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Profile: John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun was a participant or observer in the following events:

Martha Dean.Martha Dean. [Source: Connecticut Political Reporter]Connecticut attorney general candidate Martha Dean, a Republican lawyer, says state governments should be able to ignore federal laws if their lawmakers so choose, even if the US Supreme Court rules the laws constitutional. In some instances, “the Supreme Court is just wrong, so what option does the state have?” Dean says. “They have the option of nullification.” “Nullification” is the idea that the Tenth Amendment gives the states the power to “nullify,” or override, federal law. [The Day, 10/14/2010] The concept gained national notoriety in 1830, when Vice President John C. Calhoun set off the so-called “Nullification Crisis” that almost led to an armed conflict between South Carolina and the rest of the nation, and helped set the stage for the Civil War 30 years later. It came to the fore again in 1956, when segregationists attempted to use the concept to persuade state leaders to ignore the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that mandated the desegregation of public schools (see March 12, 1956 and After); Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus attempted to invoke “nullification” when he resisted orders to integrate Little Rock public schools, an effort that was shut down by unanimous rulings of the Court. Article 6 of the Constitution states that acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land… anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Founding father James Madison argued that nullification would “speedily put an end to the Union itself” by allowing federal laws to be freely ignored by states. [Constitution (.org), 8/28/1830; Think Progress, 9/27/2010; The Day, 10/14/2010] Dean says the doctrine of “nullification” is valid and viable, saying: “This is a tool that has existed. It is a tool that isn’t often used. It isn’t often needed.” She says that when state officials such as herself, or elected governors or lawmakers, feel the federal government’s laws surpass Tenth Amendment limitations, then Connecticut and other states should nullify those laws. Dean says her position is controversial only to “the left.” However, the idea has been used for centuries by anti-government activists, most memorably during the run-up to the Civil War and the battle over civil rights for African-Americans in the 1950s and 1960s. Law professor Richard Kay says the idea is entirely invalid. “This was a very plausible argument up until 1865,” Kay says. “But after the Civil War, what was a genuine argument about the nature of the American constitutional system was pretty decisively decided. Since 1865 it’s pretty much a settled matter, with some rare fringe arguments to the contrary. The question of who has the ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution was settled” in favor of the US Supreme Court. The idea that the Constitution is not an ultimately binding authoritative document, but merely an agreement between autonomous states—the core of “nullification”—has always been “very controversial,” Kay notes, and has been rejected by the Supreme Court since 1819. Dean states that the Court’s decisions have been twisted by “liberal law professors,” and rejects the idea that the US Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality. Her opponent, Democrat George Jepsen, says her idea would lead to chaos. If states can simply refuse to abide by the rulings of the Supreme Court, federal statutes themselves would become unenforceable, he says, and there would be nothing to stop states from seceding altogether. “The point is that we have one Constitution and there needs to be one place that defines what that Constitution means,” Jepsen says. “Under nullification, any state legislature, any state governor could declare that a law is unconstitutional. That would send us onto a course where there would be 50 different unique interpretations of a federal statute. We would cease to be a united nation.” Jepsen calls Dean’s views “extreme.” Dean contends that the idea would not necessarily threaten the Union, and says, “It’s been worked out in the past.” She goes on to say that “I don’t think desegregation was really controversial aside from a few states in the South.” Kay says Dean’s views were quite mainstream in 1842, but not since then. [The Day, 10/14/2010] After being challenged by a constitutional scholar, Dean cites the work of a neo-Confederate segregationist as further support of her position (see October 14, 2010). Jepsen will defeat Dean in the general election, beating back an election-eve attempt by her to challenge his credentials to serve as attorney general. [Hartford Courant, 11/3/2010]

Entity Tags: John C. Calhoun, Martha Dean, Orval Faubus, George Jepsen, Richard Kay, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

“Homeschool Day” in Des Moines, Iowa, sponsored by the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, features a number of Republican luminaries such as Governor Terry Bransted (R-IA), Representatives Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Steve King (R-IA), and former Godfathers Pizza CEO and 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain. During the festivities, Paul, an outspoken libertarian considered by many the “father” of the tea party movement, claims that the individual states can ignore or override federal laws—a tenet called “nullification.” The idea is centered in a unique interpretation of the Tenth Amendment that, when pursued to the extent that “nullifiers” or “tenthers” take it, essentially overrides the other aspects of the US Constitution in favor of states’ rights. The concept gained national notoriety in 1830, when Vice President John C. Calhoun set off the so-called “Nullification Crisis” that almost led to an armed conflict between South Carolina and the rest of the nation. It came to the fore again in 1956, when segregationists attempted to use the concept to persuade state leaders to ignore the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that mandated the desegregation of public schools (see March 12, 1956 and After). In recent years, it has gained popularity among some tea party-backed candidates (see October 14, 2010) and tea party pundits. Paul tells the assemblage that “in principle, nullification is proper and moral and constitutional.” He says: “The chances of us getting things changed around soon through the legislative process is not all that good. And that is why I am a strong endorser of the nullification movement, that states like this should just nullify these laws. And in principle, nullification is proper and moral and constitutional, which I believe it is, there is no reason in the world why this country can’t look at the process of, say, not only should we not belong to the United Nations, the United Nations comes down hard on us, telling us what we should do to our families and family values, education and medical care and gun rights and environmentalism. Let’s nullify what the UN tries to tell us to do as well.” Article 6 of the Constitution states that acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land… anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Founding father James Madison argued that nullification would “speedily put an end to the Union itself” by allowing federal laws to be freely ignored by states. Think Progress legal expert Ian Millhiser notes that nullification is not just unconstitutional, it is “nothing less than a plan to remove the word ‘United’ from the United States of America.” [Constitution (.org), 8/28/1830; Think Progress, 9/27/2010; Homeschooliowa (.org), 3/23/2011; Think Progress, 3/29/2011]

Entity Tags: Terry Bransted, James Madison, Ian Millhiser, Herman Cain, John C. Calhoun, Michele Bachmann, Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, Steve King, United Nations, Ron Paul

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

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