Scott McKay has already given a good reply to Quin Hillyer’s completely tired, unoriginal criticism of State nullification, which rests mainly on name-calling, that one is racist if he breathes a word in support of nullification. The Louisiana Legislature should not back away one inch from the resolution they approved (SCR 21). They should, in fact, answer Mr. Hillyer’s column with even more defiance of what is the truly ‘loony-radical’ idea in US politics: that the federal government gets to decide the limits of its own powers, as well as the limits of the State and local powers.
To demonstrate the falseness of Mr. Hillyer’s charge, that nullification is almost exclusively a racist Southern ‘heresy’ against the Philadelphia constitution, we present some examples of the Northern States’ exercise of nullification vis-à-vis the federal Fugitive Slave Act. It comes from J. J. Kilpatrick’s very helpful book The Sovereign States:
But meanwhile, Northern States were far more industrious in seeking to nullify both Constitution and courts. Very early in the period, they began to adopt what were known as “Personal Liberty Laws”—State statutes designed shrewdly and deliberately to nullify the Federal Fugitive Slave Act. That this was their intention, few Northerners denied; that the enactments presented an outright defiance of law was generally conceded. Even the great Webster, no friend of slavery or the South, once commented of Southern outcries against the personal liberty laws, “The South, in my judgment, is right, and the North is wrong.”(155) The laws took a dozen ingenious forms. The Southern slave-owner, who came North seeking his escaped servant or farmhand, was susceptible of arrest himself on a trumped up charge of “kidnapping.” Should the slave-owner actually capture his fugitive, it was necessary for him to prove ownership by the most elaborate evidence— presented before a jury of hostile abolitionists. State officials were prohibited under pain of heavy punishment from cooperating in any way in enforcement of the Federal act. It was made a serious misdemeanor for any person to assist in the recapture of a fugitive slave. In Vermont, all fugitives were declared automatically free men; any person who attempted to detain such a fugitive thereafter made himself liable, on conviction, to a prison term of five to twenty years or a fine of up to $10,000.(156)
All told, fourteen respected and honored Northern States engaged in this prolonged, and generally successful interposition of their sovereign powers. Let the roll be called: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin. Theirs was a planned and deliberate program of nullification, pursued with relentless vigor, in defiance of the Constitution, over a period of nearly forty years. Each of them enacted laws willfully intended to veto the Act of Congress of 1793, and to render nugatory any effort to enforce it. As rapidly as their acts were held unconstitutional,(157) they enacted new evasions, or simply ignored the court decrees.
. . .
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!