Supreme Court

As a result of Calhoun’s approval of the nullification doctrine, South Carolina passed an ordinance declaring as null and void and without effect the tariff law passed by the Congress. The ordinance went further to provide for protections against any appeal that might be taken to the Supreme Court against the said ordinance as well as against any act of the federal government which might suppress the arrival and departure of trade in South Carolina ports.

Unlike the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions which were left unanswered, except for the implicit adaptation during the Hartford Convention, the South Carolina ordinance was answered point by point. President Jackson deemed the act of declaring the tariff law unconstitutional as equivalent to sedition and he was appalled by the fact that a power not given to the voice of the majority – that of declaring a law unconstitutional – should be assumed by the governing body of one state. In this way President Jackson negated the nullification enforced by the State of South Carolina.

Furthermore, President Jackson ordered the payment of the tariff on pain of forceful collection of the same. It is here that the foundation of the doctrine of federal sovereignty lost its cornerstone. A general view of history would show that the stand still between South Carolina and President Jackson’s administration was broken by a compromise agreement between the two. However, the nature of such compromise agreement requires deeper examination. President Jackson utilized two methods of ending the anti-tariff rebellion: the proposal of a reduced tariff system and the passing of a Force Bill.

The Force Bill was passed by President Jackson to allow troops to enter South Carolina and demand the payment of tariffs. It was thus under threat of physical force that the South Carolinians conceded their anti-tariff stance. It isn’t hard to imagine that even as they conceded such stance, the belief in state sovereignty was strengthened – particularly so with the new fear of federal abuse of the power granted it by member states. The second compromise was propelled by Senator Clay, himself a southerner.

Senator Clay pushed Congress to pass a bill for reduced tariff which would gradually lower the tariff impositions until they were at a level which could be deemed as mere contributions for mere revenue of the federal government. This was a more acceptable offer for the South Carolinians and they readily adopted the same. South Carolina nullified the Force Bill however before finally submitting to the taxation powers of the federal government. Such act appears to be a saving of face on the part of the State and its final declaration of state sovereignty. To be noted, the south was not the only part of the country to issue nullification orders.

The north also nullified anti-slavery laws in fear that they should lose their source of labor and manpower. The north was not alone in such protest as the south – composed mostly of plantations requiring the work of slaves – also feared the cessation of slavery. There was however little for the states to fear as President Jackson himself was a slave-holder and would have been prejudiced by a law abolishing slavery. However, the anti-tariff and slavery laws were by no means the resolution of the nullification crisis. These events provide a retrospective appreciation of the roots of later events.