JACKSON, Andrew. Autograph letter signed ("Andrew Jackson") as President, to South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne (1791-1839), [Washington, D.C.], 8 February 1831. 5 2/3 pages, folio (12 5/8 x 7 7/8 in.), professionally silked, seal hole repaired. [With:] HAYNE, Robert. Draft copies of 2 autograph letters signed to Andrew Jackson, Washington, 4 and 12 February, 1831.
JACKSON EVOKES THE PRINCIPLES OF JEFFERSON, VOWS HIS DETERMINATION TO PRESERVE THE "UNION & THE CONSTITUTION" AND ASSERTS THAT OURS IS A GOVERNMENT OF LAWS, AND DEPENDANT ON THE WILL OF THE MAJORITY"
A highly important letter containing a forceful exposition of his position on the Constitutional issue of nullification, which constituted the greatest crisis faced by President Jackson. In 1828, responding to a protective tariff passed with the support of John Quincy Adams, South Carolina asserted the principle that a state could nullify a federal law. Although Jackson considered himself a proponent of states' rights, he firmly upheld the sanctity of the federal union, and when South Carolina's nullifiers vociferously hinted at the possibility of secession, Jackson quickly seized the initiative. At the 1830 annual Jefferson dinner, an event intended by Senator Robert Hayne to promote the nullification agenda, the President boldly answered states' rights toasts with the unequivocal "Our Union: it must be preserved."
On February 4, 1831, Haynes had accused Jackson of refusing to appoint William Drayton (1776-1846) due to the candidate's states' rights convictions. In his response, Jackson observes that while he is under no obligation to explain his decisions regarding Presidential appointments, he will do so in this case, in light of its peculiar circumstances.
He declares his own belief in the concept of states' rights: "For the rights of the states no one has a higher regard and respect than myself; none would go farther to maintain them. It is only by maintaining them faithfully that the Union can be preserved." He boldly proclaims that this cannot be achieved by "conceding to one state authority to declare an act of Congress void," but only by the ballotbox: "If Congress, and the Executive, feeling power, and forgetting right, shall overlook the powers the Constitution bestows and extend their sanction to laws which the power granted to them does not permit, the remedy is with the people. Not by avowed opposition, not thro open & direct resistance, but thro the more peaceful and reasonable course of submitting the whole matter to them at the elections, and they by their free suffrage at the polls, will always in the end, bring about the repeal of any obnoxious laws which violate the Constitution. Such abuses as these cannot be of long duration in our enlightened country where the people rule. Let all contested matters be brought to that tribunal, and it will decree correctly."
He denies "that a state has the power to nullify the legislative enactments of the general Government," and adds that, as far as his knowledge, Jefferson did not hold such an opinion. "That ours is a government of laws, and dependant on the will of the majority, is the true reading of the Constitution." He expresses hope that violent resistance to government will never be an alternative: "The time I hope is far distant when the abuse of power on the part of Congress will be so great as to justify a state to stand forth in open violent resistance. In all republics the voice of the majority must prevail. Consent to this, and act upon it, and harmony will prevail; oppose it, and disagreement, difference and danger will certainly follow; assert that a state may declare acts passed by Congress inoperative and void, and revolution with all its attendant evils, in the end, must be looked for and expected."
Jackson counsels compromise as a solution to sectional politics: "Compromise, mutual concessions, & friendly forbearance between different interests & sections, of our happy country must be regarded and nourished by all who desire to perpetuate the blessings we enjoy. These being my opinions, religiously entertained, situated as I am, charged with the execution of the laws, and the preservation of the Union & the Constitution, it could not be expected that I would select any one to prosecute for a violation of them, who holds that a portion of our revenue laws is not binding, and who would declare that the Union should be desolved [sic] rather than these laws should be permitted to be enforced." Jackson argues that his stance has nothing to do with the Drayton's beliefs as he would not "withold from any portion of my fellow citizens the privileges of the Constitution for an honest exercise of opinions." He notes that he holds many nullification supporters in high regard and affirms thay they will never "receive any treatment at my hands which...can with any justice be regarded as proscription...."
One year later, Jackson's support of the protective tariff of 1832 touched off the crisis. South Carolina's legislature promptly voted to nullify the tariff and Jackson was given authority to call out the army to collect the tariff. Finally, compromise was agreed upon before the confrontation turned violent.
Provenance: Kenneth Rendell, 1984.