Conflicts Over States’ Rights Nullification Crisis (1828-1833) Learning Objective: Describe the historical conflicts arising over the issue of states’ rights, influding the Nullification and the Civil War



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Conflicts Over States’ Rights
Nullification Crisis (1828-1833)
Learning Objective: Describe the historical conflicts arising over the issue of states’ rights, influding the Nullification and the Civil War. The summary below describes the Nullification Crisis, in which the north and South clashed over the issue of whether a state had the right to nullify a federal law. To nullify a law means to declare it unconstitutional and so illegal within a state’s borders.
The issue of states’ rights increasingly divided Americans, especially Northerners and Southerners, in the decades before the Civil War. It pitted those who favored a strong ntional government against those who believed the states should be stronger. It was a major political issue from 1828, when the Nullification Crisis began, until the Civil War was fought to resolve it.
The Nullification Crisis arose over the issue of tariffs, or taxes on imported goods. Tariffs hurt the economy of the South, which depended on foreign trade. The South opposed a federal bill passed in 1828 that significantly raised tariffs.
Drawing upon the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, Vice-President John Calhoun, who was from South Carolina, proposed the doctrine of nullification. He declared that a state had the right to nullify a federal law within tis borders. Calhoun reasoned that the U.S. Constitution was an agreement among sovereign states and that each state had the right to decide if an act of Congress was unconstitutional. President Andrew Jackson and Congressional leaders from the North opposed the doctrine of nullification. They believed that all states must obey federal laws. The Constitution specifically stated that national laws were to be “the supreme law of the land.” However, in 1832, Congress reduced tariffs to try to appease the South.
South Carolina thought the tariffs were still too high, and its state legislato4rs voted to nullify them. They also voted to form an army and threatened to secede, or withdraw from the Union if custom officials tried to collect the tariffs.
In response, President Jackson threatened to send federal troops into South Carolina to enforce the tariffs. He made it clear that the federal government would enforce federal laws. A confrontation was avoided, however, when Congress passed a compromise tariff in 1833 that satisfied South Carolina and ended the immediate crisis. But the conflict over states’ rights remained an ongoing issue and eventually pushed the nation into Civil War.
States’ Rights and the Civil War (1861-1865)
Learning Objective: Describe the historical conflicts arising over the issue of states’ rights that led to the outbreak of the Civil War. The summary below describes how the conflict over states’ rights led up to the Civil War.
At the root of the Civil War were differences between the Northern and Southern states over the issue of slavery. The question of whether to allow slavery in the territories had divided the North and South for years.
The Southern states, which depended on slave labor to produce cotton, wanted slavery allowed in the territories and in new states formed from the territories. They did not want free states to become a majority in Congress because the balance of power would shift to the North. The Northern states did not want slavery to expand. Abraham Lincoln, a Northern Republican who opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories, won the presidency in 1860.
With Lincoln’s election, Southerners feared that Northern antislavery Republicans would dominate national politics and submit the South to federal government control. They believed a Republican administration would work to end the slave labor system on which their economy and way of life depended.

The Southern states had threatened to secede if Lincoln won the presidency. They argued that the states had voluntarily joined the Union and had the right to leave it. South Carolina seceded first. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas joined South Carolina in secession, and together they formed the Confederate States of America in 1861. The Confederacy adopted a constitution that supported states’ rights and slavery. The Confederate states regarded the struggle over slavery partly as a states’ rights issue. They believed that states had the right to self-determination. With secession, the issue of states’ rights came to mean complete independence of Southern states from Federal government control.


Many Northerners, on the other hand, considered secession unconstitutional. They argued that states did not have the right to withdraw from the union because the federal government – not a state government – was sovereign, or the supreme authority, under the Constitution. The North went to war to hold the Union together and assert the authority of the federal government.
Reconstruction Amendments
Learning Objective: Describe the impact of the 19th century amendments, including the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, on life in the United States. The summaries below describe some of the main effects that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments have had on American life.
The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were ratified after the end of the Civil War to grant individual rights to recently freed African-Americans. They are often called the Reconstruction Amendments after this period in U.S. history. Since the period of Reconstruction, these amendments have served to protect the individual rights not only of African-Americans but also of women, the disabled, and other minority groups. In this way, they have contributed to the increased participation of all groups in American life.
13th Amendment (1865): Abolition of Slavery

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 freed slaves in the Confederate territory, but slavery remained in the border-states. The 13th Amendment, which was ratified shortly after the end of the Civil War, permanently ended slavery in the United States.


After they were freed, many African-Americans left plantations, found jobs, reunited with their families, and started schools and churches. Eventually, some African-Americans returned to plantations to work for wages or as sharecroppers.
The 13th Amendment provided the legal basis for the Supreme Court to outlaw peonage, another form of forced labor, in 1911. In the Southwest, African-Americans and Mexicans had been forced to work to repay debts until this system was declared a violation of the 13th Amendment.
14th Amendment (1868): Civil Rights

The 14th Amendment granted citizenship and equal protection of the laws to all persons born or naturalized in the United States (except Native American on tribal lands). This amendment was intended to make former slaves citizens to secure full civil rights for them. However, it was not immediately enforced throughout the United States. Later it became the basis for court decisions that ended segregation, the separation of whites and blacks in public places.


The 14th Amendment provided the legal basis for many civil rights laws of the 20th century. Some of these laws prohibited job discrimination, required public places to provide access for the disabled, and required schools to provide equal resources for males and females in their athletic programs.
15th Amendment (1870): Right to Vote

The 15th Amendment guarant4eed that the right to vote could not be denied based on race, color, or previous enslavement. It was designed to protect the voting rights of African-Americans, and many African-Americans did begin to vote after it was passed. However, some states set voter qualifications that kept African-Americans from voting. Nevertheless, the amendment provided the legal basis for voting rights laws passed in the 1900’s. After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, the number of African-American voters increased greatly, and more African-Americans were then elected to political office.


As a side effect, the 15th Amendment strengthened the campaign to gain the right to vote for women. It took 50 more years, however, before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 and women gained suffrage, or the right to vote.


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