Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861


What is nullification? What is secession? How closely are they linked?

Both ideas are American in content and ideology. Both came from ideas and concepts expressed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.

Nullification involves the difference between state and federal law. A nullifier, and there were many in South Carolina in 1860, believed that the government of a state can nullify the effects of a federal law within the boundaries of that state. This was attempted by South Carolina in 1832, but on that occasion the firm response of President Andrew Jackson led to a swift pullback. Secession, on the other hand, is a true severance of relations between the government of a state and the federal government. Nullification is clearly a major, and dangerous step, but secession ups the ante considerably. In both cases, the belief proceeds from the idea that the thirteen original states—those that won independence from Great Britain—did not yield any of their sovereignty when they entered the federal union in 1787. The doctrine of states’ rights was more strongly held in the South than the North or West.


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