by John Stacy

“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963, in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Nullification and interposition are a state government using the tenth amendment to reject federal laws within their state.  Is nullification American?  Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of it as racism, but is it?  The concepts of nullification and interposition have not been presented without a clear political bias since Dr. King’s speech.  I wrote this article to discuss two elements of nullification.

I have been told by people there are two facts about nullification no one talks about.  Number one is Andrew Jackson killed nullification.  In 1828 did South Carolina get a better deal than what was proposed?  Look at history with an objective eye, the Tariff of 1828 that caused Andrew Jackson to prepare to forcefully stop South Carolina was actually a success for South Carolina. 

They received a reduced tariff as a result of their actions.  Makes you wonder why more states do not stand up when tax rates go up to protect their citizens!  The silence of the other states shows their willingness to pay the higher tariffs.  Andrew Jackson did not stop nullification at all.  He simply gave the federal government the idea that military force can be used to make a state cooperate.

The second thing that is told to me often is that nullification is not American.  This is based on Dr. King’s speech which correctly speaks of Alabama using nullification as a tool of racism.  The truth is nothing in politics is more American than nullification.  Was Alabama able to use nullification to keep the separate but equal schools?  No!  The reason is that no state stood up with them. 

Just because something was used for a terrible cause does not mean that the tool is bad.  Nullification was used by Massachusetts to reject the Fugitive Slave Law, and because many people agree with that move no one addresses it as a clear use of states’ rights.  The opposition to states’ rights paints the picture this way – “because of some of the uses of nullification, using it and talking about it makes you racist.”  That cannot be further from the truth.

Nullification is used by the states to assert their voice in national politics.  The states, as representatives of the people living their, formed the federal government, so they deserve to be heard.  If no other state stands up along side them, then the will of the federal government is to be done. 

There is no place in America for the minority to rule the land, and no one state can detract from federal law if they stand alone.  There is nothing about nullification that is racist, most of the time it has been used was to protect slaves, or to refuse to pay taxes.

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