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Bachelor of Arts

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Dr. Claire Rydell Arcenas


Nullification Crisis, Nullification, Virginia, Newspapers, South Carolina

Subject Categories

Cultural History | Intellectual History | Political History | United States History


Preceding the American Civil War by three decades, the Nullification Crisis is often overshadowed by that larger conflict. It tends to be thought of only as an event in which the two sides of the war, pro-union and anti-union, coalesced around divisive issues. This perspective obscures the complex ideological loyalties that were in conflict during the crisis. These disagreements were on especially clear display in the influential border state of Virginia, which hosted many different opinions about the relevant issues. The state ultimately chose to steer a middle course. In January 1833, it adopted a set of resolves that rejected nullification and were neither fully supportive of the federal government nor of South Carolina.

These resolves were adopted following extensive debate in the Virginia state legislature, but for months beforehand Virginian newspapers undertook an equally revealing but less well- studied debate about the important issues at play during the crisis. In contrast with previous studies of the Nullification Crisis in Virginia, this paper will use the writings of newspapers to collect Virginian views of the crisis. These newspapers were read by Virginians who were not directly involved in state or national politics, and their writings were relevant to a wide audience. They provide an opportunity to support or challenge existing assumptions about how Virginians thought about the Nullification Crisis using a broader source base.

This paper examines the debate over nullification, federal union, and states’ rights from late 1832 through early 1833. It draws on the writings of four prominent Virginian newspapers, the Richmond Enquirer, the Phenix Gazette, the Constitutional Whig, and The Lynchburg Virginian. It sheds light on the varying opinions that these newspapers expressed on nullification and the federal union as well as the political beliefs that underwrote these opinions. It argues that these newspapers were loyal to the vision of the federal union and opposed nullification.

However, it also argues that they were not in full agreement on other key ideological issues, namely the nature of the federal union, the validity of state sovereignty, the constitutionality of tariffs, and the right of states to secede from the federal union. This paper further argues that these opinions were linked to and tangibly shaped by loyalty to the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, which contained a firm endorsement of states’ rights. The Enquirer and the Whig strongly affirmed the wisdom of these resolutions and professed that they did not justify nullification. Lastly, this paper argues that the resolves passed by the Virginia legislature reflected this newspaper debate, in that they were shaped by loyalty to the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and addressed many of the same ideological issues that concerned Virginian newspapers.

Honors College Research Project


GLI Capstone Project




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