Don Gaetz, president of the Florida state senate, recently responded to an attorney’s defense of Thomas Jefferson’s principle of state nullification of unconstitutional laws as follows:
Thank you for your email and for your passionate views.
Like you, I believe Obamacare is unconstitutional and wrong-headed policy. I have consistently voted in the Florida Legislature for legislation that affirms our state’s options, obligations and sovereignty under the United States Constitution. I am working every day to ensure the election of national candidates who will repeal and replace this extraordinarily bad policy.
As to nullification, I tend to favor the approach used by Florida’s first Governor, Andrew Jackson:
It is said that one evening, while he was president, General Jackson was interrupted in his reading in his bedroom by an alarmed military aide who breathlessly reported, “Mr. President, the “nullifiers” are in front of the Executive Mansion with torches and guns. They are screaming that each state has the right to decide for itself which federal laws to follow. They threaten to burn us down if you will not agree with them.”
Without lifting his head from his reading, Andrew Jackson said, “Shoot the first nullifier who touches the Flag. And hang the rest.”
Chaplain, I have sworn an oath on my father’s Bible before Almighty God to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and government of the United States. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. Count me with Andrew Jackson.
Senator Don Gaetz
A number of Floridians were up in arms about Senator Gaetz’s casual endorsement of firing on his own people. (Note that “firing on his own people” is a phrase we are permitted to use only in reference to foreign despots; anyone recommending such a course here is merely defending law and order.) The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is supposed to stay on the alert for cases of political extremism, uttered not a peep at this particular act of extremism. Probably just an oversight.
So Senator Gaetz played the “I was taken out of context” card. Note that his entire letter was reproduced, so it’s not clear how he could have been taken out of context, or in what context killing Floridians could have been an acceptable idea. Here’s his explanation:
That’s just an old tale of what was said about what Andrew Jackson said. I simply sent it to her as a way to try to let her know that you can still be civil about these issues and you don’t have to be outraged about every single thing. You can disagree without being uncivil.
So you teach people how to disagree without being uncivil by citing Jackson’s urge to execute people?
Finally, for a contemporary and systematic reply to Andrew Jackson’s Nullification Proclamation (which was actually written by Secretary of State Edward Livingston), read Littleton Waller Tazewell, whose work I excerpt toward the end of my book Nullification.