Establishment conservative and liberal constitutional “experts” have been telling us – for years – that James Madison opposed nullification all the time, in every instance.

They’re either ignorant, or lying.  Or both.

Like they do for all their twisted views, they trot out a quote from Madison, but it’s used entirely out of context.

Unfortunately, however, many people in the general public pick up on this, and – maybe they’re just too lazy to read more than a simple quote.  But, the end result is that they will often post that quote in a comment stream in the hopes of saying that Madison – opposed nullification.

He didn’t.

First of all, here’s the quote:

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Simply reading Stephen’s comment – one might be led to believe that Madison did, indeed oppose nullification. However, like the way our opposition excludes the phrase “in pursuance thereof” when talking about the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, many people seem to gloss over Madison’s use of the phrase “as is now contended.”

It should be obvious that Madison was talking about a specific proposal for nullification.  And he was – a proposal from South Carolina.

Here’s how Mike Maharrey discussed this in an important article on the subject:

Quite simply, a single state can’t bind other political societies – neither the other states, nor the union of states created by the Constitution.  A single state has no power to legally require federal agents to cease enforcement of federal acts.  No mechanism exists for a single state to veto a federal act and force other states or the federal government to recognize that veto as “right and valid.” The Constitution does not establish any such process, as Madison asserted in the Notes.

This was the “nullification” Madison was addressing in his Notes – a process dreamed up by Calhoun and South Carolina statesmen – and readers must keep that context in mind.

And even more importantly, as Maharrey notes, in that same attack on “the doctrine of South Carolina,” Madison gave his support for nullification in general,

“Thus the right of nullification meant by Mr. Jefferson is the natural right, which all admit to be a remedy against insupportable oppression. It cannot be supposed for a moment that Mr. Jefferson would not revolt at the doctrine of South Carolina, that a single state could constitutionally resist a law of the Union while remaining within it, and that with the accession of a small minority of the others, overrule the will of a great majority of the whole, & constitutionally annul the law everywhere.”  [Emphasis added]

As the elder statesman of the founding generation alive at that time, the fact that Madison said none of his contemporaries opposed nullification was huge. All the founders were in favor.

Michael Boldin

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