Saturday, July 09, 2005

Still More On States Rights

The Unrepentant Individual talks about the RIGHT OF SECESSION

He says a great many things about States Rights that I have different views on, and have occasionally raised the issues.

October 15, 2004 , November 30, 2004 , ,
January 27, 2005 ,
November 13, 2004 ,

To pull together just some of the loose strands:

States Rights, as the term was used in the 1850s, meant something entirely different from what States Rights means today.

In the 1850s, in the South, States Rights meant that the sovereign entities were the states, and that the states were members of some lesser entity called the United States.

Under this theory of States Rights, the Federal government had the obligation to protect the institutions of each of the several states. Since slavery states needed special protections, this theory of states rights argued that the Federal government must grant states with slavery special protections, such as Slave Codes, such as the Fugitive Slave Act, such as Dred Scott, such as permitting slavery in the territories.

So in fact, the South wanted a Federal Government strong enough to defend the right of States to provide protection for slaveholders. Since most of the population did not want slavery, that meant that the Federal government had to be extremely strong. The South helped build that strong government when it suited their purposes.

Once Lincoln became elected, the South understood that this view of States Rights, vis-a-vis slavery, was impossible. The Constitution with its Senate, with its 3/5 rule, with its Electoral College, with its Supreme Court, was full of protections to assure that pro-slavery factions would control the government. If, with all those protections, the South still couldn't win the Election of 1860, the South could not see the point in remaining in the Union.

There was nothing to secede about except issues of slavery.

The rights of people, whatever the color of their skin, outside of their rights as property holders of persons "in service" had nothing to do with States Rights of the 1850s.

States Rights in its modern context means exactly the opposite. Where the slavery holders of the 1850s invoked the doctrine of States Rights to force the Federal government to help defend slavery, the South of the 1950s invoked the doctrine of States Rights in an attempt to avoid Civil Rights legislation and other pro-labor legislation that was being introduced by the Federal government.

IMHO, States Righters of today are wrong if they think they have the same viewpoint of the Federal government as those who seceded to make the Confederacy. The South seceded not because the Federal government was too strong, but because it was not strong enough to maintain the only order the South cared about.

The other problem is that even though, in theory, States Rights can be used in a number of contexts, both right and left, in reality, it has only been used to justify racism and unfair working conditions for the poor.

Of course, the South of the 1850s is gone, and the South of the 1950s is gone, and States Rights is just a doctrine that losers use to find some protection from the winners. The South is no longer racist in that way. There is no need for any doctrine of States Rights, and in a number of important ways (which is another essay for another day), no President has governed with such a complete disregard for States Rights as George W. Bush has.

For just one example --- the entire filibuster debate, both earlier this year, and as it may yet happen, is impossible in a world where States Rights are taken seriously.

Quick on the other points:

The Declaration of Independence was a document to declare the right of the people to rise up against unjust government, to make people see that if they did that, that the Creator would approve this exercise of inalienable rights, and the people would not burn in hell for all time. It says nothing about the obligation of the sovereign, exercising his divine right of kings, to let go of power willingly. No one expected King George to let the colonies go in peace, any more than anyone should expect the President to let the States go in peace.

Lincoln's first job, any President's first job, is to turn over the entire country to his successor. That is why Buchanan was our worst President, by lots and lots and lots and lots and lots. If Buchanan had done even a fraction of his job, Lincoln might not have had to overcompensate (if holding the Union together and freeing the slaves is what you mean by overcompensation) so much to do his.