It Only Takes One and other Nullification Truths

constitutionA few weeks ago I left a note for nullification deniers regarding some of their more frequent errors. A quick perusal of Wikipedia clears most of these up, so there’s no excuse for always being so ignorant of the subject matter. Still, some opponents of nullification seem to know plenty of its history, and yet remain plagued with misunderstanding.

For those intellectually honest enough to address the popular origins of nullification in the United States – the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions – a common rebuttal is to reference those states which opposed the “Principles of ‘98.” This fact seems to be used in order to marginalize the use of nullification and offers a convenient means of confirmation bias for those addressing this point. However, this argument is fraught with a number of problems. It ignores certain relevant historical facts that help explain the motive behind rejecting nullification at the time, it establishes a faulty chain of reasoning, and begs an important ethical question related to politics.


Nullification and Amnesty

There can be no doubt that whatever the federal government ends up forcing upon us, it will mean less freedom for us personally, and more power for it in the long run. Short of blanket amnesty and an end to all of the coercive, dictatorial power being wielded by the Feds, the states ought to nullify any piece of legislation that comes as a result of this go around at immigration reform. Just like sanctuary cities have been established in certain parts of the country, states ought to declare themselves sanctuaries.


There’s Nothing Radical about Nullification

Picture the single most barbaric, inhumane, and morally reprehensible act imaginable. It could be anything. You could choose genocide, the most depraved form of torture, or slavery, whatever really. History is replete with examples, the twentieth century in particular, but the nineteenth century had its share of them as well.

There doesn’t have to be a geographic limitation, either. But for the sake of argument, try to keep it local, as in here in the United States. Whatever you chose, On the official Maddow Blog, MSNBC’s Steve Benen believes that “[n]ullification must never be on the table” as a means to protect innocent lives and property.

Apparently he can’t think of a single reason that nullification should be used by states or local governing bodies. The logical implication is that opponents of slavery – that is advocates of freedom – in the antebellum period were wrong to have used nullification as a means to protect the lives and freedom of former slaves. No doubt, Harriet Tubman would be described by Benen as a radical, and her willful defiance of federal slave laws would be denounced, had the two been contemporaries.

Another case where nullification could arguably have been employed is in preventing or at least deterring the murderous and detestable “Trail of Tears” death march across the southern United States. Imagine if the forcible relocation of more than a hundred thousand members of various native tribes weren’t marched through Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, or Kentucky because those states refused to participate. The lives of thousands could have been saved by such resistance. Opponents of nullification however, are self-righteously indignant at such a thought.