In order to compare and contrast both documents, it is important to discuss how the nullification crisis demonstrates a growing sectionalism between the North and the South. The disparities between the viewpoints of these opposing groups can be understood through the way in which these documents are drafted and the language that has been incorporated into them. These two documents demonstrate the fundamentally differing ideologies that the two parts of the nation had in regards to nullification. The position that each side had, and their essentially opposing viewpoints is represented within these documents.
The South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification was essentially an early indication of the considerations of the south to leave the union. It not only demonstrated the growing disparity between the north and south in terms of their economic positions, but it also demonstrates the southern state’s growing desires to leave the union altogether. While the north was becoming an industrialized economically interdependent area of production, the south still remained largely rural and independent, with those living there preferring the absence of a centralized government to having obligations to one another.
Through the imposition of tariffs, the industrialized north spurred the still agricultural south into the belief that it would be at an economic disadvantage. For this reason, many had begun to argue for the complete dissolution of the union. However, the idea of nullification, or the voiding of a specific federal law was enacted. In response to the growing restrictions that were being replaced on the states by the union, the south enacted the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, which essentially responded to the new tariffs by saying that they were not politically bound to the laws in South Carolina. “And it is further ordained, that it shall not be lawful for any of the constituted authorities, whether of this State or of the United States, to enforce the payment of duties imposed by the said acts within the limits of this State” (Ford 1898). This ordinance essentially characterized the view of the south that the northern states should not have authority over their sovereignty.
In response to this, the proclamation made by Jackson asserted the authority of the federal government to issue laws to the states. This was essentially due to the binding agreement that the states were in with one another. The states allegiances, he argued, were with one another, and to leave this binding agreement was unlawful on the part of the states. “It was formed for important objects that are announced in the preamble made in the name and by the authority of the people of the United States, whose delegates framed, and whose conventions approved it” (Lehrman 1898). The argument put forth by Jackson was essentially that these laws were binding, and to break them was to absolve the agreement that the states had made with the federal government, and to usurp the responsibility and obligations that the states had towards one another to obey these laws and respect the authority of the national government.
This marks an essential disparity between the way that the north and the south perceived the union. While those in the south saw the union as an agreement between states that could be revoked at any point, the north was beginning to see the collection of states as a part of a greater whole, towards which they had a responsibility. “The power to create, define, and punish such other crimes is reserved, and of right appertains solely and exclusively to the respective States, each within its own Territory” (Brown 1799). This essential difference between how these states viewed their place in the union would have profound implications on the political climate of the future United States. Through these ideas, a schism would form between those who were in favor of state’s rights, and those in favor of the power and united will of the federal government.
In identifying and discussing Calhoun's arguments regarding the unconstitutionality of the Tariff of 1828, his theory of nullification and right to secession becomes essentially characterized by the idea that an individual state has the right to declare a federal law as invalid. This is, in a sense, the departure that Calhoun takes in his political ideologies when comparing them to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, and President Jackson's response. While Calhoun’s ideas seem to put the rights of states first and foremost, other ideologies of the time saw that states could maintain their rights while working within the legal framework of the constitution and the federal government.
In the view of Calhoun the states had the right to void out any laws that they saw as impeding their own rights. In this sense, the federal government’s authority was only granted in so much as the states would allow it. The participation of the states in the union was, in this way, mandatory, and the union itself was subject to the will of the states and existed only at their discretion. “We, therefore, the people of the state of South Caronlina in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, That the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States are unauthorized by the Constitution” (Johnston 1836). For this reason, the Tariff of 1828 was unconstitutional, as it impeded the rights of the states to trade at their own discretion, and infringed on their sovereignty. This argument, made by Calhoun, although based in the same underlying ideas as those of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, results in a fundamentally different position regarding the role of states in the union.
While the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions argued that states did have the right to declare the unconstitutionality of federally mandated laws, this right did not necessarily supersede the federal government itself. These resolutions, instead, mandated the obligation of the states to the federal government by upholding the constitutionality of particular laws. Rather than making these decisions on their own, it was thought that states would work together, rallying one another to maintain the legal frameworks that they believed in through the federal system itself. In this way, the states ensure their rights are upheld through banning together and challenging the legality of federal laws, but not through claiming the law to be void from within a single state.
Brown, Kent Masterson. (1799) The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798-1799. Transylvania
Ford, Paul Leicester. (1898). President Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification,
December 10, 1832. The Federalist : A commentary on the Constitution of the United States by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay edited with notes, illustrative documents and a copious index by Paul Leicester Ford.New York : Henry Holt and Company. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jack01.asp
Ford, Paul Leicester. (1898) South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, November 24, 1832. The
Federalist : A commentary on the Constitution of the United States by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay edited with notes, illustrative documents and a copious index by Paul Leicester Ford. New York : Henry Holt and Company. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/ordnull.asp
Johnston, A.S. (1836) South Carolina’s Ordinance of Nullification. Statutes at Large of South
Carolina, Vol. 1. 1836. 33-124.
Lehrman, Gilder. (2012). Excerpt from Andrew Jackson’s Nullification Proclamation (1832).
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