Nullification: The Jeffersonian Brake on Government

by Thomas E. Woods, The Freeman

Thinkers in the classical-liberal tradition, to the extent that they support a coercive state at all, speak routinely of the importance of keeping government strictly limited. To that end, the United States has a written Constitution, which enumerates the relatively brief list of tasks entrusted to the federal government and whose Tenth Amendment makes clear that any power not granted to the federal government resides in the states, the authors of the federal compact.

That is all well and good, but how does a theoretically limited government remain so? Some have argued that it is impossible to restrain a government over time. The framers of the Constitution, for their part, were well aware of the tendency for power to concentrate and expand. Thomas Jefferson spoke of the calamity that would result if all power were vested in the federal government.