The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina/Chapter 5
THE NULLIFIERS CAPTURE THE LEGISLATURE (1832)
In the early weeks of the new year the partisans awaited developments. A protectionist convention at New York offset the low-tariff demonstration at Philadelphia, and Congress appeared to lend a willing ear to Clay's plan for revising the tariff on a basis of but trifling reductions and for spending a large part of the revenue for internal improvements to benefit the West.
This program promised an indefinite prolongation of the government's previous policy. The convention of the State Rights associations which met at Charleston in February denounced Clay's project as involving a systematic exploitation of the South by the seizure of half its earnings and the distribution of the proceeds in such a way as to double northern profits. Nullification was easily preached from that text.
The memorial of the Philadelphia convention, with an additional one by Judge William Harper and Professor Thomas R. Dew, was duly presented to Congress, but the course of the debates in the two houses gave strong indication that no item of protection would be remitted. The Committee on Manufactures, to which all the memorials and bills had been referred, at length reported a bill closely in accordance with Clay's wishes. This, of coiurse, to the minds of the malcontents capped the climax of oppression. As an added ground for indignation it was pointed out that Congress would probably pass the "mammoth pension bill," more to increase expenditures than to reward the patriots of the Revolution. The State Rights party was rapidly coming to agree with John C. Calhoun that though South Carolina, by inspiring a fear of interposition, had made some impression, it would not be sufficient to compel the oppressor to relax his grasp ; no change in the attitude of the government would come, nor could the necessity of action be impressed on the other states, until South Carolina should interpose. The bill known by the name of Secretary of the Treasury McLane next occupied the attention of Congress, but it met no favor with the State Rights men; the Union men, however, seemed to accept it as satisfactory. William Drayton reported from Washington that the difficulty of seciuing a tariff adjustment had been greatly increased because the delegations from South Carolina and Georgia, with the exception of James Blair, Thomas R. Mitchell, and himself, were for maintaining the abstract principle of free trade by placing all duties at a uniformly low level, whether imposed upon protected or unprotected articles. He himself was striving for a medium between the two extremes—between uniform duties of 12 per cent and 15 per cent and the then existing high protective duties—and he believed that if the South Carolina congressmen would show any spirit of compromise, something might be accomplished to allay the excitement. But, after working several weeks in Congress, Drayton lost all hope; he felt that the Nullifiers were irresistible, and would remain so until the South Carolina citizens were brought to their senses by some tremendous blow. When McLane's scheme of a tariff was presented, the Gazette pronounced it a compromise to which neither party could in reason oppose a single objection. It brought down the rate of duties to a scale to which, in the early stage of the controversy, the anti-tariffites gave a ready assent. This assent was given, however, only when they believed it impossible to get their demands satisfied. Believing that the majority of the Nullifiers cared less for the public than for their own personal good and were greedy for the clamor by which they maintained some little notoriety, this editor said that he would not be surprised if they should reject the very boon which they had once prayed for, and, taking new ground, refuse to accede to any measure which did not do away with the principle of protection and repeal the tariff entirely. They would certainly demand something too extravagant for attainment in order to continue to have a subject for clamorous excitement and agitation, which, while elevating individuals, had served most completely to prostrate the country and bring about that misery which they had been pleased to ascribe to any other than the proper cause. This prediction as to the demands of the Nullifiers proved in large measure true. They soon rejected the McLane bill on the grounds that it maintained the principle of protection to its full extent and that it was an open avowal that the American system was to be adhered to at all hazards. They believed that the Unionists accepted it simply because of an eagerness to seize on anything which would have the remotest tendency to prevent state interposition.
Next came the Adams bill, as a report from the Committee on Manufactures, which the State Rights men said was worse than the McLane bill.The news that the Adams bill had been enacted reached Charleston while the two parties were holding their Fourth of July celebrations. When the Union orator, at the close of his address, announced "the gratifying intelligence" that "Mr. Adams' Bill" had passed, the news was received with a degree of enthusiasm that evinced the deep anxiety of the assembly for the preservation of the Union. When the State Rights orator, at the close of his address, also informed his audience of the passage of the bill and said emphatically that when such a bill as that was offered to them as a "concession," their only answer would be that of the American Congress when Great Britain offered conciliation, "We have counted the cost, and find nothing so intolerable as voluntary slavery," the sentiment was received with deafening applause.
Three South Carolinians voted for the passage of the bill—William Drayton, James Blair, and Thomas R. Mitchell. The State Rights press denounced them as "betrayers of the state." The Unionists did all in their power to get the bill accepted by the South and South Carolina. They pointed to what they called material reductions and remarked that a total abandonment of the system could not be expected at once. Drayton, Blair, and Mitchell were faithfully defended for wisely and patriotically accepting a compromise and thus alleviating an evil which they knew they could not entirely cure. The bill, they said, was to be merely temporary, and would soon be followed by new victories. Many analyses of the bill were made to show that it had or had not reduced the tariff in such a way as to relieve the South. George McDuffie, indorsed by the State Rights press, asserted that the act just passed would take off duties amounting to between four and five millions, of which only about $844,000 would be taken from the protected articles; but that the new requirement of cash payments would, on the other hand, add twice as much to the burden of the South as would be taken from it by the reduction in rates. And, said the Mercury, this was called "compromise," "glorious news," and hailed as a measure highly acceptable and beneficial to the South.
Just before leaving for home, the members of the South Carolina delegation in Congress, with the exception of the three who had voted for the Adams bill, drew up an "Address to the people of South Carolina." They reviewed the situation and concluded that all hopes had now indeed vanished. The signers regarded the protective system as the settled policy of the country. They left the question of remedy to the sovereign power of the state. The State Rights men rejoiced to see among the signers two men, Felder and Nuckolls, who had been regarded as Union party men, and who, not long since, had been among those who hoped for relief from Congress.
The Union men and editors who were willing to accept the Adams bill, at least temporarily, of course came in for censure and even for vilification. The editor of the Gazette was kept busy refuting the charge that his paper had been corruptly influenced by the northern manufacturers and northern capital to defeat South Carolina's attempts at redress. The editor admitted, however, that he was not a believer in free trade in the absolute and radical sense of the term as used by Nullifiers, who, "between the summer and autumnal solstice," had become such sticklers that they were ready "to pull down the custom house, .... hang the Yankees, burn the manufactories, elect Mr. Calhoun Emperor, make Dr. Cooper High Priest of the established church, etc." The Unionists picked to pieces the address of the South Carolina congressional delegation (minus Drayton, Blair, and Mitchell) and declared that its leading statements were unsupported by fact. McDuffie's calculations to show that the new tariff was actually worse than that of 1828, which were accepted as proof positive by the State Rights party, were examined and declared to be full of unpardonable miscalculations.
The State Rights men now abandoned generalities. Before the last state election, in 1830, they had merely advocated a convention, some of them being willing to follow any plan it might adopt, others believing that once a convention were secured, nullification could be readily accomplished. During the year following their failure to get a convention they began gradually to preach nullification more openly. Toward the end of the year they had decided to rest on their oars until Congress furnished them new fuel; but by the middle of 1832 nullification became the one question, and the fine points, both pro and con, were debated as never before. Early in 1832 the Union men called attention to the fact that the Nullifiers had thrown off the mask and no longer thought it necessary to pretend love for the Union, as Robert J. Turnbull, Henry L. Pinckney, James Hamilton, Jr., and George McDuffie had done before. The most ominous feature of the situation seemed to the Union men to be the fact that the Nullifiers thought the public mind now prepared for any step. It was pointed out, with much truth, that the tone and spirit of the State Rights party had changed considerably. Its supporters now spoke in a bolder language and assumed higher grounds than they did twelve or eighteen months previously. Then the remedy was always spoken of as peaceful, and he who thought that the case was otherwise was laughed at for his ignorance; now it was admitted by many that there was great danger involved, but it was argued that dangers were as nothing when compared with present wrongs and injuries; that a crisis of some sort must be forced, and that, be the result disunion or revolution. South Carolina could not be worsted.
Though this was not the precise language of the State Rights men, the Unionists said that it was surely such as might be inferred from their most recent addresses, speeches, and essays. There appeared to be two parties in the country determined to bring the government to its grave—on the one side, the ultra-tariff party, with Henry Gay at its head, and on the other, the Nullification party, led by John C. Calhoun, were revealing their principles in a way that left no further chance of deception. At least this was true by the middle of July, when the Nullifiers were universally espousing the address of Robert Barnwell Smith (Rhett) on the occasion of the issuance of the "Walterborough Manifesto" on July 4. No longer was it pretended that nullification' was necessarily peaceful; it was freely admitted that civil war or disunion might result from it, indeed, would result, unless Congress and the states came to an agreement. Even though admitting that revolution might ensue, the Nullifiers treated the perils, the bloodshed and desolation of such an outcome, as matters of no moment, and boasted that they would reap from it only a harvest of greatness and glory. To the Union men, however, such a turn of events seemed to promise nothing short of utter ruin.
Some of the Union men quite early predicted that such a fate was inevitable, because they believed that the State Rights party had the power of the state in its hands. All, however, continued to fight hard for the cause, not willing to acknowledge defeat until the fall elections were over and had gone against them. They asserted that the veto by a state, proposed as a check upon "implied powers" itself involved a more unwarrantable "implied power" on the part of the state. The State Rights men replied that nullification was a substantive power which the states had never surrendered; it was an inherent, original right, and depended neither on implication nor construction of the Constitution.
The Union men affirmed that the doctrine was new, speculative, and but lately developed. The State Rights men appealed afresh to the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions. They had used Madison as an authority until he denied that nullification was extended in any of the resolutions of which he was the author. They still clung to Jefferson, however, and told how Congressman Warren R. Davis had procured from among that statesman's manuscripts a document which proved that he favored nullification. But even if the theory were new, they said, it must be admitted that the practice had often been successful.
The Union men said that it was inconceivable to them how the language of Jefferson, that "nullification is the rightful remedy," could be construed to mean anything else than combined or united nullification by at least a majority if not the whole number of the states; that if a state could at pleasure arrest the laws of the federal government, the union was subverted. The State Rights men declared that it was only acts of undelegated power that the states might resist. Nullification, so far from subverting, would strengthen and preserve the Union and was an essential principle for conserving the government.
The Union men held that if the right to nullify was possessed by one state, it must inhere in all, together with the means of enforcing it. But by what process could Tennessee nullify the tariff acts? She had no ports which she could declare free. The State Rights men answered that, in the first place, South Carolina rights did not depend on whether Tennessee had a seaport or not; and that, secondly, Tennessee could nullify by resolving to support a seaboard state which nullified.
The Union men contended that there was no such potency in state sovereignty as the Nullifiers ascribed to it. It could not, by any action of the legislature or convention, confer on the citizen, any right to resist the legislation of Congress which he did not possess without such action. The federal court might interfere, and citizens resisting the operation of the tariff act might be tried for treason against the United States. To this it was replied that individual resistance to the tariff had proved unavailing before the federal court, but that fortunately there was protection furnished the citizens in the sovereign power of the state. If the people of the state had no right in convention to sit in judgment on the tariff and to enforce that judgment within their own limits, then the people were to be pitied and South Carolina was "a mere petty corporation, without power or authority, a mere footstool of the federal government."
The citizens of South Carolina owed no allegiance to any government on earth which was at all incompatible with that which they owed to the state. He who committed treason, therefore, would be he who opposed the state and sided with the government with which she was contending; it would be he who attempted to enforce the acts which the state had solemnly declared should not be executed within her limits. The action of the state would not be confined to authorizing her citizens to resist the tariff law, but would prevent any of them from obeying it. There was potency enough in the sovereignty of the state, not only to protect those who might resist the tariff against the federal court, but to prevent its most devoted supporters from attempting to enforce it. And yet the State Rights men continually argued that the cry of war and bloodshed as a result of nullification was all beside the mark, for nullification as a remedy had been contemplated and purposely left available by the framers of the Constitution, and it was one that would procure the redress of grievances easily and peaceably. The use of force to bring a nullifying state into subjection to the general government seemed to them a usurpation too flagrant to be worthy of contemplation.
A long letter by John C. Calhoun to Governor James Hamilton, Jr., dated August 28, 1832, was printed widely in the South Carolina press and was looked upon by the State Rights party as the last word on the theory of nullification. It was believed to establish, as clearly and conclusively as any political proposition could be established, not only the federative character of the Union and the right of a state in its sovereign capacity to nullify the usurpations of the federal government, but also the idleness of the apprehension that the central authorities could either coerce South Carolina into submission, or punish her assertion of her rights, by abolishing the Charleston port of entry.
To the Union men, however, Calhoun was not of unimpeachable authority. His Hamilton letter was picked to pieces and every position he took severely criticized. These writers agreed with Calhoun that the Constitution was a compact between states, who were sovereign and free to accept or reject it. But they held that through its convention each state in accepting the Constitution had bound all its citizens to 'the new obligations of the Union and relinquished all authority to determine whether a certain power exercised by the general government was or was not granted by the Constitution, They denied the analogy which Calhoun set up between the federal Constitution and a treaty between sovereign nations, saying that the ratification of the Constitution had not been a purely international transaction; that its completion had effected an essential change in the political condition of the inhabitants of the states ratifying it; that a transfusion or a mutual interchange of rights and duties had taken place, commingling, in a political sense, the contracting parties, both as bodies corporate and as individual citizens; and that the provisions of the Constitution had created a direct and immediate connection between the citizens and the general govenmient in all cases where such immediate connection could be useful or necessary, all assertions to the contrary not-withstanding. The Union men tried to show the absurdity of a contract between the states which allowed each state to interpret the obligations of the Constitution at all times conformably to its own views and interests, whatsoever detriment the other states might receive or whatever advantages the nullifying state might derive "from the interposition of its uncontrollable self-will, styled sovereignty." Such a right, they said, would not have been left by the framers of the Constitution to be assumed by implication. The members of the Calhoun faction were great sticklers for a strict construction. Very good, said the Union men, "let the grant be shown and the controversy ended."
The Courier could account for such a theory coming from Calhoun on only two possible grounds. If he were sincere, the doctrine might be classed among the aberrations of genius from the beaten track of reason and common-sense. "It is the property of great minds to give birth to great errors; genius is proverbially the subject of strange hallucinations. Great men have had their followers amidst the wildest vagaries of their philosophic madness." So, possibly, had it been with Calhoun; misled by the charms of hypothesis, he had ushered nullification into existence with the public sanction of his name, and worshipers were at once found for this monstrous creation of his political frenzy. But perhaps this conclusion was reached in a spirit of too great charity. The only other explanation, then, must be that Calhoun saw the full meaning of the theory and stooped to a deception to accomplish some purpose of unhallowed ambition or misguided patriotism. Was there not reason to believe that he knew full well that nullification was essentially revolutionary in its nature and that it was nothing more nor less that disunion in disguise?
The Union men also answered that surely a state could not be both "in and out" of the Union with respect to certain powers clearly delegated to the general government without limitation; that the state could not say that it would be "in" the Union so long as the power was exercised to a certain extent, and then say that it would be "out" if the power were exercised beyond that limit.
The Courier ran a series of speculations on treason which caused no little excitement among Nullifiers. The editor asserted that citizens as individuals, not as a state, owed a double allegiance, to the state and to the United States, and that the question so frequently put by the Nullifiers with an air of triumph, "Can a sovereign state commit treason?" was an idle one; for treason was an offense which could be predicated of individuals only and had no application whatever to communities. He said further that a state could not, unless it left the Union, authorize its citizens to make war against the United States, without subjecting them to the pains and penalties of treason; that is, that state interposition could not render lawful that which would be treason in individuals; that the citizens of every state in the Union were also citizens of the United States, and that, until they were absolved from their allegiance to the latter, the levying of war against the United States, whether under individual or state auspices, would amount to treason under the Constitution.
The competency of a state convention to dissolve the connection of South Carolina with the Union was not denied by the Union men; but the power of such a convention to annul a law of Congress, they argued, could not be sustained. Such a convention by assuming judicial functions, as it must do in so far construing the Constitution of the United States as to pronounce an act of Congress contrary to that instrument and therefore not binding on the citizens of South Carolina, would arrogate to itself a right not given to it even by implication or deduced from analogy or true theory; for no convention was competent to release the citizen from his allegiance to the federal laws "in part." It was within the power of such a body to release him from his obligation to obey those laws in toto, as well as the great organic law, the Constitution, by virtue of which they were passed. Was it not preposterous, it was asked, to confound an exercise of judicial power with the exercise of popular supreme power? The Union men insisted that their opponents were forced to admit that a state convention could not go counter to the federal Constitution, and yet that these same opponents tried, in a most amusing manner, to justify the incompatible power of a state convention to violate the federal Constitution and bind the citizens of the state to acquiesce in the violation. The Union men pronounced the contradiction "too palpable for the subtlest power of sophistry to gloss over or disguise." The Union men delighted in forecasting the practical operation of nullification as the best means of showing its certain result. In the first place, a state convention was to be called. This convention was to declare the tariff unconstitutional and therefore null and void. The legislature was then to pass an act to carry into effect this decree of the convention. Following this, actions of trespass would be commenced against the custom-house officers for the goods imported. These actions would be tried in the state courts, and when the verdicts had been found for the importing merchants, the sheriff would be ordered to enforce the verdicts and take the goods. This would be the operation of nullification. Next they examined the difficulties with which it was environed, and then asked the people to decide whether it was a peaceful and efficient remedy. Let it be supposed that an importing merchant were found willing to commence the action of trespass and incur the expenses of a heavy lawsuit, with deprivation of his goods for a twelve-month; also, that a jury were found which would return a satisfactory verdict; then the case would have to be sent up to the federal courts for adjudication, inasmuch as the validity of an act of Congress was questioned. There could be no doubt that the federal court would reverse the verdict. But it was said that the state court would violate the judiciary act and refuse to certify the case. The sheriff would then, it was affirmed, take the goods and deliver them to the merchant. But suppose the custom-house officer, as in duty bound, would not give up the goods until the duties were paid. If the sheriff should make use of force, the custom officer would also use force to resist him, and this would begin a civil war in Charleston.
But even supposing that the custom-house officer would give up the goods and leave his post, and that the port of Charleston were opened and the duties ceased to be levied there; if the general government remained passive, the whole foreign trade of the United States would center there; goods would pour into this port from all the manufacturing nations of the earth, to be exported to all the ports of the neighboring states, where the tariff would remain in force and the duties consequently would be higher. But how long could the government of the United States permit such a state of things to exist? Could that government, deriving its revenues chiefly from duties and imports, long exist under such a state of things? Would not the clamors of the other states for relief from the sufferings occasioned by the loss of foreign commerce compel the general government to take the most energetic measures? As the most effective measure. South Carolina ports would be blockaded. This could not be prevented, for South Carolina had no navy. Would she call on England? Would she go back to her former colonial vassalage and bow to the scepter of a king? But England would not incur the displeasure of twenty-three states for the favor of one; she would not involve herself in a war with the United States for the commerce of South Carolina. There was no need to carry the argument farther. Let it be as it might, either the result at last was conflict of arms or the remedy was worthless. But, to go one step farther, suppose the Union were broken; the states would continue separating until the more wealthy and powerful should subdue the poorer and weaker; a struggle would thus follow which must terminate in the establishment of despotic governments throughout the continent.
One of the points upon which the State Rights men relied to demonstrate that South Carolina was justified in taking extreme measures of redress was the allegation that, because of the oppression under which the state suffered, she was in a ruinous condition of decay. They declared that it was notorious that every kind of property had fallen greatly in value; that all classes of her citizens were embarrassed; that South Carolina's commerce was expiring, her agriculture depressed, the spirit of enterprise gone; that emigration was alarmingly increasing—in short, that South Carolina, once so prosperous and happy, now exhibited the most melancholy evidences of a general decay. And why was this? It had all arisen from an artificial, sectional, and tyrannical system of legislation, by which the state was crippled in order that northern manufactures might increase, and drained of her resources in order that the West might be provided with roads and canals.
There was, however, abundant testimony contradicting the statements concerning this decay and its causes. Long editorials asserted the prosperity of Charleston, and others asserted that the fall in the value of lands in the state was due, not to the tariff, but to the immense and extraordinarily fertile area made available in the south-western country, which was draining the Southeast of its population and reducing the price of cotton. In support of his assertion of prosperity, one writer said that there had been more luxuries imported into the state during the last two years than ever before; that more money was being expended upon elections and the vices incident thereto. Among several prosperous planters whom he named as examples, one was "a zealous Nullifier" who had recently complained of the slow progress of the railroad which was being built from Charleston, and who, when it was suggested that he spur on the work by hiring out to the builders a hundred of his slaves, replied that it would make the difference of $20,000 in his income. The railroad contractors would have given him $12,000; he must therefore have made from his plantations $320 net to the hand. To the writer, the very fact that the railroad contractors were offering to pay $120 per hand per year, payable monthly, and could not procure them, was sufficient to prove the fallacy of the assertion that the people were not able to live upon the present produce of their labor.
It was admitted by the Union men that the South suffered somewhat under the tariff, but they thought that the evils thus suffered were light when compared with those brought on by the continued agitation in which the state was kept by the advocates of nullification. Foreign merchants, they said, would not send their goods to South Carolina at such a time; real estate was of no exchangeable value; peaceable citizens left for other states; and society in general was disrupted. One editor, in commenting on the attribution of the North's prosperity and the South's decline to the tariff, was bold enough to suggest that, if such a difference existed, it might be due to the fact that the northern people were an industrious, frugal, and economical people, while the citizens of the South were, on the contrary, idle, extravagant, and uncalculating in the management of their business. He would not admit, however, that the condition was as deplorable as the Nullifiers would have liked to make the people believe, for provisions and necessities of life were cheaper, and the people were living more plentifully, than ever before. It was true that they could not make as much money as formerly, but one dollar would purchase as much as two would fifteen years before, when the
perity of the region was said to have been much greater.
The State Rights and Free Trade associations neglected no opportunity that could furnish publicity for their doctrines. They secured control of Miller's, Planters', and Merchants, Almanac for Carolina and Georgia for the year 1832 and the year following. They changed its name to the States Rights and Free Trade Almanac, and announced on its title-page that it contained "the usual astronomical calculations and local information, together with moral and political maxims and extracts." Upon nearly every page of the statistical section appeared some short sentence or paragraph asserting in pointed style the evils of the tariff and the paramount sovereignty of the state. There were added several pages of tables showing the duties on articles of daily consumption, and devices to prove that the tariff in effect reduced the price of cotton to the planter by about one-half. In fact, the almanac this year was really a State Rights pamphlet, with the usual almanac material interspersed among statements of the tenets of the party. Thus when a planter, mechanic, or merchant consulted the almanac to learn when to plant cabbages, how to cure malaria, when boats would leave, or who were the officers of a certain bank, he would be greeted with reminders of the State Rights doctrine.
The various State Rights associations held meetings regularly every month and many special ones when occasion warranted calling them. Their orators harangued the members at great length and with ever-increasing vigor and spirit. Addresses in great numbers were issued to the people and nearly every meeting passed pompous resolutions for publication. In some places joint debates were held. Sometimes a meeting called by one party would be attended and overpowered by the opposition. Again, if an apparently nonpartisan meeting was called, it would break up into two meetings before much business had been transacted.
In some localities the State Rights men seemed to be prepared to go faster than the main body of the party. As early as April some went so far as to propose a spontaneous election of delegates to a convention at once, without waiting for the adjournment of Congress or the meeting of an extra session of the state legislature. The party as a whole recognized that this would be unconstitutional, and instead promoted local petitioning to the legislature for a convention and general campaigning for the October elections of assemblymen. The convention became ostensibly the issue again, but most State Rights men meant by it a convention for nullification and nothing else. Others there were, however, who wanted the question to be left freely and openly to an unpledged convention, to the decision of which, whether for nullification, a southern convention, or unqualified submission, every citizen should yield assent. The Union party was not to be excelled. It, too, held numerous meetings, issued addresses, held celebrations when occasion warranted, gave dinners and barbecues, and listened to long addresses by its orators. In Charleston, since the old societies (the '76 Association, the Cincinnati Society, the Revolutionary Society) had come to be controlled by the Nullifiers, the Union men formed a new one, which they named the Washington Society.
When any person went over from one party to the other, the party which gained the recruit heralded the fact over the state as a sign of the continued growth of its numbers. Each side was prone to claim all the intelligence, stability, virtue, and patriotism of the state, though at least one editor believed that the most talented, patriotic, and virtuous sons of Carolina were about equally divided between the two parties. Where there were so many distinguished and honorable persons—ex-governors, judges, members of Congress, and distinguished members of the legislature—to be found in the ranks of each party, it was surely unwarranted for either party to cast imputations on the other.
Early in the year the Union party began to suggest that, in case the Clay tariff prevailed, the entire South should act. The Unionists would support a state convention provided that it would only endeavor to promote a southern convention, for only such action would be effective. The Unionists believed that, had the doctrine of nullification never been ushered in, the South, under the common feeling of a common wrong, would long since have acted in concert and obtained by a dignified but determined course that redress which the intemperate efforts of South Carolina had almost indefinitely postponed. Until South Carolina abandoned her delusion and the South met in convention, no success could be gained.
When General James Blair, a prominent Union man, declared that unless the present session of Congress should relax the system of injustice of which the South complained, it would be advisable for the complaining states to meet in solemn conference on the subject and make a concerted appeal to the justice of the general government, and that, if that appeal should be disregarded, they ought to consider the grave question whether actual secession would be preferable to a longer continued endurance, the Nullification party seized upon this as an occasion to assert that the Unionists were the ones who were really advocating secession and the breaking up of the Union, while they, the Nullifiers, were the true lovers of the Union, anxious to preserve it, and prepared with a plan which would do so. The Union presses justly ridiculed this attempt to shift the charge of secession.
The Nullifiers also argued against a southern convention on the ground that it would violate the constitutional prohibition of compacts between states. The Union men answered this objection by pointing out what would probably be the character and course of such a southern convention. It would assemble for deliberation as to the best mode of effecting a repeal of the tariff act; and it would apprise the tariff states of the determination of the anti-tariff members of the Union to withdraw from the compact and form a separate confederacy should the obnoxious measure not be repealed within a given period. There would be no compact, treaty, or instrument of alliance of any kind attending this first stage of the proceedings. If the tariff states should disregard this plain warning, then the very first proceedings at a subsequent southern convention would be a solemn act of separation. Thus far, accordingly, there was nothing to be adopted in the form of a compact, treaty, or agreement. Such an instrument, declaring the mutual duties and obligations of the contracting parties, in case coercion were attempted, would be the necessary accompaniment of the act of separation and not a measure preceding it.
Langdon Cheves, who was for a time claimed by both parties, came out in favor of the Unionists on this proposal. Cheves believed that the southern states could constitutionally meet in convention to deliberate, if not to act. He believed, moreover, that a union of the aggrieved states and people was the only safe or hopeful measure of redress. The condition of party division in South Carolina appeared to him an unfortunate development for which there was no necessity. Rashness, excitement, and fanatical zeal for the welfare of the state and section had caused both parties to assume positions which neither would naturally have taken; the result was that the menace of each was greatly exaggerated in the eyes of the other. The Union was in no real danger from the State Rights party, he believed, unless the Union party should rely solely upon a foolish appeal to affection for the Union and should propose no active measure of redress; by moderation and wisdom it should endeavor to check the too great zeal of the State Rights party, instead of denouncing its motives. Too long had one portion of the people been exclusively engaged in pushing forward the plan of nullification, and the other in the contemplation of its dangers. The proposal for a southern convention, he believed, was one which might earlier have united both parties, and it might even yet unite the people of the state, though he feared it had come too late. In the hope that it would unite the people sufficiently to avert separate action, he heartily supported it. The strongest argument for a southern convention was, to his mind, the tendency it would have, by reason of the moral force of united counsels and resolves, to effect the redress desired and thereby prevent violence, secession, and disunion.
The State Rights men objected that the Union men were talking about a southern convention merely to gain time, to divert the attention of the people, and to prevent the state from acting. It would lead to unqualified submission to the tariff, and both Congress and the North would at once recognize the adoption of the southern convention plan as a surrender.
The Union meetings began so universally to approve of the southern convention plan that by the middle of May it was hailed as the official platform of the Union party. Then it was soon decided to have a Union party convention at Colimibia in September to consider the expediency of a southern convention, in case Congress should adjourn without passing a satisfactory tariff law. Union meetings at various places began to appoint delegates to the party convention. When this procedure continued after the Unionists had largely professed satisfaction with the Adams tariff law, the State Rights men asked if they thought that a southern convention should resist an act which they considered satisfactory, or should secede from the Union because "a great bill of compromise," as the Union men called it, had been passed. They declared it simply a scheme to put down nullification.
The Union party convention met at Columbia on September 10. It was attended by about 160 delegates from the various districts and parishes. As a result of their deliberations, an address and a set of resolutions were adopted. They denounced nullification, but expressed a readiness to unite with the State Rights party in any constitutional resistance to the tariff. In case of concurrence on the part of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, they proposed a convention of the "citizens" of those states, to be elected by districts; the Columbia meeting pledged itself to abide by the measures decided upon by such a convention, and nine of the most distinguished men of the party were appointed a committee to correspond with and act as delegates to the legislatures of the southern states, to solicit co-operation in the efforts to call a southern convention.̣̪
Map V.—Popular vote on state convention, 1832
Again the city campaign in Charleston was to serve as a curtain-raiser for the state election contest, and both sides made great efforts to win. The State Rights party again elected its whole ticket, by a majority of about 160, and it immediately interpreted this to mean that Charleston had unequivocally and emphatically shown that "the spirit of nullification" was "fixed and
Map VI.—Legislature of 1832, for and against convention
settled." It promptly held a "civic festival" in honor of the victory.
During this campaign an incident occurred which throws some light upon the tactics used. One Peter J. Staunton met his death, so the jury of inquest held, by leaping from a third-story window of a house on Queen street in which he was forcibly detained. The Mercury charged that he was being held there with a number of other prisoners, to be kept intoxicated until after the election, and that after the accident the Union party held a meeting and sent a committee to the executive committee of the State Rights party to arrange an exchange of prisoners; but the latter had no such persons and those held by the Union party were released. Similar charges, however, came from the other side. Though defeated in the city election, the Union party tried bravely to rally for the state election, but it was doomed to disappointment. The returns showed that the state had declared for a state convention; and a convention, with the State Rights men in control, seemed to the Union men to spell nullification; and nullification meant war and the beginning of a series of disasters which would destroy South Carolina. Nevertheless, most of the Unionists felt in duty bound
to stand by the state. The only consolation they had was the fact that the awful responsibility was not upon themselves. Such was the attitude of the Union men immediately after the election, when they interpreted the State Rights victory to mean an immediate clash with the United States government. They would support the state in revolution. Later, however, when they realized that the state was not to revolt openly, but that nullification was to be tried, they determined not to support such a step.
A plot of the vote shows clearly that there was no marked sectionalism in the vote. The supporters of each party were distributed nearly equally in both the interior and the coastal sections.
- Mercury, January 4, 21, 1832; Messenger, January 11.
- Mercury, February 27, 1832.
- Mercury, March 6, April 5, 6, 1832; Messenger, March 21, April 4.
- Messenger, April 11, 1832. Calhoun Corespondence: Calhoun to J. E. Calhoun, December 25, 1831; Calhoun to A. Burt, December 27, 1831; Calhoun to R. K. Crallé, April 15, 1832.
- Poinsett Papers: Drayton to Poinsett, March 19, April 5, 13, May 3, 1832. Patriot, April 4.
- Gazette, May 8, 1832.
- Mercury, May 8, 9, 10, 1832; Post, May 10; Messenger, May 16, 18.
- Mercury, June 1, 1832; Messenger, June 16, 18.
- Mercury, July 7, 1832.
- Mercury, July 7, 16, 20, 21, 1832; Courier, July 6, 9, 21, 28, August 1, September 18, October 26; Patriot, July 11, 14, 27, August 24; Journal, July 14, 21; Mountaineer, July 28, August 4, September 22, October 13.
- Mercury, July 28, August 24, 28, 1832.
- Robert Y. Hayne, Stephen D. Miller, George McDuffie, Warren R. Davis, J. M. Felder, J. K. Griffin, W. T. Nuckolls, R. W. Barnwell (Messenger, August 1, 1832).
- Journal, February 18, 1832; Messenger, February 8.
- Gazette, January 6, 7, 1832.
- Courier, July 6, 9, 21, 28, August 1, September 18, October 26, 1832; Patriot, July 11, 14, 27, August 24; Journal, July 14, 21; Mountaineer, July 28, August 4, September 22, October 13.
- Mountaineer, March 17, 1832; Gazette, March 2.
- Journal, May 26, 1832.
- Military companies took partisan titles, the "Jefferson Nullifiers," for example. The Fourth of July was made a gala day by the party all over the state and enthusiasm reached fever heat. The ladies of the districts took sides and expressed their approval by the presentation of banners with original designs handsomely worked or painted (Mercury, July 2, 6, 21, 25, 31, October 13, 1832; Messenger, July 11, 19; Mountaineer, September 1).
- Mercury, July 14, 1832; Courier, July 28.
- Journal, April 21, 1832. As election time approached, the State Rights men thought caution a better policy, and generally refrained from warlike expressions. They were accused by the Union men of trying to hide the fact that on the election was really to depend the fate of the Union (Mountaineer, September 8, 29).
- Mercury, August 18, 1832.
- Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky, and other states were said to have used nullification successfully (Courier, July 18, 1832; Mercury, August 18; Messenger, March 28; Post, May 16, September 22).
- Patriot, March 22, 1832; Courier, May 5, July 3, October 27. Said the Nullifiers: "By arresting the operation of unconstitutional laws it brings the government back within its legitimate sphere, checks the career of profligacy and corruption, removes the causes of sectional jealousy and hatred, causes the government to be administered as it should be, with equity, impartiality, and purity, and thus assures the harmony of the people and the durability of the Union."
- Mercury, August 17, 22, 1832.
- Mercury, March 24, July 17, 1832; Messenger, May 30, August 29.
- Mercury, September 26, 1832; Messenger, September 15.
- Courier, October 18, 1832, and succeeding issues during the next two months; Mountaineer, November 3.
- Courier, October 27, 1832.
- Patriot, February and March, 1832.
- Courier, August 20, 1832.
- Patriot, September 18, 1832.
- Courier, November 15, 1832. The Mercury and the Courier debated this question back and forth until the Courier said: "The Mercury very prudently declines the further prosecution of a controversy in which it had involved itself in an inexplicable paradox. A Constitution paramount to a convention and yet that convention paramount over the citizen in contravention of the Constitution, is not a matter of every day comprehension; it can only be understood in certain phases of the moon. If we now understand the Mercury aright, a state in convention is only amenable for her misdeeds to the law of nations. This is a denial, instead of an admission of the paramount authority of the federal Constitution, and is merely the assertion of the right of revolution or secession. If the convention should place the state out of the pale of the Union, there would be great reason in the argument of the Mercury, that every citizen would be bound to adhere to the state in opposition to every other power. But not until then. If that is the intention of the Mercury party, then was the Columbia writer very near the truth when he proclaimed that the Union was already dissolved" (Courier, November 17, 1832).
- Mountaineer, September 29, 1832. Perry Collection, Vol. IX, pamphlet giving a speech by Joel R. Poinsett at a public meeting at Seyle's, Charleston, October 5, 1832.
- Mercury, March 8, 1832.
- Gazette, August 22, 1832; Mountaineer, September 22. Niles Register, December 1, printed the speech by Joel R. Poinsett, October 5.
- Courier, April 26, 1832.
- Niles' Register, December 1, 1832, speech by Joel R. Poinsett, October 5. The Courier published a letter from a commercial house "of high respectability" in New York, on December 8, showing the "bad commercial effects of the prevailing madness of South Carolina on Charleston." It was no longer considered safe, the writer said, to do business in Charleston; he canceled all orders for cotton and rice not already executed, and asserted that many houses were transferring orders from Charleston to Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans (Niles' Register, January 5, 1833).
On the other hand, a report of a meeting of Columbia merchants stated, in contradiction to rumors, that they did not find any
- Mountaineer, September 22, December 1, 1832. Niles' Register, March 16, 1833, ironically commenting on the "dreadful suffering in South Carolina," noticed that the Charleston races had been uncommonly well attended, with great display of fashion and wealth; and the Mercury of March 1, 1833, announced that $35,000 had just been refused for the horse "Bertrand," though that sum was exactly ten times as much as was given for him by his owner. Niles' Register remarked "'Taxed....40 bales of the hundred,' and yet able to pay $35,O0O for a horse!" The Register further noticed that "the friends of Julia, by Bertrand, dam Transport," etc., had challenged a race against her for $10,000, not excepting any horse in the United States.
- The Charleston Library Association has a complete file of this almanac from 1828 to 1861.
- Mercury, January 14, February 15, April 4, 16, 28, June 19, 28, July 2, 6, 21, 25, 31, October 13, 1832; Messenger, January 25, March 7, April 11, June 27, July 11, 19; Mountaineer, September 1.
- Messenger, August 29, September 5, 12, 26, 1832.
- Mercury, April 30, July 31, 1832; Messenger, August 1, 22.
- Courier, June 14, July 6, August 25, September 12, 25, 27, October 2, 1832; Messenger, January 25, September 12, 26; Journal, August 18; Mountaineer, September 15.
- Mountaineer, March 17, April 21, 1832.
- Gazette, March 7, April 17, 1832.
- Blair seems to be given credit for the suggestion of a southern convention (Journal, April 28, 1832; Gazette, March 7; Mountaineer, May 5; Mercury, May 16).
- Mercury, May 4. 1832; Messenger, May 16; Patriot, May 4; Journal, May 13.
- Pamphlet containing letters by Langdon Cheves to two committees in change of dinners given in honor of James Blair in August, 1832, in Sumter and Kershaw districts.
- Mercury, May 5, June 14, 1832; Messenger, June 20.
- Mercury, May 14, August 14, 1832; Courier, June 14.
- There were from 1 to 18, with an average of 6, from each district or parish (Courier, September 13, 1832).
- Courier, September 15, 1832; Mountaineer, September 22. The men appointed were Judge Daniel E. Huger and Joel R. Poinsett, to go to Virginia and North Carolina; Governor Middleton and Mr. King, to go to Tennessee; Judges Joseph Johnson and J. B. O'Neall, to go to Georgia; Judge William Smith, Judge J. P. Richardson, and Mr. Creswell, to go to Alabama and Mississippi.
- Mercury, September 1, 5, 7, 1832.
- Mercury, September 3, 1832. The next day the Patriot denied the story; the Mercury editor then backed down somewhat, saying that he had printed the story as told to him by citizens of the highest character. At any rate there seems no doubt that, though persons may not have been actually kidnaped and held prisoners, they were kept under the influence of alcohol, that they might vote as their trainers desired. Conditions were so bad that after the election both parties united in an effort to purify the elections. Committees were appointed by both parties to act together and draw up an agreement to put down election abuses (Mercury, September 8, 13, 15). The agreement evidently was not kept in the following election, for a gentleman in Charleston wrote on October 12, 1832: "....the Union party were defeated in Charleston by about 130 majority. The fact is, the Union party is the strongest and most respectable, but the Nullies are the rabble, and are, however, headed by some men of first rate abilities.
"For weeks prior to the election we had 'all sorts of times' here. Each party had public meetings and suppers every night....On Saturday our party had another meeting and supper, and as some of them were returning they were attacked with clubs, etc., by a mob of Nullifiers. The Union men, not dreaming of an attack, were altogether unprepared, but they soon rallied, and by breaking off the branches of a number of trees in the neighborhood, declared themselves ready for battle, but through the persuasions of the leading men of both parties, all were induced to retire home.
"During the whole of Sunday both parties kept open houses and the Union party had a meeting in consequence of hearing that the Nullifiers had 27 of our men drunk and locked up. A committee was dispatched to them, giving them till five o'clock to release their prisoners, and threatening, if they did not, that the house in which they were confined should be razed to the ground. Hooks, etc., were deliberately procured for the purpose, and the Nullifiers, seeing our determination, gave up the miserable men they had captured" (Niles' Register, November 24, 1832).
The Charleston Patriot of September 10 told of a mob of Nullifiers who, led by one Winges, attacked the home of a Union man, John Schachte, and threatened to pull it down. A shot was fired and Winges was wounded (Niles' Register, October 27)
- Patriot, September 5, 1832; Gazette, September 5; Courier, September 5.
- Gazette, October 1, 1832; Mountaineer, October 13; Journal, October 20.
- See Maps V and VI and p. 107, n. 3.
embarrassment in credit on account of the political situation, either among the wholesale merchants of South Carolina or neighboring states, or among those of Europe (Messenger, January 9, 1833).
As for Charleston losing her commerce, or rather, not advancing so rapidly as northern ports, she simply could not compete with the northern commercial ports. The merchants themselves recognized this, and in an attempt to revive commerce investigated a project to establish a line of ships for direct trade with Great Britain and Havre. A chance was here presented for a revival of the languishing art of shipbuilding in Charleston, for a Charleston firm was figuring on the ships (Courier, June 1, 1831).