This article will restore necessary context to the word “nullification” as used by James Madison in an 1834 letter called “Notes on Nullification.”
First, we have to put Madison’s role in the formulation of the concept of nullification into some context of its own.
As indispensable as he was to the development of our Constitution, James Madison is not the father of nullification. The idea that a smaller division (a state, a county, a city, etc.) is justified — even obliged — in refusing to obey unlawful edicts of the larger society (the federal government, in the case of the United States) was not original to Madison, Jefferson, or any of America’s Founding Fathers. The doctrine we call nullification was known for generations before the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were written.
Our Founders drew wisdom and inspiration from a variety of sources, including a group of continental natural law theorists, one of whom was Samuel Pufendorf of Germany (read of the importance of Pufendorf to the Founders here).
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