My next book, slated for June 29 release, is called Nullification, with a subtitle to be determined.Â I’ll send out a notice to everyone on my newsletter list (see the right-hand column of the home page here at TomWoods.com) when it comes out.
The book seeks to detoxify this unjustly maligned Jeffersonian remedy.Â When the New York Times ran a relatively even-handed article on the subject last week, the comments section was filled with statements so ignorant they shocked even me, and my expectations for Times comments are pretty low.Â All these people could do was repeat what their seventh-grade teacher had told them about slavery and states’ rights.Â Not a hint that they knew about the use of nullification by the New England states against Jefferson’s embargo, against the calling up of the militia for the invasion of Canada during the War of 1812, against military conscription, and against the enlistment of minors without the consent of their parents.
And that’s not to mention how abolitionists used nullification in their efforts against the fugitive-slave acts.Â Yes, there is a fugitive-slave clause in the Constitution, but the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was nevertheless open to constitutional objection, and object the abolitionists did.Â They even cited John C. Calhoun by name in formulating their arguments; no one had told them, evidently, that anyone referring to Calhoun must be a gratuitously wicked slavery supporter.
This need not even be a traditional left-right issue.Â Before the Left decided that the bureaucratization of all of life, administered by a remote central government, was the ideal social arrangement, some on the Left considered such a system repulsive and inhumane.Â Kirkpatrick Sale, for instance, argued in his book Human Scale that so much of modern life, its political dimension included, had grown dysfunctional simply by virtue of having grown.Â Everything was simply much too big, its scale grotesquely out of proportion to what a humane existence would appear to demand.
Some of this earlier decentralist spirit is still alive in community-supported agriculture, the defense of farmersâ€™ markets against federal incursions, and the â€œsmall is beautifulâ€ outlook in general â€“ causes associated in the public mind with, but by no means confined to, the Left.Â It is this spirit that would find nullification and what came to be known as the Principles of â€™98 congenial, and it is in this spirit that todayâ€™s burgeoning nullification movement has made inroads among the Left.Â Yes, Vermont and Kansas may use nullification, which the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799 described as the statesâ€™ â€œrightful remedyâ€ against unconstitutional federal power grabs, for different purposes. Â Vermont may object to one unconstitutional law and Kansas another.Â Heaven knows there are plenty to choose from.Â But for those who do not feel compelled to mold every last community in America into their own image, and prefer instead to live and let live and mind their own business, this is quite all right.Â We might actually wind up with the diverse collection of self-governing communities the ratifiers of the Constitution thought they were protecting.