Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859

By Elizabeth R. Varon | Go to book overview

3
Ruinous Tendencies:
THE ANTI -ABOLITION BACKLASH

“Who does not see that the American people are walking over a subterranean fire, the flames of which are fed by slavery?” These words, with their ominous ring, were written by abolitionist Lydia Maria Child as a commentary on the nullification crisis, the protracted clash between South Carolina and the federal government that lasted from 1828 until 1833. As we have seen, the ostensible cause of the crisis was Congress's passage, in 1828, of a “tariff of abominations” on European imports. In the first act of the crisis, President Andrew Jackson had condemned South Carolina's nullification scheme and hoped that a reduction in the tariff rate would ease tensions. But South Carolinia states' rights men were singularly unimpressed by the tariff reform of 1832 (although it reset the tariff rate at its 1824 level), and in November of that year they held a Nullification Convention that enacted a veto of the hated measure and threatened secession if the U.S. government tried to enforce the nullified law. The South Carolina legislature voted to muster an army to protect the state against federal force. In December 1832 John C. Calhoun, the mastermind of nullification, resigned the vice presidency and took up the banner of state sovereignty in the U.S. Senate. Under pressure from extremists in his own state, Calhoun had made his stance of interposition public in his July 1831 “Fort Hill Address,” and he now developed the doctrine in a

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