On the 13th of April, 1830, there
was a remarkable dinner party in the national metropolis. It was the birthday
of Thomas Jefferson, and those who attended the party did so avowedly for the
purpose of honoring the memory of the author of the
Declaration of Independence.
Such was the tenor of the invitation. Andrew Jackson, the President of the
United States, was there. So was John C. Calhoun, the Vice President. Three of
the cabinet ministers, namely, Van Buren, Eaton, and Branch were there; and
members of Congress and citizens not a few.
It soon became manifest to the more sagacious ones that
this dinner party and the day were to be made the occasion for inaugurating
the new doctrine of nullification, and to fix the paternity of it on Mr.
Jefferson, the great Apostle of Democracy in America. Many gentlemen present,
perceiving the drift of the whole performance, withdrew in disgust before
summoned to the table; but the sturdy old President, perfectly informed,
When the dinner was over and the cloth removed, a call was made for the
regular toasts. These were twenty-four in number, eighteen of which, it is
alleged, were written; by Mr. Calhoun. These, in multifarious forms, shadowed
forth, now dimly, now clearly, the new doctrine. They were all received and
honored in various degrees, when volunteer toasts were announced as in order.
The President was of course first called
upon for a sentiment. His tall form rose majestically, and with that sternness
appropriate to the peculiar occasion, he cast that appalling bomb-shell of
words into the camp of conspirators, which will forever be a theme for the
commendation of the patriot and the historian—"THE
FEDERAL UNION: IT MUST BE PRESERVED!" He was followed by the Vice
President, who gave as his sentiment—" The Union: next to our Liberty the
most dear: may we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the
rights of the States, and distributing equally the benefit and burden of the
Union!" Those who before doubted the intentions of Calhoun and his South
Carolina friends, and were at a loss to understand the exact meaning of the
dinner party to which they were bidden, were no longer embarrassed by
ignorance. In that toast was presented the issue—liberty before
Union—supreme State sovereignty —false complaints of inequality of benefits
and burdens—our rights as we choose to define them, or disunion.
From that hour the vigilant old
President watched the South Carolina conspirator, his lieutenant, with the
searching eyes of unslumbering suspicion.