A Government of the People, By the People, For the People… How it Really Works, According to Thomas Jefferson

THOMAS JEFFERSON - Time magazine cover

by Diane Rufino, September 20, 2017

Thomas Jefferson articulated the absolute right of a state to secede from the Union. He did so in 1798, in 1799, in 1816, and up until his death in 1826 (July 4, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). The right of self-determination was proclaimed in the Declaration as a founding principle and was never surrendered in the Constitution. In fact, Jefferson and Madison (1798 and 1800, in his written documents explaining the nature of the agreement known as the US Constitution) both agreed that such an inherent right can never be contracted away, although it should be reserved for extreme cases.

For Jefferson in 1816, the States had a clear right to leave the union. Government power, he reasoned, should never be concentrated at the top but rather at the bottom, closest to the people. If such were the case, there should never arise the level of tyranny that would warrant the drastic remedy of secession. The key, therefore, is to keep government closest to the people. Jefferson explained that the way to do this is to vest government only with those responsibilities that are absolutely necessary and those which people, in their individual capacity, cannot do or cannot be trusted to do and then to divide those responsibilities accordingly – with the governmental bodies closest to the people (localities) being responsible for the interests and affairs that touch on their lives most directly – their property, their livelihoods, their customs and communities, their education concerns, etc – and the government farthest away from them (Washington, DC) being responsible for the matters that are most external to their everyday lives, such as national security, international affairs and diplomacy, inter-state commerce, etc.

From Kevin Gutzman’s exceptional book, THOMAS JEFFERSON, REVOLUTIONARY:

Explaining the subdivision of government power, into “ward republics,” Jefferson wrote: “The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but rather to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the National government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations, the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the state generally, and the Counties with the local concerns of the counties; each Ward directs the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great National one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm and affairs by himself, by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best…. I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that Man shall never be free (and it is blasphemy to believe it) that the secret will be found to be in the making of himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetic process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers, in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. The elementary republics of the Wards – the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union – would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one of its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental checks and balances for the government. Where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs not merely at an election, one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the state who will not be a member of one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power he wrenched from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte.”

The Roman Empire fell when its ruling authority in Rome presided over too large and diverse of a group to represent them and their interests properly in a concentrated government body. And the same is happening here in the United States. If we hope to make this country the one that it was originally destined to be, the country that Thomas Jefferson dreamed of and worked his life to guide, then we need to push for solutions that return power back to the people…  In my favorite movie, GLADIATOR, Emperor Marcus Aurelius confides in his loyal general, Maximus, and conveys his dying wish: “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish… it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter…….. There is one more duty that I ask of you before you go home. I want you to become the protector of Rome after I die. I will empower you to one end alone, to give power back to the people of Rome and end the corruption that has crippled it. It must be you. it must be you. You have not been corrupted by her politics.”

We are Rome. We are a republic in name only, and have been for a very long time now.  We must acknowledge that. Each congressman represents too large and diverse of a group of people (at least 700,000 individuals per congressional district) to act as a meaningful advocate in government, and each senator, representing each person in his or her state, has the same problem. And so, our elected representatives no longer work for us or our interests;  they become agents for the interests and preservation of the federal government – a government that becomes more interested in “the common good” with each year of its existence. Republics are only successful when they are relatively small, when the ratio of elected representatives to the constituency remains workable. The solution to returning power to the people is to subdivide our one great republic into smaller republics (as Jefferson called them, “ward republics”) – to subdivide government power with the greatest control over the individual and his or her everyday life vested in those government bodies most local and closest to the people.

A big government is not our friend, although it likes to portray itself as such. We’ve seen its violations against us over the years, including collecting our personal information, lying to the American people, refusing to punish those in office who have broken criminal laws (and have even skirted on treason), taxing us excessively (including to support terrorist regimes such as Iran and Pakistan), forcing people to purchase health insurance not because they need it but because others need it, opening our borders to leave our communities and jobs vulnerable, judicial activism from the courts, obstruction in our attempts to legitimize the election process, and most recently, wiretapping political a presidential candidate to undermine the success of a threatening political movement. Ask yourself one question: What power do We the People think really have over the governing of our states and our country?  The key to the security of freedom is the control the people have in their government. James Madison once wrote: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

The era of King George III is here. Americans have a history of how to respond to such tyranny…. Unless, of course, we have truly become Rome.

Edward Snowden, labeled both a patriot by many and a traitor by some, said: “Being a patriot doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen, from the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.”


Reference:  Kevin Gutzman, Thomas Jefferson – Revolutionary, St. Martin’s Press, NY (2017).


Rethinking the Southern Secession Movement of 1861

SECESSION - Union is Dissolved

by Diane Rufino, July 23, 2017

The question is: Was the Civil War fought over the issue of Slavery?  I won’t deny that slavery was an issue that inflamed the passions of both sections of the country and put each at odds with one another, but it was NOT the cause of the conflict that I will refer to as the War of Northern Aggression, a war which claimed the lives of over 650,000 young Americans.

At the end of 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, the Union was on the verge of dissolution. By the time Lincoln was inaugurated on April 4, seven states had already seceded and a new nation had been formed, the Confederate States of America (complete with a new constitution).  Following South Carolina’s lead (December 1860), Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and then Texas formally severed political ties with the Union. On April 4, Virginia held a state convention to consider secession but voted it down, 89-45. (North Carolina would do the same). Lincoln could not allow the Union to be split; he could not lose the tariff revenue supplied by the agrarian South which, in 1859, not only supplied approximately 80% of the federal revenue, but was used to enrich the industrialized North. And so, something had to be done to give Lincoln a “pretext” to restore the Southern states to the Union.

On April 12, 1861, Lincoln tricked South Carolina militia forces into firing on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter, even after South Carolina had demanded, and even tried negotiating for, the transfer of the fort to the Confederacy. The attack on Fort Sumter would provide the pretext he needed. He used the incident to characterize the southern states as being in a state of active rebellion and thus ordering troops to subdue them. On April 15, President Lincoln declared a state of insurrection and called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion and to defend the capital.  With that proclamation, four more Southern states left the Union. The first was Virginia.

Virginia did not leave the Union because of slavery; same with North Carolina. We should take particular note of this piece of history.

Virginia looked at President’s Lincoln’s Proclamation and demand for troops, and just as her leaders did when President John Adams passed the Sedition Act, she saw serious constitutional violations and contemplated how she needed to respond.

In reading the responses by Virginia’s Governor John Letcher below, you will see that he exercised all the remedies implied in the concept of State Sovereignty, Tenth Amendment, and even the Declaration of Independence:  First, he refused to comply with Lincoln’s decree – Virginia would not supply troops. That is Nullification and Interposition. And then, because the proclamation evidenced the will of a maniac, a tyrant, and an enemy of the Constitution, and evidenced the transformation of the federal government into something Virginia could no longer trust her sovereignty with and no longer wanted to be associated with, her people decided to sever the bonds which held her in allegiance. Virginia seceded.

On April 16, Virginia’s Governor John Letcher made the following dispatch to Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Simon Cameron:


HON. SIMON CAMERON, Secretary of War:

SIR: I received your telegram of the 15th, the genuineness of which I doubted. Since that time (have received your communication, mailed the same day, in which I am requested to detach from the militia of the State of Virginia “the quota designated in a table,” which you append, “to serve as infantry or riflemen for the period of three months, unless sooner discharged.”

In reply to this communication, I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object — an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the act of 1795 — will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the Administration has exhibited towards the South. Respectfully,


The following day, Governor Letcher issued the following proclamation, which was published for the people of Virginia to read:

Whereas, Seven of the States formerly composing a part of the United States have, by authority of their people, solemnly resumed the powers granted by them to the United States, and have framed a Constitution and organized a Government for themselves, to which the people of those States are yielding willing obedience, and have so notified the President of the United States by all the formalities incident to such action, and thereby become to the United States a separate, independent and foreign power; and whereas, the Constitution of the United States has invested Congress with the sole power “to declare war,” and until such declaration is made, the President has no authority to call for an extraordinary force to wage offensive war against any foreign Power: and whereas, on the 15th inst., the President of the United States, in plain violation of the Constitution, issued a proclamation calling for a force of seventy-five thousand men, to cause the laws of the United states to be duly executed over a people who are no longer a part of the Union, and in said proclamation threatens to exert this unusual force to compel obedience to his mandates; and whereas, the General Assembly of Virginia, by a majority approaching to entire unanimity, declared at its last session that the State of Virginia would consider such an exertion of force as a virtual declaration of war, to be resisted by all the power at the command of Virginia; and subsequently the Convention now in session, representing the sovereignty of this State, has reaffirmed in substance the same policy, with almost equal unanimity; and whereas, the State of Virginia deeply sympathizes with the Southern States in the wrongs they have suffered, and in the position they have assumed; and having made earnest efforts peaceably to compose the differences which have severed the Union, and having failed in that attempt, through this unwarranted act on the part of the President; and it is believed that the influences which operate to produce this proclamation against the seceded States will be brought to bear upon this commonwealth, if she should exercise her undoubted right to resume the powers granted by her people, and it is due to the honor of Virginia that an improper exercise of force against her people should be repelled.

Therefore I, JOHN LETCHER, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, have thought proper to order all armed volunteer regiments or companies within this State forthwith to hold themselves in readiness for immediate orders, and upon the reception of this proclamation to report to the Adjutant-General of the State their organization and numbers, and prepare themselves for efficient service. Such companies as are not armed and equipped will report that fact, that they may be properly supplied.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the Commonwealth to be affixed, this 17th day of April, 1861, and in the eighty-fifth year of the Commonwealth.


On April 17, in a newly-called convention, Virginia, the traditional leader of the South, made the decision to secede – 88 to 55, on the condition of ratification by a statewide referendum. Neither Virginia nor any of the other later-seceding states understood the federal government to authorize violence against member states.

Virginia’s ordinance of secession was ratified in a referendum by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451 on May 23.

On April 4, Virginia decided to remain in the Union. How did that decision preserve or extend slavery?  Virginians had been willing to endure a crushing protective tariff under President Lincoln, the likes of the Tariff of Abominations (1828). And they understood that remaining in the Union would mean that slavery would continue to be under attack by his administration. Virginia was loyal to the Union even when the government was antagonistic to her.  No, slavery wasn’t the reason the Southern states of Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina (and probably others), left the Union. It would be Lincoln’s demand for troops that would change their minds. To these states, remaining in the Union was to abandon every principle of confederation that they valued. Continued loyalty to a Union that would attack member states and being forced to take up arms against her neighbors was inconceivable and intolerable.

Slavery was the issue that caused the North to become aggressively hostile to the states of the South and to cause the South to question whether the two regions could ever have enough of a common interest to remain joined together with a government that was to serve each equally and fairly. But the independent ambitions of the federal government and the schemes and twisted ideology of its president were the direct cause of its violent course the division would take.



“Governor Letcher’s Proclamation: His Reply to Secretary Cameron – State of Affairs Norfolk,” New York Times, April 22, 1861.  Referenced at:  http://www.nytimes.com/1861/04/22/news/gov-letcher-s-proclamation-his-reply-secretary-cameron-state-affairs-norfolk.html


Those Who are Tearing Down Confederate Monuments are Forcing Selective Amnesia on Americans


ROBERT E. LEE - in front of door

by Diane Rufino, July 27, 2017

In this era when Southern (Confederate) leaders, symbols, generals, buildings, etc are being erased from our memory and history, and vilified in our conversations because of their connection to slavery, I wanted to take this opportunity to remind folks that they should really do some homework before jumping on this politically-correct bandwagon.  A history lesson is an opportunity for speech, for dialogue, for debate, for learning.  Erase history and you erase much more than the mere reminder than an event happened. Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase a time when states had the backbone to stand up for the principles in the Declaration of Independence (“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness..”). Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase a time when states were willing to exert their natural rights of self-determination (aka, secession) rather than allow the federal government to subjugated them completely to its ambitious designs. Erase the memory of the Confederacy and you erase the last time in our nation’s history when states actually believed themselves to be the powerful sovereigns that they thought they would be under the US Constitution.

Be careful how you treat history.

Now many, it seems, are calling for the destruction of the monuments erected to Confederate leaders and Confederate generals, such as the great General Robert E. Lee.  There is no finer gentleman, no finer American, no finer human being than General Lee.  When President Lincoln tricked the South Carolina militia to fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1860, therefore giving him the reason he needed to raise troops to invade the South and force it back into the Union, he had some soul-searching to do. He was summoned to serve Lincoln and command the Northern Army, but then he would have to take up arms against the state he loved so much. Back in the day, one’s citizenship and one’s loyalties were first and foremost with one’s state (except, of course if you were a member of Congress). It was Lincoln’s Proclamation of April 15 that made Lee’s decision to fight for Virginia an easy one. Lincoln sent a dispatch to states such as Virginia and North Carolina, demanding that they send 75,000 troops to the Northern Army in order to invade the “rebelling states.”  Taking up arms, killing fellow Southerners, and imposing government force on his neighbors were things his conscience would not allow.  And so, he resigned the standing position he had with the government and joined the Confederate cause (Virginia voted to secede on April 17).

Lincoln had a tortured understanding of the Constitution and the South was right to resist.  Robert E. Lee, like so many other Southerns, was not a supporter of slavery and was looking forward to the day when the institution would either die a natural death (which it was on its way to doing) or would be abolished. He thought it an evil institution.  But slavery was not the cause of the hostilities that brought the War. It was government ambition, the disregard for States’ Rights, and the use of government force against member states (the ones who created the government in the first place) that initiated the violence that would claim more than 650,000 young American lives.  General Lee made the right choice. It may not have been the choice that best served our collective conscience regarding the enslavement of an entire race, but that’s not what the war was about. He made the right choice because only when states have the power to make their rightful decisions, including the decision to separate from an abusive government, can they effectively carry out the essential role that they play in our government system – to check the federal government when it oversteps its constitutional authority.

So, those who clamor to take down the statues of men like General Lee, or to erase his name from buildings and streets, take a moment to read what he had to say about slavery when the war was over: “I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.”

2017 Independence Day Reflection

The Liberty Bell

by Diane Rufino, July 4, 2017

“My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died; Land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from ev’ry mountainside, Let freedom ring!

Every successful experiment starts with a great hypothesis.  A hypothesis is a testable answer to a scientific question; an educated guess. One can say that our great American experiment started with a profound hypothesis. That hypothesis held that liberty is most secure when it is recognized and accepted that human rights are endowed by the Creator — not by government — and are therefore inalienable; that governments are creations or creatures of the People, instituted primarily to secure their rights and to serve them as they seek to establish an ordered society; and that once government becomes destructive of its ends, the People have the natural and inherent right to alter or abolish it and establish another form of government in its place.

That hypothesis was our Declaration of Independence.

Those who read the Declaration and think it stands merely for the notion that “All Men are Created Equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” are missing the bigger picture. They are missing out on perhaps the most revolutionary, the most profound, the most important political statement ever made. It is the document that has changed the world.

And yet, in planning to declare independence from Great Britain, our Founders could not know that this document, in all its grandeur and espousing such profound and enlightened principles, would be the vehicle. Perhaps history put the right man in the right place at the right time, for the right purpose.

Once hostilities broke out between the colonies and Great Britain, the colonies sought to use the opportunity to issue a simple declaration, stating that they regarded themselves as no longer a part of the British Empire but rather as free and independent States.  Thomas Jefferson would give us much more than a simple declaration.

On June 7, 1776, acting under the instruction of the Virginia Convention and particularly its presiding officer Edmund Pendleton (who had served as the President of the First Continental Congress), Richard Henry Lee on introduced a resolution in the Second Continental Congress proposing independence for the colonies. The Lee Resolution contained three very simple parts: a declaration of independence, a call to form foreign alliances, and “a plan for confederation.”

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

On June 11, the Second Continental Congress appointed three concurrent committees to address Lee’s Resolution – one to draft a declaration of independence, a second to draw up a plan to form foreign alliances, and a third to plan a form of a confederation for the colonies. To draft the declaration, Congress named a five-member committee comprised of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Although Adams was deemed best qualified to write the draft, he urged Jefferson to write it. Jefferson had approached his friend Adams to confirm that he would be drafting the declaration. But Adams responded: “I will not. You should do it. You ought to do it.”  When Jefferson asked why, Adams explained: “Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”  [Adams was indeed unpopular; he had represented the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre

That very day, Jefferson would begin work on the Declaration of Independence. He moved into a small house -two blocks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress had been meeting – in order to write in seclusion. Because several members of the Congress wanted to seek instruction from their colonies before addressing such an extreme measure, the vote was deferred until July 2.

On July 2, the Congress voted on independence. It adopted the Lee Resolution, which, as reproduced above, declared the individual states independent from Great Britain. “Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”   But the Congress decided it needed to draft a document explaining the move to the public (“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world…”)  Such a draft had been proposed and submitted by the Committee of Five (written by Jefferson), and it took two days for the full Congress to agree on the edits. That is why we see the words “IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776,” at the top of the Declaration, because that is the day the last version was approved and signed in Philadelphia, at Independence Hall.

Once the final version was approved, the actual Declaration on Independence document that was signed on July 4 was sent to a printer named John Dunlap. About 200 copies of the Dunlap Broadside were printed and sent to the states, including to General George Washington.

The document was not titled “Declaration of Independence” nor does the term appear anywhere in the document, yet that was clearly its intention. The declaration justified the independence of the colonies by first asserting their collective understanding of the relationship between the individual and government, as well as the purpose and limits of government, then listing the colonists’ grievances against King George III (summing up with the line: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people”), and finally asserting certain natural and legal rights, including the right of secession (“That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved”).

The Declaration of Independence was a transformative document.  No longer would individuals have to petition or plead with government to respect their rights. Going forward, government would be established for the primary purpose of securing and enlarging their rights, guaranteeing that an ordered society would be possible while still allowing individuals to exercise the rights that they were born with; governments would no longer treat individuals like “subjects.” They would not be subject to the good graces or generosity of a King or his wrath or insecurity. “Inalienable” would now characterize the rights that their forefathers, Englishmen, could only enjoy if the King allowed it.

I love how exquisitely the Declaration of Independence explains how government is grounded in God’s Law and Nature’s Law and that it is always a creature of the people, for the people. For that reason, governments are always “temporary” in nature, enduring only as long as they protect and secure certain essential individual rights and as long as they serve productive ends. When a government ceases to serve either end, nature and Thomas Jefferson tell us that people have the right, the natural right (the right of self-determination, which is equally as “inalienable” as the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”) to alter or abolish it. And that is what the people of the American colonies, chose to do. The Declaration made the case for that decision, explaining that the “government” of Great Britain – the King and Parliament – had become destructive and abusive of their rights, which had been set forth in the great Magna Carta and solidified in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. As Jefferson made clear, because “the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States,” it was their natural right to sever political bonds with it, declare independence, to secede from Great Britain), and to establish a new government better suited to serve them and to respect and exemplify their ideals. The founding principles so brilliantly laid out in the Declaration form a foundation as strong as bedrock for our individual rights. If they are endowed by the Creator, who dare have the authority to take them away?  Similarly, if they are natural rights, belonging to us at our birth, we don’t lose them – just as we don’t lose the ability of our bodies to reproduce and have children and just as a falling body will always be acted on by the force of gravity. Some things are simply absolutes. Nature dictates life since it is from nature that we exist.  Jefferson grounded our rights in both God’s Law and Nature’s Law (some will argue that they are, in fact, one and the same), as the first paragraph of the Declaration makes clear: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

If we only took the time to read this magnificent document, to study it, and to truly understand and appreciate every phrase that Jefferson included, we would have a far deeper sense of gratitude for our Founders and their inspired wisdom and foresight and a far deeper appreciation for what this country stands for (or “stood for”). Perhaps people might even realize that being an American is a far greater privilege that they had ever bothered to contemplate and that maybe, just maybe, such a privilege carries an obligation to conduct oneself in a respectful and dignified manner, always mindful of what he or she represents as a citizen and always ready to defend and exemplify the best that the country stands for. I love our Declaration of Independence, and to me, it is, and has always been, the most important of all founding documents – serving as our nation’s moral compass and forever shining a light on the reasons and principles of our existence.

Jefferson’s profound hypothesis still stands. But has our experiment steered away from hypothesis so that the ultimate question can no longer be answered?  That is the question.  What does the future hold when we’ve loosened the moorings that once tied Liberty to the principles in the Declaration?


PHILLY 2017 - Diane in front of house Jefferson wrote Declaration #2

SAVE THE REPUBLIC! Rethinking the American Union of States for the Preservation of Republicanism

SECESSION - Separate or Die (head, the federal government, is chopped off)

by Diane Rufino (citing Donald Livingston in his book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century), July 26, 2016

The purpose of this article is three-fold:  First, I want to be provocative and get readers thinking.  Second, I wish to educate the reader on our founding principles. And third, I hope to encourage the reader to read the book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century, written in part and edited by Donald Livingston, founder and president of the Abbeville Institute.  I enjoyed the book immensely and wanted very much to help get the word out.

I think the best way to encourage one to read the book Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century is to hook him or her using one of the more thought-provoking themes of the book. And so, this article is composed in great part using selected portions from one of the chapters in that book which I found most interesting – “American Republicanism,” authored by Livingston), with a discussion of nullification, interposition, secession, and federalism by myself.  Credit, of course, goes first and foremost to Professor Livingston.

Article IV of the US Constitution guarantees to every State in the Union “a Republican form of government.”  It is known as the “Guarantee Clause.”  It has not been widely interpreted, but constitutional scholars think it ensures that each State be run as a representative democracy or a dictatorship, preventing any initiative to change a State constitution to provide such.  The Supreme Court has essentially acknowledged that it doesn’t have the slightest idea what it means, has been reluctant to specify exactly what a “republican form of government” means and has left the clause devoid of meaning.  Historically, however, republics have had distinct characteristics, namely that its citizens make the laws they are to live under, that there is a Rule of Law, and that the republic itself be relatively small with respect to population and territory, to ensure that representation is meaningful.

The American system of 1789 was not a republic. It was a federation of republics – each state itself a republic – but the Union itself was not a republic. “A federation of republics is not itself a republic, any more than a federation of country clubs is not in and of itself a country club.” Under the Constitution of 1787, the central government could rule over individuals but only under the powers delegated to it by the sovereign States. All other powers of sovereignty belong to the States, expressly reserved through the Tenth Amendment, by the natural law of sovereignty, and contractually by force of the compact theory characterizing the Constitution. Given this framework, the final safeguard for a truly republican form of government for the people in America was, and could only be, some form of lawful resistance to the concentration of coercion in the federal government, which includes state interposition, nullification, or secession. These remedies are included in the “reserved powers” belonging to the States.

Nullification is a legal theory that holds that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that State has deemed unconstitutional. If the authority for the federal government only comes from the highly-contested and debated powers that the States agreed to delegate from their reservoir of sovereign powers, as listed in the Constitution, any federal law, policy, action, or court decision that exceeds such grants of power is “null and void” and lacks enforcement power. Since the federal government will always seek to support and enforce its laws and actions, it must be the States, as the parties to the Constitution and the ones which suffer the usurpation of powers with each unconstitutional action, which must rightfully declare “unconstitutionality” and prevent them from being enforced on a free people. Because the right of nullification is not prohibited by the Constitution (nor is it even addressed), it is reserved by the States under the Tenth Amendment.

Interposition is another claimed right belonging to the States. Interposition is the right of a State to oppose actions of the federal government that the state deems unconstitutional by in order to prevent their enforcement.  The very definition of a tyrannical government is one that imposes unconstitutional actions on its citizens. Tyranny is arbitrary rule. Interposition is the actual action, whether legislative or otherwise, to prevent an unconstitutional federal law or action from being enforced on its people. The most effective remedy against unconstitutional federal action, as emphasized by both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, is nullification together with interposition. Interposition finds its roots in the Supremacy Clause.  While the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance are considered the supreme law of the land, laws (and other actions) not grounded in rightful or legitimate Constitutional powers are not supreme and the States are well within their powers to prevent such usurpation of government power belonging to their sphere of authority.

Secession, like nullification and interposition, is not prohibited by the Constitution (or even addressed), and hence, is a reserved right of the States.

Nullification and interposition were invoked in 1798 by Kentucky and Virginia to identify the Alien & Sedition Acts as unconstitutional and to prevent citizens of those states from being imprisoned essentially for their exercise of free speech and press. Secession was threated in 1815 by Massachusetts after it characterized Jefferson’s embargo against Great Britain and his Louisiana Purchase and then Madison’s War of 1812 as a history of abuses against the North, with an intent to further the interests of the South. All three States’ Rights’ remedies were regularly invoked in the antebellum period, in every section of the Union, to assert State sovereignty and to constrain the central government. As of 1860, the central government was out of debt and imposed no inland taxes. It existed simply off a tariff on imports and land sales. The Supreme Court was tightly constrained in its exercise of judicial review. It challenged the constitutionality of acts of Congress only twice – in Marbury v. Madison (the Judiciary Act of 1789) and the Dred Scott decision (the right of a slave to challenge his status in a non-slave state when brought there by his master). States and localities in almost all States in the North refused to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act (nullification), either by statue or by civil acts of disobedience, and most strikingly, the Wisconsin legislature and the State Supreme Court in 1854 and 1859 outright challenged the constitutionality of the Act (citing coercion of the states and state officials). South Carolina nullified the Tariff of 1828, citing the improper nature of the tariff, changing it from an ordinary tariff (for revenue collection for the government) to a protectionist tariff (to provide direct funding of “improvements” for the North, as well as other enormous benefits), and claiming it was nothing more than a federal scheme to directly enrich the North at the great expense of the South.

Today, it is taught and it is believed that the “checks and balances” in the American system are only those between the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court. We know about the veto procedure, the ratification process for treaties, appointments (including federal court justices) and judicial review (this last check is not in the constitution actually but a creature of the Supreme Court itself!)  The purpose of our Separation of Powers and our series of checks and balances is to prevent the consolidation of power in any one branch of government and any one group of representatives.  But only a very limited number of Americans understand and appreciate that the greatest check on the consolidation of power comes from the unique design feature of our government established by the States and our Founding Fathers in the conventions and debates creating the Constitution – and that is Federalism.  Federalism is idea that real power is shared by the members of the “federation,” which are the States, with the creature they created (the federal government), which is the reservoir of powers expressly delegated to it by the US Constitution.  Federalism is a “sharing” or “division” of power among sovereigns in order to prevent concentration and tyranny.  The idea is that the government, as a sovereign with very limited and expressly delegated powers, and the States, as sovereigns retaining all other powers of government, will jealously guard their sphere of power and will watch, ever-so-vigilantly, the actions of one another.  What more effective check on government power could there be !!  Sovereign versus sovereign, which is what the term “dual sovereignty” refers to.  Or, as I like to refer to this design feature: “Titan versus Titan” (a reference to Greek mythology).  Alexander Hamilton, in a speech to the New York Ratifying Convention on June 17, 1788, explained it this way: “This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance. It forms a double security to the people. If one encroaches on their rights they will find a powerful protection in the other. Indeed, they will both be prevented from overpassing their constitutional limits by a certain rivalship, which will ever subsist between them.”

Sadly, this most effective check on consolidation of power in DC has been effectively eroded – mainly at the hands of the US Supreme Court.  The checks from the States on central authority in the form of nullification, interposition, and secession have now been ruled out.  And this is just another way of saying that the federal government can define the limits of its own powers. And that is what the American colonists and ratifiers of the Constitution drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 meant by “absolute monarchy.”

Ask yourself this:  Which branch of government ruled out the essential and natural remedies of nullification, interposition, and secession?  The answer is the US Supreme Court, supporting the ambitious plans of the federal government and improperly relying on Marbury v. Madison (1803) and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution for authority. For a State to treat its decisions with less than full support would bring the full resources of the federal government into its backyard. It’s happened before. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Rather than interpreting the Constitution, which pretty much is its sole task, the Supreme Court has redefined a new political and government system, one that is quite different from the one entrusted to us by our framers and founders.

When authority taken by the federal government falls outside of the enumerated powers, it makes no sense to ask the federal government to rule on whether the federal government has the power or not. The States, the ones which debated and ratified the Constitution for THEIR benefit, have no umpire on the bench.  As historian Tom Woods points out, if the federal government is allowed to hold a monopoly on determining the extent of its own powers, we have no right to be surprised when it keeps discovering new ones.

So, it is no surprise that the Supreme Court consistently and steadily handed down decision after decision to strip the States’ of their natural remedies against the Titan seeking to subjugate them – the federal government. Again, the Supreme Court is itself a branch of the very government that seeks to benefit from the consolidation of power it wants by weakening the States.  What better way to get the States to calm down and get in line?

Thomas Jefferson was skeptical of the federal judiciary and warned that they had the greatest potential to undermine republican government. In 1823, he wrote: “At the establishment of our Constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the public at large; that these decisions nevertheless become law by precedent, sapping by little and little the foundations of the Constitution and working its change by construction before any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its substance. In truth, man is not made to be trusted for life if secured against all liability to account.”

If you believe, as most Americans seem to believe (because of government indoctrination), that States no longer have the rights of nullification, interposition, and secession because of the action of one man, a virtual dictator, Abraham Lincoln, then you must reconcile the fact that no State any longer enjoys a republican form of government, as guaranteed in Article IV. That is, they no longer enjoy a republican form of government under any historical understanding of what such a government is nor under the vision of our founders. That notion has now decayed into a legal fiction.

But if the States are not republics, what are they?  Donald Livingston argues that the answer was given by Alexis de Tocqueville in his assessment of the French Revolution. According to de Tocqueville, the French revolution was intended to overturn the monarchy and return power to the people by creating a republic but in reality, it fundamentally changed nothing. The coercive government of the monarchy was simply replaced by a different type of coercive government.  The monopoly over government and land created by Kings (Divine Right of Kings) is a doctrine that embodies two bodies of the king. This duality is symbolized by this famous phrase: “The King is dead! Long live the King!” The first body of the king was the flesh and blood; the mortal body.  The second body was the monopoly, or the artificial corporation, established by birth-right and familial ties. Both bodies are coercive in nature since they are not “of the people” and can never truly represent them. When de Tocqueville said that the French Revolution fundamentally changed nothing, he meant that all that it did was kill the first body of the king. It left the second body of the king intact, merely changing its name from the “Crown” to the “Republic.” The revolution merely replaced the person of the king with a fictitious “nation-person.” In other words, what was created after the French Revolution was an absolute monarchy without the monarch; a regime that had all the major defects of a monarchy but none of the benefits. The post-French Revolution era of “republics” would increase government centralization beyond the wildest dream of any monarch. The German economist, Hans Hoppe, estimates that before the mid-nineteenth century, monarchs, as bad as they might have been, were never able to extract more than 5-8 percent of the gross national product (GNP) from the people, whereas “republics” have been able to exploit over 60 percent.

In his war to prevent Southern independence, Lincoln and the perversely-named “Republican” Party destroyed the two American institutions that had made true republicanism possible in a region on our continental scale – State nullification and secession. Without these rights, there can be no practical check to centralization and oppression of government, and hence, no practical way to ensure that the People of the several States are guaranteed a republican form of government.

Is it possible to have an exceedingly large republic, such as the size of our current-day United States?  British philosopher David Hume once considered the question of a large republic. He proposed the first model of a large republic in his essay “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth,” which was published in 1792.  Hume’s model did not physically seek to divide territory up physically into individual sovereigns but rather to decentralize government power so as to preserve the human scale demanded of republican self-government. The question is whether this can realistically be done.

Hume agrees with the republican tradition that “a small commonwealth is the happiest government in the world within itself.” But Hume’s model of a large republic, in contrast to the historically small republic, would be to order the large republic in such a way as to have all the advantages of a little republic. The question is whether Hume’s model is translatable to the real world: Can the size of a republic be expanded without destroying those values unique to republican government (self-government and the rule of law) that require a human scale.

Hume’s idea of a large republic is something of the size of Great Britain or France. (Remember his essay was written in 1792!)  As a comparison, Great Britain is approximately equivalent in size to Wyoming and France is approximately equivalent in size to Texas. In Hume’s model, the republic is divided into 100 small republics, but with a national capital. Each of these small republics is then divided into 100 parishes. The members of each parish meet annually to elect 1 representative. This yields 100 representatives in each small republic’s legislature. The legislature selects from among its members 10 magistrates to exercise the executive and judicial functions of the republic and 1 senator to represent the republic in the national capital. That yields 100 senators, from among which 10 are chosen to serve as the national executive and judiciary.

Laws would be proposed by the national senate and passed down to the provincial republics or ratification. Each republic has one vote regardless of population, and the majority rules. To free the provincial legislature from having to vote on every trivial law, a bill can be sent instead to the ten provincial magistrates in each republic for ratification.

How does Hume’s large republic compare to the “highly-centralized regime” that the United States has become today?  Hume’s republic has 100 senators in the national capital representing the individual States, as we do. But the legislative body representing the nation of individuals is located in the several capitals of the provincial republics. This provides three essential advantages.  First, it provides a better and more republican ratio of representation to population. Hume’s republic is the size of Britain, which in his time had some 9 million people; yet his regionally dispersed legislature jointly yields 10,000 representatives.  [100 x 100].  By contrast, the United States has 305 million people, which is 34 times as many inhabitants. Its representative body contains not 10,000 representatives but only 435 representatives – a number that Congress capped by law in 1911.  Hume’s large republic provides a ratio of 1 representative for every 900 people, and so it is of a republican scale.  This is very important !!  The United States’ system provides 1 representative for every 700,000 people, which is not even remotely within a republican scale.

And if you are thinking that this unrepublican character of the United States can be remedied by abolishing the law setting the cap at 435 and increasing the number of representatives in the US House, you will need to understand that judging by the size of legislatures around the world, 435 is just about the right size for a lawmaking body. Everything in nature has a proper size for optimum functionality. A cell can only grow to a certain size (a certain volume-to-cell-surface ratio) so that it can absorb nutrients, eliminate waste, and respire most efficiently. A jury of 12 is perfectly suited to determine the facts of a case; a jury of 120 would be dysfunctional.  When the first US Congress met in New York in 1789, there were 65 representatives. There was 1 representative for every 60,000 people. James Madison thought that was an inadequate ratio to adequately represent the people in a republic. When the number of representatives was capped at 435 in 1911, the population in the United States was 93,863,000. That means that there was 1 representative for every 215,777 inhabitants. If we were to use the same ratio that was used in 1789 – 1: 60,000 – there would be over 5,000 members in the House of Representatives. This would be impossibly large for a lawmaking body. Size does matter.

So, if the number of representatives in Washington DC cannot be increased as the population increases, then we have clearly reached the point where talk of republican self-government is utterly meaningless.  We are merely a republican in name only. In the not too distant future, the population of the United States will reach 435 million. This would yield one representative for every million persons.  Who could honestly believe a regime under this system could be described as a republic?

The point is that a country can literally become too large for self-government.  It becomes unresponsive to the people because its representatives cannot possibly represent the interests of all its constituents.

If the United States has indeed reached the point of political obesity, then the only remedy would be to downsize. The United States will need to be downsized either through peaceful secession movements or through a division into a number of federative units forming a voluntary commonwealth of American federations – an idea that Thomas Jefferson was fond of.

For the moment, let’s put peaceful secession aside (which would divide the Union into distinct territorial jurisdictions or would create individual, independent sovereigns).  Suppose that the United States adopts such a model as Hume’s large republic. This would require abolishing the House of Representatives in Washington DC (Yay!) and transforming the State legislatures into a joint national legislature. The Senate would propose legislation to be ratified by a majority of the States, each State having one vote.

Consider trying to enact the unpopular legislation passed in 2009 and then 2010 under such a model. Of course, I’m referring to the Bailout bills and the stimulus packages of 2009 and then the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or grossly referred to simply as the “Affordable Care Act’; or aptly named “Obamacare”) of 2010. A strong majority of Americans opposed the bailouts for the monster banks whose corrupt and inept policies caused the financial meltdown in 2009, the economic stimulus packages that they knew wouldn’t work, and Barack Obama’s healthcare plan of some two thousand pages, rushed through after secret meetings and secret deals and with publicly-acknowledged privileges given to some states and not others, and admissions by its leading supporters (Democrats) that they hadn’t even read it.  To this should be added that many believe that Congress has no constitutional authority to bailout businesses, let alone arbitrarily choosing which ones to provide federal aid, nor to impose a national healthcare plan, regardless whether it is good or not and whether or not it would help certain citizens out. Now, had these bills been sent down to the State legislatures for debate and ratification, as required by Hume’s large republic model, their defeat would have been so certain that they probably would never have even been proposed in the first place.

The second advantage presented by Hume’s model is that by dispersing the national legislature among the provincial republics (the smaller republics), he has eliminated the corruption that inevitably comes from putting the House of Representatives and the Senate in the same place. The number of representatives in Washington is 435 in the House, and 100 in the Senate– for a grand total of 535 lawmakers. A majority of this number is only 269. This small number rules 305 million people. And the majority can be even less, since both houses can lawfully operate, and they often do, with a mere quorum. A quorum majority of both houses of Congress is only 135 !!

Consider also that the US Supreme Court, centered in DC, a branch of the federal government, with justices who are appointed according to political and ideological lines – and not for proven understanding and adherence to the Constitution – has usurped the traditional “police powers” of the States, which it exercises for the health, safety (including law enforcement), welfare, education, religion, and morality of its citizens. The police powers exercised by each individual State for the benefit of its own people is the very essence of republican life. Nine unelected Supreme Court justices with life tenure – by only a vote of 5-to-4 – make major social policy for 305 million people. Political issues that are reserved to the States, such as abortion, marriage, and voter integrity laws, have been taken out of the policy arena and magically transformed into “constitutional rights.” This means, in effect, that the Court can rewrite the Constitution at will, entirely by-passing the process specifically provided for in Article V (ratification of any alteration/amendment of the Constitution by a ratification by three-fourths of the States).  Again, to think that five members of a high court can usurp lawmaking authority from the legislature (popularly-elected), can usurp powers from the States, and can transform the meaning and intent of the Constitution from the bench rather than the lawful process specifically put in place for the People themselves to define the limits of their government and we are still a republic is ludicrous.

Dispersing the legislatures among provinces would not necessarily get rid of government corruption, which is one of the biggest problems with a consolidated government. However, it would not exist on the same scale and of the same intensity that we see in DC today. Hume’s national legislature sits jointly in the 100 provincial capitals.  That means that a lobbying interest must deploy a much greater number of lobbyists and over greater distances. In addition, it would be much more difficult for representatives to coordinate with each other to buy and sell votes, as is routinely done in Congress today. With such a large republic, representatives would be more cautious and frugal in spending taxpayer money. After all, the 10,000 dispersed representatives who live in the same neighborhood with their constituents would have to look them in the eye and would have to answer to them.

Third, Hume provides a number of checks to prevent a faction from dominating the whole. If the senate rejects a proposed law, only 10 senators out of 100 are needed to veto that decision and forward the bill to the republics for consideration. Laws thought to be trivial can be sent from the senate to the ten magistrates of the republic for ratification instead of calling on the whole legislature. But only 5 out of 100 provincial representatives are needed to veto this and call for a vote of their legislature. Each (small) republic can veto legislation of another republic and force a vote on the matter by all the republics.

Should the United States be divided up into provincial republics – into a “federation of republics” – in order to provide a true republican form of government to its people?  Thomas Jefferson thought so.  George Kennan, esteemed historian and American diplomat (crafted the US policy of containment with respect to the Soviet Union) also thought so. In his autobiography, Around the Cragged Hill, Kennan argued that the United States has become simply too large for the purposes of self-government. As he argued, the central government can rule 305 million people only by imposing one-size-fits-all rules that necessarily result in a “diminished sensitivity of its laws and regulations to the particular needs, traditions, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and the like of individual localities and communities.”  Kennan passed away in 2005.  That the lives, property, income, and fortunes of 305 million Americans should be the playthings of an oligarchy in Washington that can act by a majority in Congress of only 269 (and 135 if acting by a quorum) and that the essence of republican life – religion, morals, education, marriage, voting rights, law enforcement, and social welfare – should be decided by nine unelected Supreme Court justices is something no free, liberty-minded people should tolerate.

Of course, there is the other option – secession and the formation of individual republics, not held together in federation form. It is said that secession should and must be ruled out because it causes war and it will necessarily involve bloodshed.  But that is not necessarily true. Of course it will depend on the ambitions of the administration in Washington DC, in particular, the president.  We would hope that we should never again suffer the likes of another Abraham Lincoln. But there are many examples of states that have seceded peacefully, including a number of Baltic states from the former Soviet Union. Norway peacefully seceded from Sweden in 1905 and Singapore did so from the Malaysian federation in 1965.  Eventually, if things don’t change and freedom’s flame is close to being extinguished, secession may be the remedy to save the American experiment. Additionally, it may be the only way to save the US Constitution – by putting it in the hands of a people who will take care of it and be much more vigilante with its limited powers and its checks and balances than Americans have been.  When 11 Southern States seceded from the Union in 1860-61 and formed the Confederate States of the American, they, as a Union, established a new constitution. This would be the third constitution that Americans made for themselves, and in most respects, it was far superior to the one of 1787 – they backed out of.  It included several provisions which would have made it much more difficult for the central government to concentrate and usurp power. Had Lincoln respected the States’ right of self-determination (as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence), we would have had the unique opportunity to compare, side-by-side, how each Union of States (North or South) fared under their constitutions.  The point is that secession gave the People (acting in State conventions) the opportunity to correct the defects in the Constitution that caused them to be oppressed by government. The question will be: when that time comes (and maybe it is already here), will we have the Will to Secede!!  Already, between 19-34% of Americans (ranked by State), now believe we would be better if States peacefully left the Union.

Donald Livingston closes his discussion of “American Republicanism” with this summary: “When a healthy cell grows too large, it divides into two cells. It is the cancerous cell that no longer knows how to stop growing. That artificial corporation, created by the individual States over two centuries ago, called the “United States” has, over time, metastasized into a cancerous growth on a federation of continental scale, sucking republican vitality out of States and local communities. The natural chemotherapy for this peculiar condition is and can only be some revived form of State interposition, nullification, or secession. If these are rejected out of hand as heresies (as our nationalist historians have taught since the late nineteenth century), then we can no longer, in good faith, describe ourselves as enjoying a republican style of government.

American secession


Again, I encourage everyone to read the entire book – Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century.  Aside from Donald Livingston, accomplished authors and academics Kent Masterson Brown, Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo, Dr. Marshall DeRosa, Yuri Maltsev, and Rob Williams also contributed chapters.



Donald Livingston, ed., Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century, Pelican Publishing Company, 2013.

Poll:  One in Four of Americans Want Their State to Secede, but Why?  –   http://blogs.reuters.com/jamesrgaines/2014/09/19/one-in-four-americans-want-their-state-to-secede-from-the-u-s-but-why/

Poll: A Quarter of Americans Want Their State to Secede –   http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/poll-seccession

Poll:  One in Four of Americans Want Their State to Secede –   http://dailycaller.com/2014/09/19/poll-one-in-four-americans-want-their-state-to-secede/

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TENTH AMENDMENT KEEPERS: Keepers of the Tenth!

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by Diane Rufino, July 19, 2016

This short article is intended to alert the reader to the importance of the Tenth Amendment and hopefully inspire him or her to join the Tenth Amendment Movement and help bring government power back to the States in those areas historically belonging to them and reserved to them under the Tenth Amendment.

About the Tenth Amendment Movement:

The Tenth Amendment has its roots in the intent of each State to retain its full sovereignty and its right of self-determination. The Tenth Amendment comes from Article II of our very first constitution, the Articles of Confederation: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”  So concerned about their right of self-determination and their fear of being consumed by a centralized government under the US Constitution as drafted in 1787 at the Philadelphia Convention, that several crucial states were not willing to ratify it in convention. Virginia and New York would not ratify unless they were given assurances that amendments (for a Bill of Rights) would be added, and indeed they proposed several, including one with the language of the Tenth Amendment. To make their position firmer, they included Resumption Clauses with their Ordinances of Ratification which conditioned their ratification on the explicit right to resume all powers when they desired so. “We, the delegates of the people of Virginia do, in the name and on behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”

Supporters of big government (such as Abraham Lincoln, FDR, LBJ, Obama, many Supreme Court justices, and today’s progressives) have actively down-played the Tenth Amendment because it embodies States’ Rights and state power.  In the years leading up to the War of 1861 and most certainly with that war and afterwards, the political elites in government understood that the ordinary checks and balances provided in the Constitution could be co-opted and controlled, but the most critical of all the checks and balances that our Founders provided on the federal government – the tension created by sovereign states (“Dual Sovereignty,” “federalism”… or as I like to refer to it: “Titan versus Titan”) – is the one they could not, especially the Southern States. And so began the movement to destroy the concept of States’ Rights, the great movement of Thomas Jefferson.  Indeed, most Americans believe what the victor of the War of 1861 (ie, the federal government) has indoctrinated, which is that the sovereignty of the federal government, in all cases, trumps the States and that the States are powerless to oppose the government or leave the Union.  The Tenth Amendment Movement knows that this indoctrination can be reversed by education and by the willing re-assertion of the Tenth Amendment by the States.  The Tenth Amendment Movement is about educating folks and especially members and candidates for state legislatures about the compact nature of the Constitution, which essentially says that the States, as willing parties, mutually agreed to the terms of the Constitution and assented to be bound by it (forming the Union, with its “creature” – the federal government – providing certain functions on their behalf), so long as the terms were faithfully adhered.  Compacts implicate the laws of contract and to some degree the law of agency.

Unquestionably, the Constitution was created as a social compact. It had all the requisites of a contract. There were parties: thirteen States, to which were added those that similarly ratified the document in the years after 1781. There was mutuality: each State promised to give up some of its sovereignty in exchange for what the Union promised to deliver – for receiving a “common defense” and some regulation of commerce between the States where it was necessary to ensure free trade. The Constitution was created by the States and ratified by the States, each acting in Convention. It could only be amended by and between the States. And if there was any doubt about the fact that the Constitution was an agreement entered into by and between the States, Article VII states: “The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.”  Every one of our Founding Fathers characterized the Constitution as a compact. It was referred to as such in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, in all the State Ratifying Conventions, Anti-Federalist Papers, the Federalist Papers, in the communications by Thomas Jefferson, in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (respectively), in Madison’s 1800 Report, in the several famous speeches by John C. Calhoun, and in the Ordinances of Secession.

It is critical that education by the Tenth Amendment Movement emphasize this compact nature of the Constitution and destroy the constitutional myth espoused by Lincoln to subjugate and consolidate forever the States because only then do certain remedies apply – such as nullification, interposition, and even secession itself.

The Constitution’s text and history before the War of 1861 did NOT change as a result of the surrender at Appomattox. Contracts do not textually change by the use of brute force; contracts change ONLY by the agreement of the parties. The Constitution was still a “constitution between the States” after the war as it was before. It remains so now.

Years ago, it would have been very rare to find folks who supported such critical doctrines such as Nullification and Interposition.  Even talk of States’ Rights seemed to be unpopular.  Which state would even think of daring to question the federal government?  But over the years, as the federal government has become exceedingly ambitious, arrogant, tyrannical, corrupt, reckless, and out of touch with the American people, I’ve seen things change. I’ve watched in seminars how voices of skepticism turned to support. Instead of people telling me such remedies were illegitimate, unconstitutional, and dangerous, all of a sudden, they started asking how to approach their legislators about using them against the federal government.  States are looking to nullification and interposition to finally define boundaries.  States are passing nullification measures on a wide range of issues – Obamacare, federal gun control, hemp, medical marijuana.

I hope that if you believe in the importance of this movement, as I believe, you will get involved, help educate others, and help elect like-minded representatives to your State legislature.  Whether individual freedom will be secured for “generations to come and millions yet unborn” will depend upon how the States choose to value the Tenth Amendment.  And the path that each State takes can be determined through the voice of its people.

How can you get involved?  Contact the Tenth Amendment Center, through its website.  If you have a chapter in your state, contact any of its members.  If you don’t have a chapter, either volunteer to start one or help recruit someone with the necessary time and skills to organize and run it. If you belong to an organization, such as the Tea Party or any other community organization, request that speakers be invited to talk about the Tenth Amendment, Nullification, Interposition, Judicial Activism, the Constitution and Original Intent, and other such topics.

Educate, educate, educate. The most important thing you can do is become educated!  You will find educational articles and updates on my blogsite (www.forloveofgodandcountry.com), on the Tenth Amendment Center website (http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/), and on the Abbeville Institute website (http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/)

Finally, follow my blogsite – Tenth Amendment Keepers (https://tenthamendmentkeepers.wordpress.com) and the Facebook site of the same name.

Together, we must Keep the Tenth Amendment relevant.

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Compact Theory: Security for American Liberty


by Diane Rufino, July 18, 2016

A contract is a promise, or set of promises, between willing parties. The law of contracts is a body of law as old as the Anglo-American division of law and equity. When a contract is breached, law and equity provide remedies. In fact, the definition of contract includes the phrase “for the breach of which the law gives a remedy.”  Court of law provide monetary remedies for breach while courts of equity provide unique remedies designed to relieve the aggrieved party when monetary awards are inadequate, such as forcing performance by the defaulting party.  [This is where we get the words in Article III. Section 2, of the US Constitution: “The judicial power of the United States shall extend to all cases, in Law and Equity.”]  Synonymous with the term “contract” are “agreement” and “compact.”  Throughout Anglo-American history, people have organized their government through compacts or “social compacts.” The philosopher, John Locke, who our Founders leaned most heavily in founding our country and drafting our foundational documents, explained that individuals, when organized in societies, form their government by way of social compact.

Historical Anglo-American jurisprudence provided a party aggrieved by a breach of contract certain choices by law:  First, he could choose to proceed to a court of law and seek damages for the loss of money in reliance upon the contract being fulfilled. In such a court, the aggrieved party would seek from the party in breach such sums as would place him in as good a position as he would have been had the contract been fully performed.  Alternatively, a court of equity could enforce the contract for the aggrieved party by ordering “specific performance” by the defaulting party – that is, the court would force the party to fulfil his obligations under the contract. Finally, Anglo-American equity jurisprudence provided for another remedy for breach of contract – “rescission,” or the annulment of the contract. Since the end of the eighteenth century in England, rescission has often been used as a remedy in conjunction with “restitution.” The aggrieved party would ask the court to annul the contract and, at the same time, ask that he be made whole for his own performance, thereby placing him in the same position he occupied before he entered into the contract.

For a States to claim the right of secession from the Union, the Constitution must be construed to be an agreement created by the States as parties.

Unquestionably, the Constitution was created as a social compact. It had all the requisites of a contract. There were parties: thirteen States, to which were added those that similarly ratified the document in the years after 1781. There was mutuality: each State promised to give up some of its sovereignty in exchange for what the Union promised to deliver – for receiving a “common defense” and some regulation of commerce between the States where it was necessary to ensure free trade. The Constitution was created by the States and ratified by the States, each acting in Convention. It could only be amended by and between the States. And if there was any doubt about the fact that the Constitution was an agreement entered into by and between the States, Article VII states: “The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.”  If, then, the Constitution is a compact, what is the remedy for a State or a group of States harmed by a breach of the Constitution by the federal government or other States? [Under Agency law, the “agent” (government) would be fired].  The only remedy, short of persuading the party or parties in breach to conform, is the equitable remedy of rescission.

As most people already know, several states posed obstacles to the adoption of the US Constitution and the formation of the new Union. The states of Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island proved to be battleground states.  Ratification by the State of Virginia was made possible only so long as the people of Virginia expressly and specifically retained the right of rescission. The Virginia resolution of ratification of June 26, 1788 read, in part: “We, the delegates of the people of Virginia do, in the name and on behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”  The vote in favor of adoption was narrow, 89-79.  Virginia was only able to obtain this vote by linking ratification to amendments to be added for a Bill of Rights, which they recommended.

In New York, the battle was just as fierce. Like Virginia, the resolution of ratification was made expressly subject to its peoples’ right of rescission. It read, in part: “We, the delegates of the people of the State of New York do declare and make known that the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.”  The vote in favor of adoption was 30-27. Also following Virginia’s lead, the delegates to the NY Ratifying Convention then presented a veritable catalogue of rights that they believed should be added to the Constitution by way of amendment (a Bill of Rights).

North Carolina and Rhode Island were particularly skeptical. They didn’t ratify the Constitution until after George Washington was already sworn in as the first president of the United States in 1789. They waited until the first US Congress presented a Bill of Rights, as the States has demanded. North Carolina finally ratified the Constitution on November 21, 1789 and Rhode Island ratified on May 29, 1790 (after refusing to consider ratification and joining the Union seven times!!).  Like Virginia and New York, Rhode Island adopted the Constitution subject to an express right to resume their delegated powers. It’s Resumption Clause read, in pertinent part:

      We the delegates of the people of the state of Rhode Island and Province Plantations, duly elected and met in Convention, do declare and make known

     I.  That there are certain natural rights of which men, when they form a social compact, cannot deprive or divest their posterity – among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety…..

   III.  That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.

Because the adoption of the Constitution by Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island was accepted including their Resumption Clauses, those stipulations became part of the agreement or compact, thereby providing the same benefit to all the States of the Union.

The framers and ratifiers of the Constitution unquestionably understood the Constitution to be a “compact.” The voluminous records documenting the debates of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia of 1787 and the State Ratifying Conventions are replete with references to the Constitution as a “compact.” The Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Essays use the same language, arguing for and against the ratification of the Constitution, respectively.  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the authors of our most important foundational documents, referred to the Constitution as such in their Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, respectively and the Southern States, in their Ordinances of Secession did likewise. When Massachusetts attempted to secede from the Union in 1814-1815, it also referred to the Constitution as a compact from which it retained the right to rescind. James Madison declared long after the ratification of the Constitution that “Our governmental system is established by a compact, not between the Government of the United States and the State governments, but between the States as sovereign communities, stipulating each with the other a surrender of certain portions of their respective authorities to be exercised by a common government, and a reservation, for their own exercise, of all their other authorities.”

If the Constitution is a compact, and it could be rescinded or annulled upon a breach, what would be sufficient to constitute a breach?  Whatever would constitute a breach is left wholly to the States seeking the extraordinary remedy of rescission. Obviously, in the words of James Madison’s 1800 Report on the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, the offensive act would have to be “a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of power not granted by the compact.”

While the governments of monarchs and dictators that ravaged Europe for centuries were based on the “universal law” that governments are not created by instruments that provide a mechanism for their own dissolution, the American government system flips that system on its head. The Declaration of Independence, embracing Natural Law and rejecting the Divine Right of Kings, proclaims that governments are only temporary in nature and are instituted among the People, by the People, and for the People for the primary purposes of securing their inalienable rights and for effecting their happiness. “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  The Constitution, drafted to embrace the principles proclaimed in the Declaration, is therefore a revolutionary document. It is a revolutionary instrument created by a revolutionary people at the end of a successful revolution fought to end the rule of a monarch on the American States and the American people and to guarantee fundamental liberties to all citizens. The government created by the Constitution is worth keeping only so long as it serves this end. Sadly, this fundamental understanding of the formation of the Union was completely lost on Lincoln (or he was willfully and ambitiously blind to this understanding). The War of 1861 and the lies perpetrated on the country by the “victors” (because the victors have the luxury of telling the story and vilifying the conquered) have obscured the truth of our Constitution and our history. The transformation of our country from a republic to one oppressed by an over-zealous central government in the consequence of these lies.

The Constitution’s text and history before the Civil War did NOT change as a result of the surrender at Appomattox. Contracts do not textually change by the use of brute force; contracts change ONLY by the agreement of the parties. The Constitution was still a “constitution between the States” after the war as it was before. It remains so now.

If the government created by the Constitution ceases to guarantee liberty, there must be a remedy available to those oppressed by it. It is not the courts; the citizens may not even have standing to challenge the actions of the federal government, and moreover, the courts are creatures of the very government that would be the oppressor. To be sure, courts are not competent to even address constitutional challenges to acts of Congress that allege that those acts undermine the liberties of citizens and invade the powers reserved to the States. Resorting to the ballot may be ineffectual; the votes of a few metropolitan areas may negate the votes of all other regions. More than that, fundamental liberties should never be subject vote. What remains to protect individual liberties are the States as parties to the Constitution. As parties, they must exercise their “duty” to protect their citizens from a federal government that has grown too powerful, too intrusive, too dictatorial. They do that by exercising the right that parties to agreements have exercised for literally hundreds of years: to stand up to actions that invade the liberties of citizens and the reserved powers of the States by, first, nullifying the unconstitutional acts and then, if the federal government persists, seceding. The framers and ratifiers would not have thought any differently. After all, although they were revolutionaries who created a revolutionary form of government, they were also the inheritors of an Anglo-American legal tradition that had been developed over hundreds of years, which defined contracts and remedies available to those injured by the breach thereof.

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The conflicts that divide Americans today are certainly as profound as those in other periods of our history, including those that compelled the Colonies to separate from Great Britain, those that troubled Massachusetts in 1815, and those that troubled the Southern States from 1828 to 1860.  The numerous laws, voluminous regulations, and many illegitimate rulings by the Supreme Court have abused and usurped our rights and liberties and have, in effect, evidenced the design by the federal government to consolidate us into a one-size-fits all nation untethered to the States which used to be obligated to protect us. The reasons for the Constitution have been frustrated and now forgotten. Clearly, the grounds to rescind the compact are legitimate and numerous.

In the history of the world, principles have always been more important than geographical boundaries.  We have to ask ourselves what our alternatives are in order to preserve our traditional American principles. If we continue to believe they are being subverted and eroded, and if we continue to believe that our rights, our freedoms, and our liberty are being threatened and violated, then we have to ask ourselves what our rightful remedies are.



Donald Livingston, ed. “Rethinking the American Union for the 21st Century,” Pelican Publishing Company, 2013.

Kent Masterson Brown, “Secession: A Constitutional Remedy,” in “Rethinking the American Union for the 21st Century,” Pelican Publishing Company, 2013.

Thomas DiLorenzo, “The Founding Fathers of Constitutional Subversion,” in “Rethinking the American Union for the 21st Century,” Pelican Publishing Company, 2013.