The following post is excerpted from the script for Nullify: Season 1. Watch all the videos from this series at this link – and Become a member here to support the TAC.

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote that nullification was “the rightful remedy” for federal acts outside the constitution. But what did that mean? And how do you nullify?

When Thomas Jefferson told us that “every state has a natural right” to nullify federal acts outside the constitution, he didn’t say how to do it. In fact, even though a few decades later, some of his most prominent supporters claimed to base their own nullification process on his advice, he never in his life actually gave us step-by-step nullification instructions.

So is Jeffersonian nullification just an abstract philosophical concept? Did he leave us totally in the dark?

Well, he did leave a pretty serious clue about how to nullify in his draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. In response to the hated Alien and Sedition Acts, he called on each state to:

take measures of its own for providing that neither these acts, nor any others of the General Government not plainly and intentionally authorized by the Constitution, shall be exercised within their respective territories.

In short, Jefferson advised a whatever-it-takes approach with nullification. Part of that approach involved smart strategy. In a letter to James Madison, he advised against just pushing the issue to the extreme. Instead, he suggested they “push as far as events will render prudent.”

Think of it this way.

If your neighbor blocks your driveway with his car, you’re probably not going to walk over to his place and punch him in the mouth as your first response.  Trust me, you shouldn’t even if you want to.

In life, situations have to be addressed individually, and the response must be appropriate to be successful. Taking things too far might put you in a place where you’ll never be able to get the job done. Sometimes you have to be tough and strong, and other times you have to be smart and savvy.

That’s exactly what Thomas Jefferson advised for nullification.

While supporting nullification as “the rightful remedy,” Thomas Jefferson told us the goal is to prevent federal enforcement, but that each issue must be addressed in a manner that’s effective for the situation.

Michael Boldin

The 10th Amendment

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