The sweeping health care reform bill passed by both houses of Congress has yet to be reconciled and presented to the President for his signature, but revanchist uber-conservatives are already trying to undo it.
Their plan: to amend state constitutions to make key provisions of the act unconstitutional. Here in Colorado, the feisty Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute is leading the charge.
As Jessica Fender wrote this morning in the Denver Post,
“Caldara’s proposal aims to bar the state from requiring its citizens to purchase health insurance, ensure Coloradans can pay out-of-pocket for health care expenses and allow them to purchase plans from other states.”
He hopes to make a draft of the initiative public next month.
Freshman state Rep. Cindy Acree, an Aurora Republican who wants Colorado to opt out of the federal plan, argues the state can’t afford the proposal and that the federal government is usurping states’ rights.
“Right now (there are states that) are in fiscal distress and cannot support or sustain the federal legislation as written,” Acree said. “And there are civil liberties here that are being infringed upon.”
Jon, Cindy, and all of you tea-partying irredentists-I’ve got some news for you. What you’re proposing amounts to “nullification,” a doctrine first expounded and refined by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.
A little history lesson from the Infoplease encyclopedia: “nullification, in U.S. history, a doctrine expounded by the advocates of extreme states’ rights. It held that states have the right to declare null and void any federal law that they deem unconstitutional. The doctrine was based on the theory that the Union is a voluntary compact of states and that the federal government has no right to exercise powers not specifically assigned to it by the U.S. Constitution.”
That doctrine gave birth to secessionism. Less than three decades after the nullification crisis of 1833 was resolved, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. The Civil War ensued.
That war not only freed Americans who had been legally enslaved for many generations, but shaped and reinforced our constitution, and put to rest forever the debates that had led to secession and war.
It’s dismaying to see nullification once more proposed by quasi-serious political figures, even ones as inconsequential as Caldara and Acree.
President Andrew Jackson, who was ready to use force against South Carolina over nullification made this toast at a Democratic Party banquet during 1831: “Our Federal Union – it must be preserved.”
John Calhoun, who favored nullification as a way to preserve the union and avoid secession responded: “The Union – next to our liberty most dear.”
Thirty years later, Abraham Lincoln sought to end the debate with these words, the concluding paragraph of the first Inaugural …
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Lincoln’s soaring words could not hold back the nation’s descent into war. Four years later, when the war had nearly come to an end, the dark words of the second Inaugural convey the terrible toll and burden of America’s grimmest conflict.
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
Here’s some advice: Spend New Year’s Day reading a good book. Might I suggest these two?
Ellis, Richard E. The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States’ Rights, and the Nullification Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Freehling, William W. Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.