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Legal scholars will tell you that states are not permitted to resist federal laws or authority. The southern states tried first rhetoric, then nullification, then secession, and at last war to resist the federal government from about 1825 to 1865 – forty  years of futility, death, and defeat. Why would any state want to go down that path again, even if our Constitution permitted it?

There are at least three problems with that reasoning. First, the south tried to defend an indefensible institution: slavery. Right was not on its side. Second, they used military means to resist, which may not have worked over the long term even if they were stronger than they were. Lastly, they did not have any plan other than a military one. Whether from fear or from hubris, they launched a campaign based on violence that contained no vision of how to gain their ends any other way. They used the principle of might makes right to defend the indefensible.

That set of circumstances makes a sorry precedent. A close reading of our constitutional history from 1776 on indicates that the south’s understanding of states’ rights was grounded in valid, sturdy legal principles that colonists would have recognized a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence. To say that these principles are invalid because the south appealed to them to protect slavery, then lost the war that followed, is absurd.

People often say principles of Christianity are insupportable because – “Look at all the wars they’ve caused.” They want no part of a faith that has spawned wars. The use of principles, legal or religious, to justify wars does not make the principles themselves untrue. War is almost always ill advised no matter what you say to justify it. The principles we use to guide our actions stand or fall independently of war and war’s outcomes.

I wanted to write down these ideas by way of introducing a topic we’ve addressed in The Jeffersonian before. That’s the issue of whether the states, ought to resist the federal government – in 2013, nearly a century and a half after the end of the Civil War. As the federal government’s authority and activism grow, we have seen resistance emerge in five areas over several years:

    • Implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the area of health care.
    • Drug policy, especially as it affects marijuana.
    • Gun control.
    • Immigration policy.
    • Domestic surveillance and control.

We have not yet seen resistance in these key areas:

    • Tax payments, tax collection, and implementation of tax regulations.
    • Use of national guard troops overseas.
    • Regulation of drugs and narcotics other than marijuana.
    • Environmental regulations.
    • Revenue sharing – flows of money from Washington to the states.

We can write more about each of these areas in another post.