Nullification: An Introduction

Nullification: An Introduction



By Michael Bolden


In order to best-understand what Nullification IS, you should first understand some things nullification is NOT.


Nullification is not something that requires any decision, statement or action from any branch of the federal government.


Nullification is not an illegal insurrection, but neither is it unconditional or unlimited submission.


Nullification is not the result of obtaining a favorable court ruling. Nullification is not the petitioning of the federal government to start doing or to stop doing anything. Nullification doesn’t depend on any federal law being repealed.


Nullification does not require permission from any person or institution outside of one’s own state.


So just what IS nullification, why is it so important, and how does it happen?


To start, there are 3 foundational principles for why nullification is so important – essential to the constitution and liberty, that is.


1. The constitution can’t enforce itself. And it never will.


You can’t just wave the document in front of out-of-control government officials or agencies like a red cloth in front of a bull and expect them to simply stop what they’re doing. Without some enforcement mechanism, the Constitution is of little use when it comes to limiting the power of the federal government.


James Madison recognized this truth as well. Like other founders, he referred to even the best constitution as a mere “parchment barrier.”


In Federalist 48, for example, he put it this way:


“a mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments, is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.”


2. The courts are part of the problem


Setting aside the fact that the federal courts usually “strike down” around 2-3 federal acts per annum – at that pace it’ll be impossible for it to ever do the same to thousands of laws – and thousands of new regulations added every few years – remember this:


The federal courts are PART of the federal government. And going to the federal government to limit its own power is bad strategy.


Again, James Madison noted this in his Report of 1800:


“dangerous powers not delegated, may not only be usurped and executed by the other departments, but that the Judicial Department also may exercise or sanction dangerous powers beyond the grant of the constitution”


3. Voting the Bums Out isn’t for What we Face Today


This is a strategy for bad administration of delegated powers. Not for usurpation of power. Here’s how Thomas Jefferson put it in his draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:


“in cases of an abuse of the delegated powers the members of the general government, being chosen by the people, a change by the people would be the constitutional remedy; but, where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy”


In short – defending the Constitution from federal overreach means something outside of the federal government is needed to act as a check on its power.


Relying on the federal government to limit itself – doesn’t work – it guarantees that the government will keep growing and growing and growing.


For Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, James Iredell – and many, many others – this means that people of the several states must resist and refuse to comply when the federal government usurps power.


And while most mainstream “historians” would like you to believe that the only times nullification has been tried has been a racist-motivated complete failure, they’re either ignorant – or they’re lying. Or both.


But that shouldn’t be surprising to any of us.


We covered hese essential principles – plus some ways nullification has been used in history – and how it’s used right now – on this classic episode of Path to Liberty in our archives. In it, you’ll learn:


  • 3 core principles of why it’s essential
  • 2 definitions of nullification – legal and practical
  • Some examples of how it has been used in history and today
  • primary strategies to implement it today on, for example, federal gun control.


There’s a video and a podcast edition available – plus 13 reference links for your to read and learn more on your own time


Here’s the link, you know what to do:


As we face the most powerful government in the history of the world – I believe this information becomes more and more important every single day. I hope you find it interesting and educational. And I hope you enjoy learning about this as much as I enjoyed learning and sharing it with you.


Concordia res parvae crescunt
(small things grow great by concord)





Show Archives

Nullification in One Lesson

A “Parchment Barrier” Needs Enforcement

Dickinson – Fabius IV (19 Apr 1788)

Madison Fed 48 (1 Feb 1788)

Madison – report of 1800

Jefferson’s Draft

State of the Nullification Movement Report

Did Madison Reject Nullification?

Madison: Four Steps

1931 Report – State Noncompliance is Nullification

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and Nullification by Northern States

Winning Strategy for Liberty

2nd Amendment preservation act (pdf)

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Tags: Federalist 46HistoryJames MadisonNullificationNullify!SOTNMState of the Nullification Movement ReportStrategythomas jefferson

-Michael Boldin, TAC