What were the main points of disagreement between John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson concerning the role of federal versus state authority?Both of the writings South Carolina's Ordinance of...

What were the main points of disagreement between John C. Calhoun and Andrew Jackson concerning the role of federal versus state authority?

Both of the writings South Carolina's Ordinance of Nullification (1832) and The Presiden'ts Nullification Proclamation (1832) seemed pretty wordy and a bit difficult to read.  I've read them both several times over. 

It seems that Calhoun believes that there is a contract involved with the States and the Federal government -- therefore has misunderstood the Constitution.  He believes that he (the State of South Carolina) has the right to not abide by a federal law (in this case the tariff laws), due to the grounds that the law is unconstitutional based on HISinterpretation of it.

Whereas, the President of the U.S. Andrew Jackson completely disagrees.  He even goes as far as saying that anyone who secedes from the Union is guilty of treason, for disrupting the Union. 


Please inform me of all the other main points involved in this heated scuffle.



Asked on by mcsqrd

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

You have correctly understood the major basis of Calhoun’s states’ rights doctrine.  Calhoun does believe that the Constitution was a covenant between the various states and the federal government.  However, this is not a clear and obvious misunderstanding of the Constitution.  One can easily argue that it was a correct interpretation.  The Constitution was not ratified by a vote of all the people.  There was no requirement that 51% or 66% of the people of the entire country vote to ratify it.  Instead, it was to take effect when conventions in nine of the thirteen states voted to ratify it.  In this way, there is a strong argument to be made that it was a contract between the states and the federal government. 

Calhoun then went on to argue that his interpretation of the Constitution meant that states had the right to nullify laws made by the federal government.  They could do so if they found those laws to be unconstitutional.  They also had the right to secede from the Union since they had entered it voluntarily and there was nothing in the Constitution to say they could not leave it.

Jackson did not have a fully-fledged interpretation of the Constitution like Calhoun did.  He simply thought that the federal government needed to be sovereign.  He felt that the country would break apart if this were not the case and he did not want that to happen. 

You have, again, understood Calhoun’s position well, but it is important to note that his was not an absurd argument based on a clear misunderstanding of the Constitution.

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