Sowing the seeds of disunion: South Carolina's partisan press and the nullification crisis, 1828-1833

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University of Alabama Libraries

Ultimately the first state to secede on the eve of the Civil War, South Carolina erupted in controversy following the 1828 passage of an act increasing duties on foreign imports for the protection of domestic industry. Most could agree that the tariff was unconstitutional, unequal in that it benefited the industrial North more than the agrarian South, and oppressive to plantation states that had to rely on expensive northern goods or foreign imports made more costly by the duties. Factions formed, however, based on recommended means of redress. Partisan newspapers of that era became vocal supporters of one faction or the other. What became the Free Trade Party by the end of the Nullification Crisis began as a loosely-organized group that called for unqualified resistance to what they perceived as a gross usurpation of power by the federal government. The Union Party grew out of a segment of the population that was loyal to the government and alarmed by their opposition's disunion rhetoric. Strong at the start due to tariff panic and bolstered by John C. Calhoun's "South Carolina Exposition and Protest," the Free Trade Party lost ground when the Unionists successfully turned their overzealous disunion language against them in the 1830 city and state elections. Once the nullifiers dropped their disunion focus in favor of sound Republican doctrine combined with patriotism reminiscent of the American Revolution, they became an unstoppable force. Through their new, moderate rhetoric, the Free Trade Party was able to convince the public that they valued the Union as much as anyone, that the people's rights and the Constitution itself were in danger, that the states had the authority to interpose in such a case, and that the rightful remedy of nullification was the peaceful medium between submission to tyranny and outright revolution.

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Journalism, History, United States