Book Review—Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century

Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 21st CenturyThomas Woods starts his book with the point that in a free society people do not require constitutional authority to act. Government does. He states that the contempt for constitutional limitation on the federal government is bipartisan and long-standing. Due to precious few victories against ongoing and apparently unstoppable government growth, the Jeffersonian remedy of state interposition is once again being pursued.

The federal government has a conflict of interest in overseeing itself

The author explains the beliefs of Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison for states being the real check on federal power, not the Supreme Court, which is itself a branch of the federal government. Their views were incorporated in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 (known as the Principles of ’78). They thought the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. Opposition at that time would later use the Principles of ’78 to object to Jefferson’s embargo and Wisconsin’s nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. South Carolina’s nullification of the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 led to a compromise giving tariff relief it might otherwise not have received if it had not stood up to the federal government. Up to date nullification involves states legislating legal use of marijuana, which is illegal under federal law.

The compact theory

The premise of nullification as proposed by Jefferson and others is called the compact theory. In 1833, Joseph Story, in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, advocated the nationalist theory, which denies that the states established the federal government or that the United States is a league or compact among states. In 1840, Judge Abel P. Upshur wrote a book that gave a point by point refutation of Story’s Commentaries. The compact theory says the U.S. had been formed when the people of each of the 13 states, each acting in its sovereign capacity, ratified the Constitution in the months and years following its drafting in 1787. The states voted separately to ratify the Constitution, not as the nationalist theory, which advocates that the Constitution was ratified by a single, consolidated vote of all individuals in the original 13 states. Jefferson and others further proposed that the states may refuse to enforce a federal law that exceeded the power they had delegated to the central government.

The three abused clauses

The book includes a discussion of the three constitutional clauses that have most frequently been exploited to expand federal government power (general welfare, commerce and “necessary and proper”) and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments confining the federal government to only those powers expressly delegated by the people of the states. Eleven “essential documents” are provided to the reader as examples of how the Founding Fathers believed nullification could be applied.

Understand history, understand the Constitution, restrict federal tyranny

Woods makes a plausible argument for states using nullification and covers the obstacles supporters will face to accomplish it. Educating the public (including lawyers) about history, court cases and proper understanding of the Constitution’s wording is essential to the restriction of federal tyranny facing Americans today. This book has the information to do just that!


  1. Great write up!!
    Please consider this book by the Tenth Amendment Center’s Communication Director!!
    I found it to be a better read than Woods’ book.
    It’s called: Our Last Hope, Rediscovering Our Lost Path to Liberty by Mike Maharrey

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