South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XLI
NULLIFICATION, 1832

NULLIFICATION of unlawful government action, though not expounded in such fine-spun constitutional arguments, was an old American idea going back at least to the denial of the legality of the Stamp Act. The Continental Congress also declared acts of Parliament void. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and '99 advanced the argument into more metaphysical ground. Calhoun was now to carry it to its most thorough development. On the doctrines expounded by Calhoun, and proclaimed on the floor of the United States Senate by Hayne, South Carolina was more nearly ready to act than the rest of the country realized. And yet within the State, before such a result could come, there must be conflict all but as desperate as any that might be threatened with the Federal government. Nullifiers assumed that, if the one right for which they were contending were surrendered, the whole fabric of government was worse than worthless, for the Supreme Court, merely a willing tool, would rivet on them the conscienceless tyranny of an unlimited Congress. Said Francis W. Pickens, "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.'''

The danger of bloodshed was greatest in Charleston because of the concentration of opposing leaders and interests. At simultaneous mass meetings of the factions in the summer of 1830, "to one side the epithets submissionist, slave, sneak, coward, renegade, were freely applied; on the other with equal civility, the terms Jacobin, madman, fool, conspirator, were as liberally bestowed." Passions were so aroused that nullification leaders suggested that, as the Nullifiers could leave their hall only by King Street, the Unionists would use their Meeting Street instead of their King Street exits. This courteous and reasonable request so enraged the Unionists, treated now, they exclaimed, as well as denominated, as slaves, that they broke down fences in order to get into King Street. An agreement of the leaders and the concealment by Drayton, Petigru, and Poinsett of their bruises from brickbats got the parties off in different directions. In the legislative election, for which this was preparation voters were bribed with money, liquor, riotous living, and

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