only parallel for such a union was to be found in this country during the Revolutionary war. Then, the states were bound by no confederation save that of mutual interest and common danger.

They were told, however, that there was a possible check on this veto of the states. When an act of Congress had been declared unconstitutional, an appeal might be carried from this decision of one state to a convention of all the states. If three-fourths of the states should concur in upholding it as constitutional, then it must become a law, and the state pronouncing it unconstitutional would be forced to submit. Thus, it seemed, the whole machinery of government was to stop until a federal convention could be called.

Suppose war were declared and the little state of Rhode Island, seeing that her commerce was about to be cut off and ruined thereby, should say the war was unconstitutional and put her veto on it; this would end the matter until a convention could be called. In the meantime the enemy would be free to range the country and to leave it when he saw fit. The friends of nullification might suppose, however, that a generous foe would wait until the federal convention could settle the constitutionality of the war. But if the votes of three-fourths of the states could not be obtained in favor of the war, the government would have to surrender at discretion to the enemy. The Union men doubted very much whether this would not have been found literally true during the War of 1812 when the Hartford Convention assembled. At that time one-fourth of the states were opposed to the war and could have put an end to it. It could not be said that a division of opinion could never arise as to so plain a matter as the legality of a war, said the Union men, for the people of New England would no doubt have raised that very question during the War of 1812 if they had properly understood and believed in the powers of nullification.[40]

The opponents of nullification asked if that system of checks would not put it in the power of any one state to force the government to call a convention, and if this were true under the doctrine, as they understood it to be, whence was the power derived? Did not the Constitution say that two-thirds of the states were required to call a convention? Yet by the nullification doctrine one state was given the right of exercising this important power, which the framers of the Constitution were unwilling a majority of the states should possess. Was not this an open, palpable, and dangerous infraction of the federal compact? Furthermore, asked the Union men, where was the clause of the Constitution which conferred the power of construing that instrument upon three-fourths of the states? They knew very well that this number had the right to make amendments to the federal Constitution, but they believed that there was a great difference between construing an old compact and making a new one.[41] Surely a smaller number should be allowed to construe an agreement than was required to make an entirely new one. If three-fourths of the contracting parties must concur in every construction of their compact, would it not, in all probability, remain forever a dead letter? Would it ever be construed at all? Could so large a number agree in drawing any power from it when their interests clashed?

The friends of nullification might say what they pleased, but the exercise of this veto power by the states, with the right of an appeal to a federal convention, was nothing more nor less than taking all power out of the hands of the majority and putting it into those of the minority. It was in fact the establishment of an aristocracy of the very worst kind. The majority, indeed almost three-fourths of the people, would be governed by one-fourth. If this, the Union men felt, were consistent with the true principles of a republican government, if it were not the commencement of a vile aristocracy, which must end in anarchy, then they knew nothing about the nature and theory of government. If the majority were unworthy of being intrusted with power, the minority were more so, and consequently they had better "petition the Almighty, as the children of Israel did in olden times," to give them a king, who might rule them in peace and head their armies in war.

If this nullification construction of the Constitution should ever prevail there would have to be a federal convention in constant session, and the whole country would remain in a revolutionary state. There could be nothing like fixed and settled principles of government, but the people would have to be always making new constitutions and destroying old ones by negative votes. For instance, suppose South Carolina declared an act of Congress void and it went to a convention of the states; suppose a vote of three-fourths of the states could not be obtained in favor of the law; there would be the end of it. If a one-fourth vote could be obtained against a law, it would be void. Thus the power of legislation as well as that of making and construing the Constitution would be vested in no less a number than three-fourths of the states. If this ever came to pass, the Union men cared not how soon a dissolution of the Union might follow, for they too held it to be the right of a people to revolutionize their government when evils were insufferable.

Some of the Union men agreed that when they could be made to perceive any, even a metaphysical, distinction between nullifying a statute of the United States and absolute rebellion, they would take a stand that moment for nullification, for South Carolina had suffered under an unrighteous legislation on the part of Congress long enough and severely enough to warrant any step on her part short of severance of the Union. But, "with all proper deference to others," they looked upon such a thing as constitutional nullification as "very much of a downright absurdity." That South Carolina, like every other state in the Union, had a "perfect right to resolve herself into her original elements," no person could deny; she had the right at any moment to secede from the Union, and they would leave the question open whether the oppressions that had been heaped upon her had not become sufficiently intolerable to justify her in such a step; but it "sickened" them to hear so much of her right to do so and still remain a component portion of the confederacy. The act itself was revolution, and she must either conquer or be conquered by the Union; or the Union must peaceably acquiesce in the separation, and the state must become an independent and disconnected sovereignty.

If the "good people of South Carolina" had made up their minds that the time had arrived when the Union was in point of fact of no " value." ; that actual separation and war were preferable to any further endurance of congressional usurpation and injustice; then let them so declare themselves and act accordingly. The Union men pledged themselves to sink or swim in the storm with the people of the state, but they insisted that the people exercise no self-deception about it. Let things be called by their true names and followed out to their legitimate consequences. It would be worse than idle to argue that such an act was anything but revolution.[42] At the same time that such sentiments were expressed, the people of the North were warned not to be deceived into thinking that the people of the South and of South Carolina who opposed the tariff were but a paltry few, "a desperate and imprincipled faction, a small number of noisy and restless demagogues"; instead of a faction, it was "the whole people arrayed against federal usurpations." One Union editor believed that there were not 150 individuals in South Carolina, outside of Charleston, who did not deprecate the tariff system as unjust, unequal, and oppressive.[43]

The Columbia Times editors showed themselves to be heartily with the South, but at the same time professed to love and venerate the Union, to have a "holy, all but superstitious reverence" for it, and to believe that most of the people felt the same way. They asserted that South Carolina did not aim at disunion; yet merely to arouse attention, they said, they believed in talking about disunion, and opened their columns to writers who tried to show that the South had all the resources necessary to resist invasion by the North, and to support a government when separate. The position this sheet now consistently held was that though disunion was not desired, the people were nevertheless prepared to stick to their principles even to that end, if necessary; the talk about disunion was to be used only to show that if the oppression did not cease, and if in fact it became unbearable, there was an alternative, however much it was dreaded.[44]

The Charleston Gazette objected in toto to discussions of this nature as idle, mischievous, and pregnant with the most fatal consequences; for, "when men desperate in fortune, surveying from a precipice with indifferent eyes the extended chasm below them, begin to argue with themselves the possibilities of surviving a leap into its bosom, it is but a slight transition indeed from the speculation to the actual experiment." This editor took an interesting fatalistic view of the South's position. He thought the tariff oppressive, unconstitutionally so, and held that the practice of the government was oppressive to the South in many particulars; but he did not believe that any change in those measures then supposed to bear directly and heavily upon the South would tend very greatly to its relief. The evils of the condition of those living in this section of the country arose from their unequal representation, which failed to present to the rapacities of others, not otherwise restrained, any bulwark of sufficient importance to secure them a proper consideration and the equal justice due them in common with their brethren. North, East, and West, Even separated from the rest of the Union, standing alone among the distinct and divided sovereignties of the land, the South would be worse off, less secure, a prey to more powerful neighbors. The South, as the weaker section, was laboring under a great disadvantage, but inevitably so, and should not chance a worse condition.[45]

The Pendleton Messenger at this time took no decided stand, but presented both sides of the question. Its editor's course may be cited as an example of unusual open-mindedness. He kept his columns open neutrally, and himself took no decided stand until he became thoroughly convinced by arguments and events. In 1831 he became a vigorous advocate of nullification. This was typical of the course of many individuals, as the toasts at Fourth of July celebrations showed.[46] The Charleston Courier bristled with articles and editorials against the nullification doctrine, and the Charleston City Gazette, the Charleston Southern Patriot, and the Camden Journal kept up an intermittent fire against the heresy.[47]

Excitement was so intense that prudence could not be assured; men were neglecting their business for politics, and boys were being reared as professional politicians.[48] The result was that the press articles did not always maintain a dignified tone nor rely only upon sound argument, but recrimination was common on both sides. The advocates of nullification, the leaders of the "unholy crusade," were said to be only some six or seven lawyers and one associate judge, headed by Dr. Thomas Cooper, president of South Carolina College. The author of the statement to this effect said that he knew not a solitary instance of a planter, merchant, or mechanic who had harangued and urged the people on to disunion. He had considered the leading districts one by one, and had concluded that in each case lawyers were the stump orators of the Dis-unionists.[49]

"Anti-Nullification" wrote in May[50] that an almost impassable gulf divided the matter-of-fact business men from the theoretical speculators on the affairs of men — of which they knew little or nothing — who affected a pride, with a flourish of guns, trumpets, and thunder, in ranking themselves under the destructive banner of nullification. The first, the matter-of-fact men, asserted, with ample means to prove it, that business in Charleston had rarely been more vigorous than now. The second, the "Nullificators," asserted, without proof, that everything was "dead or dying, and fast mouldering into insignificance." The writer said he had just returned to the city after an absence of several years and found that the matter-of-fact men were nearer the truth. But he said that the trade of the city could be made much greater if its citizens were to take pains to develop direct trade with Europe. What the people needed was to think more of improving trading facilities and commercial conditions generally, and less about tariff and anti-tariff.

Another writer[51] maintained that the disciples of disunion were generally young men, particularly young men whose families had once been wealthy but had been reduced, by the silent but powerful effect of the statute on the equal distribution of estates, to the alternative of active industry or positive want.

A leading Union editor said that the howlings of many of the publications, in different parts of the state, about the American system, internal improvements, tariff, and northern manufactures ought to be regarded as a mere hoax, trumped up by a few artful, designing, though disappointed politicians, who were willing to sacrifice the interests of their fellow-citizens and to jeopardize the state for the sake of their own personal aggrandizement, "to gratify an unhallowed ambition, a fiendish lust of power."[52] With the exception of John C. Calhoun and a few others, the Nullifiers did rely more on bombast and appeals to the emotions than upon sound reasoning. As yet, however, Calhoun had no prominent place in the nullification campaign. The use of harsh words was not confined to one side. The opponents of nullification were accused of being "Submission men," ready to yield any and everything to the central government; their party was tauntingly referred to as the Submission party, and the members of it as "cowards," "recreants," "tories," "Yankee party of Charleston," "federalists," and "luke-warm politicians." They were said to be "Clay men," and that was about the worst thing that could be said of a South Carolinian.[53] Some editors there were who were more magnanimous, and, though they themselves took more or less of a partisan view, credited both sides with honest motives.[54]

For a time the Nullifiers claimed to have President Jackson on their side in this discussion; but after the Jefferson celebration in Washington in the spring of 1830, when he gave the toast: "The federal Union — it must be preserved," both factions boasted of his support. The interpretations of this toast varied greatly, with the result that even late in the year there was much uncertainty as to just where he stood. To this toast the Mercury said "Amen," observing that there was but one way to preserve the Union, and that was to induce the majority to respect the rights and feelings of the minority; or, in other words, to induce the North and East to repeal or modify the "iniquitous measures by which the South" was "impoverished and enslaved." That the President alluded to this way was too evident to admit of the shadow of a doubt, said the Nullifiers, and to them appeared most ridiculous the interpretation of such papers as the National Intelligencer, with which the Courier agreed, that in view of the speeches which had preceded Jackson's toast it meant: "You may complain of the tariff, and perhaps with reason; but so long as it is the law, it shall as certainly be maintained as that my name is Andrew Jackson." The Mountaineer took the toast as a plain threat that any hostile feeling in any part of the country toward the Union must and should be put down; that the

Union would be preserved at all hazards.[55]

  1. Congressional Debates, Vol. VI, Part I, pp. 555, 556.
  2. Mercury, February 16, 1830; Telescope, May 7; Congressional Debates, Vol. VI, Parts I and II.
  3. Telescope, January 15, 1830; Mercury, January 13, February 16. Thenceforward these papers daily recited the wrongs which the whole governmental system inflicted upon the South, and asked whether the states would submit or whether they would not prove themselves worthy of the Revolutionary legacy of liberty. The Mercury, May 1, 1830, contains a typical editorial.
  4. Telescope, February 12, May 14, 1830; Camden Journal, May 8 (this paper will be referred to hereafter as the Journal); Pendleton Messenger, August 4 (this paper will be referred to hereafter as the Messenger); Charleston Southern Patriot, August (this paper will be referred to hereafter as the Patriot).
  5. Mercury, May 29, 1830; Greenville Mountaineer, May 7.
  6. Columbia Southern Times, May 17, 20, 1830. (This paper will be referred to hereafter as the Times,)
  7. Times, May 20, June 10, 14, 1830; Telescope, July 2. The Webster-Hayne debate is further treated below, p. 64.
  8. Pendleton Messenger, March 24, August 25, 1830; Greenville Mountaineer, June 11.
  9. Mercury, May 15, 1830. The Mercury pronounced this an insult to the people; true, some prices were lower than they had been before the tariff was fixed, but this was in spite of the tariff, and they would have been still lower without it. The fall in prices had been general, affecting articles unprotected and protected alike, and was due to the substitution of a sound for a depreciated currency, to machinery improvements, etc.; prices would have been still lower but for the tariff.
  10. The directors of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company petitioned Congress to purchase some of its stock. This was at once regarded with alarm by many who believed that it would imperil the honor, rights, and dignity of the state, and who were even then protesting against the power of the general government in relation to internal improvements (Courier, March 5, 1829) . Accordingly, on December 2, 1829, the House of the state legislature voted resolutions requesting the South Carolina congressmen to oppose any such appropriations for internal improvements (Courier, December 7, 1829). On January 1, 1830, a railroad meeting was held in Charleston which passed resolutions inviting Congress to take stock in the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company and a committee was appointed to memorialize Congress and ask the South Carolina congressmen, and their representative, Colonel William Drayton, in particular, to support the memorial (Mercury, January 4, 1830; Courier, January 4). The congressmen were thus placed between two fires, as the state legislature had asked them to discourage this step. The Charleston meeting was said to have been an open meeting, previously announced, attened by some 820, and engineered by no previous organization (Courier, January 4, 1830). The Mercury tried to show, however, that it was the work of an interested faction, and such was in part probably the case.

    Both the Courier and the Patriot (February 3 and January 21, 1830, respectively) held that, though Congress did not possess the constitutional power to execute a general system of internal improvements, it might, as in this case, invest the national funds in a manner that did not in any manner affect the sovereign and reserved rights of the states. The New York American thought this distinction more specious than real. The Patriot argued that this was not an infringement on state sovereignty, though the construction of a general system by the central government without the consent of the states would be; and, more to the point, that this was a mode by which South Carolina might get some benefits from the system if Congress were to persist in it.

    A letter was sent to Drayton by the Charleston committee, requesting him to support the memorial in which Congress was asked to buy stock in the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company. He replied that he could not do so, because he did not believe such a course on the part of Congress a constitutional one. The arguments usually presented to impute such power to Congress he considered mere sophistry. The Mercury strongly approved Drayton's course (Mercury, January 26, 27, 1830).

    This episode attracted considerable attention. The northern papers seemed to interpret it as an indication that Charleston was switching principles altogether. The Mercury, however, said that those who approved were merely the same ones who had long been for a tariff and for internal improvements, together with a few who, though honest opponents of the tariff and internal improvements, thought that Congress could constitutionally invest the public funds in the stock of private companies, and who, lamenting the depression of the city and state, thought it desirable that an effort be made to revive them by such an investment in the sotck of the South Carolina company (Mercury, January 27, 1830). General Robert Y. Hayne came out, in a letter made public (Columbia Southern Times, February 8), to show that this was sacrificing all principle, and a meeting at Walterboro, always in the van, denounced the petition of the company as destitute of propriety and expediency and unworthy of being countenanced by the citizens of South Carolina (Mercury, February 17). It was not that they opposed the railroad, but that the state was engaged in a struggle for political liberties, the successful issue of which was endangered by such a petition. It seemed to be a case of trying to eat one's cake and have it too.

  11. Patriot, March 3, 1830.
  12. Courier, August 23, 1830; see Houston, Nullification in South Carolina, chap. i.
  13. Hammond Papers: Pickens to Hammond, March 8, 1830.
  14. Hammond Papers: Eldred Simkins, Sr., to Hammond, March, 1830, shows how much some men wrote for the press over assumed names, and how well the secret as to the identity of these men was kept.
  15. Columbia Southern Times, May 13, 1830. In a letter to Hammond, editor of the Times (Hammond Papers:- Pickens to Hammond, March 8, 1830), asking him to publish the articles, Pickens showed clearly how deeply he felt the importance of the situation. He said in part: "I have thought long and intensely on these subjects; I write not in haste or in passion, but in cool reflection and fixed determination. I have … investigated my conclusions and I write to enlighten those who have not the means of knowing, as well as to excite those who know and feel not. I think it idle to attempt to rouse a community to act before you inform them where they are and what they stand on I am for decided action. I love the Union and think it can only be preserved by an open, fearless, and manly course in the state as a sovereign in this confederacy I have no motive in making the present request of you, or in writing those numbers, but to advance the rights and indicate the wrongs of my degraded and oppressed country. I feel as an injured freeman and hope that the community may feel the same." He said that he would have sent the numbers to Hammond first, had he not feared that the local editors would take it as a desertion of their paper if they suspected the authorship; furthermore, "there had been so much written on the subject in Columbia that the people might begin to think that it was only the community about that place who entertained sentiments and feelings similar to those embodied in the numbers."
  16. Hammond Papers: Pickens to Hammond, March 13, 1830.
  17. Hammond Papers: Pickens to Hammond, May 13, June 26, 1830.
  18. Hammond Papers: William D. Martin, representative at Washington, to Hammond, March 10, 1830.
  19. A writer in the Columbia Telescope in the fall of 1829.
  20. Hammond Papers: Eldred Simkins, Sr., to Hammond, March, 1850.
  21. Columbia Southern Times, May 10, 1830.
  22. The tariff men could muster eighteen states, but that would not be three-fourths.
  23. To make this process more simple, some suggested that the southern states should endeavor to procure such an amendment to the federal Constitution as would give one-fourth of the states, through their representatives in Congress, the power to demand that an act of the federal legislature, threatening an infringement of their rights or affecting their interests, should be passed by a majority of three-fourths, voting by states, of both branches of Congress. This they viewed as the only principle which would effectually protect the minority under a confederated government (Charleston Southern Patriot, May 8, 11, 1830).
  24. Mercury March 27, 1830; Telescope, June 18, July 16; Times, June 17.
  25. Patriot, Jiily and August, 1830; Columbia Southern Times & State Gazette, July 8. On this date the Southern Times took this new title. It will still be referred to hereafter simply as the Times, The Unionists will receive more attention below.
  26. Hammond Papers: Pickens to Hammond, June 26, 1830.
  27. Hammond Papers: Pickens to Hammond, June 26, 1830: " … We are negligent in one thing, and that is that we do not take pains enough to spread information in an easy way and in such a way before the people that they would read it. Now when we get into the tariff and internal improvement country, we see, on every man's table who has the slightest influence, piles of writing in pamphlets on those subjects which are so interesting to them, and by this systematic … course [they] affect public opinion there; they keep the people united and excited. Here we have nothing of it. We have had nothing hardly but the Crisis published so that everybody would read it, and that was so blunt and coarse [with] its talk about disunion, that the people were chilled by it The people will not read in the newspapers so well and with as much impression anything, as if it were in a pamphlet before them."
  28. Times, July, 1830; Mercury and Courier for the same month.
  29. Mercury, July 2, 1830; Times, July 22.
  30. Mercury, July 8, 13, 1830.
  31. Drayton recommended a course of reasoning with the North as all that was warrantable or necessary to induce it to yield on the tariff. Such a program was said to be worthy of a new leaf in "the history of knight errantry, expressly to record the adventures of a champion who would venture forth armed only with his bugle, expecting to demolish ramparts and prostrate veteran warriors by its enchanting sounds alone; and, what would add infinitely to the romance of his achievements, by proclaiming with loud voice to all he meets, the appalling alternative, that if they did not yield, he would." Nothing but decided and immediate action would do, said the editor of the Times, July 22, 26, 1830. "Moultrie" in the Mercury, August 7, took almost the same position. He noticed the "crocodile eulogiums" pronounced by the northern press on Drayton's speech, because it counseled conservatism which the northerners interpreted to be an assurance that their aggressions would not be resisted seriously.
  32. Mountaineer, July 16, 1830.
  33. It was said that the Mercury had wanted to hold a big public meeting to get Hayne's nullification doctrines indorsed, but had gauged popular opinion to be adverse; under the circumstances the best it could do, to get anybody at all to attend, was to give a dinner and invite Drayton; his friends attended because they knew he would disavow the doctrines of Hayne and Turnbull (see Gazette. June, 1830; Courier, July 9).
  34. Mercury, February 2, March 17, 1830; Telescope, March 5; Mountaineer, February 27; Times, February and March; Congressional Debates, Vol. VI, Part I; Houston, Nullification in South Carolina, chap. vi.
  35. Courier, March 9, 1830; Gazette, March 9.
  36. Mercury, March 33, April 1, 1830; Telescope, March 5.
  37. Times, April 1, 1830; Messenger, March 10.
  38. Mountaineer, January 16, 1830.
  39. Mountaineer, January 16, April 23, 1830.
  40. Professor F. M. Anderson in "A Forgotten Phase of the New England Opposition to the War of 1812" printed in the Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Vol. VI, says that, though neither the word "nullification" nor "secession" was used by the New Englanders, yet practically all of the elements of those doctrines as later championed by Calhoun were presented.
  41. The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution was merely a construing of the old compact, an interpretative dictate as to its construction.
  42. This summary of the Union position is taken from various articles, communications, and editorials in the Greenville Mountaineer, the Camden Journal, the Charleston Courier, the Charleston Gazette, and the Charleston Southern Patriot. Good examples of these may be found in the Journal, July 3, and the Mountaineer, February 27 and April 3, 1830.
  43. Journal, August 7, 1830.
  44. January 29, February 8, March 1, 1830.
  45. Gazette June 16, 1830; the Pendleton Messenger, March 31, copied an article from the Gazette.
  46. Messenger, June 9, July 7, 28, 1830.
  47. Typical examples are found in the Courier, March 24, 31, May 12, June 10, 21, July 19, August 16, 1830; Gazette, June 21, July 7, September, and October; Patriot, June 28, July 27, September 8; Journal, August 28, July 3, 24.
  48. Joel R. Poinsett Papers: Joseph Johnson to Poinsett, July 17, 1830. Gazette, April 7, July 7.
  49. "A Native of Chesterfield District," in the Courier, September 7, 1830. Compare with above, p. 55.
  50. Courier, May 13, 1830.
  51. Courier, March 34, 1830.
  52. Courier, October 12, 1830.
  53. Courier, August 25, September 17, October 9, 1830; Mountaineer, September 24; Patriot, July 27; Journal, August 7.
  54. Mountaineer, July 16, 1830; Messenger, July 21.
  55. Mercury, April 24, 27, 1830; Courier, April 26; Mountainneer, May 7.