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Nullification

NULLIFICATION

NULLIFICATION, the theory which holds that a state can suspend, within its boundaries, a federal law, was a deeply held conviction for many "states' rights" advocates in the nineteenth century, and one of the factors that led to the Civil War (1861–1865). Nullification has its roots in the Enlightenment era of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Political thinkers, such as John Locke, questioned the validity of "divine-right monarchies," and suggested that people had the right to over-turn laws, or entire governments, that did not benefit the governed.

The American Revolution (1775–1783), in which Americans declared themselves independent of Great Britain, was a practical extension of Enlightenment political thought. So was the first government of the United States—the Articles of Confederation—which had no strong central government and reserved most major statutory power for the individual states.

However, the Articles were too weak to function adequately, and in 1787 national leaders drafted the Constitution, which created a strong federal government but reserved many rights to the states. Almost immediately, Antifederalists and later Democrat-Republicans charged that the federal government had amassed too much power.

President John Adams, a Federalist, angered Democrat-Republicans when he sought broad protectionist powers with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. In the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, both Democrat-Republicans, said that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional and that states should nullify them. They reasoned that states had given power to the Constitution by approving it in the ratification process, and they could take that power away if it became abusive. While no state nullified the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson and Madison had sanctioned the idea.

In 1828, nullification nearly split the nation. To help domestic manufactures, Congress enacted a high tariff on imported goods. Southerners, afraid that European states would retaliate with high tariffs on cotton and other southern exports, decried the act as the "Tariff of Abominations" and called for its repeal. Vice President John C. Calhoun, a South Carolinian, penned his "South Carolina Exposition and Protest," in which he invoked the theory of nullification to deal with the tariff.

When Tennessean Andrew Jackson was elected President in 1828, Southerners expected him to back a reduced tariff. Instead, Congress enacted an even higher tariff in 1832. Enraged, Calhoun, now a South Carolina senator more stridently called for nullification.

Spurred by Calhoun's rhetoric, the South Carolina legislature passed an Ordinance of Nullification, making the federal tariff null and void and making it a state offense to collect the tariff after 1 February 1833. Jackson surprised Southerners when he backed congressional passage of a "Force Bill" that authorized federal troops to occupy South Carolina and collect the tariff. In the meantime, Congress also passed a "compromise," or reduced tariff. Pleased with the compromise but shaken by Jack-son's threat of force, the South Carolina legislature reconvened in March 1833 and rescinded the Ordinance of Nullification. But to avoid looking cowed by the U.S. Congress, legislators "nullified" the federal Force Bill before they adjourned.

Northern states also dabbled with nullification. In 1814, old line Federalists in New England, angry over Democrat-Republican policies that caused the War of 1812 (1812–1815), sought to nullify federal mandates. And in 1850, some Northern states nullified new fugitive slave laws, part of the Compromise of 1850, that mandated Northern authorities return escaped slaves to the South. Traditionally, though, nullification and states' rights doctrines were the hallmarks of the antebellum South.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brinkley, Alan et al. American History: A Survey. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

R. StevenJones

See alsoAlien and Sedition Laws .

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nullification

nullification, in U.S. history, a doctrine expounded by the advocates of extreme states' rights. It held that states have the right to declare null and void any federal law that they deem unconstitutional. The doctrine was based on the theory that the Union is a voluntary compact of states and that the federal government has no right to exercise powers not specifically assigned to it by the U.S. Constitution. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions declared (1799) nullification to be the rightful remedy by the states for all unauthorized acts done under the pretext of the Constitution. A closely reasoned reinforcement to the doctrine of nullification was set forth—in response to the tariff of 1828, which favored Northern interests at the expense of the South—by John C. Calhoun in his South Carolina Exposition (1828). The strong pro-Union stand of President Jackson brought forth further remonstrances from Southern leaders. After enactment of the tariff act of 1832 South Carolina called a state convention, which passed (1832) the ordinance of nullification. This ordinance declared the tariff laws null and void, and a series of enactments in South Carolina put the state in a position to resist by force any attempt of the federal government to carry the tariff act into operation. President Jackson in reply dramatically issued a strong proclamation against the nullifiers, and a force bill was introduced into the U.S. Senate to give the President authority to use the armed forces if necessary to execute the laws. Jackson, however, felt that the South had a real grievance and, behind his show of force, encouraged friends of compromise, led by Henry Clay, to prepare a bill that the South would accept. This compromise tariff was rushed through Congress, and after its passage (1833) the South Carolina state convention reassembled and formally rescinded the ordinance nullifying the tariff acts. To preserve its prerogative it adopted a new ordinance nullifying the force bill. But the issue was not pressed further until the election of Abraham Lincoln, when the doctrine of secession was brought to the foreground.

See C. S. Boucher, The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina (1916, repr. 1968); C. M. Wiltse, John C. Calhoun: Nullifier, 1829–1839 (1949); W. W. Freehling, ed., The Nullification Era (1967); M. D. Peterson, Olive Branch and Sword: The Compromise of 1833 (1982).

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nullification

nullification In US history, the idea that a state may choose not to enforce a law passed by the federal government. First advanced in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions (1798), it influenced Southern thinking on states' rights before the Civil War. It was tested in 1832, when the South Carolina legislature nullified the Tariff Law of 1828, declaring it unconstitutional. The crisis was defused when South Carolina accepted a compromise Tariff Act (1833).

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"nullification." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nullification