Monday, August 02, 2010

Nicknames and Nullification

There used to be a guy up in Mooreland who went by the nickname "Banjo". I don't know why people called him by that name. There were a lot of people with nicknames when I was growing up, but I didn't always know where the names originated. I was pretty sure how Stinky Wilmont got his name, and Fat Brown was pretty well self explanatory, as was Slim, Blubber and Shorty. I'm not so sure about Ginky, or Crowbar, or Skeeter.

However the names came about, after a period of time they became so commonly used that a lot of people didn't know the person's given name. I never knew Banjo as anything but Banjo.

Whatever his real name was, Banjo had a way of getting the better end of a deal. I recall a time when Banjo and another friend of mine, Charlie, (a nickname for Charles, I suspect,) decided to raise some chickens. The deal was they would buy 100 chicks, Charlie would furnish the feed, and Banjo would board and tend to the flock until they were big enough to be turned into fried chicken.

Whenever Charlie would inquire as to the progress of the chicks, Banjo always replied, "Mine are doing really well, but two of your died last night." I don't know how many chickens Charlie ended up with, but it didn't take too long to figure out that letting one guy keep all the chickens and make all the decisions about them might not work out so well for the other guy.

Back when our nation was first formed, the individual states decided that a federal government might be useful when it came to performing certain duties. So they all got together and wrote up a Constitution describing what those duties would be, and what the federal government was supposed to do. Then, just to be on the safe side, they threw in the Bill of Rights, ten amendments to the Constitution listing some of the things the federal government couldn't do. The tenth of those amendments 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."

I don't suppose anybody really thought that everybody would always agree on exactly what the Constitution empowered the federal government to do, or made sure it wouldn't do. And as a nation, we've certainly had our disagreements over the years. Even a war, at one point. And I suppose we'll continue to have disagreements as long as we exist. One of the biggest disagreements has been over who gets to decide who gets to decide.

People who like a lot of federal government think that the federal government, and the United States Supreme Court, a branch of the federal government, should get to decide. They think the Tenth Amendment doesn't amount to much. People who don't like a lot of federal government think that's a lot like letting your ex mother-in-law decide on your divorce settlement. They think the Tenth Amendment is pretty important.

If an individual state decides that a federal law is unconstitutional, a lot of people believe the Tenth Amendment gives them the authority to nullify that law. A lot of people don't believe that. The people who don't believe that often point out that some states used that argument in defense of slavery. The people who do believe that often point out that some states used that argument to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act, which required states to return escaped slaves to their supposed owners.

Given the growth of the federal government in recent years, I suspect the interpretation of the Tenth Amendment will become increasingly important in the next few years, and in the next few elections. It would behoove us all to make an informed decision on it. As someone who places a lot of importance on the Tenth, I'd recommend reading the book, NULLIFICATION, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., for a well reasoned history and defense of it. I'll leave it up to someone who doesn't think it is important to recommend something to read in opposition.

Like nicknames, the current interpretation of the Tenth Amendment has been around so long, we've forgotten what it used to be and why it was put in the Constitution in the first place.

Banjo would say it's like putting all your chickens in one basket. Or maybe he said eggs.

I'll ask Stinky next time I see him.

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