Marvin Folkertsma

In December 1828, South Carolina had 5,000 copies of John C. Calhoun’s “Exposition and Protest” printed and distributed throughout the state. A defiant document, Calhoun’s “Exposition” outlined a theory of constitutional interpretation first adumbrated in the infamous Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which asseverated the right of states to declare “null and void” acts of the federal government within their respective jurisdictions. These instances of the nullification doctrine were based on the view that certain acts of the federal government could be deemed unconstitutional by state authorities and reserved to states the option of interposing their sovereign will between their citizens and officials attempting to enforce national law.

In his “Disquisition on Government,” which appeared two decades later, Calhoun explained, “It is this negative power—the power of preventing or arresting the action of the government—be it called by what term it may—veto, interposition, nullification, check, or balance of power—which, in fact, forms the Constitution.”

In short, a valid Constitution should allow any of its constituent parts to interpret its terms any way it likes, regardless of the Supremacy Clause, or those pesky introductory words to the acclaimed document, which state, “We the People”—or the first Article of the Constitution, which assigns to Congress the authority to make national law. More remarkably, Calhoun admitted in a letter written to a colleague in 1832 that the real inspiration for his nullification doctrine was safeguarding the power of the South to preserve its peculiar institution: slavery. Clearly, depraved intentions spawned this nefarious constitutional construction by Southern elites: preserve your political power by any means possible.


Marvin Folkertsma

Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a professor of political science and fellow for American studies with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The author of several books, his latest release is a high-energy novel titled "The Thirteenth Commandment."