by Derek Sheriff, Arizona Tenth Amendment Center

What is Usurpation?

If there is a term that I wish would become a household word to be used again by every American in their daily political discussions, it would be the word “usurpation”. Yes, I would love it even more if average Americans would add to that list the words: “Nullification“, “interposition” and the phrase, “the principles of ’98“. However, in order to understand the meaning of those words in their political context, you have to understand usurpation. Before you can discover an effective solution, you have to correctly identify and understand the problem.

Usurpation is the unauthorized, unlawful exercise of power. Whenever a person, department or branch of the government (federal, state, or local) usurps, they assume undelegated powers and are therefore acting outside the law.

Our Constitution (the supreme law of the land), created a federal government of strictly limited, enumerated powers when it was ratified by the people’s delegates in their respective state conventions. These states were not created by the Constitution, beacuse they already existed.

As part of this new constitutional contract between the people of the several states, their respective state governments and the federal government, the people of each state (as opposed to one American people as a whole), delegated a few, carefully defined powers to the new federal government. They did so with the understanding that these powers could be revoked if necessary. Furthermore, all the other powers which they did not loan to the federal government, they either retained for themselves or delegated back to their state governments. Each state’s constitution differs slightly, but all of them guarantee their citizens a republican form of government.

Whenever the people who make up the federal government, either as individuals, as departments or as branches, exercise power not expressly delegated to them as specified in the Constitution, they are usurping the authority of either the states or the people. Why? Because as the 10th Amendment makes it clear:

“All powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution,
nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the

The Bane of Free Governments

George Washington warned against the dangers of usurpation. He called it ‘the weapon by which free governments are destroyed”.  He urged Americans to guard against it and reject it for the evil that it is. In his farewell address, he wrote:

“If in the opinion of the People the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong,let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

As Obama likes to say, “Let me be clear”. When the federal government steps beyond the boundaries that are specifically drawn around it by the Constitution and its amendments, it isn’t abusing powers that it does have, it’s usurping powers that it doesn’t have.

Question: What should the people of the several states’ reaction to federal usurpation be?

Answer: Swift and resolute action in the form of nullification and/or interposition by, with and through our state governments and their county and local subordinates.

In such cases, we must not exercise patience and wait to “Vote the bums out” in 2012 or even as soon as 2010! We should do that when the time comes, yes. But in the meantime, to allow our state governments to wait until the usurpers are removed from office through elections would be to consent to a dangerous dereliction of their duty to protect our constitutional rights.

What is Nullification?

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which was one of the federal government’s earliest acts of usurpation. An early draft of it began:

“The several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government”


“where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits: that without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them”

Nullification is a state’s decision to render a particular federal law that it deems unconstitutional void and inoperative, or non-effective, within the boundaries of that state. It is a process which can unfold in a variety of ways. It may involve formal legislation, or it may not. I could include court battles, but not necessarily. Interposition by state and local officials, such as your state’s Attorney General or elected county sheriff might be required, but not always. A few times in the past, state nullification conventions have even been convened, but this has been the exception, not the rule.

The process of nullification will look different in each state, according to the particular issue and the social and political culture of that state’s people. But understand, although it’s not a ‘silver bullet”, nullification does work! Don’t let anyone feed you a bunch of phony historical narratives. Do your own study of the history of nullification and see for yourself.

Finally, as George Washington wrote, let there be no change by usurpation! Instead, let us work with our elected state officials to nullify acts of federal usurpation and reclaim the sovereignty that is every American’s birthright.

Derek Sheriff
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