Some opponents of nullification measures – both politicians and people in the grassroots – would have you believe that such efforts in state legislatures are only symbolic and have no real effect.

One has to wonder if these folks think that the personal liberty laws passed by northern states to block enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 were merely symbolic. I’m sure northern blacks spared the agony of getting dragged off by some slaver didn’t think so.

And Southern states didn’t either. South Carolina listed northern nullification of fugitive slave laws as its first complaint when it explained its reasons for secession in an official “declaration of causes.”

“An increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them.”

Pretty powerful symbolism.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 counts among the most disgusting acts ever passed by Congress. This so-called law denied a black person accused of escaping slavery any semblance of due process. A white man could basically drag a black man or woman south into slavery on the power of his word.

“In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence; and the certificates in this and the first [fourth] section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted, to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever.”

Many northern states simply refused to comply and took steps to block implementation.

The Michigan legislature passed its personal liberty law in 1855. The