On the question of internal improvements Jackson soon took a stand entirely pleasing to the opponents of the system. In his first message to Congress he declared against it, and when Congress passed a bill subscribing money to the stock of the Maysville and Lexington road, one of the chief internal improvements so far undertaken, and an enterprise specially favored by Clay, he promptly vetoed it. Other such measures he vetoed unless it was clear that a two-thirds majority in each House would pass them over his veto. He preferred that the money received from the sale of public lands should be distributed among the States, believing that they, instead of the general government, should undertake the improvements necessary to the development of the country.
J ackson had, indeed, great respect for the rights of the States under the Constitution, and warned Congress not to go beyond the powers which were clearly given to the general government. The State of Georgia had long been discontent because the Indians were not removed from her borders, and the President sympathized strongly with her feeling. As soon as he was elected, the Georgia legislature passed an act dividing up the Cherokee country into counties, and extending over them the civil laws of the State. The act was plainly contrary to treaties between the Indians and the Federal government, but the President refused to interfere. On the contrary, he withdrew all United States troops from the Indian country, and left the State to deal with the Indians as it chose. Later on, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the Georgia law was unconstitutional because it took away the treaty rights of the Cherokees. " John Marshall has made his decision," said Jackson, "now let him enforce it." The President, in fact, was heartily in favor of removing the Indians, and before he went out of office the last of the Southern tribes had given up its old home for a new one in the West.
Jackson's collision with Chief Justice Marshall over this question had very far-reaching effects, which historians have somewhat neglected in their study of the consequences of his course on other questions. No statesman, no President, had done so much as the great Chief Justice to make the general government strong and to restrain the States. Jackson, disagreeing with some of Marshall's views, never lost an opportunity to put on the bench a man of his own way of thinking. The result was that many years later, when, in a great crisis, the supporters of the national government and the leaders of States about to break away from the Union looked to the Supreme Court to decide between them, the voice that came from the august tribunal spoke words which Marshall and Story would never have uttered, but which the champions of the States heard with delight.
On these important questions, then, President Jackson acted like an extreme Jeffer-sonian Democrat. But the South Carolinians soon found that if he was ready to keep the general government from interfering with any right that could reasonably be claimed for a State, he was equally ready to stand up for the Union when he thought a State was going too far.
He had nothing to do with the tariff of 1828. In his first message he suggested that some modifications of it were desirable, and pointed out that the public debt would soon be paid, and it would be advisable to reduce certain of the duties. But modification was too mild a word to suit the South Carolinians. The law was the outcome of the clamor of many selfish interests, and Congressmen opposed altogether to protection had helped to make it as bad as possible, hoping that it might in the end be defeated. When it passed, the South Carolina legislature vigorously protested, and began at once to debate about the best plan of resistance. The plan finally preferred was for the State to declare the law unconstitutional, and therefore null and void, and call on other States to join in the declaration. If the national government tried to enforce the law in South Carolina, she would protect her citizens, and as the final resort withdraw from the Union. The plan was first placed before the American people in an " Exposition and Protest " adopted by the South Carolina legislature in 1828; and the real author of that famous document, though the fact was not then known, was the Vice-President, Calhoun. The associate of Clay in those acts which had made a beginning of internal improvements and of protection, long a statesman of the strong-government school, Calhoun had been led by the distress and discontent of his own people to examine the Constitution again, " in order," as he said afterwards, " to ascertain fully the nature and character of our political system," and had now come to a change of views.
The nullification doctrine came before Congress in the winter of 1829-30, and was debated in the most famous of American debates. Clay was not there to speak for his tariff system, but a greater orator than Clay took up the challenge. In the greatest of all American orations since Patrick Henry spoke for liberty, Webster spoke for union and liberty, and Americans will never forget his words until liberty and union are alike destroyed. Jackson was the last man in the country to miss their force. No orator himself, he yet knew how to give words the power of a promised or a threatened deed. Not long after the debate, there was a public dinner of the States'-Rights men in Washington to celebrate Jefferson's birthday. Jackson did not attend, but he sent a toast, and probably the seven words of his toast were more confounding to the nullifiers than all the stately paragraphs of Webster's oration. It was: " Our Federal Union: it must be preserved." Calhoun's toast was: " The Union, - next to our liberties the most dear," - and Jackson, who was just learning that he had been mistaken about Calhoun in 1818, began now to see clearly that the great South Carolinian was in sympathy with the nullifiers. Many South Carolinians, however, were still hoping that the President would not take any active measures to defeat their plan. Some of them went on hoping until the Fourth of July, 1831, when there was read, at a public dinner of Union men at Charleston, a letter from Jackson which left no doubt of what he meant to do if they kept on. He was going to enforce the laws and preserve the Union.