What Our Founding Generation Would Have Said About Obamacare

tea-party-you-mean-we-can-tax-them-for-not-buying-tea       by Diane Rufino, February 25, 2017

Although we are on the verge of having President Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare”) repealed and replaced, I am writing this piece to remind folks of the loss of freedom we suffered at the hands of President Obama and his administration with the unconstitutional and universal healthcare scheme he misrepresented and then forced on the American people.

The assault on the precious liberties of the American people were realized by only a handful (and certainly not the liberal members of the Supreme Court) and to half of these, it didn’t matter. When I talk about those who could care less, I am referring to the Republican members of Congress, who for years seemed unable to craft legislation or summon a vote.

Certainly, the caliber of an “American” has changed. We should all shutter for the future of our republic and for the security of the liberties our forefathers fought a revolution for. The debacle known as Obamacare has shown that they are never secure in the face of a hostile president who uses a “phone and a pen” and secret meetings to pressure legislation that that are violative of them.

Yes, it would be wonderful for everyone to have healthcare insurance to help them with their healthcare costs. It would be great if insurance didn’t make it cost prohibitive for those with pre-existing conditions. It would be great if times were like they were many years ago when everyone went to school, took their education seriously, got a job, and took care of themselves and their families. But jobs are scarce and people willing to invest in themselves and look for a job are even scarcer. It would be great if people took stock of their health and avoided tobacco, drugs, and fattening foods so that they are not obese and prone to diabetes and heart disease and therefore put an enormous strain on our healthcare system, but they don’t.

Yes, there are poor people out there. Some are poor because of a legitimate situation but most are poor because of a mindset and lifestyle choice. Some complain about being poor but don’t want a job; they merely want to be made more comfortable in poverty, which the Democratic Party is all-too-happy to do. Dependents make the most loyal voters. Why would anyone want to set an alarm to get up early every morning, worry about shuffling their kids to daycare, deal with traffic on the roads, put up with bullshit at work, put up with a horrible boss, have to show up even when they don’t feel well, strive to earn a decent performance evaluation just to hopefully be able to take home the same amount of money the following year, stress out about whether he or she has job security, balance work with other parenting obligations (such as when children get sick), and deal with limited days off when they could stay home, sleep late, get a welfare check from the government, have their apartments paid for, heating and air-conditioning paid for, food paid for, daycare covered (even though they aren’t working), a free cell phone, and free healthcare. Why do they need to work? Why would they even want to work?

American used to produce things. Americans used to be productive citizens. They were ambitious, resourceful, proud. Our government programs are creating the human waste and decay that is beginning to define America and destroy our cities, our schools, and our ability to live contently amongst each other. How can one group of Americans, who work hard, raise their families responsibly, pay their taxes and then find out that those exceedingly high taxes are going to pay for others and their families, have any respect for the latter? They don’t. They don’t look at them as equals.

But there is a constitutional way to solve problems and there is an unconstitutional way to solve them. And that’s why it is so important to vet presidential candidates for their constitutional character and not make choices based on skin color or social justice.

And so, a lesson taught so well that it inspired a revolution has been lost on today’s generation of Americans. And that lesson was to never yield individual liberties to the designs of government, even if those designs are well-intentioned. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote: “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficient… The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

The lesson of the Boston Tea Party, an act of civil disobedience and protest that inspired today’s Sons of Liberty movement (the Tea Party), is an important and timeless lesson.

On the night of December 16,1773, members of the Sons of Liberty dressed as Indians, boarded three ships in the Boston harbor, and tossed 342 chests of tea overboard. They did this to protest the Tea Act. The Tea Act was actually not so bad in its provisions – it provided a high-quality tea, at lower costs than the colonists had been used to, and at a lower tax than what they had been previously used to. So why were the colonists so upset?

The Tea Act of 1773 was a follow-up to the Revenue Act, which was one of the laws in the hugely unpopular Townshend Acts. The Townshend Acts set new import duties (taxes) on British goods including paint, paper, lead, glass and tea. Due to protests from British merchants, whose trade was seriously effected by the American colonists refusing to buy the goods, Parliament ultimately repealed all of the duties (taxes) – except the tax on tea.

The principal objective of the Tea Act was to reduce the massive amount of tea held by the financially-troubled British East India Company in its London warehouses and to help the struggling company survive and to do so, it created a monopoly on the sale of tea to the colonies to the East India Company. It allowed the East India company to sell its large tea surplus below the prices charged by colonial competitors and thus under-cut and threatened local tea merchants. It was able to sell its tea at lower prices because the Act granted the Company the right to ship its tea directly to North America from its China warehouses (without first stopping at Britain to pay export duties). However, as mentioned earlier, the tea imposed on the colonies was still subject to the tea tax under the Revenue Act.

Specifically, the Tea Act provided:

1. Tea could be shipped in East India Company ships directly from China to the American colonies, thus avoiding the tax on goods first due England, as required by previous legislation.

2. A duty (tax) of 3 pence per pound was to be collected on tea delivered to America. [The previous duty (tax) was 12 pence (1 shilling) per pound, which was paid on tax which had been sent from Britain, so colonists would be paying LESS in tea tax with this Act. Also, interestingly, they would be getting their tea cheaper than the people of Britain !!].

3. The tea would be marketed and forced on colonists by special consignees (receivers of shipments) who would be selected by the East India Tea Company.

The new import tax of 3 pence was considerably less than the previous tea tax on the colonists, in which 12 pence (1 shilling) per pound on tea sent via Britain, so colonists would be paying LESS in tea tax with the Tea Act of 1773. Also, interestingly, they would be getting their tea cheaper than the people of Britain !! Even King George III was reported to comment that “the colonists will finally be happy!” and will stop protesting.

The Act also encouraged British agents to seek out local merchants of tea who were smuggling in tea (in violation of the new law) and shut down their operations. In effect, they were making sure the monopoly on tea was complete and that colonists were buying only the tea that the British Parliament were forcing on them.

While the average contemporary American might look at the bottom dollar and assess the law based on their pocketbook and conclude that the Tea Act was good and fair, our founding generation looked at the insidious violations to their fundamental liberties embedded in this seemingly harmless law.

First of all, the Tea Act forced the colonists to purchase Company tea on which the Townshend duties were paid, thus implicitly asserting Parliament’s right of taxation. Even though the costs and the taxes were lowered, they would not back down on their demand that there be “No Taxation Without Representation!” This basic English right was secured in the Magna Carta of 1215 and re-asserted over and over again up until the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which essentially transferred government power from the King to the peoples’ house – Parliament. And second, the Tea Act compelled the colonists to buy a product identified by a legislative body far away. It took away their right to enjoy competition and to pursue livelihoods.

If men like Sam Adams, John Hancock, James Otis Jr., Paul Revere were alive today, they would have called out Obamacare for violations similar to those in the Tea Act. They wouldn’t be complaining about the increased premiums or the frustration in signing up for healthcare… they would be sounding the alarm to government compulsion and unconstitutional taxation.

Let’s hope that when Obamacare is repealed it will be replaced by a scheme that divests the federal government of compulsion power over the American people and returns power to the free market system. And let’s help educate our lesser-informed members of society that those who are all too happy to receive hand-outs from the government are the most insidious threats to the very liberty upon which our country was founded. “A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety,” wrote John Stuart Mill, “is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

INDEPENDENCE DAY: The Story of Us

4th of JULY - red, white, and blue wall

by Diane Rufino, July 4, 2016

Independence Day – What it really means….

What does Independence Day – the 4th of July – mean to you?  Is it just a holiday to eat, drink, and light off fireworks?  Do you display and wave the flag of the United States out of habit – because everyone else on the block does it?  Do you cover your table with a plastic tablecloth of stars and stripes and decorate your yard with red, white, and blue because that’s what Target and Walmart remind you to do with its holiday displays and sales?   Do you actually understand what the 4th of July signifies?  Did you sleep through that lesson in American History Class? Was it even taught to you at all?

I just hope you aren’t one of those Americans who doesn’t think it matters.

When I was very young, I thought Independence Day marked the day when the 13 colonies defeated the British for our independence.  Then in middle school, I learned that it marked the date the Declaration of Independence was signed.  That was the extent of my understanding until I did my own reading.  Soon I learned that not only was the Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776, but that it was an act of treason against the British Crown. It was an act of treason because while the colonies were fighting for their independence, the British were fighting to quash their rebellious nature for good. Rebellion against the Crown was high treason and it would not be tolerated.

But it wasn’t until I graduated law school that I was finally able to appreciate the real significance of the Declaration of Independence.  Simply put, as its author Thomas Jefferson explained: “The Declaration of Independence… is the declaratory charter of our rights, and of the rights of man.”  And in that magnificent document, Jefferson has laid out the natural order of our rights and the natural purpose and limits of government.

The document was almost forced on the colonies by history’s happenstance. It began with the colonies’ restlessness in the wake of an over-zealous King and Parliament which first sought to extract tax revenue from them (without representation) and then to oppress and subjugate them as a means of punishment. They were punished for daring to stand up for their rights as Englishmen, as Englishmen had done for over 500 years of their history.  Indeed, the history of England has been a history of repeated attempts, first by the barons and then by all subjects, to assert basic human rights and to demand from the King a promise (a charter) that he will respect such. Some of the attempts were successful and some only temporary, but all of England’s notable charters were signed and limited the reach of the King and Parliament, even if only for a very short time.

Some of these charters and other significant documents include: The Charter of Liberties of King Henry I (1100), the Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628), the Grand Remonstrance (1641), and the English Bill of Right of 1689.  This history is critical for the foundation for our country because all total, these documents establish the notion that government must respect boundaries on the individual, acknowledging that they have certain essential rights and liberties.  The rights and liberties asserted and re-asserted in these documents are the “rights of Englishmen” that the colonists most eagerly embraced and were most eager to protect.

Author Brion McClanahan explains the significance of England’s grand history in his article Rethinking the Declaration of Independence: “In 1100, King Henry I of England agreed to restrictions on his power through the Charter of Liberties. The English barons rejected absolute authority and sought to preserve traditional decentralized “government.” Just over one hundred years later, in 1215, King John was forced again by the English nobles to sign the Magna Charta. The “Great Charter,” as it is known in English, declared that the king was not above the law – making him essentially equal to the nobles – and it resisted the trend toward centralization in England. Though on the books, the Magna Charta was often ignored by more powerful English monarchs, but several of its provisions became the basis of English common law, most notably the writ of habeas corpus.” (See the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679).

In October 1214, King John returned to England in disgrace. His mission to reconquer his lost territory in northern France had failed and other military campaigns were unsuccessful as well. He taxed England’s barons heavily to finance these campaigns and they were not happy.  Upon his return, he found that a group of angry barons from across the country had formed an association and were prepared renounce him as king. Over the next eight months, they made repeated demands to the King, requesting that he give them a guarantee that he would observe their rights. But the negotiations amounted to nothing. And so, on May 5 of that year, the barons gathered and agreed to declare war on King John. On May 17, 1215 they captured London, the largest town in England, without a fight.  With London lost and ever more supporters flocking to the side of the barons, the King John realized he would have to address their concerns.

On June 8, he notified the barons of his willingness to negotiate. Over the next few days, the barons assembled in great numbers at Runnymede, a relatively obscure meadow just a few miles from Windsor castle, where King John was based. They arrived to repeat their demands and negotiate peace terms. On June 15, the barons presented their terms to the King and he signed the great document – The Great Charter (“Magna Carta”).

In Chapter 39 of Magna Carta, one of the document’s most important clauses, King John made the following promise:  “No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

Here, it was agreed that the Crown and his administration would not arrest, outlaw, banish, or incarcerate any free man, deprive him of his rights, possessions or legal standing, or otherwise take official and forceful action against him, except in accordance with the lawful judgement of his equals or in accordance with the laws of the Kingdom. This was, in embryonic form, the principle of due process of law: The government shall not deprive any person subject to its jurisdiction of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The Magna Carta provided that justice was to be guaranteed to every person in the Kingdom, that the right of justice would not be sold, delayed, or denied to any person. Thus, this critical, historic document provided that every freeman — i.e., every Englishmen who was not a serf — was to enjoy security and protection from illegal interference by the King (ie, government) in his person and property.   [See Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr. (Professor of Political Science), “The American System of Government….”]   The terms listed in the Magna Carta would later be referred to as “the ancient rights and liberties of Englishmen” in the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

King John, in giving his consent to Magna Carta, agreed that: (1) the Monarch was subject to the law of the Kingdom and (2) the law placed limits on royal authority. This reflected an early stage in the development of the central idea of English and American constitutionalism — the idea that the ruler was not above the law and therefore had to abide by the law and stay within the limits the law imposed on his power.  [See Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.]

Under Magna Carta, the King still governed England, but he had to share with the barons one important sphere of political authority — the power of taxation. All royal requests for extraordinary taxes had to be submitted to the Common Council for its consideration and decision. When it came to the King’s raising revenue by means other than collecting the feudal fees and aids in amounts due him by customary right, he had to share with the barons, the largest and most powerful bloc in the Common Council, the authority to make binding decisions. The requirement, stipulated in Magna Carta, that the King submit proposals for extraordinary taxation to an assembly of his leading subjects — the barons and the Church officers of high rank — was one small but significant step on the long road to firmly establishing as a constitutional guarantee, truly binding on the Monarch and all other officers of the government, the age old principle of English government that no subject could be taxed without his consent, given by the subject directly in person or indirectly through elected representatives in a legislative assembly.   [See Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.].

When Britain began taxing the colonies without allowing them representation in Parliament, particularly with the Stamp Tax, the colonists asserted this basic right from the Magna Carta in their protest slogan “No taxation without representation.”  The phrase actually originated with Massachusetts attorney James Otis about 1761, who proclaimed: “Taxation without representation is tyranny!”

After the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right of 1628, which was written by Parliament, was presented to King Charles I to re-assert the civil liberties of his subjects.  The Petition contained four main points: (1) No taxes could be levied without Parliament’s consent; (2) No English subject could be imprisoned without cause–thus reinforcing the right of habeas corpus; (3) No quartering of soldiers in citizens’ homes; and (4) No martial law may be used in peacetime. Each of these four points enumerated specific civil rights that Englishmen felt Charles I had breached throughout his reign. Although he’d never been that popular as the monarch, his abuse of power against the people escalated to an intolerable level after Parliament refused to increase taxation and finance his unpopular foreign policies. The purpose of the Petition was to seek redress for the serious grievances Charles had committed.

When Charles showed no sign of repenting, Parliament drafted an extensive list of grievances which it presented to him on December 1, 1641. The grievances included 204 instances of gross abuses of the King’s power and usurpations of the rights of the people.  Preceding this list of grievances were the following significant paragraphs:

For the preventing of those miserable effects which such malicious endeavours may produce, we have thought good to declare the root and the growth of these mischievous designs: the maturity and ripeness to which they have attained before the beginning of the Parliament: the effectual means which have been used for the extirpation of those dangerous evils, and the progress which hath therein been made by His Majesty’s goodness and the wisdom of the Parliament: the ways of obstruction and opposition by which that progress hath been interrupted: the courses to be taken for the removing those obstacles, and for the accomplishing of our most dutiful and faithful intentions and endeavours of restoring and establishing the ancient honour, greatness and security of this Crown and nation.

The root of all this mischief we find to be a malignant and pernicious design of subverting the fundamental laws and principles of government, upon which the religion and justice of this kingdom are firmly established.

The Grand Remonstrance would help precipitate a civil war in England and eventually lead Parliament to file official charges of high treason against Charles I.  He would be tried, convicted, and executed (beheaded) in 1649. His son Charles II was exiled and his other son James II was able to escape to France dressed as a girl.

When England erupted in this civil war, the Parliament asserted its authority and suspended the reign of the Monarch, and by 1688 had become the driving force behind English law and policy. From 1649 to 1660, England became a republic. At first it was ruled by Parliament, but in 1653, Oliver Cromwell, commander of the army, became Lord Protector of England and served until he died (1658; his son took over briefly). Eventually the blood line of Charles I was restored in 1660 first with Charles II (who sat on the throne at the time of the plague and the great fire of London) and then in 1665, with James II. He was terribly unpopular, and in fact, was widely hated by the people. Not only did he force his Roman Catholic faith on the British people, but he willingly allowed the persecution of Protestants. He was forced to give up the crown in the Glorious Revolution (the “Bloodless Revolution”) of 1688.

When King James II was expelled from England in 1688, Parliament invited King William III of Orange and his wife Mary II (daughter of James II), of the Netherlands, to assume the throne.  Parliament promised no resistance. The only requirement was that they sign the English Bill of Rights that Parliament had drawn up on behalf the people. It condemned James II for violating the rights of Englishmen, which the Parliament called the “laws and liberties of this kingdom,” and placed restrictions on the powers of the monarch. William and Mary “gladly accepted what was offered them” and signed the English Bill of Rights.

Those from England who settled the colonies, particularly Massachusetts, seeking freedom from religious persecution (Puritans and Pilgrims) and others, brought this history – and these rights – with them. After all, they were still Englishmen; they were living on a continent claimed by England and establishing settlements and communities pursuant to land patents issued by the King.

But the bond of affection would seem to be one-way only.  While the colonists sought to live as loyal subjects to the Crown, enjoying the same the rights and liberties as the citizens of England, England sought to exploit the colonies for raw materials, trade, and taxes.  For several years, things were good. No complaints.  But just as the British colonies were growing and expanding, there were French colonies growing and expanding as well – in the frontier region west of Virginia up to Canada. They were mainly fur-trappers. Eventually, Britain felt its American colonies and interests were being threatened and the two empires went to war. It lasted seven years (the French-Indian War, aka, the Seven Years War, 1754–1763), and eventually, the French were expelled and England secured greater territory. Believing the war was primarily for the benefit of the safety and security of the colonies, Parliament enacted a series of taxes on the colonies to recoup the money it had spent. [Note that around 1750, the plantations were established and against the wishes of the colonies, Britain pushed the slave trade on them to ensure that raw materials such as sugar, tobacco, indigo, cotton, and rice were produced plentifully and productively and shipped to England]

Accordingly, Parliament enacted the following taxes:  The Navigation Acts (1651, 1660, and 1663; duties on tobacco and molasses, to name a few), the Plantation Duty Act (1673; a duty on plantations), the Sugar Act (1764; a duty or tax on sugar), the Stamp Act (1765; a tax on all documents, including legal documents, calendars, cards, etc), and the Townshend Acts (1767; duties on items imported by the colonists, including glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea).  The colonists were outraged.  They weren’t outraged at the taxes themselves, but rather by the violation of their essential right to have representation in the legislative body that passes such tax measures.  “No Taxation Without Representation!”  They compared the current king, King George III, to Charles I for indiscriminately taxing the colonies without their consent. The Sons of Liberty organized at this time – originating in Massachusetts and New York and eventually having a presence in all thirteen colonies – and they were extremely effective at protesting these taxes and frustrating their enforcement.

Protests heightened with the passage of the Tea Act in 1673. The Tea Act allowed the British East India Company, which had a surplus of tea, to have a monopoly on import tea to the colonies. In passing this act, Parliament actually thought it was doing a favor to the colonies by providing tea at a reduced price (due to the surplus).  In fact, the cost of the tea, together with the new tax (“a mere 3 pence”), would be lower than the cost of the tea provided by other sources.  But Parliament didn’t get it.  The colonists didn’t think government had the right to force a monopoly on them and interfere with the trade of colonial tea merchants. Colonial merchants couldn’t compete with the less-expensive tea that the East India Tea Company provided so abundantly. And so, the colonists once again took matters in their own hands. In Pennsylvania and New York, colonists did not allow British tea ships to enter the large city ports. They sent ships out into the harbors to block the tea ships.  In Boston, they had a “party.”  On that evening of December 16, 1773, approximately 100 “radicals,” members of a secret organization of American Patriots called the Sons of Liberty, dressed up as Mohawk Indians, boarded three East India Company ships, broke open all 342 wooden chests of tea, and dumped them into the Boston Harbor.  The value of the tea destroyed, in today’s market, would amount to about $1 million.

Well, that particular act of protest was the one that the broke the camel’s back. At first King George III didn’t seem too perturbed at the incident, but soon, the tide of British public opinion would grow against the colonists, whom they regarded as rebellious and childish, and that rising sentiment would force Parliament and King George to punish the citizens of Boston for their recalcitrance. Parliament would no longer tolerate disobedience; the colonies’ “rebellious spirit” would finally have to be addressed and they would have be made to obey British laws. Parliament would no longer be soft when it came to obeying British laws. It would show the colonies what happens to those who happen to have a “rebellious spirit” and are disobedient, and in doing so, reinforce upon them the need to obey its laws.  What followed would be a series of laws called the “Coercive Acts” (also referred to as the “Intolerable Acts”).

On March 28, 1774, in response to the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed four acts which together became known as the Coercive Acts. These individual acts included: (1) The Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until damages from the Boston Tea Party were paid (no ship carrying colonial goods could enter or leave Boston Harbor until the Massachusetts Colony paid for all the tea that was destroyed);  (2) The Massachusetts Government Act, which effectively revoked Massachusetts Charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (1691), its colonial charter, prohibited democratic town meetings, and turned the royal governor’s council into an appointed body with wide-ranging powers (in other words, shifting government authority from Massachusetts colony to the royal governor);  (3) The Administration of Justice Act, which made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in Massachusetts; and  (4) The Quartering Act, which required colonists to house and quarter British troops on demand, including in their private homes as a last resort.

Indeed, the situation was intolerable. Parliament ordered the Royal Navy to blockade the Boston Harbor, preventing ships from entering and bringing in goods and supplies and blocking colonial merchant ships from leaving and selling their goods.  By fiat, the basic structure of colonial government was altered. England was now governing the colony. To add insult to injury, King George appointed General Thomas Gage, who had served as the head of the British Army in North America, as the new Governor of Massachusetts, and he brought troops with him.  On May 13, General Gage arrived in Boston with four regiments of troops. Aside from the fact that the colonists felt stripped them of their previously enjoyed rights, perhaps more unnerving was the presence of four thousand British soldiers in Boston. Under the Quartering Act, there would be guaranteed residence for the British Army and the citizens of Massachusetts would be required to quarter them, if necessary (otherwise they would have to remain on ships).  The Quartering Act required the colonies to house British soldiers in barracks provided by the colonies. If the barracks were too small to house all the soldiers, then localities were to accommodate the soldiers in local inns, stables, ale houses, and houses of sellers of wine. Should there still be soldiers without accommodation after all such public houses were filled, the colonies were then required to take, hire and make fit for the reception of his Majesty’s forces, such and so many uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns, or other buildings as shall be necessary.  Finally, British officials could abuse these acts and be free from prosecution in the colony.

In response, provincial militias started to gather munitions and store them in the countryside out of reach of the British regulars.

On May 26, Parliament dissolved Virginia’s colonial government – its Virginia House of Burgesses.  And on September 1, General Gage seized the Massachusetts Colony’s arsenal at Charlestown, located just across the Charles River from Boston – near Bunker Hill.

On Benjamin Franklin’s advice, the colonies decided to meet in a common body to address Britain’s treatment of the colonies, in particular the blockade of Boston Harbor and the Intolerable Acts on the Province of Massachusetts.  And so, on September 5, the First Continental Congress met with 56 delegates in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia. Twelve out of the thirteen colonies sent delegates (Georgia did not send any). The Continental Congress, which would meet on two separate occasions, became the governing body of the “united” colonies during the time leading up to and then during the American Revolution.

On October 14, the First Continental Congress adopted a Declaration and Resolves against the blockade, the Coercive Acts, the Quartering of troops, and other objectionable British actions. These resolutions listed a series of grievances against Parliament (where have we seen that response before?) and appealed to the King to intercede on behalf of the colonies for proper respect for their rights as Englishmen. The Declaration and Resolves began as follows:

The good people of the several colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North- Carolina and South-Carolina, justly alarmed at these arbitrary proceedings of parliament and administration, have severally elected, constituted, and appointed deputies to meet, and sit in general Congress, in the city of Philadelphia, in order to obtain such establishment, as that their religion, laws, and liberties, may not be subverted: Whereupon the deputies so appointed being now assembled, in a full and free representation of these colonies, taking into their most serious consideration, the best means of attaining the ends aforesaid, do, in the first place, as Englishmen, their ancestors in like cases have usually done, for asserting and vindicating their rights and liberties, DECLARE,

That the inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS:

Resolved, N.C.D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: and they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.

Resolved, N.C.D. 2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural- born subjects, within the realm of England.

Resolved, N.C.D. 3. That by such emigration they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights, but that they were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy.

Resolved, 4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council: and as the English colonists are not represented, and from their local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved.

The Declaration and Resolves was presented to the King and then to Parliament on January 19, 1775.  King George laughed and dismissed the document and the Parliament did not even address it.  King George, to whom the Declaration was addressed, never even offered a formal response, for in his mind, he did not have to submit to the demands of the colonists, whom he regarded as insolent children.  He famously said to the Prime Minister Lord North: “The die is now cast, the colonies must either submit or triumph.”  He would not negotiate with them. His tacit response made it clear that he meant to maintain political unity between the colonies and the United Kingdom even at the expense of the happiness of the colonists.

Word of the Intolerable Acts and the subjugation of the colonists in Boston began to spread to other colonies and they began to react. Perhaps the most famous response came from Virginia, and Patrick Henry!

Because England had dissolved Virginia’s colonial government, its Virginia House of Burgesses, the state’s colonial leaders were forced to meet in secret.  And so they did, on March 20, 1775, at a small church which is now called St. John’s Church, in Richmond, away from the Capitol in Williamsburg. Delegate Patrick Henry presented resolutions to raise a militia, and to put Virginia in a posture of defense. He believed that martial law would eventually come to Virginia. Henry’s opponents urged caution and patience, holding out hope that the King would eventually respond – and respond generously – to the Declarations and Resolves.  On the evening of the 23rd, Henry presented a proposal to organize a volunteer company of cavalry or infantry in every county of Virginia and delivered a fiery speech in support of it.  His final words “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” would be a rallying cry for the cause of independence and indeed, his entire speech is probably the most stirring, most passionate case in defense of liberty in our American history.

The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable²and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Patrick Henry succeeded in convincing the body of delegates to pass his resolutions. Virginia would call up a militia.

On April 14, 1775, General Gage received orders from London to take decisive action against the rebel-rousers of Boston – the leaders of the Sons of Liberty, Samuel Adams and John Hancock. In the wee hours of the April 19, seven hundred British troops were dispatched to Lexington, where they would capture Adams and Hancock, and then to Concord, where they would seize a secret stockpile of colonial gunpowder (Gage had received intelligence about its location).  But spies and friends of the Sons of Liberty leaked word of Gage’s plan. One lantern hanging from Boston’s North Church informed the countryside that the British were going to attack by land and two lanterns if they were going to attack by sea. A series of horseback riders – Paul Revere, William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott – galloped off to warn the countryside that British troops were coming.

Word spread from town to town, and militias prepared to confront the British and help their neighbors in Lexington and Concord. Colonial militias had originally been organized to defend settlers from civil unrest and attacks by French or Native Americans and selected members of the militia were called “minutemen” because they could be ready to fight in a minute’s time. Sure enough, when the advance guard of nearly 240 British soldiers arrived in Lexington during the early morning hours, they found about 70 minutemen waiting for them on Lexington Green. Both sides eyed each other not knowing what to expect or what to do. Suddenly, a bullet rang out. It would be known as “the shot heard round the world.”  Seven American militiamen were killed in that skirmish.  The British retreated to Concord, where they found an even larger, more organized group of militiamen. They then retreated back to Boston, and as they did so, new waves of Colonial militia intercepted them. Shooting from behind fences and trees, the militias inflicted over 125 casualties, including several officers.  The American Revolution had begun.  By happenstance…. not because of the blockade of Boston Harbor, not because of the Intolerable Acts, not because of the quartering of troops, not because of King George’s rejection of the pleas of the Colonies in the Declarations and Resolves, and not because of the other instances of mistreatment of the colonies. It was because the British had come for their ammunition.

Thus, the war for independence began over the colonists’ right to bear arms and store ammunition for their defense.

Not fully expecting the standoff in Massachusetts to explode into full-scale war, the thirteen colonies agreed to reconvene the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775.  Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington were some of the esteemed delegates.

By the time the Second Continental Congress met again, war was already underway, and so its purpose primarily became to conduct the war and manage the efforts.  Already, colonial militias had seized arsenals, driven out royal officials, and besieged the British army in the city of Boston. On June 14, the Congress voted to create the Continental Army out of the militia units around Boston and quickly appointed Congressman George Washington of Virginia as the Commanding General of the Continental Army.  On July 6, Congress approved a Declaration of Causes outlining the rationale and necessity for taking up arms in what had become the American Revolutionary War.  The original draft was written by Thomas Jefferson but the final was written by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania. Much of Jefferson’s language was retained in the final draft. The Declaration insisted that the colonists do not yet seek independence from the mother country but were forced to take up arms “in defense of the Freedom that is our Birthright and which we ever enjoyed until the late Violation of it”, and will “lay them down when Hostilities shall cease on the part of the Aggressors.’  [Interestingly, the very first sentence of the declaration includes a condemnation of the institution of slavery, which the Crown imposed on the colonies].

On July 8, 1775, the Second Continental Congress drafted what was called the Olive Branch Petition, which it sent to the British Crown as a final attempt at reconciliation.  In it, the colonies expressed their collective desire to remain loyal to the British crown. King George, however, refused to receive it.

Rather, on October 27, the King spoke before both houses of the British Parliament to discuss the growing concern about the rebellion in America, which he viewed as a traitorous action against himself and Great Britain. He began his speech by reading a “Proclamation of Rebellion” and urged Parliament to move quickly to end the revolt and bring order to the colonies.  He spoke of his belief that “many of these unhappy people may still retain their loyalty, and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequence of this usurpation, and wish to resist it, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence, till a sufficient force shall appear to support them.” With these words, the king gave Parliament his consent to dispatch troops to use against his own subjects, a notion that his colonists believed impossible.

At this point, note that just as the British continued to implore the King to respect their rights and liberties with their various charters and petitions and remonstrances, the colonists followed their same path. The colonies would have preferred to remain associated with Great Britain through bonds of affection and respect, sharing the history and bounded government that had been established for over 500 years, but for over 15 years, the actions and reactions by King and Parliament amounted to “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” which were clearly designed to establish absolute rule over the colonies. We can see how England’s own history is providing the path – even the format and the words – for Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Paine, who moved to the colonies from England at the end of 1774, published his pamphlet “Common Sense” in January 1776.  Common Sense advocated independence from Great Britain; Paine used moral and political arguments to encourage common people in the Colonies to fight for an independent government – one that suited their happiness; he appealed to their common sense. And it worked. The publication was wildly popular.

The two sides had once and for all reached a final political impasse and the bloody War for Independence would now be conducted in earnest.  The skirmish had now become a war for independence.

On April 12, the state of North Carolina authorized her delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. This was the first official action by a colony calling for independence. The 83 delegates present in Halifax at the Fourth Provincial Congress unanimously adopted the Halifax Resolves.  The Resolves read:

The Select Committee taking into Consideration the usurpations and violences attempted and committed by the King and Parliament of Britain against America, and the further Measures to be taken for frustrating the same, and for the better defense of this province reported as follows, to wit,

It appears to your Committee that pursuant to the Plan concerted by the British Ministry for subjugating America, the King and Parliament of Great Britain have usurped a Power over the Persons and Properties of the People unlimited and uncontrolled; and disregarding their humble Petitions for Peace, Liberty and safety, have made divers Legislative Acts, denouncing War Famine and every Species of Calamity against the Continent in General…..

Resolved that the delegates for this Colony in the Continental Congress be empowered to concur with the delegates of the other Colonies in declaring Independency….

North Carolina’s state flag proudly displays this historic date.

Virginia followed suit. On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention passed a similar resolution. It read:

Resolved, unanimously, that the Delegates appointed to represent this Colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies, at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided, That the power of forming Government for, and the regulations of the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to the respective Colonial Legislatures.

At that same Convention, Virginia decided to instruct its delegate in the Second Continental Congress to introduce a formal resolution to declare the colonies independent from Great Britain.  And so, on June 7, delegate Richard Henry Lee, introduced a resolution, termed the Lee Resolution or Resolution of Independence, which contained three parts: (1) to declare the united Colonies rightfully independent of the British Empire: (2) to establish a plan for establishing foreign relations with the Colonies; and (3) to establish a plan of a confederation to unite them officially.

The Lee Resolution simply read:

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, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed three concurrent committees in response to the Lee Resolution – one to draft a declaration of independence, a second to draw up a plan of treaties “for forming foreign alliances,” and a third to “prepare and digest the form of a confederation.”  A Committee of Five was assembled to draft a document to explain the reasons for independence and it included John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert Livingston of New York, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. According to Adams, Jefferson proposed that he, Adams, do the writing of the document, but he declined. Rather, Adams said, it should be Jefferson.  Jefferson was known for his writing skills. As Adams told him: “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.”

Thomas Jefferson - clear pic

Jefferson completed his draft of the declaration in just a few days. He argued in his opening two paragraphs that individuals have inalienable rights, that governments are instituted by consent of the people primarily to secure those rights, and that people have the right to overthrow their government when it abuses their fundamental natural rights over a long period of time. Then, in a direct attack on King George (in like fashion to the Grand Remonstrance of 1641 and the English Bill of Rights of 1689), Jefferson listed 27 grievances against King George III – 27 instances when the king violated the “the ancient rights and liberties” of the American colonists. Having thoroughly laid out his proof that the king was a “tyrant” who was “unfit to be the ruler of a people,” Jefferson continued on to condemn the British Parliament and the British people.  “These unfeeling brethren,” he wrote, had reelected members of Parliament who had conspired with the king to destroy the rights of the colonists. Jefferson ended his draft by stating, “we do assert and declare these colonies to be free and independent states….. ”

When Jefferson submitted his draft to the Congress on June 28, the delegates left the first two paragraphs essentially unchanged.  Instead, they concentrated on Jefferson’s list of grievances against King George and the British people. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to declare the independence of the American colonies from English rule.  And on the July 4 – the Fourth of July – it approved the final edited version of the Declaration of Independence.

News of the colonies’ independence rang out in all the colonies.

While the 4th of July is the date that we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 56 signers didn’t actually affix their signatures until August 2.  John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, was the first to sign his name and he did so in big letters. The story goes that after he signed his name, he gazed upon it and said: “There! His Majesty can now read my name without his spectacles!”

In explaining the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote: “This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.”

For most of my life, I marveled at the Declaration. Its words were stirring, its declarations were brilliant, its indictment of King George was compelling, and its conclusion was heroic.  I assumed the ideas, the words, and the flair were all the brainchild of Jefferson.  But after reviewing the historical documents he had studied all his life, and taking into account the various resolutions and declarations written and adopted by the various colonies at the time, it’s quite clear that the Declaration is a composite of several documents.  First of all, Jefferson essentially copied the form of the English Bill of Rights (and to some degree the Grand Remonstrance before it) as he sat down to compose his draft. Thus, Jefferson’s indictment of King George III was not a radical departure from accepted English practices.  He was following English tradition, which in turn he adapted to American circumstances.  I’ve seen signs and tee shirts calling our Founding Fathers “Our Founding Liberals,” but realizing that Jefferson, in writing the Declaration, followed established English tradition and re-asserted the “ancient rights and liberties” that for over 500 years have defined Englishmen, our Founders were actually quite conservative.

Winston Churchill commented on this tradition: “We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.”

In addition to historic English documents, Jefferson also borrowed language from George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Resolves in drafting the Declaration. Mason asserted that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights…namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and maintaining happiness and safety.” Jefferson altered – shortened – his language in his original draft to state: “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  In fact, Jefferson adopted his famous phrase from John Locke’s 1689 publication Two Treatises on Civil Government  –  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Everyone at the time understood that Jefferson equated “happiness” with property and safety.  By “equal,” Jefferson meant that all citizens or freeholders are, as Mason wrote, born “equally free and independent” under the law.  Note that the barons of England asserted their legal equality with the king in 1100 and 1215.  So, Jefferson was not stating anything new.  [ See Brion McClanahan, “Rethinking the Declaration of Independence”]

By its very name, the Declaration of Independence was a bold assertion of independence. Because it was asserted in defiance of the King, it was a highly treasonous document.  Its signers were traitors. The outcome of the war would decide their fate.  On October 19, 1781, British General Cornwallis surrendered his troops at Yorktown, Virginia and the British were defeated.  After six years of fighting, the Colonies had won their independence.  And once the Colonies had become independent, the Declaration essentially ceased to have any legal force. That which it sought to accomplish had been accomplished.

But that’s not where the Declaration of Independence’s story ends.

The Declaration may lack legal force but nonetheless, it remains the source of all legitimate political authority here in the United States and it memorializes the principles on which our country is founded.  Abraham Lincoln once referred to the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence as “the electric cord that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”  And Calvin Coolidge remarked that “the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence predicated upon the glory of man and the corresponding duty to society that the rights of citizens ought to be protected with every power and resource of the state, and a government that does any less is false to the teachings of that great document — false to the name American.”

Declaration of Independence - signatures

 

A review of the most famous paragraphs of the Declaration remind us of the essential principles that make up our political foundation and ground our precious liberties.

The first paragraph reads:

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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The first paragraph characterizes the nature of the Declaration.  When Jefferson writes that it is time for the colonies “to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another” he is saying that the colonies intend to secede from Great Britain.  The Declaration, first and foremost, is a secessionist document.  What follows in the other paragraphs are the reasons and explanations for the decision to “dissolve their political bonds”; that is, to secede.

The phrase “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them” is a particularly significant one.  It means that our rights are not a gift from the State, but arise from our nature. This marks a paradigm shift from the system in England. English law was still dictated by the Divine Right of Kings. Even though charters, petitions, and a Bill of Rights put limitations on the Crown and to some extent, on government in general, they still acknowledged that the King and the State had power over the individual. Without such charters, petitions, and Bill of Rights, the King and government could treat the individual as it wanted, generously or oppressively.  Thomas Jefferson was making it clear that in the United States, rights are NOT a gift from the State, to be enjoyed at its benevolence, but rather that they arise from Nature and from God, separately and equally.  God and Nature go hand in hand. God who created the heavens and the Earth also created the laws of nature. For those who believe God to be the great author of Nature, then rights come from Him, as our Creator. For those who lack faith, they can rest assure that our Declaration equally recognizes that all individuals possess fundamental rights because they are natural rights – part of our very humanity from birth.  Even if you do not believe in a God Almighty, still you must respect the laws of nature.  In this way, Jefferson was laying out the concept of Individual Sovereignty in a way that its people could universally understand and agree, irrespective of the particulars of their individual and very diverse faiths.  Individual Sovereignty is the basis of our Rights in this country.

We may argue yet what are Nature’s Laws, but this much we can be certain:  All people must observe and ultimately obey it, just as the laws of nature apply equally to all human beings.  Since governments are merely fictional entities created by mankind and not by nature, rights supersede government. Saying that government is more important than the individual would be “unnatural.”

In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. 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.

In this paragraph, Jefferson’s mighty pen goes into greater detail about the nature of the aforementioned natural rights. He tells us that our rights, which are endowed by our Creator (or Nature), are unalienable and although are numerous, the most obvious ones are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  “Unalienable” (which is the same as “inalienable”) means that the individual can never been divested of these rights. They cannot be taken away or denied.  They remain with the individual and government cannot take them away.  “Life,” of course, is clear enough.  “Liberty,” according to Jefferson, was the degree to which an individual can exercise his rights, his freedom.  The rights which come under this umbrella would include the rights asserted in the Magna Carta, for example, or in the English Bill of Rights, or in Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. (Remember the time period that the Declaration was written).  “Pursuit of Happiness” includes property, but encompasses much more.  “Pursuit of Happiness” means an individual should be able to freely exercise all his rights in order to live his life to its full potential.  That “full potential” includes the ownership of property and the fruits of one’s labor, mind, and personality (all that which makes a person a unique “individual”).  “Property” was too narrow a term for Jefferson.  Now, just as the individual has the rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, he also has the equal right to protect them.  This right of self-protection and self-preservation is also a natural right. Samuel Adams summed it best: “Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.”

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” is another important principle.  It is a critical and basic tenet of our form of government. First it states unequivocally that the primary role of government is “to secure these rights.” In other words, in the grand scheme of things, individual rights are supreme over the authority of the State (ie, government). The primary role of government, and the motivating force behind the formation of government, is to secure the inalienable rights, endowed by our Creator (Nature), of each individual.  This means that government is to be ideally limited to the role of a policeman, a judge, a prison warden, and a military force.  Furthermore, this provision explains that government has no powers of its own, but only “derives” its powers from individuals consenting to transfer power to it.  This is where the doctrine of Individual Sovereignty comes from. In a state of Nature, man has full sovereign power to govern himself – to provide for himself, to protect himself, to think and act as he wants.  He is responsible for himself and his conduct.  What is especially critical about this principle of “deriving powers from the consent of the governed” is that power delegated by the people is always “temporary” in nature.  The people can always re-assume their sovereign power – their right to govern themselves.

Having told us the proper function of government, Jefferson then tells us what gives cause to changing it: “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 first thing to note is that governments are always “temporary.”  Government exists at the whim of the people and have no right in and of itself to its own existence or longevity. Government is a “creation.”  It is not a natural institution. Because is arises by the “consent of the governed,” it is a product of compact.  Compacts have elements of contract law and agency law. The second thing to note is the Declaration acknowledges that individuals have the RIGHT to establish their government to effect THEIR happiness and their safety. When government ceases to serve those purposes, then individuals are well within their natural right to abolish that government and establish another.

The Declaration goes one step further and challenges individuals to be vigilante of their rights and critical of their government.  “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

How will a people know for sure when it is time to “abolish” their government?  Or how will they know when it is time to dissolve political bonds that tie them to another; that is, how will they know when it is time to secede from another political body?  The Declaration, in that last sentence, tells us: “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

And that line, as Jefferson will explain in the section that follows, sums up the position of the Colonies.  In that section, Jefferson sets out to make the case that the conduct of the King is a history of abuses and usurpations.  He lists 27 grievances against King George III – 27 instances where he violated the rights of the colonists – which he, Jefferson (and the Second Continental Congress, as evidenced by its adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776) believe evidences a design to reduce them under an absolute Despotism (tyranny).  In the last paragraph of the Declaration, Jefferson will finally make the case that because of this evil design, the Colonies have a right and a duty to dissolve their political bonds with the King.

The last paragraph reads:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The Declaration of Independence ends with these powerful words: “For the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”  We can never forget that the Declaration was a treasonous document, which, if the British had won the war, would have sealed the fate of each of its signers and earned them a date with a hangman’s noose.  But they believed in their cause. They believed in the words they wrote in that document and they believed in their case against the King.  And they were willing to risk it all.

Signer Benjamin Rush (of Pennsylvania) wrote: “Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants?”

After signing his name in a large flowing style, it is rumored that John Hancock’s full response was this: “There! His Majesty can now read my name without his spectacles. And he can double the reward on my head!”  Benjamin Franklin, insisting that every single delegate sign the Declaration of Independence, said: “We must all hang together or surely we shall all hang separately.”  The large, burly Virginian, Benjamin Harrison, turned to the pipsqueak from Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, and joked: “I will have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body, you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.”

One day after the Declaration was adopted by the delegates to the Second Continental Congress, John Adams wrote home to his wife Abagail: “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction.”

In a speech he gave on the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (5 July 1926), Calvin Coolidge reflected:

Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed. If no one is to be accounted as born into a superior station, if there is to be no ruling class, and if all possess rights which can neither be bartered away nor taken from them by any earthly power, it follows as a matter of course that the practical authority of the Government has to rest on the consent of the governed. While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination… In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause… If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.”

By a stroke of remarkable coincidence, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day – the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.  Jefferson preceded Adams in death by five hours.

When I think about Independence Day, I think of our magnificent story.  I think about the uncompromising determination of people to live free and the eternal vigilance it took to finally secure lasting boundaries on government. I think about the ways the British and then the colonists expressed their discontent with the King and the many ways they sought to exert their rights, and how the many efforts culminated in their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence. I think about how our Founding Fathers brilliantly turned government on its head – transforming a system of government based on the Divine Right of Kings to a system predicated on Individual Sovereignty.  I think of a continuum of a story that began in 1215 with a stand-off on the meadow at Runnymede in order to secure a promise from an arrogant and ambitious king that ended with a document signed by 56 delegates assembled together from 13 separate states on July 4.  The continent may have changed, but man’s yearning to be free did not.

Now, as we all know, a country is a physical location inhabited by a body politic. Principles are embraced by people and not by geography, and so liberty and independence is a spirit that must live in all of us. If it doesn’t, then we suffer oppression together. As Machiavelli once said: “It is just as difficult and dangerous to try to free a people that wants to remain servile as it is to enslave a people that wants to remain free.”  The Declaration embraces our revolutionary spirit, and God help us when our country has the spirit of an aging grandmother. The key is to always keep that revolutionary spirit.  And maybe that’s what Independence Day is all about…. to reflect on our history and to rekindle that spirit every year.

In conclusion, I would like to implore that on this Independence Day and on every Independence Day, that we remember the advice that was once given to us by James Madison: “The people of the U.S. owe their Independence and their liberty to the wisdom of descrying in the minute tax of 3 pence on tea, the magnitude of the evil comprised in the precedent. Let them exert the same wisdom, in watching against every evil lurking under plausible disguises, and growing up from small beginnings.”

 

References:

Brion McClanahan, “Rethinking the Declaration of Independence,” Abbeville Institute, July 4, 2016.  Referenced at:  http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/blog/rethinking-the-declaration-of-independence/

Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr. (Professor of Political Science), “The American System of Government: The American Constitutional System – English Origins (1066-1558),” Cyberland University of North Carolina.

Referenced at:  http://www.proconservative.net/CUNAPolSci201PartFourB.shtml  [In-depth study of the Magna Carta]

The Petition of Right of 1628 – http://study.com/academy/lesson/petition-of-right-of-1628-definition-summary.html

The English Bill of Rights of 1689 –  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/england.asp

The Grand Remonstrance – http://www.constitution.org/eng/conpur043.htm

The Declaration and Resolves – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/resolves.asp

Patrick Henry’s Speech of March 23, 1775 – https://www.history.org/almanack/life/politics/giveme.cfm

Halifax Resolves – http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-revolution/4328

Preamble and Resolution of the Virginia Convention of May 15, 1776  – http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/const02.asp

The Lee Resolutions –  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/lee.asp

“Boiling It Down, This Is What You’ve Said,” Mark America, October 15, 2011.  Referenced at:  http://markamerica.com/2011/10/15/boiling-it-down-this-is-what-youve-said/

Winston Churchill, “The Sinews of Peace”, address at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri (March 5, 1946); in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963 (1974), vol. 7, p. 7288.

Calvin Coolidge, speech on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (July 5, 1926).

 

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Where are Today’s Sons of Liberty?

Sons of Liberty    by Diane Rufino

We talk a lot today about how the Constitution no longer means what it used to and it no longer protects individual freedom and liberty as it used to. We say this because a government of limited and defined powers has steadily and without apology become a government of broad and undefined powers.  When a state should happen to assert its sovereignty and challenge the usurpation of power, the federal government issues a letter threatening to take them to court. The government knows that what the Constitution won’t allow it to do, the courts will.

But the situation is far more serious than what we thought.  Yes, our Constitution is and has been under attack. And yes, the relationship between the individual and the government has been fundamentally altered. But the document that perhaps may be even more significant to us as Americans, the Declaration of Independence, is also under attack. The attack, if we want to be intellectually honest, started with the man the government touts as the greatest American president Abraham Lincoln.

Just as the Constitution was fundamentally transformed as the American people slept and as they became virtual strangers to their own history and heritage, the Declaration has been eroded because of the same reason.

John Adams once said: “A constitution of government once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”  The American people don’t know how close they are to losing the very gifts they have taken for granted for so long.  We here today will enjoy the last remnants of freedom, but through our actions, our neglect, our spite, and our ignorance we may condemn our children and grandchildren to repurchase it, perhaps with their lives. It may be too late.

What shame we should feel that the people we love most in this world – our children – will not be able to exercise liberty as fully and enjoy property as unconditionally as we did when we were young. The most important property of all – that which stems from our minds, our hearts, and our ambitions – has come increasingly under the control of the federal government, to be regulated for others rather than protected for the individual.

Our greatest shame should be in the reality that posterity will have to buy back a gift we were supposed to preserve for them.

The problem today is that we’ve too long forgotten what makes us uniquely American. It’s not the heritage we bring with us to add to this melting pot we call the United States.  No, it’s the very thing that Martin Luther King referred to in his “I Have a Dream” speech – the promissory note that all Americans are entitled to. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as well as the guarantee that government would be protect those rights. That promissory note attaches to us at our birth and attaches to everyone who comes to America’s shores looking for freedom and the American Dream. In the United States, individual liberty is the product of natural law and God’s law and not a token gift from a benevolent government. In the United States, government doesn’t grant rights; it protects them. Our laws apply in times of good and bad; they apply to good people and bad people. The Bill of Rights has no exemptions for “really bad people” or even non-citizens. The Bill of Rights, as prefaced in its preamble as “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” on the power delegated to the government in the Constitution – is an important check on government power against any person. That is not a weakness in our legal system; it is the very strength of our legal system. And at the core of what defines America is that grand moral proclamation so eloquently articulated in the Declaration of Independence.

For too many years, Americans have remained silent as precious liberty interests have been taken away from them. It’s been a slow, progressive erosion indeed.  We today are guilty too, if not more than any other generation. We don’t understand that our freedom and liberty is only as secure as the foundation that supports and protects it. And every bit of that foundation is being eroded or has been eroded, including the notion of individual sovereignty (as I’ve pointed out in my previous article – “What It Means to be Sovereign” –  http://forloveofgodandcountry.com/2013/07/30/what-it-means-to-be-sovereign/).

We no longer jealously guard what our Founding Fathers sought to accomplish when they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for and what our forefathers fought and died for. The spirit of the American Revolution is dead. Patrick Henry warned that we should never lose that spirit. Yet, when the Constitution was written and then presented to the Virginia ratifying convention in 1788 – only one year after it was written in Philadelphia – Henry took the floor and listed a series of issues he found with the document, all “tending to re-establish a monarchy” and subjecting citizens to the type of government that they had just dissolved their bonds of allegiance with. He accused the Virginians of already losing the spirit of the Revolution and being too willing to surrender their freedoms. He warned them to guard “that precious jewel,” which is liberty.

Before the Revolution, as we all know, the British Parliament imposed the Stamp Act – a tax on documents. The colonists did everything in their power, mostly through the Sons of Liberty, to frustrate its enforcement. They protested, hung British officials in effigy, organized angry mobs, threw rocks at the homes of officials tasked with collecting the tax, and otherwise intimidated such officials so that most resigned. In short, the Stamp Act could not be enforced. The colonists stood up for their rights (the right NOT to have a government in some far off land legislate for them and tax them without their representation).  As Benjamin Franklin (who was acting as the ambassador to England from Massachusetts at the time) tried to explain to Parliament: “The Stamp Act says we shall have no commerce, make no exchange of property with each other, neither purchase nor grant, nor recover debts; we shall neither marry nor make our wills, unless we pay such and such sums; and thus it is intended to extort our money from us or ruin us by the consequence of refusing to pay it…. They (the colonists) think it extremely hard and unjust that a body of men in which they have no representatives should make a merit to itself of giving and granting what is not its own but theirs, and deprive them of a right they esteem of the utmost value and importance, as it is the security of all their other rights.” A member of Parliament then asked Franklin if the colonists know their rights, and Franklin responded that they know them very well indeed. Franklin went on to warn Parliament that if the Stamp Act was not repealed, the colonies would likely revolt.

Next came the tax on tea. The King and Parliament were mindful of the rising passions of the colonists and their “revolutionary spirit.” In order to impose a tax yet not burden the colonists, Parliament secured a great surplus of tea from the East India Company. Because it was a surplus, it would be sold to the colonies at a lower price. On top of that, there would be a tax imposed of 3 pence per pound. It was no doubt, a minute tax on the tea. With the reduced price plus the tax, colonists would still be paying less for tea than they had paid before. There was no burden. Yet, we know what happened. We know that about 100 members of the Sons of Liberty dressed up as Mohawk Indians and dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor to protest that minute tax. They protested, not because the tax imposed a hardship, but because they were smart enough and liberty-minded enough to recognize the violation of their rights which was at the core of that tax. They would not submit.

Today, we stand idly by even while the government destroys chunks of our liberties. When the 2011-2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed, the Obama administration added a new clause (to the original Authorization of Military Force, AUMF, which Bush requested to hunt down and prosecute the perpetrators of 9/11). Instead of targeting the perpetrators of 9/11, the federal government added a clause to target US citizens, on American soil, who are engaged in hostilities against the United States (undefined terms, of course). Once targeted, they are stripped of their Bill of Rights and can be interrogated, tortured, and held indefinitely without a formal charge or without a trial. The Supreme Court created a special term for these Americans (reviving a term used by FDR in WWII) – “enemy combatants.” The US Constitution already addresses these types of people – they are called “traitors” – and appropriate action is clearly spelled out, so as not to punish without recognizing inherent human rights. But our government needed a way to by-pass constitutional rights and so, we have the NDAA and the ability of the Executive Department to unilaterally attach the label of “enemy-combatant” to an American citizen. But what did the American people do when their rights were taken away? Most said: “Well, the government needs to do what it needs to do to keep us safe.” And where was the outrage when the Supreme Court found that Obamacare was constitutional and the federal government can use the taxing power to compel human behavior in ways that in and of itself are unconstitutional (federal government has NO right to get involved in healthcare; it’s not an enumerated function). Again, too many people were just happy to know the government will be ensuring that they have healthcare coverage than to appreciate the enormity of the violation of fundamental rights that underlies that decision. The debate over whether the government needs to restrain gun rights in order to stem violence in our schools is another issue. Sustainable development policies are another. The “Wall of Separation” and growing hostility of government against religion is another….

The list goes on and on. We just sit back. We don’t protest, we don’t do all we can to frustrate the enforcement of unconstitutional federal laws or policies or even court decisions….  We’ve lost the Revolutionary spirit. We’ve lost the spirit in our hearts and minds that compels us to stand up for our precious liberties.

And the sad thing, we’ve already lost so much.

So the question is this: Why don’t we care?  Why aren’t we doing more?  And where are today’s Sons of Liberty?

NULLIFICATION: The Truths and the Fallacies

Nullify Now - North Carolina (Thomas Jefferson quote)    by Diane Rufino

PART I:  Nullification is the Rightful Remedy to Limit the Federal Government to its Constitutional Objects

Nullification is the theory that says that actions of the federal government that are passed, imposed, or exercised in excess or abuse of the express authority granted in the Constitution are not enforceable. If there is no proper foundation for the action, then that action is null and void and a state has the right, in fact the duty, to refuse to enforce it on its people. Nullification is an essential principle to ensure that the People are insulated from federal tyranny.

Nullification is a legal theory rooted firmly in constitutional history and based on the very limitations articulated in the US Constitution, specifically the Tenth Amendment and Article VI, Section 2 (“Supremacy Clause”). It is based on the federal nature of our government (separation of powers; “dual and competing sovereigns”), on the Supremacy Clause (only those laws made “in pursuance to the Constitution” are supreme and therefore trump state law), and most strongly, on the compact nature of the Constitution (the states formed the Constitution as a compact, agreeing to delegate some of their sovereign power – certain specified powers – to the federal government and reserving all other powers to themselves. Each state, as a party to the compact, has a “right to judge for itself” the extent of the federal government’s powers).  The compact – the social compact – that the states signed in forming the Union in 1789, is similar to contract law. Contracts, as we all know, outline the obligations and benefits to each of the signing parties. The parties are likewise bound by the express language of the contract. We understand this theory and this issue of contract construction as we all have signed contracts. If one party attempts to change the terms or exceed authority under the contract, the other party can either chose to ignore the perverted exercise of contract power or can break the contract altogether.

The fundamental basis for government and law in this country, as in most societies, is the concept of the social compact (or social contract). Social compact is an extension of Natural Law (upon which our Declaration is based) which states that human beings begin as individuals in a state of nature and then organize into societies for mutual benefit. They create a society by establishing a contract whereby they agree to live together in harmony for their mutual benefit, after which they are said to live in a state of society. This contract involves the retaining of certain natural rights, an acceptance of restrictions of certain liberties, the assumption of certain duties, and the pooling of certain powers to be exercised collectively. James Madison confirmed the nature of the US Constitution as a social compact in Federalist No. 39.

The key features of a social compact are: (i) retention of natural rights; (ii) common defense of those rights; and (iii) limitation of government power.

Now, it is true that the compact assures that the Constitution and the laws made in pursuance to it (Article VI) shall be valued as the supreme law of the land, but the converse is equally true. All power not expressly granted is reserved by the States and on those objects, state law is supreme law. This is our system of dual sovereignty. That is the brilliant design feature of our American government system which our Founders believed would ensure the protection of our God-given rights. But unfortunately, our Founders thought the government could be trusted to respect its boundaries, to protect that “precious jewel” that is liberty. They believed that if the branches of government were “advised” that their particular actions were unconstitutional, they would quickly remedy the situation and undo what they had done.

Hah, fat chance that was going to happen. It was only a few years into the operation of the federal government when it attempted, successfully too, to enlarge its powers and redefine the terms of the Constitution. And that’s when our most important Founders – Thomas Jefferson and James Madison – had to remind state leaders why we fought the Revolutionary War in the first place and what their fears had been when considering ratifying the Constitution. That’s when Jeffersonian Nullification was born. It was born out of the notion that the federal government must not be permitted to hold a monopoly on constitutional interpretation, for if it has the unchecked power to judge the extent of its own powers, it will continue to grow and encroach on the rights and liberties of the People and the States.

In his written assurances to the States that the Constitution was delegating only limited powers from them to a federal government, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 78: “Every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

In order that the States (and the People) be completely assured of what precise objects that their sovereign power was being delegated to the government for, James Madison explained it in the clearest of terms in Federalist No. 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

      The operations of the federal government will be most extensive and important in times of war and danger; those of the State governments, in times of peace and security. As the former periods will probably bear a small proportion to the latter, the State governments will here enjoy another advantage over the federal government. The more adequate, indeed, the federal powers may be rendered to the national defense, the less frequent will be those scenes of danger which might favor their ascendancy over the governments of the particular States.”    

In Federalist No. 26, Alexander Hamilton wrote: “The State legislatures, who will always be not only vigilant but suspicious and jealous guardians of the rights of the citizens against encroachments from the federal government, will constantly have their attention awake to the conduct of the national rulers, and will be ready enough, if anything improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the VOICE, but, if necessary, the ARM of their discontent.”

And with this duty to protect its citizens against encroachments from the federal government – to be both their VOICE and their ARM of discontent – we see the seeds that were sown for Nullification and Interposition (the duty to intercede and prevent the usurpation and “arrest the evil”).

Our Founders understood the nature of power….  Power can only be checked by power.

In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799, which questioned the constitutionality of the Alien & Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

If those who administer the general government be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by the federal compact (ie, the US Constitution), but a total disregard to the special delegations of powers therein contained, an annihilation of the state governments, and the creation, upon their ruins, of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence: That the principle and construction, contended by the state legislatures, that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism – since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the Constitution, would be the measure of their powers. That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a Nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument, is the RIGHTFUL REMEDY:  That this commonwealth does, under the most deliberate reconsideration, declare that the said Alien and Sedition laws are, in their opinion, palpable violations of the Constitution…

In the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, also addressing the unconstitutionality of the Acts, James Madison wrote:

That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the Federal Government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states (alone) are the parties, as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting that compact; as no farther valid than they are authorized by the grants (of power) enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by said compact, the states who are parties thereto have the right, and are duty-bound, to INTERPOSE for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them…

       That the General Assembly expresses its deep regret that a spirit has been manifested by the federal government to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them; and that indications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which, having been copied from the very limited grant of powers in the former Articles of Confederation, were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect of the particular enumeration which necessarily explains, and limits the general phrases; and so as to consolidate the states, by degrees, into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable result of which would be, to transform the present republican system of the United states into an absolute, or at best, a mixed monarchy..

Historians and constitutionalists explain the Jeffersonian theory of Nullification in a way that is slightly misleading. They teach us that constitutional theory allows a state the right (and perhaps even the duty) to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has determined to be outside the powers delegated to the government under the Constitution. In other words, they say, a state has the right to determine when a federal law is unconstitutional and therefore decide not to enforce it.

Nullification is actually simpler than that. We live in a country founded on the notion of Individual Sovereignty – that man is supreme and government flows from the sovereign rights and powers of the individual. In our free society, founded on the supremacy of individual rights, constitutions were drafted to list those powers that the people agreed to delegate to their government for the protection of their rights and the orderly management of their communities. The US Constitution was no different. All other powers were retained by the People. Laws are only enforceable in such a constitutional republic when there is express authority granted by the People to do so. Consequently, when the federal government passes a law that exceeds or abuses power delegated in the Constitution, that law is AUTOMATICALLY  NULL and VOID.  It is automatically unenforceable on a free people. Judges are SUPPOSED to declare it void (to put that official check on the legislative branch and force them to repeal the law), but even if they don’t, the law is already null and void.  The federal judiciary was originally intended to be a “check” and was supposed to “advise” only. It was intended to be the weakest of all branches.

So, under the doctrine of Nullification, the states don’t really declare laws to be null and void.  Rather, they recognize that certain laws are null and void. Then they exercise their duty to maintain the integrity of our free society by refusing to enforce any unconstitutional law on their citizens.

PART 2:  Nullification is a Constitutional Principle, Exercised by our Founding Generations

There is no easier way for tyranny to take hold than for a People to remain silent when they know, or should know, what their rights are. There is no easier way for a government to usurp the natural rights of a People to govern themselves than to stand by and let that government legislate when it has no authority to do so.

The early colonists certainly didn’t miss an opportunity to stand up for their rights. In fact, the Sons of Liberty formed (much like today’s Tea Party and Tenth Amendment Center) to point out where Britain was violating their rights and to help organize opposition and protest. Samuel Adams, the leader of the Sons of Liberty in Boston, wrote the following in 1769 with these words:

DEARLY BELOVED,

REVOLVING time hath brought about another anniversary of the repeal of the odious Stamp Act,—an act framed to divest us of our liberties and to bring us to slavery, poverty, and misery. The resolute stand made by the Sons of Liberty against the detestable policy had more effect in bringing on the repeal than any conviction in the Parliament of Great Britain of the injustice and iniquity of the act . It was repealed from principles of convenience to Old England, and accompanied with a declaration of their right to tax us; and since, the same Parliament have passed acts which, if obeyed in the Colonies, will be equally fatal. Although the people of Great Britain be only fellow-subjects, they have of late assumed a power to compel us to buy at their market such things as we want of European produce and manufacture; and, at the same time, have taxed many of the articles for the express purpose of a revenue; and, for the collection of the duties, have sent fleets, armies, commissioners, guard acostas, judges of admiralty, and a host of petty officers, whose insolence and rapacity are become intolerable. Our cities are garrisoned; the peace and order which heretofore dignified our streets are exchanged for the horrid blasphemies and outrages of soldiers; our trade is obstructed ; our vessels and cargoes, the effects of industry, violently seized; and, in a word, every species of injustice that a wicked and debauched Ministry could invent is now practiced against the most sober, industrious, and loyal people that ever lived in society. The joint supplications of all the Colonies have been rejected; and letters and mandates, in terms of the highest affront and indignity, have been transmitted from little and insignificant servants of the Crown to his Majesty’s grand and august sovereignties in America.

These things being so, it becomes us, my brethren, to walk worthy of our vocation, to use every lawful mean to frustrate the wicked designs of our enemies at home and abroad, and to unite against the evil and pernicious machinations of those who would destroy us.”

Son of Liberty

From a small, secret group of agitators in Boston and in Connecticut, the Sons of Liberty grew to the point that there was a group in every one of the thirteen colonies. They organized demonstrations, circulated petitions, published newspaper articles, distributed flyers and handbills, and in general did all they could to bring the message of liberty to the colonists. But it was their simple acts of civil disobedience – like protesting a tax on tea by dumping 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor, protesting the tax on documents (Stamp Act) by forcing officials to the Crown to resign or to refrain from unloading ships from Britain, or forming angry mobs in response to the Quartering Act – which prevented the enforcement of some of the acts of Parliament that the colonists found intolerable. It was when the King responded with further punitive and oppressive measures – which Jefferson would refer to as “abuses and usurpations” – it was clear the colonies would have to declare their independence in order to remain free.

By frustrating the enforcement of the Stamp Act and the other intolerable, the Sons of Liberty exercised their early right of nullification. They recognized that the British Parliament had no right to legislate for them when they were not provided representation, as guaranteed in their English Bill of Rights of 1689. Any piece of legislation that is passed without proper authority is automatically null and void and cannot be rightfully enforced. This is the basis of the doctrine of Nullification. The Sons of Liberty stood up for this principle and energized the colonists to stand up for their rights and especially their right NOT TO SUBMIT to laws that were not properly passed in accordance with their government charters.

Nullification, as you can see, is an important check and balance on the power of the federal government, which seeks, at every turn, to enlarge and concentrate its powers and to pervert the meaning and intent of the Constitution. There has been no greater enemy than the federal courts which now openly, flagrantly, and arrogantly declare that the Constitution is a “living, breathing document” that is to be re-interpreted willy nilly and as they, the judges, believe will best reflect and serve the social norms of the day.

In fact, Nullification is probably the most important check and balance of them all. Dual and co-equal sovereigns, each jealously guarding their respective sphere of power, will maintain that delicate balance of power that our Founding Fathers designed and which the States themselves agreed to. It’s the same way that two skilled attorneys, adversarial in nature (the prosecution and the defense) will aggressively provide that justice is served. And it’s the same way that two political parties, one to the left in its ideology and the other to the right, will ultimately assure that policy remains somewhat in the middle so that our society is tolerable for everyone.

In Federalist No. 33, Alexander Hamilton asked and answered an important question: “If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”  Hamilton doesn’t limit the measures that people can use to redress the situation when government oversteps the bounds of its authority.  According to Hamilton, the remedy should be in proportion to the violation. If we are to take Hamilton at his word for the government’s taxing power, we should, with the same enthusiasm, take him at his word for the ability to push the government back within the bound of the Constitution.

Referring to the title of this article, the truth is that Nullification is a valid constitutional doctrine reserved “in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by said compact (US Constitution).”  James Madison, Virginia Resolutions of 1798. The states, who wrote, debated, amended (Bill of Rights), and ratified the Constitution to create the federal government are the rightful parties who have the authority, and are indeed “duty-bound, to interpose (intercede) for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them.”  Virginia Resolutions of 1798.  The truth is that Nullification, while not under that express term, was an important principle and an important tool to prevent abusive and unconstitutional laws from being enforced on the colonists/colonies and then on the citizens of the various “united” States and the states themselves when the US Constitution was adopted. The fallacy is that the Constitution itself, through the Supremacy Clause, renders Nullification an illegitimate remedy. Thefallacy is that the Supreme Court, as the ultimate authority on the intent and meaning of the Constitution, has rejected the doctrine. The fallacy is that Nullification was the favored state remedy of slavery proponents and white supremists. And the fallacy is that the Civil War distinguished rightful remedies to limit government power.

Part 3:  Opponents of Nullification Attempt to Discredit our Founding Principles With Various False Criticisms

            A.  The Misrepresentation of the Supremacy Clause and Proper Constitutional Bounds 

Critics are quick to say that the theory of nullification has never been legally upheld and in fact, the Supreme Court expressly rejected it – in Ableman v. Booth, 1959, and Cooper v. Aaron, 1958. They say that the courts have spoken on the subject and have held that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal law is superior to state law, and that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the final power to interpret the Constitution. Therefore, the critics conclude, that the power to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal laws lies with the federal courts, not the states, and the states do not have the power to nullify federal laws but rather, are duty-bound to obey them.

The fatal flaw in their arguments, however, is that they believe that the judiciary, a branch of the same federal government that tends to overstep their constitutional bounds, is somehow above the law and not subject to the remedy of Nullification as the other branches are. As will be discussed later, the federal judiciary was the first branch to enlarge its powers, in the case of Marbury v. Madison.

Another fatal flaw in their argument is that somehow, the Supremacy Clause is a rubber stamp that labels every federal law, every federal court decision, and every federal action “supreme.” They, and especially the justices of the Supreme Court, refer to the Supremacy Clause as if it were the Midas Touch – a magical power that turns EVERYTHING the federal government does, including by all three branches, to gold. Nothing is farther than the truth. The Supremacy Clause states simply: “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; …shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby…”  The is no debate that the Constitution, as originally drafted and defended, and as intended and ratified, designed a government of limited powers. Therefore it follows that only laws passed to legislate for the limited functions listed in the Constitution are supreme. Regarding objects and designs not expressly listed in the Constitution, the Ninth and Tenth Amendment remind us that they are reserved to the People or the States, respectively, and the federal government can claim no such supremacy. The Supremacy Clause states a preemptive doctrine that asserts sovereignty just as equally as the Ninth and Tenth Amendments assert sovereignty.

Hamilton continued in Federalist No. 33: “It is said that the laws of the Union are to be the supreme law of the land. But what inference can be drawn from this, or what would they amount to, if they were not to be supreme? It is evident they would amount to nothing. A law, by the very meaning of the term, includes supremacy. It is a rule which those to whom it is prescribed are bound to observe. This results from every political association. If individuals enter into a state of society, the laws of that society must be the supreme regulator of their conduct. If a number of political societies enter into a larger political society, the laws which the latter may enact, pursuant to the powers entrusted to it by its constitution, must necessarily be supreme over those societies, and the individuals of whom they are composed. But it will not follow from this doctrine that acts of the large society which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers, but which are invasions of the residuary authorities of the smaller societies, will become the supreme law of the land. These will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such. Hence we perceive that the clause which declares the supremacy of the laws of the Union, like the one we have just before considered, only declares a truth, which flows immediately and necessarily from the institution of a federal government. It will not, I presume, have escaped observation, that it expressly confines this supremacy to laws made pursuant to the Constitution; which I mention merely as an instance of caution in the convention; since that limitation would have been to be understood, though it had not been expressed.

Critics also like to discredit Nullification by associating it with the more controversial episodes in our history.  A popular claim is that Nullification was used to perpetuate slavery because it was embraced by Southern leaders who did not want blacks to take their place as free and equal men in their societies. They especially link Nullification to South Carolina’s colorful Senator John C. Calhoun who was not only a vocal proponent of the doctrine and used it to justify his state’s refusal to recognize the Tariff of Abominations in 1832, but he was a strong supporter of slavery and a white supremist. They like to say that Nullification led to the tariff crisis (or Nullification Crisis of 1832) pitting the South against the North and eventually precipitating the Civil War. They allege that the Civil War settled the question of Nullification.

There are so many flaws in these arguments.

Between 1798 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, several states threatened or attempted nullification of various federal laws, including the Tariff of 1828, the Tariff of 1832, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and even the 1854 ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court which held that Wisconsin didn’t have to comply with the Fugitive Slave Act. None of these efforts were legally upheld, although all were successful in providing the relief they sought.

In the late 1820′s, the nation suffered an economic downturn, with South Carolina being hit especially hard. The government enacted high protective tariffs (high tariffs on imports, particularly finished goods). The North, industrial as it was, manufactured finished goods but needed raw materials (such as cotton, sugar, etc) while the South, an agrarian society, purchased almost all finished products from imports. It also made most of its money from its export of cotton, tobacco, and sugar. The tariff, as the South viewed it, harmed the South while at the same time providing an enormous benefit to the North. With the higher prices on imported finished goods, it had the effect of “protecting” the products of the North. In other words, the finished goods of the North would be preferred over imports because of the price. The South would be forced to buy products from the North, thus enriching the North. On the other hand, because of the United States’ high protective tariffs, other countries retaliated by imposing high tariffs on American imports, which greatly harmed the South. To compete, the South had to lower her prices. Like a vulture, the Northern industries noticed that Southern cotton, sugar, etc weren’t selling and took advantage of the fact that they could buy her goods at reduced prices. South Carolina was opposed most vehemently to the protective tariffs. South Carolina believed that a “common government” should serve both regions equally and in this case, it was harming the South in order to enrich the North. South Carolina alleged that the tariffs were extremely detrimental to her well-being.

In the summer of 1828, South Carolina state representative Robert Barnwell Rhett appealed to the governor and to his constituents to resist the majority in Congress regarding the high tariff (referred to as the “Tariff of Abominations”). Rhett emphasized the danger of doing nothing:

But if you are doubtful of yourselves – if you are not prepared to follow up your principles wherever they may lead, to their very last consequence – if you love life better than honor,…. prefer ease to perilous liberty and glory, then awake not!  Stir not!  Impotent resistance will add vengeance to your ruin. Live in smiling peace with your insatiable Oppressors, and die with the noble consolation that your submissive patience will survive triumphant your beggary and despair.”

Also in 1828, John Calhoun published his “Exposition and Protest,” although anonymously, in which he discussed Nullification. (He was Andrew Jackson’s Vice President at the time and Jackson was strongly opposed to Nullification):

If it be conceded, as it must be by everyone who is the least conversant with our institutions, that the sovereign powers delegated are divided between the General and State Governments, and that the latter hold their portion by the same tenure as the former, it would seem impossible to deny to the States the right of deciding on the infractions of their powers, and the proper remedy to be applied for their correction. The right of judging, in such cases, is an essential attribute of sovereignty, of which the States cannot be divested without losing their sovereignty itself, and being reduced to a subordinate corporate condition. In fact, to divide power, and to give to one of the parties the exclusive right of judging of the portion allotted to each, is, in reality, not to divide it at all; and to reserve such exclusive right to the General Government (it matters not by what department to be exercised), is to convert it, in fact, into a great consolidated government, with unlimited powers, and to divest the States, in reality, of all their rights. It is impossible to understand the force of terms, and to deny so plain a conclusion.”

In 1832, inspired by Calhoun’s defense of Nullification as the rightful remedy to not suffer unconstitutional federal legislation (he strongly supported and promoted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, respectively), South Carolina decided to use the doctrine to escape the oppression of the tariff.  Its position was that Nullification could be used by a state to resist a federal law that was not specifically authorized by the U.S. Constitution.  South Carolina then assembled a democratically-elected convention and issued an Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared that the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of South Carolina.

The Ordinance of Nullification read:

Whereas the Congress of the United States by various acts, purporting to be acts laying duties and imposts on foreign imports, but in reality intended for the protection of domestic manufactures and the giving of bounties to classes and individuals engaged in particular employments, at the expense and to the injury and oppression of other classes and individuals, and by wholly exempting from taxation certain foreign commodities, such as are not produced or manufactured in the United States, to afford a pretext for imposing higher and excessive duties on articles similar to those intended to be protected, bath exceeded its just powers under the constitution, which confers on it no authority to afford such protection, and bath violated the true meaning and intent of the constitution, which provides for equality in imposing the burdens of taxation upon the several States and portions of the confederacy: And whereas the said Congress, exceeding its just power to impose taxes and collect revenue for the purpose of effecting and accomplishing the specific objects and purposes which the constitution of the United States authorizes it to effect and accomplish, hath raised and collected unnecessary revenue for objects unauthorized by the constitution.

      We, therefore, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the several acts and parts of acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws for the imposing of duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities, and now having actual operation and effect within the United States, and, more especially, an act entitled “An act in alteration of the several acts imposing duties on imports,” approved on the nineteenth day of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-eight and also an act entitled “An act to alter and amend the several acts imposing duties on imports,” approved on the fourteenth day of July, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two, are unauthorized by the constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof and are null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers or citizens; and all promises, contracts, and obligations, made or entered into, or to be made or entered into, with purpose to secure the duties imposed by said acts, and all judicial proceedings which shall be hereafter had in affirmance thereof, are and shall be held utterly null and void.”

The Ordinance of Nullification was not received well and soon escalated to what came to be referred to as the Nullification of 1832. Andrew Jackson was inflamed and was intent on arresting Calhoun and having him hang in Washington DC. He also had Congress pass the Force Bill which authorized the use of military force against any state that resisted the tariff acts. It was feared that South Carolina would secede if pushed, and so, the members of the US Senate and then House came together to work out a solution. In 1833, Senator Henry Clay and Senator Calhoun proposed a compromise bill to resolve the Crisis. The Tariff of 1833 (also known as the Compromise Tariff of 1833), would gradually reduce the tariff rates over a 10-year period to the levels set in the Tariff of 1816 – an average of 20% lower.  The compromise bill was accepted by South Carolina and passed the US Congress and thus effectively ended the Nullification Crisis.  South Carolina got the relief it sought.

As a side note, Abraham Lincoln, who ran on the Republican Platform for president in the election of 1860, was originally a Whig and was still a Whig at heart. He was a true follower of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.  As such, he was a strong supporter of protective tariffs and promised to raise the tariff to the 1828 rate. Is it any wonder why tensions in the South were elevated with the election of Lincoln?

            B.  The Misrepresentation of Nullification with respect to Slavery

One of the biggest criticisms is that that Nullification was asserted for the purpose of perpetuating slavery. The record, however, is absolutely clear on this issue. Frustration of the federal Fugitive Slave Law was accomplished by nullification efforts all over the North and because of the success of those efforts, slaves were encouraged to seek their freedom and the movement to end slavery was able to gain momentum.

Although the concepts of States’ Rights and Nullification are historically associated with the South, they were employed by northern states to resist the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. While the southern states defied the federal government by refusing to accept the abominable tariffs, the northern states defied the government by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, which they believed was an unconstitutional commandeering of the state and at its core, a repugnant law that offended their conscience. Under this law, stringent measures were imposed to catch runaway slaves. These included:

  • Penalizing federal officials that did not enforce the law
  • Rewarding federal officials that did enforce law
  • Requiring free citizens to help capture runaway slaves
  • Fining or imprisoning citizens helping runaways escape
  • Prohibiting runaways from testifying on their own behalf in court
  • Denying jury trials to runaways

Special federal commissions, not courts, worked with U.S. marshals to handle runaway cases. Commissioners and marshals who failed to hold captured runaways could be sued, thus compelling them to enforce the law. They received $10 for every runaway delivered to a claimant, but only $5 for cases in which the runaway was freed. This provided a financial incentive to send even free black men and women into slavery. The law not only jeopardized the liberty of every black citizen, but it also infringed on the freedom of white citizens by forcing them to hunt for runaways against their will.

State and local governments openly defied the law:

1).  The legislatures of Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Wisconsin passed “personal liberty laws” making it nearly impossible to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act in those states.

2).  The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared that the Tenth Amendment protected states from repugnant federal laws like the Fugitive Slave Act, specifically citing the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 as the basis for its opinion.

3).  The Chicago City Council called northern congressmen who supported the act “traitors” like “Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot.”

4).  When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not free federal prisoners convicted of helping runaways, the Wisconsin legislature called “this assumption of jurisdiction by the federal judiciary… an act of undelegated power, void, and of no force…”  (The Wisconsin Supreme Court nullified the Supreme Court’s decision.  See discussion below)

In addition to local governments, the people themselves took matters into their own hands:

1).  In Syracuse, New York, in 1851 a jury effectively nullified the law by acquitting all but one of 26 people who had been arrested for freeing William “Jerry” Henry. Among those 26 persons arrested and tried was a US Senator and the former Governor of NY.  Jerry ultimately escaped to Canada.

2).  When Joshua Glover was captured by U.S. marshals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the sheriff supported local opinion by freeing Glover and jailing the marshals; Glover also escaped to Canada.

3).  In Pennsylvania, a mob of free blacks killed a slaveholder attempting to capture a runaway.

4).  Military force was needed to disperse a mass meeting after a black man was apprehended in Detroit.

5).  Throughout Ohio, town meetings branded any northern official who helped enforce the law “an enemy of the human race.”

6).  Other cities and states refused to help enforce the law simply because it was too expensive. Returning one runaway to the South cost the city of Boston $5,000. Boston officials never enforced the law again. All of these acts of defiance and nullification were ironically adopted from principles first introduced and later invoked by southerners.

When Wisconsin residents refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and return escaped slave, Glover, an ensuing series of arrests would give the state Supreme Court the opportunity to use Nullification to proclaim the law’s unconstitutionality. The case would be known as In re Booth.

What has become known as the Booth case is actually a series of decisions from the Wisconsin Supreme Court beginning in 1854 and one from the U.S. Supreme Court,Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 514 (1859), leading to a final published decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Ableman v. Booth, 11 Wis. 501 (1859). These decisions reflect Wisconsin’s attempted nullification of the federal fugitive slave law, the expansion of the state’s rights movement and Wisconsin’s defiance of federal judicial authority. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in Booth unanimously declared the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision but the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to file the U.S. Court’s mandate upholding the fugitive slave law. That mandate has never been filed.

When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, slavery existed in this country. Article IV, Section 2 provided that:  ”No person held to service or labor in one state under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Based on this provision, Congress in 1793 passed a law that gave slave owners the power to have a runaway slave arrested in any state and returned.  The law remained intact until 1850, by which time the moral sentiment of the North against slavery had become aroused; the Liberty Party had been organized, the underground railroad had flourished and many northern men and women refused to act as slave catchers or assist in perpetuating slavery. Because of the increasing difficulty the slave holders faced in reclaiming runaway slaves, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The law placed the mechanism for capturing runaway slaves in the hands of federal officers. It provided that these cases would be heard by a federal judge or court commissioner and allowed the slave owner to prove the debt owed by the slave but precluded testimony from the fugitive entirely. The new law also increased the penalties for resistance and for concealment of fugitives.

Although it was intended as a compromise, the new law actually fueled the flames of anti-slavery sentiment and from 1854 to 1861, Wisconsin politics was dominated by the question of whether the state had to defer to the federal government’s efforts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

In the spring of 1852, a slave named Joshua Glover escaped from a Missouri plantation and made his way to Racine, where he found work at a sawmill. Two years later, his owner tracked him down and had him apprehended by federal marshals under the Fugitive Slave Act. Glover was held in the Milwaukee County Jail pending a hearing.  When Sherman M. Booth, editor of the Milwaukee abolitionist newspaper, The Free Democrat, heard of the capture, he is said to have mounted his horse and galloped through the streets of Milwaukee shouting: “Freemen! To the rescue! Slave catchers are in our midst! Be at the courthouse at 2:00!” Booth’s lawyers then persuaded a Milwaukee County Court judge to issue a writ of habeas corpus (a judicial order freeing Booth) directing the U.S. marshal to bring Glover before the county judge and justify his detention

Before the hearing could take place, Booth appointed a committee to prevent the “kidnapping” of Glover by the federal authorities. After Booth made a fiery speech, a mob led by one of the other committeemen, John Ryecraft, battered down the jail doors, freed Glover and spirited him away to Canada.  Federal authorities charged Booth with assisting Glover’s escape. Booth was released on bail but two months later, at his own request, he was delivered to the U.S. Marshal. Booth’s surrender was calculated to bring a test case in the state courts challenging the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law. On the day after the surrender, Booth’s attorney, Byron Paine (later a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court), successfully applied to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Abram D. Smith for a writ of habeas corpus. At that hearing, Smith asked the parties to address the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law. Paine, citing Thomas Jefferson’s writings, said states have the right to impose their authority when their sovereign rights are violated by the federal government. Paine argued that Congress had no authority to make laws based on the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution and that the Act of 1850 was unconstitutional because it denied a trial by jury and vested judicial powers in court commissioners. On June 7, 1854, Smith ordered that Booth be released, finding the warrant of commitment defective and the fugitive slave law unconstitutional.

When the US Attorney General learned of the decision, he appealed it to the US Supreme Court. The case –  Ableman v. Booth – was heard in 1859, just one year before slavery would a major issue of the presidential election.  In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Law and further held that Wisconsin did not have the power to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act.  In a decision written by Justice Roger Taney (who also wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision): “No power is more clearly conferred by the Constitution and laws of the United States than the power of this court to decide, ultimately and finally, all cases arising under such Constitution and laws.” [pg. 62]

The justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court justices were then instructed to file the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandates reversing the judgments and dismissals in the Booth case. Although there had been some changes to the bench in the years since the case was heard, the majority opinion was that the federal court had no power to review the judgments of the state Supreme Court and Wisconsin was well within its right to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law, and so the justices voted not to file the mandates in the Booth cases. The Wisconsin Supreme Court would write: “The Supreme Court said that the States cannot, therefore, be compelled to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. We regard the action of the Supreme Court of the US, in assuming jurisdiction in the case before mentioned, as an arbitrary act of power, unauthorized by the Constitution. This assumption of jurisdiction by the federal judiciary is an act of undelegated power, and therefore without authority, void, and of no force.”

[Booth was subsequently arrested by federal agents and placed in a state penitentiary. Since Wisconsin did not assert its duty to interpose and prevent federal agents from such conduct, Booth remained in custody. But only a few short months later, on the eve of Lincoln’s inauguration, President Buchanan would pardon him].

Wisconsin successfully nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in its state.  It did not back down. It did not reverse the judgment on Booth, as the US Supreme Court instructed. Although the Civil War would start in less than two years and the affections that bound North and South together would be strained, the state of Wisconsin maintained its position on the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Law and held to its conviction that it was unenforceable in its borders.

Contrary to the critics’ position that Nullification was used to promote and support slavery, the only real time we saw it used with regard to slavery is in an effort to discourage enforcement of laws to return slaves that have successfully escaped and to therefore encourage their escape to the north.

The critics of Nullification go even further and try to discredit Nullification by blaming it, for example, for Arkansas’ refusal to integrate their schools following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1953 which demanded that school segregation be ended immediately.  Martin Luther King Jr. himself vilified Nullification in his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington DC in 1963.  He said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.  I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

To condemn Nullification for one bad application would require that we also condemn the Supreme Court because of its Dred Scott decision.  Besides, there are many constitutional scholars who don’t wonder if the Brown decision was decided using an interpretation that itself was unconstitutional. While it should be universally agreed that purposeful segregation of the races based on the assumption that blacks are an inferior race had to end. It was a shameful policy that has rocked our moral conscience as a nation. But, to use the very same criteria (race), especially as in the bussing cases, to remedy for the past sins of segregation has been challenged as an unconstitutional exercise of judicial power. A violation of the 14th Amendment is a violation of the 14th Amendment, whether it’s used for bad or for good.

C.  Misrepresentation because of Political Correctness  

There is nothing more harmful to liberty and nothing more harmful in a free society than to shut down ideas and avenues of redress under the pretext that it “is offensive” to certain groups of people. Certainly, one of the oldest tricks in the book is the one whereby supporters of a centralized energetic government demonize the message that empowers its people. And that’s what has happened with Nullification and the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. used the words Nullification and Interposition for effect and to elicit passions that evoke memories of slavery and efforts by the South to deny them Civil Rights. Had he been honest, he would have also praised Nullification for providing the North with the reason not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws and condemning runaway slaves to a life of continued forced servitude as nothing more than personal property.

It was Arkansas’ actions in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that led to the Cooper v. Aaron case and appeared to give Nullification opponents ammunition. In the wake of the Brown case, the school district of Little Rock, Arkansas formulated a plan to desegregate its schools but most other school districts in the state opposed the Supreme Court’s rulings and attempted to find ways to perpetuate segregation. As a result, the Arkansas state legislature amended the state constitution to oppose desegregation and then passed a law relieving children from mandatory attendance at integrated schools. The school board of Little Rock, however, ignored then mandate and continued on with the desegregation program. In fact, it was this decision that led to the incident known as the “Little Rock Nine” incident (or the “Little Rock School Crisis of 1957″).  In 1957, the NAACP enrolled nine black children at Little Rock Central High. Arkansas’ Governor Orval Faubus energetically opposed the desegregation plan and even deployed the Arkansas National Guard to block the entrance to the school. On September 9, the Little Rock School District issued a statement condemning the governor’s deployment of soldiers to the school, and on September 24, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Faubus. The crisis was over and the nine students were finally permitted to attend Little Rock Central.

On February 20, 1958, five months after the integration crisis, members of the Arkansas state school board (along with the Superintendent of Schools) filed suit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, urging suspension of Little Rock’s plan of desegregation. They alleged that public hostility to desegregation and that the opposition of Governor Faubus and the state legislature created an intolerable and chaotic situation. The relief the plaintiffs requested was for the black children to be returned to segregated schools and for the implementation of the desegregation plan to be postponed for two and a half years. The case would make its way to the Supreme Court later that same year.

In that case, Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision in Cooper  v. Aaron, noted that although the school board had apparently acted in good faith, it was nonetheless constitutionally impermissible under the Equal Protection Clause to maintain law and order by depriving the black students their equal rights under the law.  It began its analysis by noting that Justice John Marshall, in 1803 in the landmark case of  Marbury v. Madison, declared that “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” The Marbury decision established the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution.  The Cooper opinion then went on to state: “The interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land under Article VI of the Constitution (the Supremacy Clause) which therefore makes it of binding effect on the States.”  Furthermore, the Court reasoned, since every state official takes an oath to support the US Constitution, they are bound to solemnly support the Constitution and such rulings. The Court then rejected the notion that a state has no duty to obey a federal court order that it believes to be unconstitutional.  In other words, the Court rejected nullification and interposition. “In short, the constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this Court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted ingeniously or ingenuously.”

It is worth noting that the Framers and Founding Fathers never assigned the Supreme Court the responsibility that Justice Marshall assumed for the Court in Marbury v. Madison – that it shall be the sole province of the Supreme Court to declare what the Constitution says and means. It is a power that the Court, a branch of the federal government, assigned and delegated to itself. And that decision has never been challenged, even though the Federalist Papers speak differently of the function of the federal judiciary.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court has no more the right to declare Nullification an improper check and balance on the power of the federal government as it does on the Separation of Powers doctrine or the President’s Veto power.

Some legal scholars have publicly criticized the Court’s rationale in Cooper. Perhaps the most famous criticism comes from former US Attorney General (under Ronald Reagan) and brilliant constitutional attorney, Edwin Meese III, in his law review article entitled The Law of the Constitution. In that article, Meese accused the Supreme Court of taking too much power for itself by setting itself up as the sole institution responsible for the interpretation of the Constitution. He wrote that while judicial interpretation of the Constitution binds the parties of the case, it should not establish a supreme law of the land that must be accepted by all persons.

             D.  Misrepresentation by an Incorrect Assessment of the Civil War  

Perhaps one of the most popular arguments given by the opponents of Nullification is that the Civil War settled the issue.

Of course, this is a preposterous assertion. Core constitutional principles weren’t destroyed, even though President Lincoln did everything in his power to destroy the Constitution itself. Just because a constitutional government was suspended and the proper role of the federal government was temporarily derailed does not mean our system was abandoned. The US Constitution was never rejected and supplanted by another. Our supreme law was merely modified by a few amendments and the southern states were punished (severely) for their audacity in seceding.

Opponents allege that it was the Southern States and their seditious spirit (ie, embracing Nullification) that led to the Civil War. It seems that it never occurred to them to read the Inaugural Address of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, where he talked about their pure allegiance to the spirit of the American Revolution and the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

As Thomas Jefferson so aptly explained, the power of Nullification is that it accomplishes peacefully what rebellion would accomplish forcibly..  and that is a rejection of a government that refuses to abide by its constitutional bounds.  Nullification is a gentle nudge, by the States, to put the federal government on notice that it has violated the terms and spirit of the Constitution, and therefore putting the ball back in its court so it can take the proper steps and remedy the situation. That’s why Jefferson, in fact, one of the reasons he termed it the “Rigthful Remedy.”  Nullification doesn’t lead to Secession, it prevents it.  Only when the federal government refuses to abide by the boundaries the people have entrusted it do the People have to consider more extreme measures.

In his book Is Davis a Traitor, Albert Taylor Bledsoe writes: “The subjugation of the Southern States and their acceptance of the terms dictated (forced upon them) by the North in the War of Coercion may be considered as having shifted the Federal Government from the basis of compact to that of conquest, and thereby extinguished every claim to the right of secession for the future.”

Whether one believes we have been conquered by our own government determines what they believe about Nullification and Secession. Whether one believes Bledsoe’s assessment or not speaks volumes about whether that person cherishes liberty.

Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that in America, individual liberty is grounded firmly in Natural Law and God’s law. To secure that foundation, our country adopted the government philosophy of John Locke which says that people have rights preexisting government, government exists to protect those rights, and government should not stand in the way of its own dissolution should it violate those rights. This is the express message of the Declaration.

It’s obvious that in the wake of the Civil War, the nature of government has fundamentally changed and that the relationship between itself and the people has been transformed. But while there are those who accept the notion that with the War of Coercion the government took a stand against the rights of the individual (and won) and who believe we must submit to this new system, the question really boils down to this….  Did the government have the right to coerce the States and the People to fight a war for ITS own preservation and domination?  Did it have the right to subjugate the Southern States against their will?  NO, it did not. Nowhere did the government have the right to act as it did and therefore the consequences are NULL and VOID.

Those who support Nullification still believe in the fundamental truth that people have rights that preexist government and that government exists primarily to protect our rights from those that do not respect them and NOT to control us and coerce us into serving its goals.

As Jefferson Davis indeed predicted, the northern victors would succeed in teaching history which vindicates their efforts and violations. And so, through our public schools, the great majority of books, government opinion, and even the significance of the Lincoln Memorial on the national mall, we are led to believe that Abraham Lincoln was our most important and beloved president. The reality, according to historian Larry Tagg in his book  The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: America’s Most Reviled President, is that he was the most hated of all American presidents during his lifetime. He was so thoroughly hated in the North (especially in New York) that the New York Times editorialized a wish that he would be assassinated. Thomas DiLorenzo, who has done extensive research on Lincoln, said the hatred was perfectly understandable.  Lincoln committed so many constitutional violations that even Congress’ collective head was spinning. The Congressional record is full of discussion as to the extent of his violations. He illegally suspended Habeas Corpus, imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political critics without due process, and shut down over 300 opposition newspapers. If they still tried to use the mail to distribute news, he called out the army, seized their property, and prevented their access to the US mail. He enforced military conscription with the murder of hundreds of New York City draft protesters in 1863 and with the mass execution of deserters from his army. He deported a congressional critic (Democratic Congressman Clement Vallandigham of Ohio); confiscated firearms; and issued an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Roger Taney) when he issued an opinion that only Congress could legally suspend Habeas Corpus. He blocked southern ports without authorization of Congress (which is far and above the type of action necessary to quash a rebellion; it’s an act of war). Most of all, he waged an unnecessary war, not authorized by Congress, that resulted in the death of 1 in every 4 young men (3.4% of the population at the time; 3.4% of today’s population would be approximately 8.5 million Americans). The real legacy of the Civil War, is Lincoln’s “false virtue” – that he felt justified in trampling all over the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the sovereign rights of the states in order to do what he personally believed was necessary.  To say Lincoln saved the Union by waging the Civil War is like saying a man saved his marriage by beating his wife into submission.

For those who believe that the Civil War settled the question of whether Nullification is a proper remedy, then I ask this: How is it that a constitutional remedy can be destroyed by unconstitutional conduct by the President of the United States and the US Congress?  How the essential principles of self-preservation and self-government proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence be destroyed by the very institution that that document assured would be established to protect those rights?  How can a liberty-minded people buy into this fatal argument that it is OK for the US government, a creature of the People themselves, to take a hostile position with respect to the Declaration of Independence and deny them the promise “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.”  How is it that a nation so singular in its purpose when it fought the Revolutionary War (to secede from an oppressive government, in order to live free and govern themselves accordingly) has deteriorated to the point that its people can no longer make the essential connection between their Constitution and the principles proclaimed in the Declaration which underlie it?  It was all about liberty and freedom – the condition of independence (liberty) and the right to go about our business without being controlled or subjugated (freedom). In explaining why it was so important for our founding colonists to stand up against the growing tyranny of the British King and Parliament, Mercy Otis Warren perhaps articulated it best when he said, in 1774, “in order to preserve inviolate, and to convey to their children the inherent rights of men, conferred on all by the God of nature, and the privileges of Englishmen claimed by Americans from the sacred sanction of compacts.” And so the Declaration proclaimed the supremacy of Man (“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 him”) and outlined the purpose of government (to secure and protect his rights). By the very words of the Declaration, man has inalienable rights that no government can take away and he has the right to defend them and preserve them. That’s why the document provides that man can “alter or abolish” his government when it becomes destructive of his rights and the free exercise thereof. In other words, the rights of man would always trump the power of government; and while man has the right of self-preservation, the government has no such right.

The Constitution merely designed a government according to the moral dictates of the Declaration. That’s why it was limited in scope and permeated with so many checks and balances in order that it remain so. Thomas Paine wrote: “A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.” Rights of Man (1791-1792)

The Supreme Court, in one of its earliest cases – Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance (1795), which addressed a property matter as between the states of Pennsylvania and Connecticut – Judge Paterson explained: “What is a Constitution?  It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established.  The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people and is the supreme law of the land…”  [Indeed, the unprecedented task confronting the Court in its infancy was that of interpreting our new written constitution so as not to disturb the settled, existing framework of the document as written, intended, and understood by the States when they signed it. That task was short-lived].

We are NOT free when we wait for the government or for the Supreme Court to tell us what our rights are or tell us that avenues that were once open to us to restrain the power and influence of government over our once-free lives are no longer available (because they threaten the power of government).

Again, the government was instituted to protect that rights of self-government and self-determination for us; not to destroy them. And if we believe that we have the right to define our government and reclaim the rights that We the People are endowed with that a government is trying to take away or has taken away, then we have to believe in Nullification. It is the rightful constitutional remedy that restores the proper balance of sovereign power – peacefully.

Unfortunately, all too often the government is more concerned in controlling the governed rather than controlling itself, and so the responsibility falls to us to control it.

E.  The Misrepresentation that the Courts Have the Final Word

In 1958, in the case Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court rejected the doctrines of Nullification and Interposition, asserting that states have no right to refuse to enforce federal law (even when that law is one created from the bench rather than the legislature). A person who is brainwashed into believing that the federal judiciary was established to be the one final tribunal to declare what the Constitution means and which laws are constitutional and therefore bind all states and persons to those decisions has not done his or her homework. That person is a sheep.. the kind of citizen that an all-powerful government treasures and hopes to multiply.

Our Founders had something quite different in mind. Sure, Founders like Alexander Hamilton believed it best that one tribunal speak on constitutionality – for consistency. But that voice was only to render an opinion and not to have the power of supremacy.

With respect to the Founders’ intentions for the federal judiciary (as an independent branch), I tend to follow the view that Hamilton set forth in Federalist No. 78:

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatsoever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.

      This simple view of the matter suggests several important consequences. It proves incontestably, that the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power; that it can never attack with success either of the other two; and that all possible care is requisite to enable it to defend itself against their attacks. It equally proves, that though individual oppression may now and then proceed from the courts of justice, the general liberty of the people can never be endangered from that quarter….. Liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have everything to fear from its union with either of the other departments; that as all the effects of such a union must ensue from a dependence of the former on the latter, notwithstanding a nominal and apparent separation; that as, from the natural feebleness of the judiciary, it is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its co-ordinate branches; and that as nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office, this quality may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure, as the citadel of the public justice and the public security.

      Some perplexity respecting the rights of the courts to pronounce legislative acts void, because contrary to the Constitution, has arisen from an imagination that the doctrine would imply a superiority of the judiciary to the legislative power. It is urged that the authority which can declare the acts of another void, must necessarily be superior to the one whose acts may be declared void. As this doctrine is of great importance in all the American constitutions, a brief discussion of the ground on which it rests cannot be unacceptable.

       There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.

       If it be said that the legislative body are themselves the constitutional judges of their own powers, and that the construction they put upon them is conclusive upon the other departments, it may be answered, that this cannot be the natural presumption, where it is not to be collected from any particular provisions in the Constitution. It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their will to that of their constituents. It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.

      This exercise of judicial discretion, in determining between two contradictory laws, is exemplified in a familiar instance. It not uncommonly happens, that there are two statutes existing at one time, clashing in whole or in part with each other, and neither of them containing any repealing clause or expression. In such a case, it is the province of the courts to liquidate and fix their meaning and operation. So far as they can, by any fair construction, be reconciled to each other, reason and law conspire to dictate that this should be done; where this is impracticable, it becomes a matter of necessity to give effect to one, in exclusion of the other. The rule which has obtained in the courts for determining their relative validity is, that the last in order of time shall be preferred to the first. But this is a mere rule of construction, not derived from any positive law, but from the nature and reason of the thing. It is a rule not enjoined upon the courts by legislative provision, but adopted by themselves, as consonant to truth and propriety, for the direction of their conduct as interpreters of the law. They thought it reasonable, that between the interfering acts of an EQUAL authority, that which was the last indication of its will should have the preference.

      But in regard to the interfering acts of a superior and subordinate authority, of an original and derivative power, the nature and reason of the thing indicate the converse of that rule as proper to be followed. They teach us that the prior act of a superior ought to be preferred to the subsequent act of an inferior and subordinate authority; and that accordingly, whenever a particular statute contravenes the Constitution, it will be the duty of the judicial tribunals to adhere to the latter and disregard the former.

It can be of no weight to say that the courts, on the pretense of a repugnancy, may substitute their own pleasure to the constitutional intentions of the legislature. This might as well happen in the case of two contradictory statutes; or it might as well happen in every adjudication upon any single statute. The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT, the consequence would equally be the substitution of their pleasure to that of the legislative body. The observation, if it prove anything, would prove that there ought to be no judges distinct from that body.

      If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judicial offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty… ”     [Then Hamilton goes on to explain that judges of the federal judiciary will be insulted from the passions of temporary political whims or majorities who want the legislature to act in violation of the Constitution by account of their life tenure.  That is what, in his opinion, would keep the federal judiciary as the faithful check on the other branches by reviewing their actions for constitutionality and rendering constitutional ‘opinions’].

The intended role of the judiciary, both generally and specifically, was to serve as the “bulwarks of a limited constitution against legislative encroachments.” (Federalist No. 78). The Founders believed that the judges would “regulate their decisions” by the word and spirit of the Constitution for the preservation of that limited government which was so necessary for maximum liberty. As the “faithful guardians of the Constitution,” the judges were expected to resist any political effort to depart from its literal provisions. The text of the Constitution and the original intention of those who framed and ratified it would be the judicial standard in giving it effect and preserving its integrity.

The Court was intended to strictly interpret and offer an opinion as to the meaning of the Constitution, as well as the legality of the actions of the Executive and Legislative branches. It was intended to protect the People from unjust laws and oppressive conduct by their government. As James Madison explained, the Constitution was written the way it was in order “to first enable the government to control the governed and in the next place, to oblige it to control itself.” An independent, constitutionally-bound judiciary was the oversight which was created to remind the other branches to control itself.

From what I understand from the Federalist Papers and the intent of the Founders, the power to interpret the Constitution should reside with the federal judiciary in order that there be one tribunal that speaks with one voice, rather than opinions all over the place by each of the states. But the Supreme Court was not intended to do anymore than offer “an opinion” as to the meaning of a particular provision of the Constitution or as to the constitutionality of a particular piece of legislation. The Court was supposed to interpret strictly in accordance to the plain meaning and the spirit of the ratifying conventions. Once the Court rendered an “opinion,” it was the understanding that the other branches would respond accordingly, ie, Congress would repeal a bill that was passed without proper and express authority, or if it refused to do so, the President would veto it (under the checks and balances). States would refuse to enact legislation that violated the Supremacy Clause. In other words, how the other branches responded to the ‘opinion” was their concern, but as to the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches (together with the state’s direct voice in the Senate), and then the voice of the States under the 10th Amendment and the people’s power at the ballot box, in the end the only actions of the government that would be enforced at the state level (ie, on the People) would be those that adhere to the language and spirit of the Constitution.

Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison quickly saw the threat the federal judiciary posed to a constitutionally-limited government. It’s one of reasons why Jefferson, when discussing the possible remedies available when the federal government oversteps its constitutional boundaries, expressly rejected the federal courts. He strongly advised the States and the People NOT to trust the judiciary with their precious liberties. Again, he expressed the opinion that the States were the best and most reliable guardians of that precious jewel and that’s why Nullification was the “Rightful Remedy.”

Here are some of the warnings and comments he made about the federal judiciary (again, being mindful that he was witnessing firsthand how the Supreme Court was actively re-defining the Constitution and undermining its guarantees of individual liberty):

To consider the Judges of the Superior Court as the ultimate arbiters of constitutional questions would be a dangerous doctrine which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. They have with others, the same passion for party, for power, and for the privileges of their corps – and their power is the most dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the Elective control. The Constitution has elected no single tribunal.  I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves.”   [in a letter to William C. Jarvis, 1820]

The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal judiciary: an irresponsible body, working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed; because, when all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”    [in a letter to Charles Hammond, August 18, 1821]

The judiciary of the United States is a subtle core of sappers and miners constantly working underground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a coordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone. The opinions are often delivered by a majority of one, by a crafty Chief Judge who sophisticates the law to his mind by the turn of his own reasoning.”   [in a letter to Thomas Ritchie, December 1820]

The question whether the judges are invested with exclusive authority to decide on the constitutionality of a law has been heretofore a subject of consideration with me in the exercise of official duties. Certainly there is not a word in the Constitution which has given that power to them more than to the Executive or Legislative branches.”    [in a letter to W. H. Torrance, 1815]

The Constitution meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.”    [in a letter to Abigail Adams, 1804]

The true barriers of our liberty are our State governments; and the wisest conservative power ever contrived by man, is that of which our Revolution and present government found us possessed.”   [in a letter to L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811]

The powers of the Supreme Court were fundamentally transformed – enlarged – by the Court itself in 1803 in the case Marbury v. Madison. In the opinion he wrote in that landmark case, Chief Justice Marshall declared that the Court had much more power than merely offering an opinion to the other branches. Not only would the Court have power to render opinions to the other branches and to “put the States and the People on notice,” it would also have enforcement power. It would be the final word on matters of the Constitution to which all sovereigns would be bound… (Unfortunately, the Court is part of the federal government and not necessarily a fair umpire for the parties to the social compact that is the US Constitution. The decision, to me, seems to contradict that which Hamilton sought to assure the States in Federalist No. 78 – that the judiciary would not be superior to the other branches such that its decisions would not be subject to checks from the other branches (or the States). And it seems to contradict what the states found so troubling with a proposed federal government that had stronger powers than the Continental Congress under the Articles – that the federal government would have the tendency to become centralized, at the expense of the States, and would have the exclusive domain to define what its powers are.

If we had remained with that pre-Marshall definition of the Court’s power, then the States would have clearly been able to check the opinion of the federal judiciary by either concurring with it and abiding happily by the decision (relying on their understanding of the Constitution through the Federalist Papers and their ratification debates) or disagreeing and thus ignoring it.

Marbury is not entirely a bad decision. Strict constitutionalists will agree that parts of Marshall’s analysis are spot on.

The facts of the case, in and of themselves, give support to the skepticism that Thomas Jefferson had of the federal judiciary and its capacity to align itself with evil-intentioned government officials rather than act as a neutral and constitutionally-restrained independent tribunal. The case arose as John Adams tried to stack the federal courts with Federalists in his final hours as President in a move to frustrate the incoming Thomas Jefferson (who, after the attempt to establish a Federal Bank and the seeming concurrence of many Federalists with Hamilton’s position of “implied government powers). Adams made the commissions and handed them to his Secretary of State to deliver them. All were delivered except for a few, one of which was the appointment for William Marbury. The appointments were made pursuant to the Judiciary Act of 1801, which Adams had Congress pass in a specific attempt to stack the courts.

After the Constitution was ratified, the first Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789 which established the federal court system. It established a Supreme Court (with a Chief Justice and 5 associate justices), three circuit courts, and 13 district courts (one district court for each of the 13 states). In November 1800, Adams lost his bid for re-election. Jefferson was elected President. Turns out the Congress changed hands as well. The Federalists, who had been in power, lost control of the House and Senate. But for those few months before Jefferson and the new Congress took office, the Federalists still had control. As I mentioned above, in order to frustrate his nemesis and his administration, Adams persuaded Congress to pass a new law – the Judiciary Act of 1801 – which would increase the number of judges sitting on the federal benches and therefore give him the opportunity to appoint several new federal (Federalist) judges. Section 13 of the Judicary Act provided: :The Supreme Court shall have power to issue writs of prohibition to the district courts and writs of mandamus to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.”

Adams appointed about 39 new judges pursuant to the Judiciary Act. His Secretary of State delivered them successfully. However, he failed to deliver the commissions of 3 new justices before Adams’ term of office ended. Again, one of those commissions was to go to William Marbury. When Jefferson took office in March 1801 and learned of Adams’ attempt to pack the courts with Federalists, as well as the failure to successfully deliver the 3 commissions, he instructed his Secretary of State, James Madison, to refuse the appointments. Marbury then applied to the Supreme Court for the remedy offered him under Section 13 of the Judiciary Act.

The case asked 3 questions: (1) Does Marbury have a right to the appointment? (2) Does the law afford him a remedy? and (3) Is the law that affords that remedy constitutional? Chief Justice Marshall concluded that Marbury had a right to the appointment and that the Judiciary Act offered him a remedy to assert that right. But the case boiled down to the question of whether Section 13 conflicted with the Constitution, and he concluded that it did. It improperly enlarged the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Article III established original jurisdiction and Congress does not have the power to alter the Constitution (only the amendment process can do that).

In reaching the decision that Section 13 is unenforceable, Justice Marshall articulated several principles that re-enforce the notion of limited government, social compact, original intent, and yes, nullification. He wrote:

The question whether an act repugnant to the Constitution can become the law of the land is a question deeply interesting to the United States, but, happily, not of an intricacy proportioned to its interest. It seems only necessary to recognize certain principles, supposed to have been long and well established, to decide it.

      That the people have an original right to establish for their future government such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness is the basis on which the whole American fabric has been erected. The exercise of this original right is a very great exertion; nor can it nor ought it to be frequently repeated. The principles, therefore, so established are deemed fundamental. And as the authority from which they proceed, is supreme, and can seldom act, they are designed to be permanent.

      This original and supreme will organizes the government and assigns to different departments their respective powers. It may either stop here or establish certain limits not to be transcended by those departments.

      The Government of the United States is of the latter description. The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written. To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may at any time be passed by those intended to be restrained? The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers is abolished if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed are of equal obligation. It is a proposition too plain to be contested that the Constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it, or that the Legislature may alter the Constitution by an ordinary act.

     Between these alternatives there is no middle ground. The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

     If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law; if the latter part be true, then written Constitutions are absurd attempts on the part of the people to limit a power in its own nature illimitable.

      Certainly all those who have framed written Constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently the theory of every such government must be that an act of the Legislature repugnant to the Constitution is void. This theory is essentially attached to a written Constitution and is consequently to be considered by this Court as one of the fundamental principles of our society. the particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written Constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void, and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.”

 From these and many other selections which might be made, it is apparent that the framers of the Constitution contemplated that instrument as a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the Legislature.  The particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to that Constitution is void and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.

      If the courts aren’t bound by the phraseology of the Constitution, why does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it? This oath certainly applies in an especial manner to their conduct in their official character. How immoral to impose it on them if they were to be used as the instruments, and the knowing instruments, for violating what they swear to support! The oath of office, too, imposed by the Legislature, is completely demonstrative of the legislative opinion on this subject. It is in these words: 

      ‘I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich; and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent on me as according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.’

      Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the Constitution of the United States if that Constitution forms no rule for his government? If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe or to take this oath becomes equally a crime.

      It is also not entirely unworthy of observation that, in declaring what shall be the supreme law of the land, the Constitution itself is first mentioned, and not the laws of the United States generally, but those only which shall be made in pursuance of the Constitution, have that rank. [pp. 176-182]

The problem arose when Marshall announced that the Court would possess the power of deciding upon the “operation” of the law being scrutinized. The Court would made the final decision and all branches, all state courts, etc would be bound by its decision.

The problem with believing the indoctrination that when the Supreme Court speaks, the issue of supremacy is determined without question is that it compromises our notion of Liberty and our fundamental belief that our government is a creature of the People, constrained by the Rule of Law.

The central point behind nullification is that the federal government cannot be permitted to hold a monopoly on constitutional interpretation. If the federal government has the exclusive right to judge the extent of its own powers, it will, without a shadow of a doubt, continue to grow, regardless of elections, the separation of powers, and the various checks and balances. There should be no more powerful indictment of this statement than the Supreme Court’s approval of Obamacare and its ringing endorsement of an unlimited taxing power.

Part 4: Why Nullification? 

The TRUTH about Nullification is that it is legitimate and is the only way to effect a meaningful check on the federal government when the executive, legislative, and judicial branches unite on an incorrect interpretation of the Constitution and threaten the independence of the States and the reserved rights of the People. The federal government CANNOT be permitted to hold a monopoly on constitutional interpretation. If the federal government has the exclusive right to judge the extent of its own powers, as Madison and Jefferson warned in 1798-99, it will continue to grow – regardless of elections, the separation of powers, and other limits on government power. Nullification has always been available to push the government back within the boundaries of the Constitution but for too long, those hostile to the Constitution have insinuated – FALSELY – that the doctrine was the reason for the Civil War and for segregation, thereby trying to use shame to invalidate it.

We should take a cue from Patrick Henry. When others were celebrating the Constitution and rejoicing that a more effective compact was created, Henry urged them to cool their heads and take a step back and look carefully at the document they were asked to ratify.  It was his opinion that the government created by the Constitution would tend to concentrate power, strip power from the states, and become no better than England’s monarchy (“it squints toward monarchy”).  He urged Virginia to reject the Constitution. He reminded the delegates that trade, power, and security should not be the first concerns on their mind.  He said the proper inquiry should be “how your liberties can be better secured, for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.”

On that first day of the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1788, Patrick Henry addressed the delegates with these words:

Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessing — give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else!  Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.   

       When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different..  Liberty, sir, was then the primary object. We are descended from a people whose government was founded on liberty: our glorious forefathers of Great Britain made liberty the foundation of everything. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their government is strong and energetic, but, sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation. We drew the spirit of liberty from our British ancestors: by that spirit we have triumphed over every difficulty. But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire. If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America, your government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together. Such a government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism. There will be no checks, no real balances, in this government. What can avail your specious, imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances? But, sir, we are not feared by foreigners; we do not make nations tremble. Would this constitute happiness, or secure liberty? I trust, sir, our political hemisphere will ever direct their operations to the security of those objects.”

The jury is still out on this thing we call the Great American Experiment. We separated from Great Britain when we insisted on governing ourselves consistent without our own values. Those values were articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to the “divine right of Kings” which was the system respected in Britain, the American colonies would establish a government “of the people, by the people, and FOR the people.” It would go one step further.. it would establish a government whose powers were derived from the people themselves (so that the people could always take them back when they were fed up with that government). While the British people had to stand up for their rights many times, Americans have never done so since the Revolutionary War. The British protested and demanded that the King respect their rights in 1100 (resulting in the 1100 Charter of Liberties), in 1215 (the Magna Carta or “Great Charter”), in 1628 (the Petition of Right of 1628), in 1641 (The Grand Remonstrances of 1641), in 1679 (the Habeas Corpus Act), and finally in 1689 (English Bill of Rights of 1689).  [The Grand Remonstrances and The English Bill of Rights, like our Declaration of Independence, set out lists of grievances against the King for usurpations of the rights that were proclaimed in the earlier charters]. The interesting thing about history of the British people in asserting their rights and demanding restraint from their government is that each time they did so, they were able to secure greater freedom. We can take a lesson from British history. There is another great distinction between the British and our system. When the Kings signed those charters, they often did so very reluctantly. For example, almost immediately after  King John (the infamous King John of the Robin Hood legend) signed the Magna Carta, he ignored it. It was ignored on and off until the 17th century. The point is that the rights of the people were enjoyed at the mercy of the King. There was no meaningful way to enforce the charters. Parliament tried to, but as with King Charles I (son of King James I, who granted the charters to the Pilgrims and Puritans to settle in America), when Parliament tried to force his hand, he turned around and dissolved it. Our Founding Fathers intended that our Constitution and Bill of Rights would be stand the test of time, guarantee the proper relationship between the People and government, and not jeopardize the rights and liberties of the people. That’s why they divided power among two equal sovereigns (power to check power) and why they included so many checks and balances. To deny Nullification is a dangerous decision. To deny it is to: (i) deny the wisdom of our Founders; (ii) trust your rights to a government which is growing more hostile to them by the day; and (iii) submit to the notion that government is capable of restraining itself and capable of divesting itself of all the unconstitutional powers it has already assumed and repealing such laws it has passed.

Liberty must always come first. Liberty is a gift, as KrisAnne Hall says, that we must pay forward. We don’t pay it forward by not second-guessing the actions of the federal government, especially when we know it likes to enlarge its powers at every chance.  We don’t pay it forward by accepting the government’s version that constitutional remedies that were put in place by our Founders to preserve the rights on which this country are founded are no longer valid. We pay it forward by preserving it. We do that by using every option we have to limit the intrusion of government in our lives and over our property. Our Constitution is not the living, breathing document that the progressives and federal judges claim it to be, for if that is the case, it can be twisted so completely as to destroy our understanding of it.  The only thing that is living and breathing is us, the citizens of the United States who have inherited a precious gift of freedom to live our lives and raise our families. And so let’s use the common sense and spark of brilliance that God so endowed us with when he also endowed us with free will and inherent rights.

References:

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958).  http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/358/1/case.html

Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 5 U. S. 177 (1803)

Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1858). http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/62/506/case.html

In re Booth, 3 Wis. 1 (1854). http://www.wicourts.gov/courts/supreme/docs/famouscases01.pdf

Vanhorne’s Lessee v. Dorance, 2 U.S. 304, 308 (1795).  http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s24.html

Robert Lowry Clinton, “The Supreme Court Before John Marshall,” Supreme Court Historical Society.  Referenced at: http://www.supremecourthistory.org/publications/the-supreme-court-before-john-marshall/

Walter Coffey, “Nullifying the Fugitive Slave Law,” February 3, 2013.  Referenced at: http://waltercoffey.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/nullifying-the-fugitive-slave-act/

Federalist Papers No. 33 – http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa33.htm

The Kentucky Resolves of 1799 (Thomas Jefferson) –  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/kenres.asp

The Virginia Resolves of 1798 (James Madison) –  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/virres.asp

Edwin Meese III, “The Law of the Constitution,” October 21, 1986  (speech transcript) – http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistory/meese/meese-speeches.html

Patrick Henry, speech before the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 5, 1788 – http://www.constitution.org/rc/rat_va_04.htm#henry-01

Thomas DiLorenzo, “More on the Myth of Lincoln, Secession and the ‘Civil War,”  The Daily Bell, June 2, 2013.  Referenced at:  http://www.thedailybell.com/29156/Thomas-DiLorenzo-More-on-the-Myth-of-Lincoln-Secession-and-the-Civil-War

Full text of “American patriotism: speeches, letters, and other papers which illustrate the foundation, the development, the preservation of the United States of America”  – http://www.archive.org/stream/patriotismam00peabrich/patriotismam00peabrich_djvu.txt