We Can Block the Federal Octopus, Now
Author’s Corner: Tom Woods
For those unclear on the concept, what is the basic principle of Nullification?
Nullification is Thomas Jefferson’s idea, articulated most clearly in his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, that if the federal government passes a law that reaches beyond the powers delegated by the states, the states should refuse to enforce it. Jefferson believed that if the federal government is allowed to hold a monopoly on determining what its powers are, we have no right to be surprised when it keeps discovering new ones. If they violate the Constitution, we are “duty bound to resist,” to quote James Madison’s Virginia Resolutions of 1798.
What are some examples of states using nullification and the tenth amendment historically?
Virginia and Kentucky raised the prospect of nullification against legislation in 1798 that made it a crime to criticize the President or Congress. They did so at a time when most judges and most states thought this was just fine and perfectly constitutional. New England states refused to comply with the execution of Jefferson’s embargo. In 1814, Daniel Webster urged the states to resist if military conscription were enacted. On numerous occasions, northern states did their best to obstruct the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, aspects of which they considered unconstitutional notwithstanding the Constitution’s fugitive-slave clause. Wisconsin’s legislature passed a resolution in 1859 defending their inaction, and quoting Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 word for word.
Have states used nullification more recently?