Force Bill

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The United States Force Bill, formally titled "An Act further to provide for the collection of duties on imports", 4 Stat. 632 (1833), enacted by the 22nd U.S. Congress, consists of eight sections expanding Presidential power. The relevant sections are:[1]

  • Section 1 deals with unlawful obstructions to the collections of import duties; by securing ports and harbors for the protection of duty collectors, allowing for the detention of vessels and cargoes to enforce revenue laws, and authorizes the President to use armed expands the jurisdiction of federal courts to cases arising from revenue collections by the U.S. government and allows injured parties in revenue cases to sue in court. It deems property detained by customs officers to be in the custody of the law, subject to disposition by court order only, and criminalizes anyone who circumvents the legal process in regaining detained property as guilty of a misdemeanor.
  • Section 5 deals with States, or portions within a state, who employ force, or any other unlawful means, to obstruct the execution of U.S. federal law, or interfere with the process of any Federal court. This section authorizes the President to use whatever force necessary to suppress such insurrections, "and to cause the said laws or process to be duly executed".
  • Section 6 deals with States who refuse to jail persons imprisoned under Federal law. It authorizes U.S. marshals to jail such persons in "other convenient places, within the limits of said state" and to make provisions for this purpose.
  • Section 8 is a sunset clause, stating that the "first and fifth sections of this act, shall be in force until the end of the next session of Congress, and no longer." It is not clear whether subsequent Acts of Congress extended these provisions.

Original Intent

The Force Bill was initially enacted on March 2, 1833 to authorize U.S. President Andrew Jackson's use of whatever force necessary to enforce Federal tariffs. It was intended to suppress South Carolina's refusal to collect tariffs during the Nullification Crisis. Opponents of the bill referred to it as Jackson's Bloody Bill or War Bill. The bill was a work of political mastery on Jackson's part as it gave the President the authority to close ports or harbors at his will. This in turn would require opponents to the tariff to travel a distance to carry out any threats or insurrection against federal facilities. Hostile acts against government facilities or personnel would then be considered pre-meditated and blatant.

The importance of the Force Bill is that it is the first piece of legislation to publicly deny the right of secession to individual states. Its approval meant that the principle of secession was no longer in keeping with the idea of a national union. In a presidential proclamation to the people of South Carolina, Jackson stated:

Seduced as you have been, my fellow countrymen by the delusion theories and misrepresentation of ambitious, deluded & designing men, I call upon you in the language of truth, and with the feelings of a Father to retrace your steps. As you value liberty and the blessings of peace blot out from the page of your history a record so fatal to their security as this ordinance will become if it be obeyed. Rally again under the banners of the union whose obligations you in common with all your countrymen have, with an appeal to heaven, sworn to support, and which must be indissoluble as long as we are capable of enjoying freedom. Recollect that the first act of resistance to the laws which have been denounced as void by those who abuse your confidence and falsify your hopes is Treason, and subjects you to all the pains and penalties that are provided for the highest offence against your country. Can (you)...consent to become Traitors? Forbid it Heaven![2]

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