Only days after Donald Trump’s victory there were already calls for secession arising from liberal controlled states of California and Oregon. While such calls may be an over-reaction, it does help to make a point that has been urged from the very beginning of our original Republic of Republics.
Patrick Henry warned the people of Virginia about the dangers of entering into a union that would be controlled by people who held not merely different but antagonistic interests from the people of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison noted this danger to liberty in their Resolves of 1798 by which they attempted to nullify federal government overreach. In the early 1800s Congressman John Randolph of Virginia warned about the dangers posed to minority rights by the dictatorship of “King Numbers.” Senator John C. Calhoun warned that in a pure democracy the majority could use the ballot box to oppress and exploit the political minority. Control of big government is great if you are the one who is in control! But how do we protect the rights of those, such as the liberal voters of California and Oregon, who are not in power? Or how do we protect the rights of conservative voters when conservatives are no longer in power? Historically this was not just a question raised by Southerners. Elected officials from New England appealed to both nullification and threatened secession on numerous occasions from the beginning of the nation until 1861.
The idea that a large and supreme central government in the United States can protect the rights and interests of all the people is mathematically absurd. When the original federal government under the constitution was established (1789) each member of the House of Representatives represented the interests of 60,000 citizens. Today each member of the House of Representatives is supposed to represent the interests of over 700,000 diverse people. If we had the same ratio today, there would be over 5,000 members of the House of Representatives! It is absurd to think that a supreme central government that rules over the lives of over 300 million people would be able to protect the interests of the political minority. Under the current system of supreme federalism, the lives of 300 million people are governed by a majority vote of 269 members of Congress and even less if acting by a mere quorum. With Trump’s victory, even liberals, who once controlled the federal government, are now beginning to see the logic of secession.
Under the current system of supreme federalism people in the political minority have little hope of defending their interests against an aggressive federal government. We have seen this under a liberal controlled federal government when the people of California voted to define marriage as between one man and one women. But their votes were nullified by the federal government. Liberals were fine with this as long as it was conservatives’ “ox that was being gored.” But today “the shoe is on the other foot.” Today, progressives are looking into a future in which their political interests will be sacrificed upon the alter of a supreme federal government controlled by their conservative arch-enemy. Suddenly it is becoming clear to progressives that perhaps the traditional Southern support for nullification and secession has merit. Unfortunately, progressives have spent 150 years unjustly painting these American principles with the tar brush of slavery and racism. Progressives who controlled the federal government found it necessary to slander, deride, and stigmatize real states’ rights in order to assure the continuation of their newly created supreme federal government. Those who wanted a powerful and supreme federal government have suppressed this ultimate “check and balance” to an out-of-control federal government. Progressives understood that in the original republic the sovereign state exercising or merely threatening to exercise its sovereign authority via nullification and secession was the ultimate check on an abusive federal government. Progressives knew that they had to suppress this final check on their quest for supreme power. Of course, they never thought that a time would arise when they did not control their supreme federal government. Perhaps now is the time to reconsider these inalienable American principles of nullification and secession.
Nullification by a sovereign state is used to protect the people of the state from the oppressive exercise of federal power. It allows time for other states to consider the logic of the state’s act of nullification. In the meantime, it allows for the enforcement of the nullified act in all states not nullifying the federal act. The other states can join in nullifying said federal act; ignore the nullification in their state; or, pass a constitutional amendment removing any state from the union that does not abide by the federal act in question. The people of the nullifying state would then be forced to decide if the principles they were defending were of such high value that they would prefer to remove themselves from the union rather than violate their principles.
A just federal union is held together not by bloody bayonets but by the mutual benefits shared by its members. Nullification is intended as a tool to protect rights and interests while maintaining a mutually beneficial union whereas secession is the final act of a people to protect their rights. It is no different than the secession of the American Colonies in 1776 after numerous efforts to compromise with the British Crown.
The ability of the people of a sovereign state to appeal to nullification and secession serves as a brake on political ambitions of the central government’s ruling elite. Nullification and secession promotes the peaceful political association of diverse people.