Arguments of State and Federal Government Powers


In any country, a unique form of leadership and expression of powers exists. The United States of America has both the federal and national governments controlling the country. Federalism refers to the system where governance is shared between national and state governments. Federalism in the US emerged as a result of separate colonies which had different needs and population structures. The state and federal governments both have concurrent and conclusive powers. This helps the balancing of governance between the two bodies.

The federal government is responsible for restricting foreign and interstate trade, establishing rules of naturalization and conducting foreign affairs. On the other hand, the state government conducts elections, provides public security, makes constitutional amendments, and establishes local governments. From the view of these roles, it can be seen that the federal government has power over the national government. This paper bases an argument on whether a state should or not can nullify a national law.

The distribution of power between the federal and state government has evolved in the US from the past. The various states controlled authority within their own states, and the national government regulated the national and international matters. However, after a civil war in the 1860s, the national powers outlined the state. In times of periodical crisis like the great depression, the federal government took control in providing help in regions that the state government typically controlled.

However, the Legislature of Massachusetts, after taking in-depth considerations of the Virginia state, created and established the federal government’s role. It stated that the federal constitution aims to promote safety, prosperity, and the happiness to the people (Bird and Wendel 523). Additionally, it should maintain the union of the people of all states, essentially to the welfare of the whole. Thus, in order to protect the constitution from any aggression, it made a professional attachment to it.

The Doctrine of Nullification

In the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798–1799, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison defended the doctrine of nullification. Jefferson depicted that the states formed the large union, and the federal government was their governing agent with powers. However, he said that despite of that, the state had the powers to determine the extent to which the federal government operated. If it finds that the federal government has gone too far, it can declare the jurisdictions as being null and powerless.

In 1828, the Tariff of Abominations was established as per the request of Northern manufacturers. However, it made the Southern planters sad since they depended on foreign trade to earn a living. Agriculture in South Carolina deteriorated due to soil erosion, which made the citizens believe that the state’s economy would be affected due to high tariffs (Busick and Sean 751). This led to protests in Southern newspapers and town meetings. President Andrew Jackson applied federal troops in South Carolina to collect tariff duties by implementing the force Bill.

In this attempt to tackle the conflicts resulting from the Force Bill, he was trying to come up with ways to advocate for tariff reduction. On the other hand, Senator Henry Kentucky came up with bills to reduce the violence over the crisis. He introduced the Compromise Tariff, which aimed to reduce import taxes. The Nullification Crisis led to severe and practical long-term ideologies and political basis for the secession of southern states thirty years later.

Arguments in Favor of Nullification

Both documents in arguments in favor of the nullification, argued that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. Therefore, the states had the power and right to deny them as the constitution could not identify them. This argument led to an implication on the need for the state to have the full right to make its own constitution. Therefore, they all agreed that the only remedy to those diminishing laws was nullification. Thomas Jefferson felt that the rights were too harsh to be followed by the citizens. The state will therefore be able to maintain its place in the union and may not be bound by other laws. Both resolutions claim that there should be a union between the state and federal governments to maintain liberty and happiness (Toepler et al. 222). Further, the Virginian resolution says that the federal government’s powers can arise from the compactness of the states. The difference seen in the three documents is when Andrew Jackson dictates that the laws in question act unequally.

Arguments in Opposition to Nullification

Andrew Jackson and James Madison’s idea about the Judiciary states that any changes of laws should not be a topic of debate. The Judiciary has the power to insert threats to the people, especially those from the stable states. Madison supports the idea of the national government in defending the constitution against any aggression. This prohibits the right to deny any act which is against the human rights. Concurrently, the constitution has given congress full rights to collect revenue. No state has been given this right and can only intervene if congress goes against what was agreed.

The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 indicated that the acts of the national government that were above the powers of the constitution were of no force and authoritative. On the other hand, Jefferson asserted that each state has its right to nullify unconstitutional laws (Anderson and Frank 225). However, the Virginia Resolution used the idea of interposition and not nullification. The concept of interposition refers to the right of a US state to go against the acts of the federal government. Similarly, when the state declares a law unconstitutional, nullification by the state is the best option.

Making a comparison between Kentucky and Virginia resolutions in opposition to nullification both supported the federal government’s challenges. Despite of trying to oppose the federal government, some of the laws made are essential and ensure fairness and equity (Brogdon 252). Even though the federal government has less power than the state government, it should examine to what extent the state government goes. However, both documents employed a bolder language to make the laws effective. Madison did not believe whether a single state could control the national laws in contrast to their political boundaries. Institutional changes were not a one-way entity, but all unions must be actively involved.

According to my own opinions, a state should have the ability to nullify a national law. This is because a union between the national government and the state exists, which has already been agreed upon. Going against what has been agreed indicates superiority in some power, unlike what should be expected. Despite of this, the state should only nullify the law if it is unconstitutional and goes against the set agreements. If the government comes up with laws that are too unbearable, the Supreme Court should be involved to challenge the constitution.


From the primary source, nullification of the federal alien and sedition acts was essential. This is because they supported federalism. Nullification can work in practice if applied by citizens and all those involved in the state and federal governments. For instance, historically, during the nullification stage of imposition of ordinary tax by the government is against the two union agreements. Therefore, for any change or pass of a new law, both parties must be involved to facilitate easy decision-making.

Works Cited

Anderson, Frank Maloy. “Contemporary Opinion of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. The American Historical Review, vol 5, no. 2, 1899, p. 225. JSTOR, Web.

Bird, Wendell. “Reassessing Responses to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions: New Evidence from the Tennessee and Georgia Resolutions and From Other States. Journal of The Early Republic, vol 35, no. 4, 2015, pp. 519-551. Project Muse, Web.

Brogdon, Matthew S. Defending the Union: Andrew Jackson’s Nullification Proclamation and American Federalism. The Review of Politics, vol 73, no. 2, 2011, pp. 245-273. Cambridge University Press (CUP), Web.

Busick, Sean. “Performing Disunion: The Coming of the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina.”Journal of American History, vol 107, no. 3, 2020, pp. 750-751. Oxford University Press (OUP), Web.

Toepler, Stefan, and Alan Abramson. “Government/Foundation Relations: A Conceptual Framework and Evidence From the US Federal Government’s Partnership Efforts.Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, vol 32, no. 2, 2021, pp. 220-233. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, Web.

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