“Without union, our independence and liberty would never have been achieved; without union they never can be maintained.”
WASHINGTON, D. C., March 4, 1833 – “Any division of the United States through secession of individual States from the Union inevitably must lead to civil wars,” President Andrew Jackson stated today in the Address marking his second inauguration as President.
President Jackson’s exhortation served to draw attention to – and it was hoped to check-a rising tide of debate rooted fundamentally in the question of slavery. It is on this issue that the South feels that its rights are being traduced, and that the North feels equally strongly that the freedoms promised under the Constitution apply equally to all men within our borders.
Increasingly in the past decade, there have been political maneuverings designed to bring into the Union, additional States whose Senators and Representatives oppose slavery, with the hope that eventually the overwhelming force of their voting strength will bring about laws forcing the South to bow to the freedom party. The reply from the South, through its greatest orators, principally Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, has been a barrage of arguments that in sum uphold the presumed rights of individual States to oppose Federal laws either through nullification or1 at the extreme, secession.
General Jackson finds himself in the unenviable position of being a slave-holding Tennessee planter, and therefore one whose financial interests are those of a Southerner. Yet as President and a military leader, his convictions and actions are bound to the oaths of loyalty to the Constitution and the Government representing it as paramount above all other interests. There is no middle road for him.
The will of the American people, expressed through their unsolicited suffrages, calls me before you to pass through the solemnities preparatory to taking upon myself the duties of President of the United States for another term. For their approbation of my public conduct through a period which has not been without its difficulties, and for this renewed expression of their confidence in my good intentions, I am at a loss for terms adequate to the expression of my gratitude.
It shall be displayed to the extent of my humble abilities in continued efforts so to administer the government as to preserve their liberty and pro- mote their happiness. …
In the domestic policy of this government, there are two objects which especially deserve the attention of the people and their representatives, and which have been and will continue to be the subjects of my increasing solicitude. They are the preservation of the rights of the several States and the integrity of the Union.
These great objects are necessarily connected, and can only be attained by an enlightened exercise of the powers of each within its appropriate sphere, in conformity with the public will constitutionally expressed. To this end it becomes the duty of all to yield a ready and patriotic submission to the laws constitutionally enacted, and thereby promote and strengthen a proper confidence in those institutions of the several States and of the United States which the people themselves have ordained for their own government.
My experience in public concerns and the observation of a life somewhat advanced confirm the opinions long since imbibed by me, that the destruction of our State governments or the annihilation of their control over the local concerns of the people would lead directly to revolution and anarchy, and finally to despotism and military domination. In proportion, therefore, as the general government encroaches upon the rights of the States, in the same proportion does it impair its own power and detract from its ability to fulfill the purposes of its creation. …
But of equaI, and indeed, of incalculable importance is the union of these States, and the sacred duty of all to contribute to its preservation by a liberal support of the general government in the exercise of its just powers. … Without union our independence and liberty would never have been achieved; without union they never can be maintained. Divided into twenty-four, or even a smaller number, of separate communities, we shall see our internal trade burdened with numberless restraints and exactions; communication between distant points and sections obstructed or cut off; our sons made soldiers to deluge with blood the fields they now till in peace; the mass of our people borne down and impoverished by taxes to support armies and navies, and military leaders at the head of their victorious legions becoming our lawgivers and judges.
The loss of liberty, of all good government, of peace, plenty, and happiness, must inevitably follow a dissolution of the Union. In supporting it, therefore, we support all that is dear to the freeman and the philanthropist.
The time at which I stand before you is full of interest. The eyes of all nations are fixed on our Republic. The event of the existing crisis will be decisive in the opinion of mankind, of the practicability of our federal system of government. Great is the stake placed in our hands; great is the responsibility, which must rest upon the people of the United States. Let us realize the importance of the attitude in which we stand before the world.
So let us exercise forbearance and firmness. Let us extricate our country from the dangers which surround it, and learn wisdom from the lessons they inculcate.
~ Postlogue ~
Perhaps the warning issued by President Jackson would have had greater force if his personality had been more malleable, and other factors had not intervened to create bitter enmity between him and his fellow Southerners.
As unskilled in politics as he had been supreme as a field commander, the doughty old warrior failed completely in his efforts at compromise. Only as a prophet of the blood bath that would eventually be required to purge the differences over Secession was he distinguished by this speech. But it is a notable landmark in the efforts to compromise the inevitable results of Secession.
Clay’s enmity already was buried deeply in his opposition to Jackson over the establishment of an all-powerful Central Bank, and over the issue of tariffs, in which Clay had supported South Carolina’s threats to secede, and Jackson had replied with a threat to send Federal soldiers into that state if it tried.
Calhoun firmly believed that a State had the right to nullify any Federal legislation inimical to its interests. Only in the preceding December, 1832, he had resigned as Vice President, with the Senatorial election safely in his pocket. Senator Clay would go on in his massive effort as the “Great Compromiser,” but in the end he would fail, as Jackson failed in this effort at compromise. Their failures were, however, magnificent ones.
Calhoun’s voice, while proved by history to be on the losing, as well as the wrong, side would become more and more powerful, as conversely, Jackson’s force and leadership diminished to the vanishing point even before he served out his second term.