It finds its basis in the very structure of the Republic. The people of 13 independent, sovereign states agreed to form a political union and delegated specific, limited powers to the federal government through the Constitution, retaining all other power and authority to themselves. It logically follows that the political societies delegating power retain the authority to determine its extent, and to take steps when the government they created tries to operate outside of those boundaries.
Virginia ratifying convention delegate George Nichols spelled out the principle when he assured his fellow delegates that Virginia would be “exonerated” if the federal government tried to exercise undelegated powers.
If thirteen individuals are about to make a contract, and one agrees to it, but at the same time declares that he understands its meaning, signification and intent, to be, what the words of the contract plainly and obviously denote; that it is not to be construed so as to impose any supplementary condition upon him, and that he is to be exonerated from it, whensoever any such imposition shall be attempted — I ask whether in this case, these conditions on which he assented to it, would not be binding on the other twelve? In like manner these conditions will be binding on Congress. They can exercise no power that is not expressly granted them.