During the administration of President Andrew Jackson, there was a major crisis when the State of South Carolina threatened to nullify recently passed federal tariff acts and prevent them from being enforced within the bounds of said State. In response, President Jackson made it clear that he intended to use military force against South Carolina if she proceeded with these actions, and South Carolina, in the end, backed down, defusing the crisis.
What is less known or appreciated is that the Northern States, during the same period and afterward right up until the outbreak of the War between the States, effectively nullified not only federal legislation…in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act…but also a provision of the Constitution itself…the so-called Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution.
In 1842, the United States Supreme Court, in the Prigg v Pennsylvania decision, ruled that Northern “Personal Liberty Laws,” as these pieces of nullifying legislation were known, were unconstitutional. Chief Justice Story, in his opinion in the Prigg case, wrote that States could not constitutionally over-ride federal law via State legislation. But, he continued, there was also no constitutional requirement that the State governments must enforce federal laws. In response, in the following year, four States…Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Vermont…passed new personal liberty laws seeking to take advantage of this apparent loophole in the Supreme Court's decision. The new laws forbade State officials from taking any action with regard to run-away slaves at all…said slaves could not be apprehended by State law enforcement officials, could not be held in State jails, and claims for their return could not be heard in State Courts. Although these laws were clearly a violation of the spirit of the Constitution, if not technically a violation of the letter of it, they were never challenged.
Unlike the situation with South Carolina during the Jackson Administration, the Administration of President John Tyler…a staunch believer in States' Rights…never threatened to use military force against those Northern States which were effectively nullifying not only Federal Law, but the Constitution itself. But what if a President inclined to do just that had been in office? Although we can never know what William Henry Harrison would have done in this situation had he survived to serve out his term, we can speculate on his actions, and the possible results.
In the ATL, Harrison survives because he heeds his wife's pleas that he wear a warm overcoat to his inauguration. When the Prigg decision is issued, he issues strong statements in favor of it. When the Northern states begin to try circumventing it by revising the Personal Liberty Laws, he begins mobilizing the military. The Northern States secede from the Union.
When President Harrison calls for troops to put down the “rebellion,” the States Rights-minded Southern States, which now control Congress, refuse and impeach Harrison. When the Northern States attempt to rejoin the Union, the South lays conditions…abandonment of their Personal Liberty Laws…which the North finds unacceptable. They form a new nation, the FEDERATED STATES OF AMERICA. There are now 2 American republics, one slaveholding (the USA) and one not (the FSA). There is no Civil War, and no Reconstruction. And history is off to a wildly different course.
Want to see a timeline where Jefferson Davis is President of the UNITED States? Where the United States annexes all of Mexico, and then is embroiled in a Vietnam-like guerilla war which lasts for almost 40 years? Where William M. “Boss” Tweed ends up President of the Federated States of America, and Thomas Nast is hounded out of the country by Know Nothings? A world where even Santa Claus is different…he doesn't even live at the North Pole! Then this timeline is for you.