Speaking of nullification, it was interesting to read a few items of Pre-Revolutionary writings. They are:
1. The Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions of 1765; and
2. The Declaratory Act of 1766.
Responding to the Stamp Act, Virginia’s House of Burgesses, at the motion of a bold, radical, new member named Patrick Henry, passed a series of five resolutions, which were adopted to protest Britain’s levy of taxes directly on the Colonists. The fifth resolution was repealed the following day, when more conservative members of the House were present to argue against it.
The Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions stated as follows:
Resolved, that the first adventurers and settlers of His Majesty’s colony and dominion of Virginia brought with them and transmitted to their posterity, and all other His Majesty’s subjects since inhabiting in this His Majesty’s said colony, all the liberties, privileges, franchises, and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.
Resolved, that by two royal charters, granted by King James I, the colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all liberties, privileges, and immunities of denizens and natural subjects to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within the Realm of England.
Resolved, that the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, or the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every tax laid on the people, is the only security against a burdensome taxation, and the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, without which the ancient constitution cannot exist.
Resolved, that His Majesty’s liege people of this his most ancient and loyal colony have without interruption enjoyed the inestimable right of being governed by such laws, respecting their internal policy and taxation, as are derived from their own consent, with the approbation of their sovereign, or his substitute; and that the same has never been forfeited or yielded up, but has been constantly recognized by the kings and people of Great Britain.
Resolved, therefor that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony and that every Attempt to vest such Power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom.
In response, Britain passed the Declaratory Act of 1766. It stated as follows:
AN ACT for the better securing the dependency of his Majesty’s dominions in America upon the crown and parliament of Great Britain.
WHEREAS several of the houses of representatives in his Majesty’s colonies and plantations in America, have of late, against law, claimed to themselves, or to the general assemblies of the same, the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon his Majesty’s subjects in the said colonies and plantations; and have, in pursuance of such claim, passed certain votes, resolutions, and orders, derogatory to the legislative authority of parliament, and inconsistent with the dependency of the said colonies and plantations upon the crown of Great Britain: … be it declared …,
That the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be. subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; and that the King’s majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons of Great Britain, in parliament assembled, had, hash, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.
II. And be it further declared …, That all resolutions, votes, orders, and proceedings, in any of the said colonies or plantations, whereby the power and authority of the parliament of Great Britain, to make laws and statutes as aforesaid, is denied, or drawn into question, are, and are hereby declared to be, utterly null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
Is it not interesting to see this process outside of the Constitutional context? Here it is, the years 1765-66, and with no Constitution in hand, we have one body of people claiming exclusive authority to govern themselves, and we have another body declaring the former claims to be null.
Of course, we know who won that “debate.” And the beauty of it is that they didn’t need to point to Article 1, Section 8 or the Tenth Amendment. They just did it.
So, what’s my point? The reasoning used between factions vying for the right to govern exists independently of constitutions, acts, statutes and resolutions.
Why nullify? It’s simple. Because you can.
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