On the 28th of August, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

With the anniversary shining the spotlight on King’s moving speech, those lovely statists, who love the idea of a unchecked federal leviathan, hit the blogs to argue that Dr. King would never have supported the idea of nullification. They cite two examples to back their claims.

The first comes from that very famous speech.

“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

The second is MLK’s letter from a Birmingham jail.

“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of “interposition” and “nullification”? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

“Peterr” at firedoglake.com does a pretty good job of summing up these blog posts.

“Fifty years after King’s speech and 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the ghosts of George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, and the rest of the nullifiers keep trying to refight the Civil War. They were wrong in 1863, they were wrong in 1963, and they keep being wrong today.”

Al Sharpton made the same argument earlier this year.

“Later this year, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of his remarkable ‘I Have A Dream’ speech…….and we hear talk of nullification. … Dr. King had warned of a governor whose lips drip with the words of ‘interposition and nullification.’ In 2013, looks like we need to heed his warnings yet again.”

So again, tenthers and nullifiers are immediately painted as racists, neo-confederates, and supporters of slavery and segregation. But what do history and the facts really say about the practice of nullification and the teachings of Dr. King?

Was nullification used to fight the civil war? Was it used by pro-slavery crusaders?

Tom Woods, one of the fathers of the modern nullification movement, answers that question this way.

“Nullification was never used on behalf of slavery. Why would it have been? What anti-slavery laws were there that the South would have needed to nullify? To the contrary, nullification was used against slavery, as when northern states did everything in their power to obstruct the enforcement of the fugitive-slave laws, with the Supreme Court of Wisconsin going so far as to declare the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional and void. In Ableman v. Booth (1859), the U.S. Supreme Court scolded it for doing so. In other words, modern anti-nullification jurisprudence has its roots in the Supreme Court’s declarations in support of the Fugitive Slave Act. Who’s defending slavery here?   Also Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, denounced nullification in his farewell address to the U.S. Senate. South Carolina, in the document proclaiming its secession from the Union in December 1860, cited the North’s nullification of the fugitive-slave laws as one of the grievances justifying its decision. Don’t expect critics of nullification to know any of this, and you won’t be disappointed.”

Were Gov. Barnett and Wallace just and principled in their talk of nullification?

Alabama’s Constitution and bill of rights, of sorts, are almost identical to the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Here is section one of the Alabama Constitution. “That all men are CREATED EQUAL; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Also the 13th, 14th & 15th amendments of the US Constitution outlawed slavery, servitude and the denial of suffrage based on race further solidifying the notion that ALL men are created equal. Alabama’s own bill of rights and the US Constitution make it impossible to nullify the Federal Government in favor of segregation when both charter documents say ALL MEN are equal in standing before each respected government. You see, we DO have something called the Supremacy Clause that says, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme law of the land.” This is not to say that every LAW passed by the Feds is made in pursuance of or under the guidelines of the constitution. If it’s not constitutional then it’s not supreme therefore it can and should be nullified! Alexander Hamilton explained it clearly, “the laws of Congress are restricted to a certain sphere, and when they depart from this sphere, they are no longer supreme or binding.” Neither Wallace nor Barnett had the US constitution, their own state’s bill of rights, or basic human rights on their side. They were unjust and unprincipled and not nullifiers from the same mold as Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton.

What about the principles that MLK taught?

If you read the rest of Rev. King’s letter from the Birmingham jail, you will find these poignant words.

“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in public schools, at first glance it may seem paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”

TAC member Benjamin W. Mankoowski Sr. summed up Martin’s view from his “Free at Last! Martin Luther King and Nullification” blog in 2012.

“Dr. King, as a religious nullifier, risked more than any elected state or local official by refusing to accept injustice. Elected officials who nullify are not the ones targeted for arrest, yet those who refuse to obey an unjust law individually or as part of a group face that risk daily. Despite this risk, long before there was a Tenth Amendment Center, to paraphrase Michael Boldin, he and other religious nullifiers before him didn’t need no stinkin’ permission to exercise their rights.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King believed and taught that if a law was unjust then it should be disobeyed! The founders taught that if the feds passed a law, that was contrary to the Constitution, then it was the states, or the people’s, duty to nullify and bring restraint back to an out of control federal government. TAC, and those like Mr. Woods, bring these principles along in the 21st century to stand up for liberty and limit a government that has truly been out of control in its past and is ever losing control today. Government is to blame for oppression, slavery, segregation and many more evils, so why would we want a federal government without checks and balances by the people? Do we really want unchecked government having known what evils and injustices government created? Do we really think federal judges will limit federal power? Isn’t that somewhat of a conflict of interests? Clearly nullification is a tool for good, a tool to uphold the constitution when offended, and a tool to fight injustice wherever it rears its ugly head; whether on the federal, state, or local level.

King would undoubtedly oppose federal overreaches like the NDAA and the secret dealing of the NSA since he himself was unjustly wire tapped and thrown in jail without cause. He would oppose ANY president that would go to war without a declaration of war in 2013 just as he did in his day with Vietnam. So, yes I believe Rev. King would stand with the Tenth Amendment Center on many different fronts to fight against tyranny from all levels of government.

Tim Wade
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