A Review of “Nullification” by Dr. Thomas Woods

September 11, 2010

courtesy of PalmettoRepublic.org

Thomas Woods is a libertarian author and a student of the Austrian School of Economics and has recently written a treatise on state’s rights entitled “Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century.” I have a lot of respect for Dr. Woods after watching many of his videos on YouTube including the classic: “Interview with a Zombie” in which he parodies the typical ignorance and prejudice of the mainstream media. I also have read his book “Meltdown” in which he details the financial collapse of 2008 and fairly spreads the blame around to all of the various government personalities and entities that caused that catastrophe. Dr. Woods is a very intelligent man and, more importantly, he has the unique talent of being able to take his uncommon insight and knowledge and turn it into understandable material that is both easy to read and easy to comprehend.

I read this book, “Nullification,” with the hopes of finding out exactly where I stand on the issue. I had a general understanding of the Principles of ’98 beforehand, but I wanted to get some added perspective on the issue and possibly find out about some things that I might not have been expecting. Obviously we at Third Palmetto Republic want Independence for the state of South Carolina, but independence doesn’t necessarily mean severing all political ties with the United States. It may be possible to remain within the union under the Constitution, yet regain control of our lives and control of the laws which govern us. At least, that was the possibility that I wanted to explore…

Dr. Woods begins his book with a detailed investigation into the concept of nullification using Thomas Jefferson’s Principles of ’98 along with selected writings from Federalists Hamilton and Madison, along with taking a look at the Constitution itself. He does an excellent job of establishing the legitimacy of the principle of nullification along with showing examples of how it has been used in the past. He defends the idea from baseless claims of racism by showing how nullification was used by abolitionist states to refuse the fugitive slave laws. He defends the idea from progressives by illustrating how the ratifying conventions of each state would never have adopted the constitution unless they were guaranteed that the newly created government would have ONLY the powers outlined in Article I, Section 8. The bulk of this book is this investigation and I must say it is the best I have seen in explaining the concept, the history, and the legality of nullification.

Next, Woods moves into a discussion of what nullification would look like today, citing some cases of modern day resistance to federal tyranny. The main case he points to is medicinal marijuana in California, where the state has decided not to enforce federal drug law, and despite some federal raids the people have decided to grow and sell the stuff anyway. He then takes on some objections to nullification, like the potential loss of federal funding, by saying that the people can just nullify the federal mandates and not need the funding. His basic premise is that if enough people within a state refuse to obey a federal law, and if a state refuses to enforce it, then the federal government is essentially powerless to do anything. He shows how several states are acting to nullify Obamacare, through various means from state government resolutions to lawsuits by attorneys general.

Finally, the book concludes with a series of historical writings that have a part in the history of nullification, from the “Virginia Resolutions of 1798, where that state refused to imprison people for speaking out against the government, to “Nullification vs. Slavery,” where Wisconsin refused to return a fugitive slave under the principle that the state was not required to abide by an unconstitutional law. Woods even includes John C. Calhoun’s Fort Hill Address from 1831, where Calhoun was defending the principle of nullification while serving as the Vice President of the United States. These documents cover about 70 years of history yet are astonishingly consistent in their message: whenever the federal government steps outside of the bounds of the Constitution, nullification is the remedy.

Dr. Woods does an excellent job and this book is well worth the read for anyone who is looking for a thorough reference on nullification. If you’re a fan of Tom Woods and you’ve already read “Meltdown,” then buy this book and read it as well. If you’ve never heard of Woods or of Austrian Economics, this book is a good introduction to the man’s style and hopefully will serve as a jumping off point for your self-education.

However, after reading this book, I am still not convinced that Nullification is a viable strategy to return Independence to the people of South Carolina. In the second chapter of the book, Dr. Woods attempts to refute the big three “gotcha” clauses in the Constitution (Article I Section 8)that the federal government uses whenever it wants to grow its power outside of the limits of the document: the general welfare clause, the commerce clause, and the “necessary and proper” clause. Unfortunately, Woods fails to disprove the accepted meaning of any of these clauses. For instance, let’s look at the General Welfare clause:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises , to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Now when I read that, I take it to mean: “The federal government can tax the ever loving **** out of us and spend it on whatever they like” and in fact, this is what they’ve done. Woods does mention that anti-Federalists such as Patrick Henry took objection to this clause, and “warned that the new government could thereby exercise whatever power it wanted on the grounds that it somehow promoted the general welfare,” yet he doesn’t delve any deeper into their position and instead gives the typical answer that “such fears were unfounded, the federal government, they said, had only those powers expressly delegated to it.” Woods then goes on to say:

James Madison was particularly adamant. The very structure of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, he said, ruled out such an interpretation. If the general welfare clause granted the federal government a general power to do anything that might advance the general welfare, why did this section of the Constitution then bother to list specific powers the government could exercise? Wouldn’t these specifics have been superfluous and absurd, on the heels of a general grant of power that obviously included the powers that followed and made their enumeration unnecessary? … Thus Madison wrote in Federalist #41, “For what purpose could the enumeration of particulars be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?”

Isn’t it obvious? The Federalists (who were in fact interested not in federalism but in a strong central government) inserted the general welfare clause and then listed the enumerated powers to purposefully confuse the subject, to insert a “Trojan Horse” into the Constitution that they could later exploit. This is just like a modern day hacker who might give you a nice piece of free software that inserts just a small little bit of “extra code” that is harmless at first, but later is used to destroy your entire computer and all of your files. History, in fact, proves me correct in this, as any casual glance at the current stack of United States government legislation would show.

Woods then goes on to talk about my personally most hated founder, Alexander Hamilton.

It might be objected that Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first secretary of the Treasury, took a different, more expansive view of the clause. Of that there is no doubt. But we may question how much weight Hamilton’s position should carry. For one thing, prior to New York’s ratification of the Constitution, Hamilton noted in Federalist #17 and #34 that the clause did not mean that an area like agriculture would come under the purview of the federal government. But having given the people that assurance, Hamilton then declared, several years after the Constitution was ratified, that the clause did mean agriculture could be directed by the federal government. Which of these opinions is more weighty: the one intended to explain the Constitution’s intent to the people as they were deciding whether or not to ratify, or the opposite opinion given suddenly and after the people’s decision had safely been made?

Again, isn’t this obvious? The second one! Another way to ask this question would be: “Which of these opinions is more weighty: the one intended to swiftly push through the Constitution by pulling the wool over the people’s eyes, or the opposite opinion given after Hamilton and his speculator buddies were secure in their new government and had made a fortune by backing the Continental Dollar by the full force and credit of the newly created government? (thanks to the Constitution.) It seems to me to be readily apparent what the intentions of the Federalists were: to ram the Constitution through without much investigation from the public so that they could drastically centralize power and enact the same mercantilist system that the revolutionaries had just fought a war against.

There is another fatal flaw in the Constitution that comes into play here: the process of actually enacting a law, and how it fails to detail any sort of veto by the people of the general states (such as nullification.) To review: if congress passes a law and the president signs it into law, or if congress overrides a presidential veto, then that legislation is now a law. It doesn’t matter what the Constitution says, the new law goes into effect. It is at this point that the people can resist the law and can appeal their case to the supreme court. This turns patriotic citizens into criminals if they think that a law is unconstitutional. They have to fight their case in court and then if they are lucky enough to be heard by the Supreme Court they have to fight federally appointed justices for their rights against the federal government. It is at this point that the Supreme Court falls back on one of the Trojan Horse clauses of the Constitution, then takes that citizen and makes an example out of them.

Unfortunately, I believe the same fate would befall a state that decided to nullify any law of any real consequence. Let’s say South Carolina decided to nullify the income tax. Oh wait, that’s a bad example, the income tax was made legal by the constitutionally afforded 16th amendment. Let’s say South Carolina decided to nullify Social Security, refusing to allow any further Social Security or payroll taxes in this state, and demanding that the feds reimburse those people who have paid into that program. The federal government clearly would not allow such a thing to happen, and so they would take various legal and financial measures to prevent it. They would certainly not reimburse any of us, and they could cut off South Carolina’s credit supply, unseat our representatives in Washington, stop all federal spending in South Carolina (military bases, SRS, SPAWAR,) or cut off all federal funding. I’m sure they would avoid any obvious calamities as to not upset the rest of the states, but as long as we remain under the federal dominion then they will simply find a way to prevent our independent action – just look at the recent case of the illegal immigration battle in Arizona.

Finally, my last objection to nullification is simply: why bother? In order to regain our independence from Washington and have the people of South Carolina control their government and therefore their lives, we would have to nullify about 99% of federal legislation in one fell swoop. Can you imagine all of the legal battles that it would take to do such a thing? How many times would we have to disprove the General Welfare clause, or the Commerce clause, and which supreme court justice other than Thomas would agree with us?

I say the answer is simple: secede. Secession is clearly the most justified, most moral, most responsible action we can take to restore independence and liberty to the people of South Carolina. How can we remain the members of a gang if we are going to pick and choose which rules we’ll follow? How can we hold such high regard for a constitution that gives our overlords the power to tax the ever loving **** out of us? We can’t. We must take responsibility for our own government and for our own lives, declare our independence, secede from the corrupt gangster U.S. government, and build a South Carolina that represents her people and protects their freedom.