Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Succession and Union: A Tale of Massachusetts and South Carolina (Part II)

In 1807 Jefferson passed the Embargo Act that made it illegal to export anything from the United States. Obviously, this was an economic disaster on the American colonies especially in New England. Once again, the U.S. government was trying to avert war with both England and France by trying to remain neutral over trade. I believe this act to be much more adverse (unconstitutional) than the Aliens and Seditions Act that even a modern day court would strike this law down. Yes, the law was used to avoid war, but at the same time it was sending America into a massive recession. Pickering was once again the main voice protesting this law. Pickering pushed for nullification of the law and if that did not work he colluded with other New England states to propose succession from the union. Embargo laws would continue under President Madison. His Embargo Act of 1813 did not keep America neutral. In fact, it helped lead to the War of 1812 with England. This further infuriated New England states and Pickering who continued to plot for succession. Although he failed, it was not for a lack of trying. Shortly after the war ended with a status quo treaty, Andrew Jackson won a decisive battle at New Orleans against the British (word had not yet reached them the war was over). This victory would help propel Jackson’s fame and help him win the White House in 1828.

Now, it was South Carolina’s turn to threaten succession, but initially it would not be over slavery. It was over tariffs placed on various products that Vice President Calhoun from South Carolina (Andrew Jackson was President) thought favored the New England states. In essence, the tariffs were protectionism policies that taxed foreign goods and services so it forced Americans to buy American made products. Since the North was more industrialized than the South, many of the products that Southerners had to purchase came from the North and were obviously more expensive than ones they previously purchased from England had the tariffs not been applied to the products. South Carolina wanted to nullify these tariffs and if they could not be nullified then they would succeed from the union. After years of posturing for succession a compromise was finally reached to lower the tariffs and things finally got calm, but not before Andrew Jackson threatened to lead an American army into South Carolina to squash protestors and save the union (Something Lincoln would point to during the Civil War).

By 1860 slavery was by far the hottest topic in the United States. In 1857, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Dred Scott case helped lead to the rise of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency in 1860. Also, in 1860, South Carolina had officially succeeded from the union. Shortly thereafter, all other slave owning states followed South Carolina’s lead to succeed from the union. Incidentally, West Virginia (Free State) succeeded from Virginia (Slave State) and Lincoln welcomed West Virginia into the Union. Lincoln stated that succession was unconstitutional, but he had no issue with the West Virginia succession.

Both sides had fairly lame arguments as to whether or not succession was constitutional or not. South Carolina’s argument centered on a few things: 1. The Articles of Confederation mentions “sovereign” states. 2. The post-revolutionary war treaty with England recognized the independence of the “sovereign” states. 3. Northern states were violating the fourth article of the constitution to return fugitive slaves back to their Southern owners. This may had been their best argument since the Constitution mentions nothing of “sovereign” states. Obviously, Lincoln felt succession was unlawful, but he also viewed it as anarchy that would destroy the democratic state of a people’s government. The victory of the North and the subsequent fourteenth amendment ratification certainly put an end to the discussion as to whether or not succession is legal. The fourteenth amendment limited the powers of the states making nullification and succession impossible.

An interesting note: many people at the Constitutional convention wanted to have a state veto or nullification type law included in the document. This never happened. Imagine what would have happened if this was in the Constitution? Would the union have survived? Probably not. Instead the states were protected by the tenth amendment of the Bill of Rights.

South Carolina and Massachusetts were both agitators and unifiers in our history. They pushed the bounds of the constitution unlike most states in our infancy and in the long run it has made us a stronger nation. Unfortunately, over a half million men lost their lives fighting in the Civil War to answer the question over succession but it made the America union stronger and better over the long haul.

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