In 1845, Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States from 1829 to 1837, lay dying at The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jackson had spent his adult life defending the infant United States. He had fought the Indians and British during the War of 1812, capping his career as a general with his triumph at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
As President, he had faced down would-be “nullifiers”–those Southern politicians who claimed states had the right to ignore federal laws they disliked.
But now his worn, disease-racked body was fast reaching the limits of its endurance. Knowing that death was closing in, Jackson often took stock of his lifetime of achievements–and failures.
One day, he asked one of his doctors what act of his administration would be most severely condemned by future generations.
“Perhaps the removal of the bank deposits,” said the doctor–referring to Jackson’s withdrawal of U.S. Government monies from the first Bank of the United States.
That act had destroyed the bank, which Jackson had believed was a source of political corruption.
“Oh, no!” said Jackson.
“Then maybe the specie circular,” said the doctor. He was referring to an 1836 executive order Jackson had issued, requiring payment for government land to be in gold and silver.
“Not at all!” said Jackson.
Then, his eyes blazing, Jackson raged: “I can tell you. Posterity will condemn me more because I was persuaded not to hang John C. Calhoun as a traitor than for any other act in my life!”
Historians have not condemned Jackson for this. But perhaps he was right-–and perhaps he should have hanged Calhoun.
It might have prevented the Civil War-–or at least delayed its coming.
John C. Calhoun had once been Vice President under Jackson and later a United States Senator from South Carolina. His fiery rhetoric and radical theories of “nullification” played a major part in bringing on the Civil War (1861-1865).
Calhoun was an outspoken proponent of slavery, which he declared to be a “positive good” rather than a “necessary evil.” He supported states’ rights and nullification–under which states could declare null and void federal laws which they deemed unconstitutional.
Over time, Southern states’ threats of “nullification” turned to those of “secession” from the Union.
Jackson died in 1845-–16 years before the Civil War erupted. The resulting carnage destroyed as many as 620,000 lives. More Americans died in the war than have been killed in all the major wars fought by the United States since.
When it ended, America was reinvented as a new, unified nation–-and one where slavery was now banned by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Equally important, the Federal Government had now set a precedent for using overwhelming military power to force states to remain in the Union.
Except for die-hard secessionists, Americans overwhelmingly agreed, from 1865 on, that the Union was sacred and unbreakable. Until, that is, the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama–the country’s first black President.
Then, suddenly, secession–treason–became fashionable again, not only among many Southerners but even among so-called “mainstream” Republicans.
To date, sovereignty resolutions have been introduced in 58 state legislatures, and have passed in nine–Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oaklahoma, Louisiana and Tennessee.
“Sovereignty” means supreme, independent authority over a territory–authority heretofore accepted as residing with the federal government.
For more than 20 years, Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher, has refused to pay fees for grazing cattle on public lands, some 80 miles north of Las Vegas.
The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says Bundy now owes close to $1 million. He says his family has used the land since the 1870s and doesn’t recognize the federal government’s jurisdiction.
In 2013, a federal judge ordered Bundy to remove his livestock.
Bundy ignored the order, and was in fact even quoted as saying; “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
In early April, 2014, BLM agents rounded up more than 400 of his cattle.
Over the weekend of April 12-13, armed militia members and states’ right protesters showed up to challenge the move.
Rather than risk violence, the BLM did an about-face and released the cattle.
While Right-wingers hail this as a victory for “states’ rights,” the truth is considerably different.
Bundy’s refusal to recognize the federal government’s jurisdiction amounts to: “I will recognize–and obey–only those laws that I happen to agree with.”
Abraham Lincoln dedicated his Presidency–and sacrificed his life–to ensure the preservation of a truly United States.
And Robert E. Lee—the defeated South’s greatest general—spent the last five years of his life trying to put the Civil War behind him and persuade his fellow Southerners to accept their place in the Union.
But Cliven Bundy and other Right-wing champions of treason are working hard to destroy that union–and unleash a second Civil War.