It is no coincidence that the completion of the Buncombe Turnpike, a road to coastal markets, came in 1828, the same year that South Carolina declared that it could unilaterally nullify a federal statute.
Favoring industry, to many Southerners, meant turning the South into a dependent vassal.
The states rights issue emerged as a fight between an agricultural barony and an industrial oligarchy.
John C. Calhoun, Andrew Jackson’s vice president and a son of the Palmetto State, made a convincing case against imposing tariffs. The U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to impose duties to gain income, he asserted, but not to shut down ports.
They recognized, along with Gov. Hutchins Burton, that “the situation and products of the state were … identified with those of South Carolina.”
The nullification crisis was over tariffs, which favored the industrial north at the expense of the agricultural south. The debate was: Should tariffs be used to maintain foreign trade or to favor national industry, mostly in New England?
Many in North Carolina, and especially WNC, had feet in both camps — plantations and railroads — and formed the Whig Party.
“We are proud to say that our citizens in this vicinity are becoming anxiously alive to the subject of internal improvement,” reported the editors of The Carolina Watchman, a Salisbury weekly aligned with the Whig Party, in July 1836.
Newspapers then were a combination of today’s Iwanna, political blogs and The Wall Street Journal. News was about New York, Washington and Raleigh, and editors added their parties’ opinions. In 1828, the Carolina Watchman condemned Calhoun’s nullification promoters as “pampered nabobs or declining lordlings.”
Thomas Lanier Clingman, a Yadkin County boy and Chapel Hill law student, would have been reading and debating the issues bandied about in the Watchman and Raleigh Register — as would the emerging leaders in the new Whig stronghold, Asheville. As an old-timer once told me about pre-electric power days, “In the mountains, we may have been a week behind the times — newspapers came late — but not, as people say, a century.”
In 1836, after winning a state Assembly seat in his home district, Clingman, age 24, rode his horse to Yancey County and then to Asheville through a freak October snowstorm. He was ready to grab the ring of power and responsibility. The Whig Party was formed in Raleigh on Dec. 22, 1835. North Carolina had adopted direct popular election of its governor, and in 1836 the Whig candidate, Edward Dudley, won the vote. Dudley was a friend of Clingman.
Political parties once defined by economic strategy eventually aligned sectionally, and the Democrats won the South. In 1856, then-U.S. Rep. Clingman switched to the Democrats. Rob Neufeld wrote the weekly “Visiting Our Past” column for the Citizen Times until his death in 2019. This column originally was published Nov. 8, 2010.
“The Whig and Democratic parties of North Carolina held essentially the same views on slavery,” Herbert Dale Pegg wrote in his 1969 study, “The Whig Party in North Carolina.” “The leaders,” he stated, “were either interested financially in the institution or dominated directly by its powerful influence.” The Democratic Party, with President Martin Van Buren as its leader, was associated with the North. But both parties, at this time, had Northern and Southern components, and both fought to claim Southern votes by playing to pro-slavers.