Study Guide

Proclamation Regarding Nullification Analysis

By Andrew Jackson

Advertisement - Guide continues below

  • Rhetoric

    Jackson threw everything in his rhetorical appeals arsenal at South Carolina before he actually tapped into the military's arsenal and threatened war. He reasoned, he implored, he threatened: let's break it down.


    Jackson wanted to shake up the American political system with his new ideas about democracy, including a revised view of how the president was supposed to act in this reimagined system. In fact, he couldn't shut up about the presidency. Appeals to his own credibility were front and center in the Proclamation.

    Even though the Proclamation was largely a response to Calhoun's arguments about a state's Constitutional right to nullify, Jackson still managed to turn the debate into a document pronouncing the values of his newly imagined Democrat Party.

    But give the guy a break. Remember, the U.S. was only about 40+ years old at this point—toddlerhood in nation-years—so they were still trying to figure a few things out about the whole checks and balances thing. Nonetheless, Jackson was not going to miss the opportunity to spread his ideas about presidential power.

    There are several "as the president, I can do this and as the president, I can do that" moments in his Proclamation. Consider this quote: "We are one people in the choice of the President and the Vice President […] The people, then, and not the States, are represented in the executive branch" (25). He's saying that the president knows what the people want, not state representatives. That means he's legit, yo.

    Or, at least, he really wants it to mean that. Plenty of people were scare to death by his heavy-handed tactics and thought he was a tyrant.


    The Proclamation is oozing with emotional appeals. We know that by today's standards, the words "Vain provisions! Ineffectual restrictions! Vile profanation of oaths! Miserable mockery of legislation!" (21) don't seem like that much of a diss, but it was serious back-in-the-day political hate-speak.

    Jackson is trolling South Carolina like crazy throughout this document. He's practically daring the nullifiers to keep pushing him. But he's also trying to appeal to sappy, romantic visions of patriotism.

    Consider the extent of its territory its increasing and happy population, its advance in arts, which render life agreeable, and the sciences which elevate the mind! See education spreading the lights of religion, morality, and general information into every cottage in this wide extent of our Territories and States! Behold it as the asylum where the wretched and the oppressed find a refuge and support! Look on this picture of happiness and honor, and say, we, too are citizens of America—Carolina is one of these proud States her arms have defended—her best blood has cemented this happy Union! (33)

    What a moving sentiment, right? We want to fall down and weep with gratitude that we live in such a country.

    But then:

    And then add, if you can, without horror and remorse this happy Union we will dissolve—this picture of peace and prosperity we will deface—this free intercourse we will interrupt—these fertile fields we will deluge with blood-the protection of that glorious flag we renounce—the very name of Americans we discard" (37).

    No, please, no. Don't do it, South Carolina.

    By the end of the document the reader's been dragged through more highs and lows than the Intimidator 305.


    There are some appeals to logic here, hidden somewhere between all the exclamation points. Actually, Jackson does spend a significant chunk of his proclamation picking apart the Ordinance point by point, clearly following its arguments about constitutionality and then carefully rebutting those arguments.

    He justifies his authority and duties as President, saying:

    Strict duty would require of me nothing more than the exercise of those powers with which I am now, or may hereafter be, invested, for preserving the Union, and for the execution of the laws. But the imposing aspect which opposition has assumed in this case, by clothing itself with State authority, and the deep interest which the people of the United States must all feel in preventing a resort to stronger measures, while there is a hope that anything will be yielded to reasoning and remonstrances, perhaps demand, and will certainly justify, a full exposition to South Carolina and the nation of the views I entertain of this important question, as well as a distinct enunciation of the course which my sense of duty will require me to pursue. (5)

    This is where he decides to put the boxing gloves down for a moment and actually discuss the topic at hand.

    Don't worry, he's back with the exclamation points in a sentence or two.

  • Structure

    Jackson had some serious problems with the ways that nullifiers like John C. Calhoun viewed the constitution as it related to the issue of the Tariff of 1828. He had his own opinions about how the American political system was supposed to work and he wanted the nullifiers to know those opinions. Or suffer the consequences.

    Because of this, he structured his essay very intentionally.

    First, he wanted the nullifiers to know that he understood their arguments regarding constitutional nullification. He thought they were foolish arguments, but he understood them nonetheless. That's why he began with an extensive acknowledgement of their perspective.

    Sounds like marriage counseling.

    Like any good argumentative essay, Jackson spent the next bit critiquing and picking apart each argument laid out in South Carolina's Ordinance. He did throw out a few insults here and there, but generally stuck to his guns on providing a legitimate critique to South Carolina's arguments regarding the validity of constitutional authority.

    He then appeals to a shining vision of a nation so enlightened, so culturally and scientifically rich, that it's the envy of the world. And guess what: it's about to go down the tubes unless this threat of secession is stopped.

    The rest of Jackson's Proclamation was less of a proclamation and more of a death threat to South Carolina and any other states that might get similar ideas. Jefferson was used to using force to get his way whether people liked it or not, and he wasn't about to stop now.

    How it Breaks Down

    I Get It

    Jackson reviews the terms of South Carolina's Ordinance to let them know he's read it and is very clear about what they're saying so nobody can accuse him of misreading it.

    South Carolina—I'm Calling You Out

    Like every good WrestleMania match, the fight needs to begin with a little bit of flair. That's just what Jackson is doing in his next segment. He's calling out South Carolina for threatening to secede, and for uttering the word nullification. And like every good wrestling match, Jackson promises to bring the smackdown.

    Nullies are Party Poopers

    Jackson spends a significant chunk of his proclamation picking apart the Ordinance piece by piece. So first, he wants the Nullies to know that they are ruining a perfectly good time. The constitution doesn't allow every state to do whatever it wants, according to Jackson, so why can't South Carolina just accept that and start playing nice with all the other states?

    You Want Some Cheese to Go With that Whine?

    Next, Jackson is telling South Carolina to stop acting like such babies. He's calling them out for crying "but it's not fair!" "Well, life's not fair," says Jackson "now, get over it." He wants them to know that every state has gotten the shaft at one time or another, and now it's just South Carolina's turn. So stop crying.

    You Can Have Your Congressional Cake and Eat it Too

    Part of the argument in the ordinance convention's statement was that neither Congress nor the President had the constitutional right to enforce such a tariff law. Jackson wants to know what's the point of having these people around if they sit there and do nothing. And yes, he states, they most definitely can enforce these laws. If they'd just read their Constitution, they'd know that.

    Look What You've Done to Your Poor Mother

    If the Founding Fathers and Mothers were still alive, they'd be so disappointed in you. They slaved all year writing this Constitution and now you're trampling all over it. That's Jackson trying to tug at the heart strings of the Nullies, wanting South Carolina to feel really bad about it by extolling patriotic virtue and nationalistic pride. The comes the zinger: if the Union dissolves into chaos and the best nation in the world is destroyed, well, it's on them.

    Mic Dropped

    Jackson ends with a confident, "I know you'll do the right thing. But if you don't, we are going to force you to. And may God smack some sense into you before things really get out of hand."

  • Tone

    Indignant, Judicious, and Accusatory

    There's a reason Jackson was nicknamed "Jackass" (for more on how he earned this nickname, check this out). He was stubborn, willing to carry a weighty load if need be, and had no problem with kicking you in the face if you got on his wrong side. And he didn't have too much of a problem playing that part.

    He wanted to warn the Nullifiers that they had dug themselves into a deep hole and that they were running out of options for escape. He absolutely refused to budge on his convictions about the Constitution, to the point of sounding indignant for even having to muster a response to South Carolina's arguments. He also wanted to show them that he was a leader, capable of handling delicate matters with judicious composure if need be.

    He's clearly shooting for inspirational when he talks about this glorious country of ours, but mostly he sounds just plain enraged. He tries hard to make it sound like righteous indignation.

    But he really wanted the Nullies to feel responsible for this whole situation. They were the ones who nullified, they were the ones who threatened to secede, etc. And because it was their fault, argued Jackson, it was their responsibility to fix what they had broken.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    To be honest, there isn't anything up with the title. Sorry to disappoint you.

    All it means is that Jackson has something to say to the public about South Carolina's infatuation with nullification.

    In fact, the proclamation doesn't even really have an official title. It's been called:

    • President Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification
    • The Nullification Proclamation
    • Proclamation to the People of South Carolina

    Old Hickory sure did know how to proclaim.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    Whereas a convention, assembled in the State of South Carolina, have passed an ordinance, by which they declare that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities, and now having actual operation and effect within the United States, and more especially "two acts for the same purposes, passed on the 29th of May, 1828, and on the 14th of July, 1832, are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null and void, and no law," nor binding on the citizens of that State or its officers, and by the said ordinance it is further declared to be unlawful for any of the constituted authorities of the State, or of the United States, to enforce the payment of the duties imposed by the said acts within the same State, and that it is the duty of the legislature to pass such laws as may be necessary to give full effect to the said ordinances. (1)

    At the outset, Jackson recites the terms of South Carolina's complaints—what they're angry about and what they plan to do about it. The Tariffs of 1828 are unconstitutional; they're not going to pay them in South Carolina; it's illegal for the feds make to make them do it; and they'll pass any laws necessary to make the Ordinance stick. He needs to let them know that he understands what they're saying so he's prepared to address their specific complaints.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    May the Great Ruler of nations grant that the signal blessings with which he has favored ours may not, by the madness of party or personal ambition, be disregarded and lost, and may His wise providence bring those who have produced this crisis to see the folly, before they feel the misery, of civil strife, and inspire a returning veneration for that Union which, if we may dare to penetrate his designs, he has chosen, as the only means of attaining the high destinies to which we may reasonably aspire.

    In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, having signed the same with my hand. (40-41)

    Let's just say that at the end of his proclamation, Jackson is trying to rub a little salt in the new wound he feels he just dealt South Carolina. First, Jackson spends a couple of lines ripping into South Carolina, talking about all the ways the Nullies are destroying the nation and making babies cry all over the world.

    If that's not enough, Jackson points out that if we could read God's mind, we'd all know that he clearly wants the Union to prevail because it's the greatest government ever.

    Oh, and in case you are wondering about the "In testimony whereof…" (41) bit at the end, that's just a common way that government officials sign documents that they didn't technically write themselves.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (6) Tree Line

    People sure knew how to write in those days.

    Jackson's ProclamationRegarding Nullification can be eye-popping like a juicy gossip blog: "Vile profanation of oaths! Miserable mockery of legislation!" (21). But the text can be pretty difficult for the modern reader who's not used to the 19th-century language and Jackson's long, convoluted sentences.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Literary and Philosophical References

    South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification (implied)
    The Constitution (throughout)

    Historical and Political References

    Congress (throughout)
    George Washington (16)
    The "Father of this Country"/The "Great Ruler of Nations" (16, 40)
    The Revolutionary War (28, 36, 37)
    The Supreme Court (2)

    Rich and Powerful Families in South Carolina

    The Pinckneys (37)
    The Sumpters (37)
    The Rutledges (37)

    References to This Text

    Steven Spielberg hasn't made a movie about it—yet.

    Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson—the rock musical—doesn't reference this text, but sings about his populism and his toughness as prez, which are definitely on display in the text.

  • Trivia

    Just in case you didn't think that Jackson was hardcore enough, legend has it that he had a tomahawk tattooed onto his thigh. (Source)

    Were you sick the day they discussed the history of plumbing in the White House? Well, Shmoop to the rescue, as usual. Andrew Jackson was the first to install running water into the presidential digs. He put in central heating, too. For a frontier guy, he learned to love his comforts. (Source)

    Andrew Jackson lived most of his life with a bullet lodged into his chest from one of his many duels. Historians have guessed that he participated in anywhere from 3 to 13 duels throughout his lifetime. It's hard to know, but one thing's for sure, you didn't want to cross "Old Hickory." (Source)

    Jackson blamed the death of his wife, Rachel on his opponents. He even etched this accusation as an epitaph on her tombstone: "A being so gentle, and yet so virtuous, slander might wound but could not dishonor." Who would've thought that Jackson could be such a sweetheart? (Source)

    Jackson's about to be bumped off the $20 bill and replaced by Harriet Tubman. The original plan was for Tubman to be a contender for the $10 bill, but then Hamilton happened. Anyway, it's poetic justice for a guy who detested paper currency and a national bank. Plus, there's the slave owning and brutality towards the Indian tribes. (Source)

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...