Some of the so-called “experts” who want you to believe that nullification is invalid because James Madison wrote what seems to be a vehement opposition to it in the 1830s are just uninformed. Others, are just plain liars.
Either way, they’re wrong.
Here’s the deal.
John Calhoun and South Carolina proposed a specific kind of nullification in response to the “Tariff of Abominations,” as it was called. Madison denounced that. He used some serious language to write against it. And he was correct. He repeatedly referred to what he was opposing as “Her” doctrine of Nullification, or South Carolina’s “peculiar doctrine” of nullification.
In other words, he was addressing – specifically – what people were asking him about, and that was the South Carolina proposal that they could invalidate a federal act and the rest of the country would have to assume they were correct unless they held a convention to override the single state.
I’m not going to spend more time on this – because that’s obviously not a federalism ideal. And I agree with Madison’s opposition to that style of nullification – primarily the idea that every other state has to auto-agree with the one nullifying. That’s just not the case.
But, what’s most important about Madison’s “Notes on nullification” is the fact that he did indeed consider nullification, as Jefferson did, a proper remedy.Details