Nullification and Secession

Joe Wolverton II, writing at The New American, quotes from a five-year old speech by Matthew Whitaker:

As a principle, it has been turned down by the courts and our federal government has not recognized it. Now we need to remember that the states set up the federal government and not vice versa. And so the question is, do we have the political courage in the state of Iowa or some other state to nullify Obamacare and pay the consequences for that?

Wolverton then mounts an effective defense of Whitaker’s position; for example:

… Whitaker asserted that the states “set up the federal government.” There is no logical way to dispute that historical fact.

When the Articles of Confederation (our first constitution) came under criticism from influential statesmen, Congress was compelled to invite delegates to a convention to be held in Philadelphia “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”

Congress’ invitation was sent not to the people, but to the state governments. The state legislatures were invited to send a delegation to help repair rips in the constitutional fabric. This historical fact is irrefutable evidence that a functioning agreement for a government of the United State was the goal. That government, if it was to exist at all, would be the creation of the states that participated in the formation of it.

Additional evidence of the claim that the states were the only interested parties in the compact of the Constitution is found in the way votes were taken and recorded at the convention in Philadelphia. Representatives voted as states, not as individuals. In fact, the journal where those votes were recorded catalogs the yeas and nays according to the name of state, not the name of the delegate.

Another clue to the identity of the parties to the Constitution, is found in Articles V and VII of the document itself.

Article V requires that amendments be “ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by conventions in three-fourths thereof.” Not only was the Constitution a binding contract among the states, but any alterations of the provisions of that contract had to be signed off by a super majority of the parties.

Next, the prose and purpose of Article VII makes the issue so clear as to permit no reasonable alternative interpretation. In this brief statement the role of the states as the sine qua non of the Constitution is established. Article VII reads, “The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.”

Plainly and purposefully the framers of the Constitution recognized that the document they signed in September 1787 was an agreement among the states represented. Every article was written by the states, voted on by the states, accepted or rejected by the states, ultimately approved by the states, and it would only become binding upon states who ratified it.

Why were the people not polled or asked to vote up or down on the Constitution? Because this was neither a popular nor a national compact; it was a compact creating a confederation of sovereign states.

As constitutional attorney Kent Masterson Brown explains, “The idea that the constitution that they [the framers] had drafted and ratified was entered into ‘by the people,’ as opposed to the states, and was irrevocable once ratified was absolutely unknown to the framers and ratifiers.”

I would add that had these men been convinced that such an arrangement was advocated or even so much as contemplated by those pushing for acceptance of the Constitution, it never would have been ratified by the requisite number of states, and the embryonic American republic would have been stillborn in Philadelphia.

If nullification is to be successfully deployed and defended, states lawmakers must remember that the Constitution is a creature of the states and that the federal government was given very few and very limited powers over objects of national importance. Any act of Congress, the courts, or the president that exceeds that small scope is null, void, and of no legal effect.

Not once during the deliberations at the Constitutional Convention was there a proposal that their work be presented for approval to the body of the populace acting as individuals. From the beginning of the process that culminated on September 17, 1787 with the signing of the Constitution, it was understood that the ratification by at least nine states was the sine qua non of the start of the new government.

Still, the establishment and their media mouthpieces obstinately deny one irrefutable fact: The Constitution never would have gone into legal effect and the federal government never would have been created if state conventions had not met and ratified the document.

I have argued similarly many times. In “Constitution: Myths and Realities“, I say this about the myth that “the people” ratified the Constitution:

The idea that the Constitution is the creature of “the people” is balderdash. It is balderdash of a high order because it was lent credence by none other than John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835, whose many opinions shaped constitutional jurisprudence for better and for worse….

Marshall argues [in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)] against a strawman of his own construction: the insinuation that the Constitution was somehow ratified by “the American people”. He does not come out and say that, but he implies that holding the ratifying conventions in the various States was necessary because of the impracticality of holding a national convention of “the people”. The fact is that the conventions in the States were of modest size. The table given here shows that the total number of delegates voting yea and nay in each State ranged from a low of 26 to a high of 355, for an average of 127 per State. This was hardly anything like “one common mass” of the American people. The 1,648 delegates who voted in the thirteen conventions represented about two-tenths of one percent of the free white males aged 16 and older at the time (and presumably far less than one-half of one percent of the free-white males considered eligible for a convention).

The fact is that the ratifying conventions were held in the States because it was left to each State whether to join the new union or remain independent. The conventions were conducted under the auspices of the State legislatures. They were, in effect, special committees with but one duty: to decide for each State whether the State would join the union.

This view is supported by Madison’s contemporaneous account of the ratification process:

[I]t appears, on one hand, that the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national, but a federal act. [The Federalist No. 39, as published in the Independent Journal, January 16, 1788]

But I go further than Wolverton does (though he might agree with me). I concur in the legitimacy of nullification (which is a form of departmentalism). But I also argue that the Constitution’s provenance as a creature of the States makes secession a legal (constitutional) act. Here are excerpts of my model resolution of secession:

[I]n a letter to Alexander Rives dated January 1, 1833, Madison says that

[a] rightful secession requires the consent of the others [other States], or an abuse of the compact, absolving the seceding party from the obligations imposed by it.

An abuse of the compact most assuredly legitimates withdrawal from it, on the principle of the preservation of liberty, especially if that abuse has been persistent and shows no signs of abating. The abuse, in this instance, has been and is being committed by the national government.

The national government is both a creature of the Constitution and a de facto party to it, as co-sovereign with the States and supreme in its realm of enumerated and limited powers. One of those powers enables the Supreme Court of the United States to decide “cases and controversies” arising under the Constitution, which is but one of the ways in which the Constitution makes the national government a party to the constitutional contract. More generally, the high officials of the national government acknowledge that government’s role as a party to the compact — and the limited powers vested in them — when they take oaths of office requiring them to uphold the Constitution.

Those high officials have nevertheless have committed myriad abuses of the national government’s enumerated and limited powers. The abuses are far too numerous to list in their entirety. The following examples amply justify the withdrawal of the State of _______________ from the compact….

As outlined above, the national government has routinely and massively violated Amendment X, which states that “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.”

We, therefore, the representatives of the people of _______________ do solemnly publish and declare that this State ought to be free and independent; that it is absolved from all allegiance to the government of the United States; that all political connection between it and government of the United States is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent State it has full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Secession isn’t the only possible remedy for the central government’s long record of unconstitutional behavior. Go there and read the whole thing.