PART 1 of 2
February 5, 2013
This is The Age of Ignorance. Our “intellectuals” can’t think. Our “scholars” parrot each other. The self-educated fixate on idiotic theories. Our People despise Truth and disseminate lies.
Nullification deniers such as Matthew Spalding of Heritage Foundation, Jarrett Stepman of Human Events, law professor Randy Barnett, David Barton of Wallbuilders, and history professor Allen C. Guelzo, say that nullification by States of unconstitutional acts of the federal government is unlawful and impossible. They make the demonstrably false assertions that:
• States don’t have the right to nullify unconstitutional acts of the federal government because our Constitution doesn’t say they can do it;
• Nullification is literally impossible;
• The supreme Court is the final authority on what is constitutional and what is not; and The States and The People must submit to whatever the supreme Court says; and
• James Madison, Father of Our Constitution, opposed nullification.
Their assertions contradict our Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, our federal Constitution, and what James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton really said.
What are the Two Conditions Precedent for Nullification?
The deniers seem unaware of the two conditions our Framers saw must be present before nullification is proper and possible. These conditions are important – you will see why!:
• The act of the federal government must be unconstitutional - usually a usurpation of a power not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution; and
• The act must be something The States or The People can “nullify”- i.e., refuse to obey: the act must order them to do something or not do something.
What is “Interposition” and What is “Nullification”?
A State “interposes” when it stands between the federal government and The Citizens of the State in order to protect them from the federal government. Interposition takes various forms, depending on the circumstances. Hamilton refers to interposition in Federalist No. 33 (5th para):
“If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard [the Constitution] they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.” [emphasis mine]
“Nullification” is one form of interposition. Now! Here are three highly relevant illustrations:
When the act of the federal government is unconstitutional and orders The States or The People to do - or not do - something, nullification is the proper form of interposition.
When the act of the federal government is unconstitutional, but doesn’t order The States or The People to do - or not do - something (the alien & sedition acts), nullification is not possible. The States may interpose by objecting, as in The Virginia & Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.
When the act of the federal government is constitutional, but unjust (the Tariff Act of 1828), the States may not nullify it; but may interpose by objecting and trying to get the Tariff Act changed.
Our Founding Principles in a Nutshell
In order to understand The Right of Nullification, one must also learn the Founding Principles set forth in The Declaration of Independence (2nd para). Then one can see that “when powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act” is “the natural right, which all admit to be a remedy against insupportable oppression.” These Principles are:
Rights come from God;
2. People create governments;
3. The purpose of government is to secure the rights God gave us; and
4. When a government We created seeks to take away our God given rights, We have the Right – We have the Duty – to alter, abolish, or throw off such government.
Let us look briefly at these Principles:
1. Our Declaration of Independence (2nd para) recognizes that God is the grantor of Rights. So Rights don’t come from the Constitution, the supreme Court or the federal government.
2. The Preamble to our Constitution shows that WE THE PEOPLE created the federal government. It is our “creature.” Alexander Hamilton says this in Federalist Paper No. 33 (5th para); and Thomas Jefferson, in his draft of The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 (8th Resolution). As our “creature,” it may lawfully do only what WE authorized it to do in our Constitution.
We created a “federal” government: An alliance of Sovereign States  associated in a “federation” with a national government to which is delegated supremacy over the States in few and defined areas only. James Madison says in Federalist No. 45 (9th para):
“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which … concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” [boldface mine]
Do you see? We delegated only “few and defined” powers to the federal government. These are the “enumerated powers” listed in the Constitution.
These enumerated powers concern:
• Military defense, international commerce & relations;
• Control of immigration and naturalization of new citizens;
• Creation of a uniform commercial system: Weights & measures, patents & copyrights, money based on gold & silver, bankruptcy laws, mail delivery & some road building; and
• With some of the Amendments, protect certain civil rights and voting rights (for blacks, women, citizens who don’t pay taxes, and citizens 18 years and older).
It is only with respect to the enumerated powers that the federal government has lawful authority over the Country at large. All other powers are “reserved to the several States” and The People.
3. Our Constitution authorizes the federal government to secure our God-given Rights in the following ways: 
It is to secure our rights to life and liberty by:
• Military defense (Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 11-16);
• Laws against piracy and other felonies committed on the high seas (Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 10);
• Protecting us from invasion (Art IV, Sec. 4);
• Prosecuting traitors (Art III, Sec. 3); and
• Restrictive immigration policies (Art. I, Sec. 9, cl. 1).
It is to secure our property rights by:
• Regulating trade & commerce so we can produce, sell & prosper (Art. I, Sec. 8, cl.3). The original intent of the interstate commerce clause is to prohibit States from levying tolls & taxes on articles of commerce as they are transported thru the States for buying & selling.
• Establishing uniform weights & measures and a money system based on gold & silver (Art I, Sec. 8, cl. 5) - inflation via paper currency & fractional reserve lending is theft!
• Punishing counterfeiters (Art I, Sec. 8, cl. 6);
• Making bankruptcy laws to permit the orderly dissolution or reorganization of debtors’ estates with fair treatment of creditors (Art I, Sec 8, cl. 4); and
• Issuing patents & copyrights to protect ownership of intellectual labors (Art I, Sec 8, cl 8)
It is to secure our right to liberty by:
• Laws against slavery (13th Amendment);
• Providing fair trials in federal courts (4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments); and
• Obeying the Constitution!
This is how our federal Constitution implements The Founding Principle that the purpose of government is to secure the rights God gave us.
4. The fourth Founding Principle in our Declaration is this: When government takes away our God given rights, We have the Right & the Duty to alter, abolish, or throw off such government. Nullification is thus a natural right of self-defense:
Thomas Jefferson said:
“… but where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, (casus non foederis,) to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits: that without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them…” [boldface mine]
James Madison commented on the above:
“… the right of nullification meant by Mr. Jefferson is the natural right, which all admit to be a remedy against insupportable oppression…”
Alexander Hamilton says in Federalist No. 28 (5th para from end):
“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success …” [boldface mine]
Hamilton then shows how The States can reign in a usurping federal government:
“…the State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority…”
Do you see?
But the nullification deniers do not see because, in addition to their apparent unfamiliarity with the original source writings on nullification (as well as The Federalist Papers), they reject, or do not understand, the Founding Principle that Rights pre-date & pre-exist the Constitution and come from God. Nullification is not a paltry “constitutional right”! It has a hallowed status – it is that natural right of self-defense which pre-dates & pre-exists the Constitution.
Now, let us look at the false assertions made by the nullification deniers.
False Assertion 1:
That States can’t nullify unconstitutional acts of the federal government because the Constitution doesn’t say they can do it.
1. As we have just seen, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton saw nullification of unconstitutional acts of the federal government as a “natural right” – not a “constitutional right.” And since Rights come from God, there is no such thing as a “constitutional right”!
2. The Right of Nullification, transcending as it does, the Constitution; and being nowhere prohibited by the Constitution to the States, is a reserved power. The 10th Amendment says:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Nothing in the federal Constitution prohibits The States from nullifying unconstitutional acts of the federal government. Thus, nullification is a reserved power of the States & The People.
3. We saw where Madison says in Federalist No. 45 that the powers delegated to the federal government are “few and defined,” and all other powers are “reserved to the several States.”
Thus, it is the federal government which is supposed to look to the Constitution for the list of “enumerated powers” We The People delegated to it.
The States don’t go to the Constitution to look for permission because they retain all powers they didn’t exclusively  delegate to the federal government, or prohibit by Art. I, Sec. 10.
The nullification deniers have it backwards: They permit the federal government to ignore the “enumerated powers” limitations set forth in the Constitution; but insist The States can’t do anything unless the Constitution specifically says they can!
Do you see how they pervert Our Constitution?
False Assertion 2:
That Nullification is literally impossible.
We saw above the two conditions which must exist before nullification is proper and possible:
• The act of the federal government must be unconstitutional, and
• The act must be something The People or The States can refuse to obey.
Here are examples of unconstitutional federal acts the States can and should nullify:
The Constitution does not delegate to the federal government power to ban Christianity from the public square. But in 1962, the supreme Court first ordered The States to stop prayers in the public schools. That Court next banned the Ten Commandments from the public schools. Since those orders were usurpations of powers not lawfully possessed by the Court, the States should have nullified them by directing their School Boards to ignore them.
If Congress by “law,” or the President by “executive order,” orders The People to turn in our guns, We must refuse to comply. The Constitution doesn’t authorize the federal government to disarm us. So, The States and The People must nullify such law or order by refusing to obey.
The Jim Crow laws required black people to sit at the back of the bus, and prohibited them from eating in public places and using public restrooms, water fountains, park benches, etc. Using non-violent civil disobedience, MLK led black people to refuse to obey these unjust and unconstitutional (Sec. 1, 14th Amdt.) laws. This was nullification by brave Citizens!
Now, I’ll show you unconstitutional acts which couldn’t be nullified because they weren’t directed to anything The States or The People could refuse to obey:
In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote The Kentucky Resolutions, and James Madison wrote The Virginia Resolutions. These Resolutions objected to laws made by Congress which purported to grant to the President dictatorial powers over aliens and seditious words.
Kentucky and Virginia could object, but they couldn’t prevent the President from enforcing the alien & sedition acts, because the President had the raw power to send out thugs to arrest aliens or people who had spoken or written “seditious” words; and then to persecute them.
So Jefferson and Madison showed why the alien & sedition acts were unconstitutional, protested them, and asked other States to join the protest.
Now! Note Well: Randy Barnett, law professor, and other deniers crow that the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions prove there is no “literal power” of nullification in the States.
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But Barnett should know better because he is a lawyer. Every litigation attorney knows this: At a motion hearing before the judge, opposing counsel whips out a court opinion which he cites as authority for a legal point. He gives the judge a highlighted copy and gives you (opposing counsel) an un-highlighted copy. While he is making his argument to the judge, you must listen to what he is saying, and at the same time, read the opinion and develop an argument which “distinguishes” the opinion opposing counsel is using from the case at bar. When opposing counsel finishes, the judge looks at you and says, “And how do you respond?” You must be ready with your argument right then. For part two click below.
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Thomas Jefferson, The
Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, 8th Resolution.
2. James Madison, Notes on Nullification (1835). The quote is near the end. Use “find” function.
3. The deniers seem unaware that The States retained sovereignty in all matters not exclusively delegated to the federal government. Alexander Hamilton says in Federalist No. 32 (2nd para):
“An entire consolidation of the States into one complete national sovereignty would imply an entire subordination of the parts; and whatever powers might remain in them, would be altogether dependent on the general will. But as the plan of the convention [the Constitution] aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not … EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States…” [caps are Hamilton's; boldface mine]
Federalist No. 62 (5th para):
“…the equal vote allowed to each State [each State gets two U.S. Senators] is …a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty… [in order to guard] … against an improper consolidation of the States into one simple republic.” (Madison or Hamilton) [boldface mine]
See also Federalist No. 39 (Madison) (6th para, et seq.)
In Madison’s Report on The Virginia Resolutions (1799-1800), he several times refers, in his discussion of the 3rd Resolution, to the States acting “in their sovereign capacity” when, as “the parties to the constitutional compact” they decide “in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated”:
“…The states, then, being the parties to the constitutional compact, and in their sovereign capacity, it follows of necessity that there can be no tribunal, above their authority, to decide, in the last resort, whether the compact made by them be violated; and consequently, that, as the parties to it, they must themselves decide, in the last resort, such questions as may be of sufficient magnitude to require their interposition….” [boldface mine]
“…the proposed government cannot be deemed a national one; since its jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignity over all other objects…” (Federalist No. 39, 3rd para from end) (Madison) [boldface mine]
“…the general [federal] government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects...” (Federalist No. 14, 8th para) (Madison) [boldface mine]
“…It merits particular attention … that the laws of the Confederacy [Congress], as to the ENUMERATED and LEGITIMATE objects of its jurisdiction, will become the SUPREME LAW of the land…Thus the legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members [the States], will be incorporated into the operations of the national government AS FAR AS ITS JUST AND CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY EXTENDS…” [caps are Hamilton’s] (Federalist No. 27, last para)
5. Our Constitution authorizes the federal government to secure our God-given rights in the ways appropriate for the national government of a Federation. The States secure them in other ways.
6. The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, 8th Resolution.
7. Madison’s Notes on Nullification (1834). The quote is near the end. Use “find” function.
8. This explains the limited “exclusive jurisdiction” of the federal government, and the areas where the federal government and The States have “concurrent jurisdiction”.
© 2013 Publius Huldah - All Rights Reserved
Publius Huldah is a retired attorney who now lives in Tennessee. Before getting a law degree, she got a degree in philosophy where she specialized in political philosophy and epistemology (theories of knowledge). She now writes extensively on the U.S. Constitution, using the Federalist Papers to prove its original meaning and intent. She also shows how federal judges and politicians have ignored Our Constitution and replaced it with their personal opinions and beliefs.h