Chalk one up for the nullifiers.

The recent announcement that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 Federal Reserve note provides some rich irony that goes right over most people’s head.

Jackson, the quintessential anti-nullifier will be replaced by one of the most prolific nullifiers in American history.

Most people don’t think of Harriet Tubman as a nullifier. But she absolutely was. She defied federal law in order to help escaped slaves to freedom.

Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, assisting an escaped slave was a federal offense punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. (That amounts to about $27,000 today.) Between personal liberty laws that blocked state cooperation with enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, and the efforts of individual efforts such as Tubman to protect escaped slaves, northern states effectively nullified the federal act.

In fact, if you read the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, the first complaint listed was northern nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act – and it used the word “nullification.”

Harriet Tubman was a nullifier.

Jackson on the other hand was a staunch opponent of nullification. During the so-called nullification crisis in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Jackson strongly opposed South Carolina’s efforts to nullify a tariff many in the South believed unconstitutionally favored northern states. Jackson issued a strong response, forcefully challenging the legality of nullification and threatening to use military force should South Carolina go forward and refuse to collect the tariff. There is even a story revived from the annals of history by Florida Sen. Don Gaetz asserting that Jackson once said, “Shoot the first nullifier who touches the Flag. And hang the rest.”

Jackson was an anti-nullifier.

One can look at Tubman’s new place on the $20 bill in many ways. But I like to look at it as the nullification of Andrew Jackson by Tubman the nullifier.

Indeed, chalk one up for the nullifiers.

Mike Maharrey

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