In response to federal overreach, most people tend to focus on three types of actions to stop them: elections, conventions, and lawsuits. While they all have their place in an overall strategy to defend the Constitution, none of them should be the first step forward. That is, if you follow the advice of the “Father of the Constitution.”
Here’s what James Madison had to say in Federalist #46. The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared:
“Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union, the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassment created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, very serious impediments; and were the sentiments of several adjoining States happen to be in Union, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”
Let me translate. Madison said that when the federal government passes an unconstitutional measure there are powerful methods to oppose it – amongst the people and in the states. He also pointed out that those methods were available even for warrantable, that is constitutional, measures.
Madison told us of four things that should be done to resist federal powers, whether merely unpopular, or unconstitutional.
1. Disquietude of the people – Madison expected the people would throw a fit when the feds usurped power – even using the word “repugnance” to describe their displeasure. That leads to the next step.
2. Repugnance and Refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union – Noncompliance. The #1 dictionary of the time defined repugnance as “disobedient; not obsequious” (compliant). If you want to stop the federal government, you have to disobey them. Madison also suggested that people would perhaps directly refuse to cooperate with federal agents. This is an approach we preach here every day at the Tenth Amendment Center. James Madison apparently knew what we know today. The feds rely on cooperation from state and local governments, as well as individuals. When enough people refuse to comply, they simply can’t enforce their so-called laws.
3, The frowns of the executive magistracy of the State – Here Madison envisions governors formally protesting federal actions. This not only raises public awareness; executive leadership will also lead to the next step – legislative action.