Friday, July 23, 2010


The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold
That's all
--The Who

When I first saw the term 'nullification' a coupla weeks back I didn't know what it meant. Nullification is essentially one or more states refusing to obey a Federal law or mandate that the state(s) view as unconstitutional.

Jefferson and other Framers viewed nullification as an essential right of each state and its citizenry that served to check central government power. First exercised by Kentucky and Virginia in response to the Sedition Act of 1798, nullification was utilized a few times during the country's first 100 yrs. It essentially fell out of favor with the start of the Progressive movement and the rise of nationalism.

The argument for nullification can be traced back to (at least) the Constitutional debates when many folks, particularly those with Anti-Federalist pursuasions, voiced concern about the power that could potentially be assimilated by the Federal government over time. Perhaps better than today, people understood the despotic nature of centralized government. They knew that this authoritarian nature was likely to grow with the distance between government and those being governed.

Tilting the balance of power in favor of local, as opposed to national, government power was seen by many as perhaps the most effective check on central government's power hungry tendencies. Not only could local governments tailor action toward unique needs of their citizenry, but they would also easier to monitor and replace if things got out of hand.

Some states were wary of ratifying the Constitution out of fear a progressively expanding central government scope. One stipulation made to Virginia and other dissenters was that they would have the right to refuse to obey any law passed by the Federal government deemed unconstitutional. The Tenth Amendment essentially grants this right to each state. Nullification was born.

Chodorov (1959) is among many who have concluded that the best way to reverse the massive rise in State power is to decentralize government--to put more authority in local hands. It's been so long since states had any real influence in things that putting them in the driver's seat is hard to imagine.

In the name of liberty, however, the notion of nullification certainly merits more debate. Indeed, I hope this debate gets really loud.


Chodorov, F. 1959. The rise and fall of society. New York: The Devin-Adair Company.

1 comment:

dgeorge12358 said...

A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.
~Thomas Jefferson