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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The 10th Amendment and Nullification

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.” 10th Amendment



"The true barriers of our liberty are our State governments; and the wisest conservative power ever contrived by man, is that of which our Revolution and present government found us possessed." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811



The founders understood that the lust for power and distrust in the people were a recipe for disaster. During the ratification period of the U.S. Constitution, congress was back at work penning the Bill of Rights. Federalists believed it was an unnecessary addition to an already satisfactory document. The Democratic-Republicans, i.e., Thomas Jefferson believed it an absolute, had-to-have list of amendments that should have been incorporated in the original draft. Three years after the ratification was complete, the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments were voted into law.

Shortly after, the Alien and Sedition Acts we
re put into law to protect the young nation from foreign enemies. Kentucky and Virginia, however, felt the legislation went too far and as a result violated their 1st Amendment rights of free speech. These states passed a resolution to nullify this federal law because they felt it was unconstitutional. Ultimately, the resolutions were ruled invalid, but it effectively put on hold on the federal excess for years.

"Where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy."
Thomas Jefferson: Kentucky Resolutions, 1798.

During Andrew Jackson’s term, South Carolina felt that the trade tariffs in place favored the no
rthern industries, and passed a resolution to nullify the tariffs. Jackson sent warships in 1832 off the coast of South Carolina, a meeting ensued and a compromise was agreed upon.



The Fugitive Slave Act, otherwise known as the Compromise of 1850 was another example of a group of states reaction to the federal government ignoring their sovereignty as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. This federal law effectively forced free states to participate in the slave trade. How? Slave owners could legally go across state lines with a band of U.S. marshals to hunt down and capture any runaway slave. Citizens who once were apathetic with regard to slavery suddenly had a vested interest in the long arm of Washington. Wisconsin, among other free states declared the law unconstitutional and nullified it. The Wisconsin Supreme Court was the only judicial body among the states using nullification to rule the law null and void.

These example
s were pointed out in a simplistic fashion, and the complexities were bypassed for the sake of time and sanity. While our individual and sovereign states had tested the “compact” with the federal entities throughout our history, nullification is not just a quaint piece of history. While the great Civil War was perhaps the single largest and most dramatic example, it did have precedence as I have described.


Nullification, for the most part is peaceful, effective, and has a long history in the American tradition. It has been estimated that up to (25) states will pass resolutions denying federal healthcare reform. Thirteen states have already defied federal marijuana prohibition in one form or another. President Bush’s Real ID Act of 2005 has been effectively prevented from being implemented in at least (20) states. Missouri and Tennessee are preparing for a showdown by passing laws that negate federal firearms laws in their respective states.

The 10th Amendme
nt apparently is alive and well. It’s a shame that we have to take these measures to reclaim our constitutional rights. The feds, by design, should answer to the states, as opposed to taking the phrase “general welfare” to uncharted heights.

As noted, there are many states using or in preparation of nullification la
nguage in an attempt to dissuade Big Brother from crossing that Constitutional line. Today there are others who walk in lock step, like characters from the Dawn of the Dead, with whatever Congress dictates. Thank God for Tennessee and Texas.

While our freed
oms are seemingly an abstract concept today, tomorrow is, well, a new day.





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