Opponents of nullification often try to associate it with the slaveholding states of the 19th century South by claiming the issue was “settled by the civil war.” The implication is that the South wanted to nullify, and since they lost the war, nullification is either racist or illegal.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The following are four important historical facts that such nullification opponents are either ignorant of, or intentionally hiding.

FACT:  Nullification was never used to protect slavery

Nullification wasn’t “mainly” used to “protect slavery,” it wasn’t used to protect slavery at all.  This just begs the question.  Since slavery was still allowed on a federal level, what would slave states have needed to nullify?  Nothing.  Not once did such a thing happen.


FACT:  Virtually all Northern States used nullification to resist federal slave laws

History turns this view on its head.  It was the Northern States, the anti-slavery abolitionists, that used nullification most prominently prior to the civil war.  Almost every Northern state passed “Personal Liberty Laws” with the effect of nullifying the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

You can learn more about this Northern nullification here.

FACT:  Leading abolitionists supported nullification

While some people would have you believe that nullification was “never accepted outside the Confederacy,”  they couldn’t be more wrong.

Beyond the fact that Northern states resisted slavery with nullification, it was leading abolitionists who expressly supported it as well.

Take, for example, John Greenleaf Whittier, the ardent abolitionist poet from Massachusetts:

“Since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law by Congress, I find myself in a position with respect to it, which I fear my fellow citizens generally are not prepared to justify.  So far as that law is concerned, I am a nullifier.

Or, how about William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, supporting Whittier:

“The nullification advocated by Mr Whittier…is loyalty to goodness.”

It’s pretty hard to claim nullification is racist, like Jesse does, when one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society considered it “goodness” against federal slavery laws.

FACT:  The “Slave Power” opposed nullification.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was no fan of nullification and attacked it in his farewell address to the Senate.   When South Carolina seceded, they forcefully complained about Northern nullification as well:

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 [Fugitive Slave Acts] or render useless any attempt to execute them

Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas denounced nullification when they seceded too.


With these facts, it’s easy to see how people making claims about nullification being in support of slavery are either ignorant, or just lying.

If it’s the latter, I’m pretty sure it’s to hide a fact that’s dangerous to them.

What might that be?

By making these claims about nullification, they side with slavery supporters.

Michael Boldin

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