Nullification Doctrine Law and Legal Definition
Nullification Doctrine was a theory espoused by southern states before the Civil War where by states claimed power to declare a law of the federal government unconstitutional and therefore void. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, Vice President of the United States, was the leading proponent of nullification. Calhoun argued that "the Constitution and federal Union were established by sovereign states, not by the people of the United States. Therefore, the state governments have authority to decide if the acts of the federal government are constitutional or not. If a state government decided that the federal government had exceeded constitutional limits on its powers, then the state could call a special convention to nullify the law, thereby declaring that the law would not be enforced in the state." The nullification doctrine was linked to the claim that a state had a right to secede from, or leave, the federal union. In 1832, South Carolina attempted to use Calhoun's nullification doctrine to declare a federal tariff statute unconstitutional. However, President Andrew Jackson responded with the threat of military force to suppress actions that he viewed as rebellious violations of the U.S. Constitution. The crisis ended with a compromise about the terms of the disputed federal tariff law. Finally, civil war (1861–65) put an end to the arguments about the nullification doctrine and the right of secession once and for all.