Department or Program



Nullification is most often characterized as a reactionary position that contests a prevailing understanding of constitutional meaning, and it is often tethered to support for white supremacy. This thesis seeks to nuance this conceptualization by highlighting how the doctrine of nullification changed during the antebellum era in the United States, and how such change influenced the development of key sources of institutional authority, particularly that of the Supreme Court. Using a model of periodization and ideational entrepreneurship, this thesis offers an original theoretical framework to explain and examine nullification’s change over time. By attending to changing answers to how laws are enforced and resisted, why a law is challenged (the rationale put forward in support of nullification), and who has the perceived institutional legitimacy to articulate a nullification claim (the actor who nullifies), this thesis tracks how nullification changes over four distinct periods between 1735 and 1835. Each period is marked by the resolution to a popular contest over the answer to one of the three questions. Over time, the authority to nullify narrows as judicial authority expands. In short, the expansion of legitimate judicial authority cannot be understood without taking seriously why and how nullification changed over time. Using several case studies, pamphlets, legislative records, court decisions, and private correspondence of several key entrepreneurs, I reveal how nullification emerges as a dynamic method of constitutional and extra-constitutional resistance that influenced the scope and development of judicial power in the United States.

Level of Access

Restricted: Embargoed [Open Access After Expiration]

First Advisor

Engel, Stephen

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages



Available to all on Monday, May 05, 2031