United States Coast Guard - 200th Anniversary


The cutter McLane and other cutters sail past Fort Pinckney enforcing revenue laws in Charleston Harbor 1833.

Several times in United States political history there have been attempts by the states to prevent enforcement of federal authority. These attempts were justified on the grounds that the Union was a result of a compact between sovereign states who were not bound by the Constitution when the federal government exceeded its delegated powers. The act by which a state suspends a federal law is called nullification.

The most notable attempt to nullify a law occurred in South Carolina. The economy of South Carolina was primarily agrarian and the people opposed the protective tariffs of 1828 and 1832, believing that these tariffs benefited only those states with manufacturing. South Carolina adopted an ordinance of nullification in 1832 and declared both tariff acts "null and void." The state further threatened to resist and secede from the United States if the federal government attempted collection.

On December 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson denounced this act as rebellion and warned that he would enforce the laws. Congress gave Jackson authority to use the armed forces if necessary to collect the taxes. Secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane instructed the Collector of Customs in Charleston to prepare for a challenge to the federal government. Customs officers were given authority to stop and board all ships entering the nation's ports from a foreign nation. Customs officers could seal cargo hatches and place officers on board the ships until tariffs were paid.

The Collector of Customs in Charleston, James R. Pringle, stationed his vessels beyond the guns of the city and under the protective guns of Fort Moultrie. This strategic maneuver made it difficult for any ship to evade the tariff.

During the crisis, Castle Pinckney, in the middle of the harbor was established as the Customs House and flew the revenue cutter ensign. As the ships entered the harbor they were boarded by revenue officers and other federal officials. They were then compelled to anchor under the forts' guns and the guns on board the five revenue cutters stationed there. Merchants who were slow to pay the tariff were forced to land those goods requiring taxes at Castle Pinckney until the fees were paid. The local populace developed a rebellious mentality and began to fly the French tricolor as a symbol of revolution against "King Andrew's" authority. Only a compromise tariff passed in March, which gradually reduced the tax, averted an open rebellion. This was an important test of the Revenue Cutter Service and helped shape American history.

Artist: Bob Lavin

Robert Lavin graduated from The City College of New York and The National Academy Art School with honors. During Wodd War Il he served as a fighter pilot in the U.S Marine Corps.

Following the war he did illustrations of industrial, aviation and marine subjects with his work appearing regularly in such publications as The Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest, and Fortune magazine. Mr Lavin is regarded as one the foremost painters of industrial subjects in the United States today