Review of “Nullification: How To Resist Federal Tyranny In The 21st Century”

I have been “fan” of Tom Woods since I first read The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Since reading that book a few years ago, I’ve read more of Tom’s books; Who Killed the Constitution and Meltdown. I’ve had the chance to meet Tom, even having an interesting dinner with him, Adam Kokesh, Michael Maresco and about a dozen other active members of the “Freedom Movement.” Tom being the nice guy that he is, even contributed to a book I co-wrote and edited as a tribute to the Ron Paul 2008 Presidential campaign, Songs of Freedom: Tales From the Revolution (which was named 1 of 4 finalists in the Current Events: Political category by USA Book News in the National Best Books 2010 Awards). But, I digress.

In January, I heard Tom speak at a Campaign for Liberty event in Atlanta, where he mentioned that he was writing a book on “nullification.” He went on to give a few teasers about the contents. I knew I wanted to read the book, as I felt it would further my understanding of a concept I already liked. I could not have been more right.

Tom begins by examining WHY people should “return to a forbidden idea” – I really like how he calls “nullification” a “forbidden idea.” On page 3 Tom writes, “Nullification begins with the axiomatic point that a federal law that violates the Constitution is no law at all. It is void and of no effect…. Nullification provides a shield between the people of a State and an unconstitutional law from the federal government.” He also explains that the federal government, created by the states via the constitution, should not have “a monopoly on constitutional interpretation.” After all, why should any group/organization/government created by (and supposedly for the benefit) of the parties involved be allowed to become superior to the parties that created it? Woods goes on to cite numerous letters and papers written by the Federalists claiming that States did have a right to nullify unconstitutional laws. He even show modern examples of nullification that have not resulted (as some say nullification does) in bloodshed. Medical Marijuana laws, refusal to implement REAL ID & the Firearms Freedom Acts are just 3 examples of States using “nullification” to defend the State and the citizens & residents of that State from unconstitutional laws. Woods also cites the work being done by the Tenth Amendment Center and their fight to oppose federal violations of the Constitution.

Woods next examines “the problem an rightful remedy.” He writes, “When the Constitution was ratified, the people were assured that it established a government of limited powers… that the States retained all powers not delegated to the new government… This is not a peculiarly conservative or libertarian reading of the historical record. This is the historical record.” He then examines several instances where the federal government overstepped their bounds. Should we wait for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not the federal government has violated the Constitution? Jefferson argues doing so would “place us under the despotism of oligarchy.” The only option left is either nullification or civil disobedience.

Woods then looks at “The spirit of ’98”, referencing the Kentucky & Virginia Resolutions of 1798 nullifying the Alien & Sedition Acts. Kentucky & Virginia were not the only States to use nullification, indeed Rhode Island, Connecticut & Massachusetts all used nullification less than 15 years after Kentucky & Virginia. From 1812 until 1860 many other States employed nullification when the federal government was seen as overstepping the bounds of the Constitution. The most overlooked example of nullification was by Wisconsin when the legislature nullified a Fugitive Slave Law that was seen as unconstitutional. However, opponents of nullification don’t like to reference this act, because it doesn’t fit the argument that “nullification is about slavery.” In fact, nullification was never used to defend the institution of slavery.

In chapter 4, he compares the “compact theory” vs the “nationalist view” on the creation of the United States of America by asking the questions: “Was the United States created by a group of independent political societies that established the federal government as their agent, reserving all undelegated powers? Or was the United States the creation of a single, undifferentiated American people?” The “compact theory” is consistent with historical evidence; each of the 13 States ratified the Constitution separately, not as a single body. That alone supports the “compact theory.” The fact that the 10th Amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” is further proof that of the “compact theory.” However, Tom gives space for the “nationalist view” and soundly refutes each “argument” in support of this view.

He then looks at “nullification today” – a pretty good name for a newspaper on the subject, if you ask me. Woods briefly gives a history of “Western liberty.” Then he takes a look at the reactions of different States to the recent “health care reform” bill that was passed by Congress. At the time of publishing 27 States had either passed nullification laws or were in the act of doing so. He also talks about jury nullification and other options to nullification, such as Amending the Constitution. But, if the federal government doesn’t abide by the Constitution as currently written, what makes anyone think they’ll obey an amendment? To answer this question. Woods, surprisingly, quotes Lysander Spooner.

Woods even includes “Eleven Essential Documents” which includes both the Kentucky & Virginia Resolutions of 1798 as well as nullification resolutions from Connecticut & Wisconsin. There can be no justice done in any attempt to summarize documents.

Tom Woods, has definitely written another excellent book. In one of my favorite quotes, which is an amazing summary of the subject, Woods writes, “Nullification is about learning to exercise our rights, whether the courts or the politicians want us to or not.”