The Nullification Crisis Essay Example


It is indisputable that the Nullification Crisis and the theory of nullification contributed to the origins of the American Civil War to a certain extent, but unreasonable to attribute the war solely to this cause. The theory of nullification stated that states in the Union could nullify laws passed by the national government that they found unconstitutional. This theory caused debates during the Nullification Crisis of 1832-1833, after South Carolinian politicians used it to retaliate against tariff acts of 1828 and 1832. Although the Civil War can be traced back to debates over nullification and precedents set during the Nullification Crisis, it is necessary to recognize the myriad of other factors pushing America to a point where conflict was inevitable. Moreover, entangled amongst these factors was a central issue of slavery. Nullification played a significant role in inciting the Civil War, but, was only one of several factors and was a byproduct of disagreements caused by a larger issue of slavery.

The Nullification Crisis and theory of nullification launched a series of events that escalated into the Civil War. Political discourse erupted after Vice President Calhoun anonymously proposed the doctrine of nullification in 1828, in response to tariff acts passed by the federal government that protected Northern economy at the cost of damaging Southern economy. South Carolinian politicians embraced the doctrine but were opposed by Northern politicians and President Jackson. By 1832, South Carolina passed laws countering the tariff acts, resulting in both South Carolina and the national government threatening violence before a compromise was reached in 1833. This incident illustrated tensions that had come to define American politics and America as a whole. It worsened the situation within America by allowing tensions and other issues, such as rising feelings of sectionalism, to subsist and grow, contributing to Southern States seceding and failing to co-exist with the Union. The Nullification Crisis also set a precedent allowing states unsatisfied with decisions made by the national government to secede, and justify their actions with the theory of nullification-which Southern states did in 1860. Overall, the Nullification Crisis is partially responsible for the Civil War, and the compromise was only a temporary resolution foreshadowing the coming conflict.

One might argue the extreme importance of the Nullification Crisis as a turning point preordaining the Civil War, however, that neglects other factors contributing to the war. The Civil War began almost thirty years after the compromise of the Nullification Crisis-suggesting other causes were at play. During those years, tensions heightened until Southern States seceded before bombarding Fort Sumter in 1861-directly leading to the Civil War. However, long before the war and the Nullification Crisis, tensions between the North and South were already high. Economic, political, and ideological differences, stemming from their contrasting ways of life (South employed gang slave labour on large plantations; North favoured industrialized industries and opposed slavery), divided the North and South and contributed to the power struggle between the two. As the Abolitionist movement gained traction in the North in the nineteenth century, the South felt their way of life and right to own property were threatened. This led to polarized beliefs and values that were irreconcilable, contributing to the Civil War after failure to reach long-term solutions for disputes over slavery regulations. Western Expansion was another factor that caused the Civil War. Arguments over whether new states joined the Union as slave or free states tore the nation apart, leading to bloody encounters such as the violent incident of Bleeding Kansas in 1856, which killed dozens of people, and the Civil War. Another notable cause was sectionalism, which was amplified by disputes of slavery in new territories. The loss of trust and loyalty to the national government further divided the nation and coerced Southern states to secede due to desires for more state rights. So, the significance of the Nullification Crisis is irrefutable, but it was one of several factors that must be considered to gain a true comprehension of what led to the Civil War

To grasp a full understanding of causes of the Civil War though, it is necessary to acknowledge the origin of these factors-disputes over slavery. At the heart of the causes was slavery, making it the chief and most important contributor to the war. Nullification was an issue because of import tariffs the national government imposed to protect Northern economy, which hurt Southern economy due to retaliatory tariffs placed on Southern exports. Frustrated Southern plantation owners suspected the national government of penalizing their refusal to abolish slavery and attempting to force the South to industrialize, abandoning their agrarian economy that relied heavily on slavery. Tensions between the North and South arose following Northern attempts to persuade Southerners to abandon the peculiar institution. Tensions rose higher with the introduction of new states and discussion over whether those states should be admitted to the Union as slave or free states. The South disapproved of the federal government’s involvement, resulting in Southerners losing faith in federalism and turning to Sectionalism and a desire for states to have more rights to make decisions for themselves. In summary, it would be erroneous to attribute the Civil War’s origins solely to nullification or any other specific cause, because disagreements over slavery were essentially the foundations of the Civil War.

In conclusion, nullification caused the Civil War to a certain extent, however, it would be inaccurate to ignore other factors and slavery as a root source. Nullification worsened tensions and empowered the South to act against the national government. Nevertheless, reasons such as pre-existing tensions between the North and South, debates over Westward expansion of slavery, and growing beliefs in sectionalism and state rights also played roles in bringing the beginning of the Civil War. Furthermore, slavery was the predominant issue tying these factors together and the catalyst allowing issues to bubble to the surface as violence and war. For these reasons, it is evident that the nullification crisis and the theory of nullification contributed to the Civil War to some extent, but the Civil War was influenced by other factors and nullification was ultimately the result of a preponderant issue surrounding slavery.

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