Many Americans balk at the idea of states nullifying unconstitutional acts because they view it as rebellion against the United States.
I think this stems from the fact that so many Americans view the federal government and their beloved country as one and the same. We learn this from our very earliest days in grade school. Teachers line the walls with pictures of presidents. We take school trips to Washington D.C. to see the magnificent buildings and monuments built to and for government. We learn history through the lens of government action – military triumphs and legislative successes. And gradually, we begin to perceive any criticism of the U.S. government as criticism of the United States itself. To challenge the federal government and its policies in any way is to denigrate the greatness of the country. And as good, patriotic Americans, that makes us angry.
But in truth, we don’t find America’s greatness on Capitol Hill, or in the White House Oval Office, or in the judges’ chambers in the Supreme Court building. It’s not the IRS, the TSA or the FDA that make the United States a place people risk their lives to come and build a life. We find America’s greatness in the fundamental principles written into the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence – principles rooted in freedom and liberty.
The founding generation wrote a Constitution that made the U.S. different from any other place on the planet. It created a government of limited powers and protected the basic natural rights of its citizens. The Constitution represents rule of law, and was meant to restrain government power and protect Americans from arbitrary government actions.
So, when the federal government refuses to remain bound within its constitutionally delegated powers, it in fact tears at the very fabric of America’s greatness.
St. George Tucker wrote the first extended, systematic commentary on the U.S. Constitution in 1803. He explains in no uncertain terms what it means when a government no longer operates within its proper boundaries.
If in a limited government, the public functionaries exceed the limits which the constitution prescribes to their powers, every such act is an act of usurpation in the government, and, as such, treason against the sovereignty of the people, which it thus endeavored to be subverted, and transferred to the usurpers.
When the federal government acts outside of its delegated powers, it nullifies the Constitution.
In essence, the feds look down at the people of the several states who gave them life and echo the words of the Monster to Dr. Frankenstein, “You are my creator, but I am your master. Obey!”
So you see, nullification does not count as an act of rebellion against the United States. It is a legitimate action taken by the states to quell a rebellious federal government.