In this juncture patriots of all parties turned to the one man whose leadership seemed indispensable in tariff legislation—the “great pacificator,” Henry Clay, who after two years in private life had just taken his seat in the Senate. Clay was no friend of Jackson or of Van Buren, and it required much sacrifice of personal feeling to lend his services to a program whose political benefits would almost certainly accrue to his rivals. Finally, however, he yielded and on the 12th of February he rose in the Senate and offered a compromise measure proposing that on all articles which paid more than twenty per cent the amount in excess of that rate should be reduced by stages until in 1842 it would entirely disappear.
Stormy debates followed on both the Compromise Tariff and the Force Bill, but before the session closed on the 4th of March both were on the statute book. When, therefore, the South Carolina convention, in accordance with an earlier proclamation of Governor Hamilton, reassembled on the 11th of March, the wind had been taken out of the nullifiers’ sails; the laws which they had “nullified” had been repealed, and there was nothing for the convention to do but to rescind the late ordinance and the legislative measures supplementary to it. There was a chance, however, for one final fling. By a vote of 132 to 19 the convention soberly adopted an ordinance nullifying the Force Bill and calling on the Legislature to pass laws to prevent the execution of that measure—which, indeed, nobody was now proposing to execute.
So the tempest passed. Both sides claimed victory, and with some show of reason. So far as was possible without an actual test of strength, the authority of the Federal Government had been vindicated and its dignity maintained; the constitutional doctrines of Webster acquired a new sanction; the fundamental point was enforced that a law—that every law—enacted by Congress must be obeyed until repealed or until set aside by the courts as unconstitutional. On the other hand, the nullifiers had brought about the repeal of the laws to which they objected and had been largely instrumental in turning the tariff policy of the country for some decades into a new channel. Moreover they expressed no regret for their acts and in no degree renounced the views upon which those acts had been based. They submitted to the authority of the United States, but on terms fixed by themselves. And, what is more, they supplied practically every constitutional and political argument to be used by their sons in 1860 to justify secession.
THE WAR ON THE UNITED STATES BANK
“Nothing lacks now to complete the love-feast,” wrote Isaac Hill sardonically to Thomas H. Benton after the collapse of nullification, “but for Jackson and Webster to solemnize the coalition [in support of the Union] with a few mint-juleps! I think I could arrange it, if assured of the cooeperation of yourself and Blair on our side, and Jerry Mason and Nick Biddle on theirs. But never fear, my friend. This mixing of oil and water is only the temporary shake-up of Nullification. Wait till Jackson gets at the Bank again, and then the scalping-knives will glisten once more.”