Thomas J. DiLorenzo: Nullification

Thomas J. DiLorenzo, published author and senior fellow at the Mises Institute, discusses the principle of nullification as a devolution of power away from the central government into the hands of the state or the people, Thomas Jefferson and the Kentucky Resolves as resistance to the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, ways nullification was put into practice all across the Union in the early days of the Republic and more…


The States’ Rights Tradition Nobody Knows

In 1798, the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky approved resolutions that affirmed the states’ right to resist federal encroachments on their powers. If the federal government has the exclusive right to judge the extent of its own powers, warned the resolutions’ authors (James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, respectively), it will continue to grow – regardless of elections, the separation of powers, and other much-touted limits on government power. The Virginia Resolutions spoke of the states’ right to “interpose” between the federal government and the people of the state; the Kentucky Resolutions (in a 1799 follow-up to the original resolutions) used the term “nullification” – the states, they said, could nullify unconstitutional federal laws.

These ideas became known as the “Principles of ’98.” Their subsequent impact on American history, according to the standard narrative, was pretty much confined to South Carolina’s nullification of the tariffs of 1828 and 1832. That is demonstrably false, as I shall show below. But it isn’t just that these ideas are neglected in the usual telling; as I discovered not long ago, these principles are positively despised by neoconservatives like Max Boot and the leftists at the New York Times (or do I repeat myself?). Neither one, in their reviews of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, so much as mentioned Jefferson’s name in connection with the Principles of ’98. It is hard to view such an omission as anything but deliberate. To mention Jefferson’s name is to lend legitimacy to ideas that nationalists of left and right alike detest, so they simply leave him out of the picture.


The Constitution And Paper Money

by Dr. Clarence Carson,

The United States Constitution does not mention paper money by that name. Nor does it refer to paper currency or fiat money in those words. There is only one direct reference to the origins of what we, and they, usually call paper money. It is in the limitations on the power of the states in Article I, Section 10. It reads, “No State shall . . . emit Bills of Credit . . . .” Paper that was intended to circulate as money but was not redeemable in gold and silver was technically described as bills of credit at that time. The description was (and is) apt. Such paper is a device for expanding the credit of the issuer. There is also an indirect reference to the practice in the same section of the Constitution. It reads, “No State shall . . . make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts . . . .” Legal tender laws, in practice, are an essential expedient for making unredeemable paper circulate as money. Except for the one direct and one indirect reference to the origin and means for circulating paper money, the Constitution is silent on the question.

With such scant references, then, it might be supposed that the makers of the Constitution were only incidentally concerned with the dangers of paper money. That was hardly the case. It loomed large in the thinking of at least some of the men who were gathered at Philadelphia in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. There were two great objects in the making of a new constitution: one was to provide for a more energetic general government; the other was to restrain the state governments. Moreover, the two objects had a common motive at many points, i.e., to provide a stronger general government which could restrain the states.