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President Andrew Jackson’s Proclamation of 1832 rejected the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification and rejected secession as a constitutional right. South Carolina’s legislature passed a Counter-Proclamation that citizens of states owed their chief allegiance to their sovereign state and not the national government and were duty-bound to maintain sovereign states’ rights. Increasingly, Americans failed to find common ground in their understanding of constitutional history. Enforcement of the Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause generated important Supreme Court cases such as Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842) and Ableman v. Booth (1859) as Southern states sought to enforce the Slave Clause through federal legislation such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Northern states responded by passing personal liberty laws to resist the enforcement of federal laws that would extend the authority of enslavers beyond the South. Southern states considered these personal liberty laws a nullification of federal law and as intended to eradicate slavery. The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 and the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 moved the nation beyond interposition towards secession and civil war.
Chapter 2 focuses on the international slave trade clause and the fugitive slave clause. The Constitution permitted Americans to ply that “infamous traffic” for two decades, but the Founders hoped that American slavery would end after the slave trade ceased to supply new chattels. Instead, the American slave population expanded. In the 1850s, a small band of fire-eaters tried to overturn the federal ban on the slave trade. In a couple of notorious cases, Southern juries refused to convict slave traders despite overwhelming evidence of their guilt. At the same time that these slave traders brought the slave trade clause to the fore, enslaved persons did the same for the fugitive slave clause, making it the most contentious of the Constitution’s compromises over slavery. While all Southerners and many Northerners agreed that the return of fugitive slaves was a constitutional duty, some abolitionists shirked this obligation and a tiny minority actively flouted the law. Northern juries declined to convict slave rescuers. The actions of the slave rescuers and the slave traders called into question the commitment of the North and the South to the rule of constitutional law.
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