Nullification of Federal Laws in South Carolina
1. Excerpt of Daniel Webster’s “Liberty and Union” Speech (January 26, 1830)
2. South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification (November 24, 1832)
3. Political Cartoon “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” (1851)
4. Political Cartoon “Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler” (1856)
5. Excerpt of Majority Decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford (March 6, 1857)
6. Frederick Douglass “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro” (July 5, 1852)
7. William Henry Seward’s “On the Irrepressible Conflict” (October 25, 1858)
8. Alexander Stephen’s “Cornerstone Speech” (March 21, 1861)
9. Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” (November 19, 1863)
Based upon reading of these selected primary documents and incorporating such secondary sources as your textbook and notes, answer the following 5 Questions. Please provide specific examples from these documents that support arguments.
1) Under what grounds does Daniel Webster (Document #1) oppose the ability of a state to nullify federal laws, also known as the Doctrine of Nullification? What justifications does South Carolina (Document #2) employ to defend their decision to nullify federal laws? In comparing these two primary documents, whose arguments regarding the concept of nullification are most persuasive to you and why?
In opposing the ability of the state to nullify federal laws, Webster said that “nation was not an association of sovereign states, from which individual states could withdraw at will but rather a popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it are responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be.” According to Webster, national laws should prevail over state laws.
South Carolina, through the Ordinance of Nullification (November 24, 1832), asserted that a state was justified to resist unconstitutional federal laws. The Ordinance went further by stating that in case of any conflict, the power of the state should prevail (South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification).
Comparing the two arguments, Webster’s argument appears to more persuasive. It is based on the need to have a national government that will enhance unity throughout the country. If the states are allowed to act without the control of the federal government, it will lead to the creation of the union that the whose government has very little control over it. Webster agrees that federal law can have shortcomings, but they can be modified to suit peoples’ interests. South Carolina’s argument, on the other hand, is justifiable on the aspect of resisting unconstitutional federal laws, but it creates ground for conflicts when it gives the state more power than the federal government.2) In examining the 1851 political cartoon (Document #3), how are Southerners arguing against Northern protests of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act? To what extent does this image relate to the issues raised regarding nullification in Documents #1 and #2? How does the 1856 political cartoon (Document #4) relate to the issues arising from the Kansas-Nebraska Act? To what extent did slavery complicate the process and politics of westward expansion in the 1840s and 1850s?
The political cartoon in document 3 presents a pro-Southern view of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Southerners criticize the Fugitive Act, and they feel entitled to continue holding Africans into slavery since, according to provisions of the U.S. law enslavement is allowed. For example, Palmetto presents the views of the Southerners when he says, “I’ve come here to take that fugitive slave who belongs to me, according to the provisions of the U. S. law! Officer do your duty!” (What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander).
The cartoon depicts the authority of federal laws over the states. Palmetto feels that federal laws have allowed slavery, and the state laws cannot prevail in the event of federal authority. The Northerners, on the other hand, as presented by Pumpkindoodle, feels that the federal law cannot prevail when it violates their rights. Pumpkindoodle says, “I don’t recognize any U.S. law! I have a higher law, a law of my own” (What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander). Through these arguments, the cartoon illustrates the power conflict between the state and federal government present in documents one and two.
The 1856 political cartoon lays blame to the Democrats for playing a leading role in encouraging slavery. The cartoon exemplifies Senator Lewis and President Jameson on the democratic platform labeled “Kansas,” “Cuba,” and “Central America” (Forcing Slavery Down the Throat of a Freesoiler). They are seen pulling the hair of a giant Free Soiler as President Franklin enjoys by caressing his beard while Senator shoves an African American man down the Free Soiler’s throat. The cartoon depicts how democrats have encouraged violence against anti-slavery agitators in Kansas that led to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Westward expansion in the 1840s and 1850s was characterized by the wake of political cartoons that depicted the cruelty advanced to the slaves. The expansion brought anti-slavery proponents, as illustrated by the Kansas-Nebraska Act 1854. This complicated westward expansion led to the rising of political questions.3) How did the Dred Scott Decision (Document #5) support the pro-slavery arguments regarding the ability of the federal government to restrict the expansion of slavery? What position did this Supreme Court decision assign people of African descent in the United States of America? What inconsistencies does Frederick Douglass (Document #6) identify with the founding principles of the nation and the current status of people of African descent within it? In what ways does the Dred Scott Decision confirm and/or challenge Douglass’ arguments?
4) What is the “irrepressible conflict” according to William H. Seward (Document #7) and how does he specifically define the two sides involved? How does Alexander Stephens (Document #8) define the Confederacy and why does he believe secession is justified and necessary? How does President Lincoln (Document #9) frame the Civil War and effort to restore the Union as a moral imperative?
5) In thinking about these primary documents and what you have learned in your course, should states have the power to nullify federal laws if they disagree with them? Why or why not? As part of your response, provide a specific case or issue (political, economic, social, or cultural) within the United States from the end of the Civil War until the present day where you could imagine a scenario in which nullification could play out and reflect upon both the positive and negative consequences of such action.