nullification


nullification
nullificationist, nullificator, n.
/nul'euh fi kay"sheuhn/, n.
1. an act or instance of nullifying.
2. the state of being nullified.
3. (often cap.) the failure or refusal of a U.S. state to aid in enforcement of federal laws within its limits, esp. on Constitutional grounds.
[1620-30; < LL nullification- (s. of nullificatio) contempt, equiv. to nullificat(us) (ptp. of nullificare to despise) + -ion- -ION. See NULLIFY]

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Doctrine upholding the right of a U.S. state to declare null and void an act of the federal government.

First enunciated in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (1798), it was expanded by John C. Calhoun in response to the Tariff of 1828. Calhoun maintained that a state "interposition" could block enforcement of a federal law. The South Carolina legislature agreed by passing the Ordinance of Nullification (1832), threatening to secede if the federal government forced collection of the 1828 tariff duties. Pres. Andrew Jackson asserted the supremacy of the federal government. The U.S. Congress passed a compromise tariff bill reducing the duties but also passed the Force Bill, which authorized federal enforcement of the law. The South Carolina legislature rescinded its ordinance, but the conflict highlighted the danger of nullification.

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▪ United States government
      in U.S. history, doctrine upholding the right of a state to declare null and void within its boundaries an act of the federal government. Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson, Thomas) and James Madison advocated nullification in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. The Union was a compact of sovereign states, Jefferson asserted, and the federal government was their agent with certain specified, delegated powers. The states retained the authority to determine when the federal government exceeded its powers, and they could declare acts to be “void and of no force” in their jurisdictions.

      John C. Calhoun (Calhoun, John C) furthered the nullification doctrine in his South Carolina Exposition and Protest, published and distributed by the South Carolina legislature (without Calhoun's name on it) in 1829. Writing in response to Southern bitterness over the Tariff of 1828 (“Tariff of Abominations”), Calhoun took the position that state “interposition” could block enforcement of a federal law. The state would be obliged to obey only if the law were made an amendment to the Constitution by three-fourths of the states. The “concurrent majority”—i.e., the people of a state having veto power over federal actions—would protect minority rights from the possible tyranny of the numerical majority.

      When the Tariff of 1832 only slightly modified the Tariff of 1828, the South Carolina legislature decided to put Calhoun's nullification theory to a practical test. The legislature called for a special state convention, and on Nov. 24, 1832, the convention adopted the Ordinance of Nullification. The ordinance declared the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 “null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers or citizens.” It also forbade appeal of any ordinance measure to the federal courts, required all state officeholders (except members of the legislature) to take an oath of support for the ordinance, and threatened secession if the federal government tried to collect tariff duties by force. In its attempts to have other Southern states join in nullification, however, South Carolina met with total failure.

      On Dec. 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued his “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina,” asserting the supremacy of the federal government and warning that “disunion by armed force is treason.” Congress then (March 1, 1833) passed both the Force Bill—authorizing Jackson to use the military if necessary to collect tariff duties—and a compromise tariff that reduced those duties. The South Carolina convention responded on March 15 by rescinding the Ordinance of Nullification but three days later maintained its principles by nullifying the Force Bill.

      As a consequence of the nullification crisis, Jackson emerged a hero to nationalists. But Southerners were made more conscious of their minority position and more aware of their vulnerability to a Northern majority as long as they remained in the Union.

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Universalium. 2010.