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Nullification Crisis in the History of the United States Essay (Critical Writing)

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Introduction

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and South Carolina Exposition and Protest are pivotal aspects of early American history that constituted the secession as a feasible alternative to adverse federal government policies. More specifically, the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 asserted that each individual state has the authority to proclaim the unconstitutionality and nullity of the federal laws. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions are primarily considered as the arguments against the restrictions on civil liberties included in the Alien and Sedition Acts (529). The South Carolina Exposition and Protest of 1828 implied that the government surpassed its power in passing the Tariff of Abominations and declared that states were not obliged to follow its enforcement (2). Both documents are critical historical facts that need to be examined in terms of their interconnection, similarities, and differences, which further shaped the governmental order of the United States.

The Summary of the Documents

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions refer to the measures enacted by the legislative body of the two states as a protest against the Federalist Alien and Sedition Acts. It was an anonymously written document by Jefferson passed by the state legislature in 1798. The Alien Acts set extended requirements and the naturalization process and increased the president’s power to detain foreign-born citizens seen as a threat.

The Kentucky Resolutions are based on Jefferson’s fundamental theory of states, indicating that states are united “by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution” (Smith 23). Moreover, the resolutions served as the preface of the theory of nullification. Jefferson’s argument implied that the national government was “a compact between the federal states” that had the power to determine when their authority was breached and to establish the mode of legal defense (Smith 24). The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions initiated the secession through Jefferson’s compact theory of states.

South Carolina Exposition and Protest

In 1828, Congress executed the Tariff of 1828, signed by President John Quincy Adams. The Tariff raised taxes on import production to eliminate “foreign competition with American manufacturing” (Smith 45). However, the southerners were reliant on free commerce with Europe to establish the trade of their harvest. Therefore, they regarded the Tariff as a damaging decree to their economy. Calhoun’s Exposition was an anonymously written reaction to the Tariff by John C. Calhoun. The underlying idea of the document implied the doctrine of nullification. Based on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, Calhoun’s main argument was that the United States was a “compact among the states” (Smith 46). Given that the states were sovereign, each state could nullify a federal statute if it was regarded as unconstitutional.

Commonalities in the Documents

It is important to note that both documents represent the country’s efforts to establish and regulate the limits of the federal government’s authority concerning the states. The South Carolina Exposition and Protest and the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were mainly concerned with the concept of states’ rights. The documents are similar in addressing the issues involving “admitting new states” and anonymous representation (Smith 50).

Both historical documents served as a response to the federal government regulations. To be more specific, the rights conceded to the states by the Constitution are based on the “concept of nullification” (Smith 51). It represents the idea that states can disregard a federal law if they consider it unconstitutional, developed by Jefferson and Madison. It served as a groundwork for South Carolina Exposition and Protest in addressing the issue of tariffs and state versus federal powers. Most importantly, the sentiments of nullification presented by both documents regarding the states’ rights provided the ideological basis for the new government.

Differences between the Historical Documents

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions laid the groundwork for Calhoun’s argument that a state could nullify federal law. Despite the critical interaction points of the two historical written records, they also differ in legislative and historical ways. One significant difference lies in the fact that the Alien and Sedition Acts aim to suppress Jefferson’s party and his supporters (Smith 47). However, the Tariff Acts constrained John Quincy Adams’s adherents. The Kentucky Resolutions were protesting against the Alien and Sedition Acts, while South Carolina Exposition and Protest emerged as a result of the Tariff of 1828. South Carolina Exposition and Protest were carried out in Caucuses, and the Kentucky Resolutions were held in Congress. In addition, the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions set the framework for secession, while Calhoun’s Exposition contributed to its final execution.

Conclusion

The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions and the South Carolina Exposition and Protest considerably changed the pattern of state legislatures and the United States citizens. The main ideas of the documents are based on the relationship between the states and the American Constitution. However, the nullification is associated with the enhanced resistance to the federal government by the U.S. states. The states should not be allowed to nullify laws because the federal laws are feasible and effective only if they are implemented in every state and maintain the cohesion of the nation. The states set up the federal government; therefore, the federal law is superior to the states’ political order and legislature. Most importantly, nullification can be used by the states to infringe constitutionally guaranteed rights, thus, the states should not have the ability to nullify a national law.

Works Cited

“South Carolina Exposition and Protest (1828).” American History. ABC-CLIO. Web.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 30, 2003, pp. 529–556. Web.

Smith, Patricia M. Sowing the Seeds of Secession: The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions 1798, the Hartford Convention 1814, The South Carolina Nullification Crisis 1830-33. Southern New Hampshire University, 2018.

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