Principles of '98

The blog of Derek J. Sheriff. History and current events through the lens of 1798.

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Written by Derek Sheriff

October 10, 2010 at 2:21 am

Usurpation: The Weapon By Which Free Governments Are Destroyed

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The Usurper-In-Chief

What is Usurpation?

If there is a word that I wish would become a household word to be used again by every American in their daily political discussions, it would be the word “usurpation”. Yes, I would love it even more if average Americans would add to that list the words: “Nullification”, “interposition” and the phrase, “The Principles of ’98”. However, in order to understand the meaning of those words in their political context, you have to understand usurpation. Before you can discover a solution, you have to correctly understand the problem.

Usurpation is the unlawful exercise of power by a person or branch of government that does not properly belong to them. Our Constitution created a federal government of strictly limited, enumerated powers when it was ratified by the people of the several states in their respective state conventions. The states were not created by the Constitution, they already existed.

Whenever the people who make up the federal government, individually or as departments or even as branches, exercise power not expressly delegated to them by the Constitution, they are usurping the authority of either the states or the people. Why? Because as the 10th Amendment makes it clear:

“All 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

The Bane of Free Governments

George Washington warned against the dangers of usurpation. He called it the weapon by which free governments are destroyed.  He urged Americans to guard against it and reject it for the evil that it is. In his farewell address, he wrote:

“If in the opinion of the People the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

As Obama likes to say, “Let me be clear”. When the federal government steps beyond the boundaries that are specifically drawn around it by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it isn’t abusing powers that it does have, it’s usurping powers that it doesn’t have.

Question: What should the people of the several states’ reaction be to federal usurpation be?

Answer: Swift and resolute action in the form of nullification and/or interposition by, with and through our state governments and their county and local subordinates.

In such cases, we must not exercise patience and wait to “Vote the bums out” in 2012 or even as soon as 2010! We should do that when the time comes, yes. But in the meantime, to allow our state governments to wait until the usurpers are removed from office through elections would be to condone a dangerous dereliction of their duty to protect our constitutional rights.

What is Nullification?

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which was one of the federal government’s earliest acts of usurpation. An early draft of it began:

“The several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government”


“where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits: that without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them”

Nullification is a state’s decision to render a particular federal law that it deems unconstitutional void and inoperative, or non-effective, within the boundaries of that state.

Let there be no change by usurpation! Instead, let us work with our elected state officials to nullify acts of federal usurpation and reclaim the sovereignty that is the birth right of each and every American.

The Untold History of Nullification: Resisting Slavery

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“Terribly conflicted about race, Americans struggled mightily with a revolutionary heritage that sanctified liberty but also brooked compromise with slavery. Nevertheless, as The Rescue of Joshua Glover demonstrates, they maintained the principle that the people themselves were the last defenders of constitutional liberty…”

The government of Wisconsin went even further and in 1854 officially declared the Fugitive Slave Act to be unconstitutional. The events that lead up to this monumental decision, which is a milestone in the history of the states’ rights tradition, is one of the best stories most Americans have never heard.

CLICK HERE -To read the rest of the article!

Written by Derek Sheriff

March 12, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Thomas Jefferson’s Other Declaration

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In 1798 Thomas Jefferson secretly drafted another declaration few people know about...

Most Americans know that Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of “The Declaration of Independence”, the most important of all our founding documents.

Yet few of them have even heard of another document that I would say might be the second most important declaration he ever wrote: The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798. He drafted them secretly while he was serving as vice president. It was written in response to the hated Alien and Sedition Acts which were passed under the Adams administration during an undeclared war with France.

The acts authorized the president to deport any resident alien considered dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, to apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States, and criminalized any speech which might defame Congress, the President, or bring either of them into contempt or disrepute. You could compare it to the Patriot Act, but really it was much worse. Either way, The Alien and Sedition Acts were probably Thomas Jefferson’s worst nightmare.

Some people are surprised to learn that in response to these acts, Jefferson did not hold up the First Amendment in protest. Rather he invoked the Tenth Amendment, which states that:

“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.”

Essentially, he argued that by passing and enforcing the Alien and Sedition Acts, the federal government had over stepped its bounds and was exercising powers which belonged to the states.

In other words, the Alien and Sedition Acts were acts of usurpation.

James Madison corresponded with Jefferson about these issues, (they suspected that their mail was being secretly opened and read by the way). As a result of their correspondence, James Madison penned another series of resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were passed by the Virginia legislature in 1798 and 1799.

As important as these resolutions were in objecting to the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts, their lasting importance was due to the the fact that they were strong statements in defense of federalism, the sovereignty of the people of the several states, and the authority of state governments to check or resist the tyrannical proclivities of the federal government.

Jefferson began the Kentucky Resolutions by explaining the exact nature of the relationship between the new federal, or general government and the states that predated it:

“Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a 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: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that 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; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.”

These resolutions, authored by Jefferson and Madison, and passed by the Kentucky and Virginia Legislatures, came to be known as the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, or Resolves, of 1798. The ideas they expressed were later referred to as “The Principles of ’98”.

Over time, “The Principles of ’98” would be invoked by many states, for a variety of issues. States invoked them to oppose everything from unconstitutional embargoes in 1807-1809, to the misuse of their militias during The War of 1812, the Second Bank of the United States in 1825, and the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1850.

Even today, The Principles of ’98 have been rediscovered and are being used by both Republicans and Democrats to address unconstitutional federal laws such as federal firearms regulations, Cap and Trade, REAL ID, Obamacare and Congressional “commerce clause” abuse in general.

The Principles of ’98, as expressed in Thomas Jefferson’s other declaration, The Kentucky Resolutions, are non-partisan in nature and are just as relevant today in 2010 as they were in 1798. All we have to do is rediscover and reassert them! Start talking to your state legislators about the Principles of ’98 today!

CLICK HERE – To read or listen to an audio presentation of Thomas Jefferson’s OTHER declaration — the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798!

CLICK HERE – To read more about how the Principles of ’98 were used by states throughout American history.

Copyright 2010 by the author, Derek J. Sheriff.

Written by Derek Sheriff

March 8, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Reforming Washington, D.C. from the inside: A Failed Strategy

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Changing the people who make up the federal government will not bring back the Constitution from exile.

It’s important to elect the best people we can to represent us in Washington, but I don’t believe for one moment that is what’s going to challenge the status quo or bring the Constitution back from exile.

Trying to limit the power of the federal government and compell it to obey the Constitution by changing the people who make up the federal government is a failed strategy. There, I said it.

Washington, DC will never allow anyone or anything inside it’s own beltway to diminish its size or power. To believe that it somehow can or will, reminds me of Frodo’s shortsighted idea of what to do with the Ring of Power in Tolkien’s novel The Fellowship Of the Ring:

Frodo Baggins: [brightly] I’ll give it to you, Gandalf!
[Gandalf looks horrified]
Frodo Baggins: You’re wise and powerful! Will you not…
Gandalf: [anguished] No! Do not tempt me! I would wish to turn it to good, and it cannot be used so! Meaning to be kind, I would become as terrible as the Dark Lord himself. Do not tempt me!

The problem we face today is NOT that we simply have the wrong people weilding power in Washington, rather, it is the dangerous concentration of power itself!

Thomas Jefferson long ago predicted that we would be faced with this crisis:

“…the Federal Judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scarecrow), working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States, and the government of all be consolidated into one. When all government… in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.” (1821)

It's more likely this dog will decide to go on a diet than that Washington, D.C. ever reform itself.

If we are ever to reclaim the liberty that was won by the American Revolutionaries, the balance of power between federal and state governments must be restored. We must inform and remind people that the state governments are co-equal to the federal government, not subordinates of it. The states must reclaim and jelously retain most of the powers given to government under the Constitution and the federal government must be limited to a few and very carefully defined ones. That is the arrangement established by the Constitution, and is one of the most important structural safeguards provided for our protection.

The federal government will never initiate the process of Constitutional re-decentalization (I think I just made that word up), regardless of who is serving in the Congress, the Senate, the White house or the Supreme Court. To expect that is as realistic as expecting your obese dog to loose weight by allowing it to have access to as much of the food you have in your house as often as it wants. Only state governments, who are like the Dog Wisperer (for lack of a better analogy), for the people of the several states, can restore true federalism.

State Rep. Matthew Shea and the Tenth Amendment Center have a plan!

But how do we get there from here? Where do we begin?

I cannot draft a better blueprint than the one written by a man who is already reclaiming his state’s sovereignty and is helping other state legislators do so as well. State Rep. Matthew Shea (WA-4th), gives us a step by step plan in his article: Resist DC: A Step-by-Step Plan for Freedom

Read it, share it and then get involved in your state’s Tenth Amendment Center chapter!

Written by Derek Sheriff

February 27, 2010 at 12:03 am

Nullification In One Lesson

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Jefferson and Madison

Authors of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798

Note: If you do not find the title of this article presumptuous, it is probably because you are unfamiliar with Henry Hazlitt’s classic: Economics in One Lesson. My intention was not to be presumptuous, but rather tongue-in-cheek. However, I want to bring to your attention a book coming out this June, that in all seriousness could  have been given the same title as my article. New York Times bestselling author, Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is working on his latest book, the title of which will be:  Nullification. I can’t wait!

The True Nature of the Union:

Some of today’s most brilliant patriots may be mistaken when they assert that the states created the federal government. However, it all depends on what they mean by “the states”. If they are using the word “states” as shorthand for the people of the several states, as opposed to the American people in aggregate, then they are correct. If by the term “the states” they mean the legislatures of the several states, then they are incorrect.

“It is a fatal heresy to suppose that either our State governments are superior to the Federal or the Federal to the States. The people, to whom all authority belongs, have divided the powers of government into two distinct departments, the leading characters of which are foreign and domestic; and they have appointed for each a distinct set of functionaries. These they have made coordinate, checking and balancing each other like the three cardinal departments in the individual States; each equally supreme as to the powers delegated to itself, and neither authorized ultimately to decide what belongs to itself or to its coparcener in government. As independent, in fact, as different nations.” –Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1821.”

A New Form of Government: Federalism

Acting in their highest capacity, as sovereign political societies, the people of the several states ratified the US Constitution and gave life to the newly created federal government. The people of the several states, NOT the American people as a whole, acted by, with and through the special ratifying conventions, which they convened in their separate states. In these special conventions, which deliberately bypassed their state legislatures, they delegated a few, carefully defined powers to the federal government. These powers were enumerated in the US Constitution.

They had already delegated numerous and indefinite powers to their state governments, which were enumerated in their respective state constitutions. The majority of powers, however, they retained for themselves, reaffirming  the hallowed American tradition of self-government. Although these principles were already contained in the structure of the original Constitution itself, the 9th and 10th Amendments of the Bill of Rights expanded upon and clarified them beyond any reasonable doubt.

In summary, both state and federal governments derive their powers directly from the people of the several states. In ratifying the Constitution, then, they established a system of dual-sovereignty, in which the state governments and federal government are co-equal.

Even before the Constitution was ratified, James Madison reassured the anti-federalist skeptics that this system of dual sovereignty would protect their rights. He wrote:

“Hence, a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.” (The Federalist # 51)

We must never forget that our state governments are charged with the duty of controlling the federal government. To do so would be to ignore “one of the Constitution’s structural protections of liberty.”

The 10th Amendment:

Thomas Jefferson considered the 10th Amendment to be the cornerstone of the Constitution. He wrote:

“I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground:
That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution,
nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the
people’ [10th Amendment]. To take a single step beyond the boundaries
thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take
possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible to any


“The true barriers of our liberty in this country are our State governments; and the wisest conservative power ever contrived by man is that of which our Revolution and present government found us possessed.”

Usurpation: When the line is crossed

“I have always thought that where the line of demarcation between the powers of the General and the State governments was doubtfully or indistinctly drawn it would be prudent and praiseworthy in both parties never to approach it but under the most urgent necessity.” –Thomas Jefferson

When the federal government steps beyond the boundaries that are specifically drawn around it by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it isn’t abusing powers that it DOES have, it’s usurping powers that it DOESN’T have. What should our reaction be to federal usurpation?

Vote the Bums out?

If a branch of the federal government abuses a power clearly delegated to it by the Constitution, that is, one which can be found among the enumerated powers listed in the articles of the Constitution, then there is a clear remedy:

Change the people who make up the federal government at the time of the next election.

However, if one or more branches of the federal government USURPS a power not delegated to it, that is another situation altogether! If the federal government usurps one of the powers retained by the states or the people (violates the 10th Amendment), then this calls for much more swift and resolute action on the part of the states! In such cases, we must NOT exercise patience and wait to “Vote the bums out” in 2012 or even 2010!

Submission, Revolution, Secession or Nullification?

When Congress or the President usurps — that is to say, when either or both of them exercise a power NOT delegated to the federal government by the Constitution, the people of the several states and their representatives in state government have four choices:

1. They can submit to the act of federal usurpation for the time being and wait until the next election, with the hope that they may elect new people to federal government who will discredit and repeal the act of usurpation.

2. They can exercise their right of revolution and and alter or abolish the federal government.

3. They can peacefully withdraw from the Union — which was created after all, by the people of the several states.

4. Or, they can demand that their state government arrest the progress of federal usurpation by an act of nullification.


In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Kentucky Resolutions in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts, which was one of the federal government’s earliest acts of usurpation. It began:

“The several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government”


“where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact, to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of power by others within their limits: that without this right, they would be under the dominion, absolute and unlimited, of whosoever might exercise this right of judgment for them”

Nullification is a state’s decision to render a particular federal law that it deems unconstitutional void and inoperative, or non-effective, within the boundaries of that state.

Weighing the Options:

1. Submission:

Advantage: Requires no courage or sacrifice; Avoids confrontation; Ensures federal funding will continue to flow.
Disadvantage: Invites more usurpation; Incremental loss of liberty and state sovereignty; Higher taxes in most cases; Federal funding may become unreliable; Even if we were able to “clean house” and clear Congress of every bad incumbent (unlikely), the new representitives may not keep their promises or might be unable to implement real reform — Remember the Republican “Contract with America”? Remember Scott Brown’s campaign promises? How that working out for you?
Conclusion: Unacceptable option.

2. Revolution:

Advantage: Overturns usurpation and discourages future acts of usurpation.
Disadvantage: Dangerous because it risks more social chaos and economic hardship than minor acts of federal usurpation themselves create; Revolution risks life, property, prosperity and the stability of the social order.
Conclusion: Drastic, irresponsible option for all but the most intolerable acts of usurpation and tyranny.

3. Secession:

Advantage: Defensive; May avoid violent confrontation with the federal government; Prevents future acts of federal usurpation and tyranny; May unleash greater liberty and prosperity; Frees the state from burdensome obligations and dangerous risks tied to the old regime.
Disadvantage: Avoids, or “runs away from” the problem; Too rash a solution for most acts of federal usurpation; Temporary social and economic disruption.
Conclusion: Unwise, rash option for most acts of federal usurpation.

4. Nullification:

Advantage: Avoids all the disadvantages of the other three options; Confronts the federal government in a moderate but firm manner; Enlightens and educates the people of the several states; Preserves the Union AND federalism.
Disadvantage: Requires state legislators who understand federalism and the original meaning of the Constitution.
Conclusion: Nullification is the moderate, constitutional remedy for unconstitutional federal behavior.

What if the federal government tries to overrule a state’s act of nullification?

The two most recent cases of successful nullification involve resistance to the federal REAL ID Act and federal prohibition of medical marijuana. Space does not permit a lengthy treatment of all the states that have nullified federal REAL ID and federal marijuana laws. But whatever your opinion is about these issues, two things should be clear: Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government authorized to regulate plants that remain within the boundaries of a state or demand that state drivers licenses conform to federal specifications. These are state issues, period.

So to make a long story short, in both cases, the federal government has backed off. When state governments refuse to cooperate, the feds recognize that they simply do not have the resources or man power to enforce their unconstitutional laws.

But what if the feds don’t back off  when states use nullification to neutralize other unconstitutional federal laws, such as intrastate firearms regulation, federally mandated health insurance or Cap and Trade?

Here’s what Michael Boldin, the founder and director of the Tenth Amendment Center, has to say:

“Ultimately, however, nullification is much more than mere rhetoric. To nullify a federal law in practice may require active resistance on the part of the people and their state government.

In the Virginia Resolution of 1798, James Madison wrote of the principle of interposition:

‘That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.’

Here Madison asserts what is implied in nullification laws – that state governments not only have the right to resist unconstitutional federal acts, but that, in order to protect liberty, they are ‘duty bound to interpose’ or stand between the federal government and the people of the state.”

In the unlikely event that one or more branches of the federal government decides to take extra-legal measures to punish residents of a state for exercising their constitutional rights in defiance of unconstitutional federal laws, will that state’s government have the courage to hamper or even neutralize such extra-legal measures?

There are a whole host of peaceful actions that a state government can adopt if that day comes or appears to be just over the horizon. These measures range from county sheriffs requiring that federal agents receive written permission from the sheriff before acting in their county, to setting up a Federal Tax escrow account, which could potentially de-fund unconstitutional federal activities by requiring that all federal taxes come first to the state’s Department of Revenue.

The sheriffs in this country are indeed the ultimate law enforcement authority in their respective jurisdictions. The sheriff has the power and responsibility to defend his citizens against all enemies – foreign and domestic. Former two term county sheriff Richard Mack has pointed out many times that the sheriff may be America’s last hope.

Doesn’t Federal Law Trump State Law?

Yes, but only when the federal law in question is pursuant to one of the federal government’s enumerated powers. A federal law or other measure that exceeds the limited powers delegated to the federal government by the Constitution is simply an act of usurpation. In short, it’s not a law at all.

The Principles of ’98:

The principles first articulated by Jefferson and Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions came to be known over time as “The Principles of ’98”. They were invoked by many states, north and south, for a variety of issues, all throughout the nineteenth century. These issues involved everything from states’ claims of unconstitutional embargoes (1807-1809), conscription for The War of 1812, the Second Bank of the United States (1825), and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Today, the Principles of ’98 have been rediscovered and are again being invoked to confront everything from Congressional “Commerce Clause”  abuse (CCCA) to Cap and Trade and unconstitutional Legal Tender Laws.

Here’s to the republic, the rights of man and the Principles of ’98!

Copyright © 2010 by Derek J. Sheriff

Derek Sheriff is an ex-Green Beret turned liberty activist and the Arizona State Chapter Coordinator for the Tenth Amendment Center.

Written by Derek Sheriff

February 20, 2010 at 12:19 am