EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this article was originally published on September 16, 2009. The following is edited slightly for time and context.
There’s plenty of federal holidays for Americans to celebrate. On July 4th, there’s independence from King George’s England. On the first Monday in September, a holiday was dedicated to the “social and economic achievements of American workers.” Other days throughout the year celebrate autumn harvest, soldiers who died in the civil war and even a person who sailed to this continent nearly three centuries before the country was “founded.”
When there’s no federally-sanctioned holiday to call upon, protesters and activists across the political spectrum often pick “important” dates to schedule events to bring attention to their cause. We’ve seen protests on Tax Day, Independence Day, May Day, Earth Day, and more. And, in the past few weeks we saw great importance placed on days that doesn’t even have a letter in their name, 8/28 and 9/12.
But nowhere to be found on these great lists of “federal holidays” or “protest days” is a celebration of the document that defined the principles of liberty that this country was supposedly founded upon – the Constitution.
The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, and every year that date passes by with hardly a sound. Sure, now that it’s considered a day of “federal observance” you’ll find government schools around the country including it in their lesson plans. But these discussions generally focus on “Constitution Trivia” instead of what’s really important. While it may be good to educate our young on how many years a Senator serves, or how Supreme Court justices are appointed, it’s not enough. Seriously lacking in the public discourse is the actual purpose of the Constitution – its underlying principles.
When the Constitution was being considered for ratification, there was strong opposition from famous American figures that included George Mason and Patrick Henry. One major reason for this was a fear of too much power. The founding generation spent their lives toiling under a tyranny – a government without limits. But, when the Constitution was written, it was done to codify in law that the powers of government would be limited to those which had been delegated to it – and nothing more.
The entire system was created under the principle of popular sovereignty – that ‘We the People of the Several States’ created the government, and all powers not delegated to it, were retained. But that’s not something you’re likely to hear from politicians in Washington DC, political pundits, schools, or just about anywhere else. It’s generally not in their interest, either.
If politicians and their backers were promoting such crazy ideas as “originalism” and “limited government” they’d never be able to convince you that they have the power to tell you what kind of health care plan you’ll be getting, how big your toilet can be, what kind of plants you’re allowed to grow, where you’re allowed to exercise your “right” to free speech, whom you can buy and sell from, and even when you must send your children to die for them.
MORE OF THE SAME
Throughout history, even kings and queens have often failed to survive such acts of hubris; but, in “free” America, the major parties that produce all the presidents continue to receive approval through tens of millions of votes. And where has that gotten people?
Well, let’s take a look at some major issues.
* If you were opposed to war in the Bush administration, you’ve still got the same wars and threats of wars under Obama.
* If you were opposed to national health care under Clinton, you got a massive expansion of government health care under George Bush, which laid the groundwork for an even bigger expansion under Obama.
* If you didn’t like the federal government passing the Patriot Act without even reading it, you’re still getting the same (or worse) failure to read legislation today.
* On the other hand, if you liked the Bush bailouts, you’ve gotta love the ones that Obama has given you!
No matter what side of the political aisle you sit on, the federal government is not your friend. It’s not a friend to the Constitution, and it’s certainly no friend to your liberty. For years and years…and years, people have yelled “vote the bums out!” “Call Congress now!” “March on DC!” But, in the long run, little to none of this actually works.
If you oppose this national health care plan, they’ll give you that one. If you oppose one war, you’ll get another one. If you oppose today’s bailout, they’ll find a different one tomorrow. Decade in and decade out, the government keeps growing, and your liberty keeps shrinking. And it doesn’t matter if the person in charge is named Obama, or Bush, or Reagan, or Clinton.
The bottom line? Looking to the federal government – whether it’s though elections, or protests, or lawsuits, or rallies – is a failed strategy. So how about trying something new?
A DIFFERENT PATH: NULLIFICATION
People around the country are recognizing that there is a different path, and one that has a chance of working on a big scale, too. Already nearly a dozen states have passed 10th amendment resolutions reaffirming the proper role of government under the Constitution. 25 states have stopped the real id act dead in its tracks in most of the country. 8 states have passed firearms freedom acts – to nullify some federal gun laws and regulations in their state. 5 states have already passed laws to nullify federal health care mandates – with more on the way. And, fourteen states now have medical marijuana laws in direct opposition to federal laws.
In Jeffersonian-speak, this all falls under the banner of “nullification.” When a state ‘nullifies’ a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in question is void and inoperative, or ‘non-effective,’ within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as that state is concerned.
While some in government and the media would like to paint this essential tool for resisting federal tyranny as solely aligned with the South in the War Between the States – and nothing more, they’re missing some essential history. It’s been used in efforts to advance free speech, help runaway slaves, resist high taxes and more.
And recently, the Bush-Era Real ID Act is now virtually dead in the water, not due to elections or rallies, or calls to Congress – but instead, due to state-level resistance. In the past three-plus years, approximately two dozen states simply refused to implement the law. The result? The law is still on the books in Congress. It’s never been overturned by a federal court. But yet – in most of the country – it’s virtually null and void.
Even better, this is no single-issue movement. Legislators in over 20 states are considering legislation to nullify some federal gun laws, and another 20 are looking at ways to nullify national health care. 15 states are weighing legislation or ballot initiatives that could turn them into medical marijuana states by next year, and activists in over a dozen states have been pushing for legislation that would require their governors to bring national guard troops home from Iraq and elsewhere. On top of it, a national tour has been launched in support of these efforts – something that may have been impossible just a few years ago
LIBERTY BEGINS WITH YOU
Issue by issue, law by law, the best way to change the federal government is by refusing to comply with it on a state and individual level. Withdrawing our consent for unconstitutional “laws,” acts, regulations….and mandates…has a much better effect than begging or demanding that DC limit its own power.
Over the years, wise men and women warned us that the Constitution would never enforce itself. I believe it’s time for people to recognize this as fact, and bring that enforcement closer to home.
Whether you’re on the left, or on the right, or even somewhere in the middle, the path to freedom, the path to your political goals lies not in Washington D.C. Instead, it lies in Madison, and Jefferson (City)…and other state capitols around the country.
So this Constitution Day take a new pledge. Ignore and nullify the federal government. When it refuses to follow the Constitution year in and year out, it becomes as worthless as it is dangerous.
Michael Boldin [send him email] is the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center.