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Does a State have the right to secede?
08-29-2013, 08:47 AM (This post was last modified: 08-29-2013 10:54 AM by wsanto.)
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RE: Does a State have the right to secede?
(08-28-2013 01:54 AM)Thomas Thorne Wrote:  Madison's views on secession are fascinating given that he and his political tag team partner,Thomas Jefferson ,were respectively the secret authors of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 which introduced "Interposition" and "Nullification" into the political world, words which laid the foundation for secession.

While Madison believed that application of these doctrines, refusal of states to obey a Federal law because of its perceived unconstitutionality in their eyes, could not be done by an individual state, many devotees of the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions believed an individual state could do so. George Washington feared for the safety of the Union if one or more states nullified a federal law. A famous biographer of Thomas Jefferson feared that Jefferson would have been charged with treason if his authorship of the Kentucky Resolutions had been known..

A majority of states c. 1800 rejected these doctrines and suggested the US Supreme Court be the arbiter of the constitutionality of Federal laws, a function Chief Justice Marshall happily assumed in Marbury vs Madison in 1803.

Many people think that antebellum extreme doctrines of States Rights was an exclusive Southern monopoly. They are wrong.

When Jefferson had the Embargo passed in 1808 against European trade to the ruination of New England's commerce, Yankee elites cited the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions as proof they could ignore the law. Generations of American children were taught the fiery nationalistic speeches of Massachusetts statesman Daniel Webster and were never taught about Webster's early belief that the State of Massachusetts could prevent its troops from being called into Federal service during the War of 1812.

In the 1850's a few Northern states with strong abolitionist support cited the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions in their fight against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and wrote Personal Liberty laws, which not only prohibited state and local officials from participating in enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act but sought to prevent Federal enforcement of that odious law. The US Supreme struck down such laws in 1859 in Abelman V Booth.


Tom, thanks for the excellent post. I am a novice when it comes to understanding this history and all the posts in this thread have been very educational for me.

It's clear that politics hasn't changed much--with politicians and activists supporting laws, doctrines, etc. when they suit their current purpose and then decrying them later when it is politically expedient.

That being said, it seems rather clear to me what Madison thought of nullification and secession. He describes his position with regard to the 1798 Virginia Resolution in the letter previously posted. It seems he felt that the collective of the states in the Union held the power to check the Federal Government from abusing its authority in making laws that a particular state or states thought were unconstituional. He goes so far to say that it was a delibrate use of the plural (States) to dissuade the notion that any one state (and I presume a minority of states) held the power to act unilaterally against the central government and ,by extension, the other states. And he even sites an example of Jefferson taking the position that the central government has authority to use force when a State is delinquent in upholding their compact to the other states.

It seems to me that, though Kentucky and Virginia (i.e Jefferson and Madison) authored and passed resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Act, these resolutions were more political theory and formal protests and they were never put into any force in those States. And the law was executed in their states under their protest but with no interposition or nullification. Please correct me if this is wrong.


Bill C

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RE: Does a State have the right to secede? - wsanto - 08-29-2013 08:47 AM
RE: Does a State have the right to secede? - Hess1865 - 08-24-2013, 09:04 PM

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