Andrew Jackson's Presidency

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How did Andrew Jackson respond to the nullification crisis?

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Andrew Jackson responded to the nullification crisis by expanding the scope of presidential authority in forcing his opponents to back down. In doing so, he showed his commitment to nationalism over sectionalism.

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Southern opinion, as expressed most notably by Vice President John C. Calhoun, was strongly opposed to the Tariff of 1828, the so-called “Tariff of Abominations,” that reduced British demand for cotton, the mainstay of the Southern economy. In response, Southern political leaders sought to use state power to nullify the tariff, meaning that it would no longer have any legal effect.

However, President Jackson was fiercely opposed to this move. As Emory Shi points out, he believed that allowing states to pick and choose which federal laws they would follow would lead to chaos and anarchy. So Jackson stood firm against the supporters of nullification, even though many of those in favor had helped get him elected.

Initially, Jackson attempted to craft a political compromise by calling on Congress to reduce tariff rates. However, supporters of nullification were still unsatisfied as tariff rates on British cotton fabric and clothing remained high. In response, nullifiers in South Carolina convened a special convention at which they passed an Ordinance of Nullification that disavowed the supposedly unconstitutional Tariffs of 1828 and 1832.

Jackson responded fiercely. In an open letter to the people of South Carolina, he declared nullification to be an “absurdity,” a “mad product of disunion.” For good measure, he warned them that disunion by armed force was treason and that secession meant civil war.

Jackson took the threat of secession very seriously, as can be seen by his decision to send federal soldiers and a warship to Charleston to protect federal customhouses where tariffs were applied. Jackson further angered supporters of nullification by demanding the authority from Congress to force compliance with federal law. However, Calhoun and the other nullifiers backed down, and a political compromise was reached, thus diffusing a major constitutional crisis that could easily have led to the outbreak of civil war.

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