Last December, when Tennessee Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, said she would introduce legislation which would declare null and void any federal law the state deems unconstitutional, some people were horrified. Rep. Lynn was specifically targeting the health-care reform legislation that was pending at that time. But the reaction that many people had to her language was not an expression of their support for Obamacare.
Too many Americans hear the terms “states’ rights” or the word “nullification” and immediately think of racial prejudice, Jim Crow laws and school segregation. Honestly, if all I had to rely on was what I remember being taught in public school, I would probably tell you the history of it all went like this:
The theory of nullification was first invented in the 1800s’ by advocates of slavery. They used nullification of tarrifs as a test run in the 1820s. Of course, what they really had in mind was maintaining the institution of slavery against any possible attempt by the federal government to abolish it. Then America fought the Civil War in order to end slavery, but the ideas of states’ rights and nullification were later revived in the 1950s’ by belligerent white southerners in an attempt to block the racial integration of schools. The Civil Rights Movement started and the feds had to step in and force the southern states to treat everyone equally. THE END.
That’s a rough, abbreviated version of the narrative that was handed to me, but it gives you an idea of what many Americans think they know about states’ rights and nullification. Fortunately, thanks to people like Tom Woods, Thomas DiLorenzo, and many others, I know today that this was a gross misrepresentation of the classical liberal states’ rights tradition. Then again, (and it’s not my intention to be prideful here), I’m not like most Americans. And If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t either.