As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes.
— Heinlein, Starship Troopers
We had a saying in the Corps: “complacency kills.” I find that to be valid not just while deployed, but here at home too. Complacency has allowed the state to swell from the Jeffersonian tradition of limited government to the leviathan it is today.
It may be tempting to blame it all on the usual suspects — the great centralizers like Hamilton, Marshall, Clay, Lincoln, and FDR — but we must remember government is only allowed the power people give it.
The federal government has gone far beyond protecting its original charge of protecting “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It has made itself the sole arbiter of the Constitution and as such, its judgement, and not the chains of the Constitution, becomes the limit of its power.
I am not calling for any patriots to shed their blood (or anyone else’s for that matter), as Heinlein mentioned (a play on Thomas Jefferson’s own words), but I do ask that the patriot shed the the comforts of complacency and bind the federal leviathan by the chains of the Constitution, as was intended.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, respectively. In them, the two states took the positions that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional, and as such, states had the right to “nullify” those laws found to be unconstitutional. Madison outlined several methods of “interposition.” The nationalists of course, those in favor of a strong central government, voiced their objections. Jefferson, being the wordsmith that he was, answered the critics in his beautifully written Kentucky Resolve.
Simply put, nullification works. History is full of examples, like the Connecticut Assembly, refusing to participate during the War of 1812:
It must not be forgotten that the state of Connecticut is a FREE SOVEREIGN and INDEPENDENT State; that the United States are a confederated and not a consolidated Republic. The Governor of this State is under a high and solemn obligation, ‘to maintain the lawful rights and privileges thereof, as a sovereign, free and independent State,’ as he is ‘to support the Constitution of the United States,’ and the obligation to support the latter imposes an additional obligation to support the former. The building cannot stand, if the pillars upon which it rests, are impaired or destroyed.
State sovereignty IS the American tradition. The right to nullify unconstitutional federal laws, is arguably the most effective tool States have against the federal government’s usurpations of power.
Three years prior to the War of 1812, Massachusetts nullified President Jefferson’s trade embargo. In 1832, South Carolina Nullified the Tariff of Abominations.
American government has always been a struggle between the nationalists and those of the federalist tradition. The Civil War solidified the nationalist position that we are a single nation, instead of “Free and Independent States.” This broke the chains of the Constitution and let loose the federal government.
So ask yourself: What tradition do you want to support? Do you want a restrained government, one that lives up to the charge given it by the Founders? Or are you of the nationalist tradition that favors a big government — one that can (and does) watch your every move, read your email and text messages, all without you ever having committed a crime, and all without you ever knowing? It’s your choice.