Study Guide

Proclamation Regarding Nullification Quotes

By Andrew Jackson

  • Politics

    And whereas the said ordinance prescribes to the people of South Carolina a course of conduct in direct violation of their duty as citizens of the United States, contrary to the laws of their country, subversive of its Constitution, and having for its object the instruction of the Union—that Union, which, coeval with our political existence. (4)

    Jackson lays the political smackdown here. He's calling the Nullies bad citizens, constitution-haters, and the bringers of national destruction. Harsh. But he sees this as a potential Union-destroying crisis.

    I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which It was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed. (13)

    Jackson wasn't much one for shades of gray in his public statements.

    This objection may be made with truth to every law that has been or can be passed. The wisdom of man never yet contrived a system of taxation that would operate with perfect equality. (16)

    This is a "life is unfair and so is politics" kind of statement. Jackson is basically telling South Carolina to stop crying, to get their act together, and to start paying their taxes like everyone else.

    The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league, and whether it be formed by compact between the States, or in any other manner, its character is the same. It is a government in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States; they retained all the power they did not grant. (27)

    Jackson's Democratic Party was a champion of states' rights. He states in the Proclamation that states have an absolute right to resist laws which are oppressive and clearly constitutional. So why is he fighting with South Carolina about their right to nullify a federal law? Well, he thought they had taken things too far. States' rights were one thing; states claiming the power to decide whether a law is unconstitutional is another. And secession from the Union? Fuhgeddaboutit.

    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. (37)

    What better way than to de-legitimize someone's arguments than by questioning their motivations for making them? These aren't states' rights matters, Jackson implies, they're just some personal ax to grind on the part of the South Carolina convention leaders. How many times did we see this strategy in the 2016 election? Too many to count. Don't address the issues, just attack the party that brought them up.

  • Patriotism

    Your pride was aroused by the assertions that a submission to these laws was a state of vassalage, and that resistance to them was equal, in patriotic merit, to the opposition our fathers offered to the oppressive laws of Great Britain. (36)

    The Founding Fathers? Now, those were real patriots, according to Old Hickory. The Nullies saw themselves as revolutionary patriots fighting King Andrew: American Revolution v2. Jackson told them they were being sold a bill of goods by their leaders.

    They are not champions of liberty emulating the fame of our Revolutionary fathers, nor are you an oppressed people, contending, as they repeat to you, against worse than colonial vassalage. You are free members of a flourishing and happy Union. There is no settled design to oppress you. (36)

    Jackson thinks South Carolina is blowing this whole tariff thing way out of proportion. You call this oppression? You don't know what real oppression is, people. Be thankful for what you've got here.

    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! (37)

    Peace, culture, science—what's not to love? Clearly, anyone who wants out is seriously misguided. It's so easy to feel patriotism when you live in such a great country. Jackson butters up the citizens by extolling their patriotism in defending the new nation.

    Dishonored and scorned while you live, as the authors of the first attack on the Constitution of your country!—its destroyers you cannot be. (37)

    Let's just call it patriot-shaming.

    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)

    True enough, South Carolina fought with patriotic gusto in the Revolutionary War. As he nears the end of his Proclamation, he dares them to imagine the destruction of that ideal nation and realize they'd only have themselves to blame.

  • States' Rights

    If the doctrine of a State veto upon the laws of the Union carries with it internal evidence of its impracticable absurdity, our constitutional history will also afford abundant proof that it would have been repudiated with indignation had it been proposed to form a feature in our Government. (8)

    He might as well have said, "The creators of the constitution would have laughed in your faces if you had asked them put include a section that gave the states the right to veto laws."

    The law in question was passed under a power expressly given by the Constitution, to lay and collect imposts, but its constitutionality is drawn in question from the motives of those who passed it […] If, therefore, the absurd and dangerous doctrine should be admitted, that a State may annul an unconstitutional law, or one that it deems such, it will not apply to the present case. (15)

    Jackson's challenging South Carolina's argument that this is a constitutional issue. He's suggesting they have other self-serving motivations. Like economic survival, maybe?

    The Constitution has given expressly to Congress the right of raising revenue, and of determining the sum the public exigencies will require. The States have no control over the exercise of this right other than that which results from the power of changing the representatives who abuse it, and thus procure redress. Congress may undoubtedly abuse this discretionary power, but the same may be said of others with which they are vested. (17)

    This is an argument we hear all the time. Don't like the law? Then elect people to Congress who'll change it.

    It has been shown that in becoming parts of a nation, not members of a league, they surrendered many of their essential parts of sovereignty. (32)

    The point of the Revolution, according to Jackson, was not to have a bunch of independent states arguing with one another over everything. States lost many of their rights when they decided to join the Union. Sometimes the laws will favor your region, sometimes not—that's just part of the deal. In fairness to the Farmers, they did their best to create a document that would exist for the betterment of all the states, with their different interests and economies. Nobody was completely happy with it—the nation even then was just too large and diverse for the Constitution to please everyone.

    Fellow-citizens of my native State! let me not only admonish you, as the first magistrate of our common country, not to incur the penalty of its laws, but use the influence that a father would over his children whom he saw rushing to a certain ruin. In that paternal language, with that paternal feeling, let me tell you, my countrymen, that you are deluded by men who are either deceived themselves or wish to deceive you. (36)

    Jackson's calling the Nullifiers babies who don't know enough to recognize the danger they're getting into. And he's their Daddy. Their leaders are trying to convince them this is a states' right issue when it so isn't.

  • Law and Order

    Did we pledge ourselves to the support of an airy nothing—a bubble that must be blown away by the first breath of disaffection? [...] No. We were not mistaken. (16)

    Jackson wants to be clear: rules are meant to be followed. Without rules, there is no order, no Constitution, and no America. The Union is a robust thing; we love the metaphor, "airy nothing—a bubble." Wonder who actually wrote the Proclamation.

    [I want to] to warn the citizens of South Carolina, who have been deluded into an opposition to the laws, of the danger they will incur by obedience to the illegal and disorganizing ordinance of the convention—to exhort those who have refused to support it to persevere in their determination to uphold the Constitution and laws of their country, and to point out to all the perilous situation into which the good people of that State have been led, and that the course they are urged to pursue is one of ruin and disgrace to the very State whose rights they affect to support. (35)

    Since the convention was clear in its support for nullification, all Jackson can do is to appeal to the people who might have buyer's remorse. He implies they've been fooled by their leaders into a situation that's going to devolve into total lawlessness, and they'll all look like fools for going along with it. "Disorganization" is the key word here.

    Are you really ready to incur its guilt? If you are, on the head of the instigators of the act be the dreadful consequences—on their heads be the dishonor, but on yours may fall the punishment—on your unhappy State will inevitably fall all the evils of the conflict you force upon the government of your country. (37)

    Here's another "power to the people" appeal. They're the ones who will suffer the consequences, even if the leaders are the ones who instigated it. It's a divide and conquer strategy. Jackson always had faith in the people to do the right thing.

    Snatch from the archives of your State the disorganizing edict of its convention—bid its members to re-assemble and promulgate the decided expressions of your will to remain in the path which alone can conduct you to safety, prosperity, and honor—tell them that compared to disunion, all other evils are light, because that brings with it an accumulation of all—declare that you will never take the field unless the star-spangled banner of your country shall float over you—that you will not be stigmatized when dead, and dishonored and scorned while you live. (37)

    Here's another reference to "disorganization." We love his use of the image of the star-spangled banner, that symbol of order and unity. We're surprised he didn't mention "E Pluribus Unum".

    As the authors of the first attack on the Constitution of your country!—its destroyers you cannot be. You may disturb its peace—you may interrupt the course of its prosperity—you may cloud its reputation for stability—but its tranquillity [sic] will be restored, its prosperity will return, and the stain upon its national character will be transferred and remain an eternal blot on the memory of those who caused the disorder. (37)

    The good guy always wins. Light always triumphs over dark. Law always checkmates disorder. [Insert any other cliché about enemies/foes/polarities here] and you've got Jackson's main message.