We spend a great deal of time defending the principle of state nullification of unconstitutional acts here at the Tenth Amendment Center. The philosophical basis for state nullification rests on delegation of powers and the structure of the system created by the Constitution. But other forms of nullification exist, finding their legitimacy in even higher authorities.
At the insistence of southern delegations, especially South Carolina’s, the final version of the U.S. Constitution included a fugitive slave clause in Article IV Sec. 2
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
Granville Sharp was not pleased.
Sharp represented James Somersett in a famous English case that led to the conclusion that slavery was unsupported by existing law in England. In his ruling, Lord Mansfield essentially argued slavery was incompatible with common law.
The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.
When Sharp learned of the fugitive slave clause in the Constitution, he fired off a letter to Benjamin Franklin saying he was “sincerely grieved.” He went on to declare the constitutional clause was “null and void…It would be even a crime to regard [it] as Law.”Details