Saturday, June 28, 2008

Andrew Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification 2: More State of the Union

In his December 4, 1832 State of the Union message, President Andrew Jackson next turned to the issue of internal improvements. In his Maysville Road veto of 1830, President Jackson he had made clear that he believed that federal funding of internal improvement was constitutionally suspect unless they were clearly national in character.

Now, two and half years later, the president underlined his objections. Even if federal funding of internal improvements “be deemed constitutional,” it was “subversive of the best interests of our country.” This was so, Jackson strongly suggested, because the states were somehow closer to the people, protecting them against the potentially dangerous power of the federal government:
Both Governments are the Governments of the people; improvements must be made with the money of the people, and if the money can be collected and applied by those more simple and economical political machines, the State governments, it will unquestionably be safer and better for the people than to add to the splendor, the patronage, and the power of the General Government.

Likewise, in discussing matters military, President Jackson emphasized the day-to-day primacy of local militia. The General Government might play an increased role in a crisis, but in ordinary times the federal army must be kept small because of “its ultimate danger to public liberty.” Reliance on local and state forces, Jackson asserted, were the best defense against federal usurpation:
[F]or the purposes of defense under ordinary circumstances, we must rely upon the electors of the country. Those by whom and for whom the Government was instituted and supported will constitute its protection in the hour of danger as they do its check in the hour of safety.

Finally, President Jackson devoted the closing two paragraphs of his address to describing his vision of “the great principles on which our institutions are founded.” The role of the General Government was limited to only a few “plain and simple duties.” Within this framework, “citizens” and “State sovereignties” would be free “to regulate the great mass of the business and concerns of the people” and thus “work out improvements and ameliorations” to their best advantage:
That this Government may be so administered as to preserve its efficiency in promoting and securing these general objects should be the only aim of our ambition, and we can not, therefore, too carefully examine its structure, in order that we may not mistake its powers or assume those which the people have reserved to themselves or have preferred to assign to other agents. We should bear constantly in mind the fact that the considerations which induced the framers of the Constitution to withhold from the General Government the power to regulate the great mass of the business and concerns of the people have been fully justified by experience, and that it can not now be doubted that the genius of all our institutions prescribes simplicity and economy as the characteristics of the reform which is yet to be effected in the present and future execution of the functions bestowed upon us by the Constitution.

Limited to a general superintending power to maintain peace at home and abroad, and to prescribe laws on a few subjects of general interest not calculated to restrict human liberty, but to enforce human rights, this Government will find its strength and its glory in the faithful discharge of these plain and simple duties. Relieved by its protecting shield from the fear of war and the apprehension of oppression, the free enterprise of our citizens, aided by the State sovereignties, will work out improvements and ameliorations which can not fail to demonstrate that the great truth that the people can govern themselves is not only realized in our example, but that it is done by a machinery in government so simple and economical as scarcely to be felt.

Six days later, the president made himself felt.

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