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Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Thomas E. Woods Jr.

Citizens across the country are fed up with the politicians in Washington telling us how to live our lives—and then sticking us with the bill. But what can we do? Actually, we can just say “no.” As New York Times bestselling author Thomas … see full wiki

Author: Thomas E. Woods Jr.
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Regnery Press
1 review about Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny...

I have to keep asking, what if he's right?

  • Jul 27, 2010
How's this for an overwrought metaphor (and one I hope will not be offensive to our author)? Tom Woods is a Martin Luther, nailing truth after truth to the doors of our Civic Religion. Certainly there are few writers of his stature and visibility these days who dare to take on Received Truth about government and constitution from quite the angle, and with quite the brio, he does. Woods' latest collection of theses, "Nullification," once again raises questions politicians, teachers, newsreaders, and other acolytes of the Civic Religion told us were settled long ago. And given how short Americans' historical memory is, they were probably right. But as I have asked with regard to some of Woods' other books, "What if he's right?"

I don't see how anyone can deny the historical argument Tom Woods lays out in "Nullification" -- that at the time of the American founding and for several generations thereafter, it was widely (though not universally, by any means) held that individual American states retained the right to "interpose" themselves between their citizens and the central government in order to "nullify" (prevent the enforcement of) unconstitutional laws. Articulated most clearly in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 respectively, the principle of nullification, and the actual threat of interposition, was invoked several times by various states over subsequent years -- including, most energetically, by some states that had previously emphatically rejected the Resolutions just years before. As a newly-minted citizen of the Constitution State, I was tickled to read about the governor and legislature of Connecticut's 1809 refusal to enforce President Jefferson's act of embargo. Even more inspiring, though, was the refusal of Wisconsin's legislature and governor, across the span of several years, to surrender a citizen to the feds for prosecution on charges of violating the fugitive slave law (note to Hollywood: someone please make a movie about Joshua Glover and Sherman Booth; thank you).

The historical argument, though, is merely the foundation for the author's key point: that the United States was indeed founded -- as the name implies -- as a voluntary union of states retaining their rights and sovereignty, "not [to quote the Kentucky Resolutions] united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government." Woods argues the so-called "compact theory" of the Constitution is not only correct, but was also the clear intention and understanding of the founders, the constitutional ratification conventions ... even of centralizers like the Federalists. Understanding the compact theory, from which the power of nullification flows, is essential to a full and accurate understanding of American history and, more importantly -- to use Woods' chapter title -- "What Is (or Are) the United States, Anyway?"

Civic Religion teaches that nullification as a doctrine died with the Confederacy in 1865. Attempting to link nullification and the defense of slavery is a common slander, and one Woods decisively refutes (for one thing, as noted above, one of the most energetic applications of the doctrine was Wisconsin's refusal to allow enforcement of the *pro-slavery* Fugitive Slave Act). Federal supremacy, and of the Supreme Court in particular as the final and absolute arbiter of what the Constitution means, is so deeply ingrained in American psychological and political practice that it's hard to imagine a renascent nullification movement could ever gain serious steam in the modern U.S. But there are rumblings here and there across the "homeland," as Woods describes. From the medical marijuana movement in California and the Northwest to opposition to various elements of Obamacare, people from all over the political spectrum are looking for new ways to rein in out-of-control federal power. As the author points out several times, nothing else has worked. "If anything is going to change," he writes, "we must employ every mechanism of defense that Thomas Jefferson bequeathed to us, not just the ones that won't offend Katie Couric or the New York Times" (p. 143).

Whether in elementary school or law school, compact theory and nullification aren't taught anymore. More than "lost history," they are suppressed history: what could be more threatening to The Way Things Are than the ideas that federal power isn't absolute, that the states are more than provinces of a centralized state, and that citizens have the right -- nay, the obligation -- not to obey the unconstitutional usurpations of ambitious politicians? But what if The Way Things Are aren't The Way Things Were Meant to Be? Shouldn't we do something about it? Or to put it another way, yet again, what if he's right?

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