State Sovereignty: Noble Political Rhetoric or Legitimate Tool to Protect Freedom?

The ties between England and what would become the United States of America were severed, as Tench Coxe, delegate from Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress, put it, in large part due to the perversion and mal-administration of the British government.1  Two hundred years later, Americans are manifesting similar levels of frustration with government and inflammatory terms like secession are being used by politicians ever anxious to grab the media spotlight and secure their re-election. But what have they done exactly to correct the “perversion and mal-administration” of the government?

Our founders, astute students of history, well understood as St. Augustine had described, Libido Dominandi, the lust to dominate. They knew that if permitted, the federal government would transgress the limits of the Constitution, and, as Thomas Jefferson remarked, “[annihilate] the state governments and erect upon their ruins a general consolidated government.”2

Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1799, "lest [our] silence be construed into an acquiescence…the states…being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of [the federal government’s] infraction;" and “That a nullification, by those sovereignties [states] of all unauthorized acts done under color of that instrument [the Constitution] is the rightful remedy."2

Mr. Jefferson understood that a stronger response than mere petitions and protests would be necessary but he sought ever to preserve the union and thus viewed secession only as a last resort. He understood that the states must stand in defense of the liberty of the people. He knew the federal government would seek to annihilate the states and dominate all American life.

Thomas E. Woods Jr., in his recent best-seller, Nullification, references State Representative John Breckinridge’s comments to the Kentucky legislature of 1799, “the people at the state level ought to make a legislative declaration that, being unconstitutional, they [federal actions] are therefore void and of no effect.” With regard to unconstitutional federal actions, Breckinridge hoped “Congress might repeal them, or that decent judges might refuse to act upon them” but in the interim recognized the states obligation to “nullify those acts and to protect their citizens from their operation.”

What stops us from following in Mr. Jefferson’s footsteps and declaring Obamacare and Cap and Trade Initiatives, “palpable violations of the said constitution” and “consider a silent acquiescence as highly criminal?” In that vein, the Texas legislature has the “right and is duty bound to interpose for arresting the progress of evil, and for maintaining our authorities, rights and liberties” declaring this federal action unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect in the sovereign state of Texas!2 Failing to do so, we, as Congressman Edward Livingston of New York declared in 1798 “deserve the chains which these measures are forging” for us.3


1. The Debate on the Constitution, Federalist and Antifederalist Speeches, Articles, and Letters During the Struggle Over Ratification, Part One: September 1787 to February 1788, 22, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, N.Y., 1993.

2. The Kentucky Resolutions of 1799, Elliot, Jonathan Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Volume IV, 544-545, Lippincott (1907).

3. Woods, Thomas E. Jr., Nullification, How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. P. 53 Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2010.


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