Only the States can defend our liberties

null adj. 1. Having no legal force; invalid.
nullify v. 1. To make null; invalidate.

During trying times it is well to look back to our founding history for wisdom and guidance. Our federal system of government faces increasingly serious threats to its proper functions. If we hope to preserve the federal association of States the people must take action—being informed is step one. Fear that an all-powerful national government would usurp individual State sovereignty goes back even before our Constitution was ratified.

The Constitutional conventioneers at Philadelphia in June 1787 planned to radically amend the Articles of Confederation threatening to unravel the compact between States by establishing a central government. They expected the Continental Congress to “surrender its role as superintendent of the amending process under the Articles,” as Gary Wills stated in his 1982 Introduction to the Federalist Papers.

The Federalist Papers

Most of these 85 letters were addressed “To the People of the State of New York,” primarily written by Alexander Hamilton of New York and James Madison of Virginia. Hamilton organized this “propaganda effort” to try to convince reluctant New Yorkers to ratify the newly drafted Constitution of the United States. These Founders wrote under the pseudonym “Publius.”

Without the support of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia the document probably would not have been accepted by the States. New York was critical, yet the most opposed to amending the Articles. Two of its three delegates, Lansing and Yates, walked out of the Convention leaving Hamilton with no vote. He was the only signatory from New York State to the final draft of September 17, 1787.

During that summer of ’87 Madison had proposed the “Virginia Plan”—a national government rather than a federal system. It had little support because, as history professor Kevin Gutzman wrote, “in a national system the center takes priority and doles out responsibility to the parts.” The independent, skeptical Founders favored a federal system where “the parts come first and create the center.” They had good reason to worry about a centralized power. Even with a federal government, it didn’t take long for it to become corrupted. Dr. Gutzman points out that “From the beginning, all three branches grabbed at additional power.” And it accelerated rapidly.

National power grab

The Supreme Court from 1937-1995 “did not hold a single congressional statute unconstitutional. Instead it imposed a plethora of limitations on state authority without any basis in the Constitution.” A “national ferment” has taken over the country, in Gutzman’s words. (He is the co-author with Thomas E. Woods Jr. of the book: “Who Killed the Constitution?”)

Despite the federal Constitution we now have a “national government.” “Congress exercises essentially unlimited powers and federal judges commonly veto state laws…presidents claim inherent authority…the Tenth Amendment, which Jefferson said stated the underlying theory of the Constitution, is a dead letter,” writes Gutzman.

Back to 1788.

Federalist No. 46

In The Federalist No. 46, Madison tried to allay fears of many “adversaries” that he believed erred about central usurpation of power because they “lost sight of the people.” Madison had faith that they could correct or prevent corruption. But so far, more than two centuries later, that confidence seems to have faded into history.

James Madison told colonial skeptics that the “ultimate authority… resides in the people alone.” Specifically, Madison said that the people would have “a natural attachment” to “the governments of their respective States.” They will, he wrote, “be more on the side of the State governments, than of the Federal Government.”

Madison spoke the truth as he knew it to be true then, but the national system now has such a strangle-hold on all aspects of our lives that it’s difficult to loosen the grip. Gradually, over the years we have been deceived and beguiled by corrupt politicians and their Big Government supporters. Unfortunately, most of our representatives don’t have the will to resist federal bureaucratic mandates, bribes and threats. They fear retribution and criticism from dependent voters, their supporting groups and the press.

Restricting unauthorized national power

Some constitutionalists, such as Mark Levin, say we must amend the Constitution to curtail unauthorized power usurped by the national government. Some people believe that unauthorized laws and regulations should be simply nullified by the State governments.

Recently I attended a “Nullify Now!” conference held at the Raleigh Convention Center sponsored by the North Carolina Tenth Amendment Center and supported by several State organizations including the N. C. Chapter of the League of the South, the Republican Liberty Caucus and Young Americans for Liberty. (link)

“Nullify Now!”-The program

I was surprised at the absence of incumbent “establishment” politicians and their supporters that usually show up at large political gatherings; in this case standing room only in large meeting rooms. Professional politicians take any opportunity to publicly get face-time and “press the flesh,” but they want to avoid contact with people who might demand answers about dereliction of duty.

Dr. Greg Brannon a “Constitutional Conservative Republican,” “Tea Party Leader” and candidate for the U. S. Senate in North Carolina had a presence. Dr. Brannon sponsored talk show host Mike Church, the morning keynote speaker. Brannon was scheduled to speak on “How the States can Stop Obamacare” in an afternoon session.

Mr. Church gave an animated history of nullification based on the “Virginia Report, 1798-99.” Journalist and Tenth Amendment member Mike MaHarrey discussed historical uses of the nullification process. Maharrey said that the Constitution is not the problem—we (the People) have allowed national tyranny. “All we have to do,” he said, “is to stop cooperating with it.” Jason Rink with the Foundation for a Free Society discussed illegal national programs such as the “War on Drugs” and how States are beginning to nullify it.

In afternoon sessions, Glen Bradley, former North Carolina State House representative, spoke about his experience introducing nullification bills. He said that the State “leadership” is “scared to death” of this idea (explaining why they didn’t show up). Later in “special” sessions’ people from Campaign for Liberty and Carolina Liberty PAC taught attendees “Effective Grassroots Political Activism.” Doug Tjaden of Mass Metal spoke on “End the Fed from the Bottom Up.”

Dr. Dan of Dr. Dan’s Freedom Forum provided methods that States can use to create “roadblocks, difficulties and more for the federal government.” A blogger, Publius Huldah, in a talk titled “James Madison Rebukes Nullification Deniers,” told how Madison supported the process.

The program ended with a talk by historian, scholar and author, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. In 2010 Dr. Woods published a book titled, “Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century.” Woods cites the authority of Thomas Jefferson who thought that the “rightful remedy” for overreaching federal power is for the States to refuse to enforce unconstitutional mandates. Jefferson warned that if we allow government to determine what powers it wants, we shouldn’t be “surprised when it keeps discovering new ones.”

Readers can learn more at Woods’ website:


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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