We are all familiar with the three branches of the federal government: executive, legislative and judicial. We were taught that it was an ingenious plan to make sure no one body had too much authority; that the checks and balances in this system would prevent the government from getting out of control and it would help in making sure no one branch was violating the Constitution.
When I first started getting interested in politics and really learned about the Constitution I always felt like there would always be one flaw in it, and that is that the Constitution, being just a document, had no way of really preventing the government from disobeying it. If the congressmen themselves many times have no idea what kind of laws they are allowed to pass, who can we trust to make sure the Constitution isn’t being violated? A dictator could easily make sure things are done according to his law, but there are obvious problems with giving one man or a group of men unlimited authority to create and enforce laws.
The founders did take this into account, however. They knew how dangerous it would be to allow the federal government to police itself, even with its three branches. It is not beneficial to any of the three branches to limit the federal government’s powers since they all belong to the same government.
The fourth branch is the one that we are rarely taught about: the states. Those who love to dictate how other people should live their lives would like us to believe that the federal government should be more powerful than the states; that what the feds say, goes. This obviously makes no sense since it was the states who created the federal government, not the other way around. The states ratified the Constitution and gave the federal government a list of things that it could do. The tenth amendment explicitly says that “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.”
Nullification, or State Interposition, is the act by a state, of ignoring federal law because it feels the law violates the Constitution.
The first example of nullification occurred in 1798. The Sedition Act, signed into law by president John Adams, essentially made it illegal to criticize the government. Many newspaper writers were sent to jail for doing just that. This law was in obvious violation of the First Amendment. What were the states to do in this case? Kentucky and Virginia drafted statements declaring this law to be unconstitutional. Thomas Jefferson wrote, in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:
…[T]he several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government…[T]he government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers.
In this article, Thomas Dilorenzo talks about the second example of nullification:
After President Jefferson enacted a trade embargo in response to British theft of American ships and the kidnapping of American sailors, New England legislatures nullified the embargo act by quoting Jefferson himself.
Proponents of Nullification often get accused of being pro-slavery. The implication is that only those that believe in the rights of the states to allow slavery can possibly speak in favor of Nullification. That is interesting since nullification was used by Wisconsin, for example, to protect slaves by ignoring the Fugitive Slave Act, which forced states to return slaves within their borders who had fled from other states.
In another post, I discussed the 17th amendment and how it took power away from the states. Unless we repeal the 17th amendment and the states understand that they have the power to nullify federal laws, nothing else that we do is going to prevent the federal government from continuing to grow and become even more dictatorial.
- Why the 17th Amendment is Bad and Should be Repealed
- The Most Dangerous Answer of the Debate Goes to….Romney
- Obama to Tax Christmas Trees to Help Christmas Trees?