Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. is terrified. He is terrified that the American public has started to believe that they are the masters rather than the servants of their own government. He is terrified that they may have started to think that the old Jeffersonian dictum that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed is not such a bad idea. Most of all, he is terrified that the public will act on these beliefs, organize themselves into political communities at the state level, and oppose socialized healthcare, endless "stimulus" spending by the federal government, and the never-ending expansion of the welfare state.
"I have introduced an Economic Bill of Rights!", he whined, while bemoaning citizen opposition to this hoary socialistic scheme. That's why he is doing what all Democrats seem to do these days — insinuating that anyone who holds such beliefs is either a racist, as he did in a recent speech, or a member of a "hate group" (or both).
There are a lot of black people on welfare, you see, so that in the mind of Jesse Jackson, Jr., (and his friends at the Southern Poverty Law Center and other Democratic Party appendages), the only conceivable reason why anyone would ever criticize the welfare state is racial hatred. The Obama regime promised a "post-racial America" while working diligently with all of its supporters to create a hyper-racial America instead.
In his recent bloviation Congressman Jackson bemoaned the fact that politicians like Governor Rick Perry of Texas have been talking a lot lately about states' rights and the Tenth Amendment as tools with which ordinary Americans can oppose the corrupt, imperious regime in Washington, D.C. This of course is the very reason why Thomas Jefferson believed that the Tenth Amendment ("The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people") was the cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution and the key to creating what he called "an empire of liberty." The clearest example of this Jeffersonian states' rights tradition is the first section of Jefferson's famous Kentucky Resolution of 1798 (written by Jefferson at the request of his friend, Senator John Breckenridge of Kentucky) which announced that the citizens of Kentucky would not abide by the unconstitutional Sedition Act that was being enforced by the Adams administration. The Sedition Act essentially outlawed free political speech in America by making it a crime punishable by prison for criticizing the Adams administration. Section 1 of the "Kentucky Resolve" reads as follows:
Resolved, that the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principles of unlimited submission to their General Government; but that by compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States and of amendments thereto, they constituted a General Government for special purposes, delegated to that Government certain definite powers, reserving each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self Government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force . . . . the Government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers . . . (emphasis added).
This, along with the Tenth Amendment, is the essence of the Jeffersonian states' rights philosophy. During Jefferson's term as president the New England states used the language of the Kentucky Resolve to nullify the trade embargo that Jefferson attempted to enforce after the British confiscated American ships and conscripted American sailors. (He believed that a trade embargo, as damaging as it was, was a better alternative than another war with Great Britain). All of New England, plus Delaware, nullified the embargo as an unconstitutional usurpation of federal power, and used Jefferson's own language to justify their actions.
New Englanders also refused to participate in the War of 1812 by refusing to send militia troops by citing once again Jefferson's Kentucky Resolve. Many states assisted President Andrew Jackson in is political battle with the Bank of the United States (which he eventually de-funded) by trying to tax branches of the BUS out of existence. Ohio took the lead, with its legislature announcing that "the States have an equal right to interpret the Constitution for themselves" and that Ohio would withdraw "the protection and aid of the laws of the State" from the BUS (see James J. Kilpatrick, The Sovereign States, p. 152). And of course South Carolina famously invoked the Jeffersonian states' rights tradition to nullify the hated 1828 "Tariff of Abominations."
Congressman Jackson sees it all very differently. He views states' rights not through the eyes of a student of American history who is familiar with such facts. Instead, he views states' rights from the viewpoint of what he is, namely, a Chicago political hack who never hesitates to use the "race card" to try to get his way in politics. Like father, like son. Accordingly, he recently proclaimed that Governor Perry – or anyone else who invokes the Tenth Amendment as a political strategy – must be inflicted by the basest of motives. "It was the Tenth Amendment and States' Rights that protected the institution of slavery," he shouted. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
Slavery existed in all states when the federal Constitution was ratified in 1789 and was protected by it until the states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment in 1866. That's seventy-seven years of slavery protection by the federal government. In addition, the federal Fugitive Slave Act (which was very strongly supported by Abraham Lincoln) socialized the cost of enforcing the slave system by forcing the citizens of states were slavery no longer existed to capture runaway slaves and return them to their owners. Congressman Jackson is apparently unaware that this was a federal government program.
More importantly, it was the Jeffersonian states' rights tradition that was invoked to oppose the Fugitive Slave Act in the form of various "personal liberty laws" at the state level. In response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all passed state laws that prohibited the use of the state's jails for detaining fugitive slaves. They also provided legal counsel for persons accused of being fugitive slaves; gave fugitive slaves the right of Habeas Corpus and trial by jury; required the identity of the alleged fugitive to be documented by two witnesses; prohibited the states from offering any assistants to the claimants; and imposed heavy fines for attempting to claim that a free black person was in fact a slave.
Another false claim that Congressman Jackson made in his recent anti-Tenth Amendment outburst was that when the Southern states seceded they committed "an act of treason." Once again, he gets it exactly backwards. The U.S. Constitution has a very clear definition of treason in Article 3, Section 3: "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them aid and comfort." As in all the founding documents, the words "United States" are always in the plural, signifying that the document is referring to what the Declaration of Independence called "the free and independent states." "Levying war against them" means levying war against the free and independent states, or giving aid and comfort to "their" enemies.
Abraham Lincoln never conceded that secession was legal. He therefore committed treason by levying war upon the Southern states, which never legally left the union as far as he was concerned. It was the Lincoln regime's invasion of the Southern states that was the very definition of treason under the U.S. Constitution. Congressman Jackson follows a long line of conniving statists, beginning with Daniel Webster himself, who have chosen to ignore the actual constitutional definition of treason while redefining the term to mean the opposite — opposition to the unconstitutional usurpations of the federal government.
Government will never be limited unless the citizens take matters into their own hands by resurrecting the states' rights mechanisms of nullification, interposition, and secession.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today.