What Is States Rights
There seems to be some difficulty relating states' rights to the War Between the States. When some talk about the
causes for the war many do so with the idea that there is only one cause. Lately there are those who are more
insistent that the war was fought over slaver than there ever were in 1861. They seem to look at the claim of sates'
rights as if it were some sort of racist rationalization. They are getting even more ridiculous about it, such as the
simpletons who wrote and admire the book Neo-Confederates. They claim that they have "proven" that the war is
over slavery. When we are talking about states' rights we are talking about something much more universal that a
war that took place in this country 150 years ago, we are talking about a ancient conflict which has been going on
for thousands of years and has affected many nations and cultures. I am speaking of something called localism
What is centralism? That is the belief that we can accomplish more if we all work together. This is something we
have all believed in at one time or another. It is difficult to dispute. In the business world they even speak of
synergy, the concept that two people working together can accomplish more than the total of the two working
independently. I think most of us would like to see such a world. So why do we opt for localism?
Localism is the opposite view, the preference for to keep command at home. Problems occur with centralism
because we can rarely agree on how thing should be done. The only way around this is compromise. Compromise
means that no one gets to do what they want. One of the reasons I have a problem with the idea of American
exceptionalism is that it makes it more difficult for us to understand how we compare to the rest of the world. We like
to believe we are different, and one of those ways is that we are a melting pot. There is no disputing that we are a
melting pot, the reason that I object to our claim is that this implies that we are unique. I have never been to a
nation that was not a melting pot. I spent six months in Switzerland. That little country has four official languages. I
recall seeing the flag of the canton of Geneva more often than the flag of Switzerland. One of the oldest republics
in the world they are very much localist there, which has a lot to do with why they are such a small country. I lived in
Cote d'Ivoire for one year. That country has about sixty tribes, thus that many languages that many cultures. Some
are very similar, some are very different. My point is that every nation on earth is the product of people giving up a
portion of their local autonomy. The large and more diverse the population the more difficult it is to do. History is full
of the rise and fall of nation states and empires as people yield to the universal appeal of centralism, but then snap
because they reach a point where they do not want to sacrifice anymore of their localism. This is what happened in
The concept of centralism has generally been labeled Federalism in American history. The preference for localism
has been called states' rights. We have even had some states separate, such as Maine from Massachusetts, North
from South Carolina, and, yes, West Virginia from Virginia. Most of our states have their localism too. I know in
Oklahoma there is tension between east and west; in Tennessee there is west, middle, and east, and in Louisiana
there is the Cajun part, New Orleans, and the red neck north part of that state. Back when we were still part of the
British Empire there were even more colonies that the thirteen that started the United States, such as east and west
New Jersey, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, etc. When Benjamin Franklin suggested the Albany Plan of
unification the leaders of the colonies accepted the idea, but their constituency back in their respective colonies
rejected the plan. There was clearly a preference for localism.
In Lincoln's famous speech at Gettysburg he claimed that our forefathers brought forth to this continent a new
nation. That is not true, they brought forth thirteen new nations. What started as a military alliance became more
permanent with the Articles of Confederation. In this government states' rights was paramount, and that is the main
reason the national government was so weak. Enough thought it was too weak and that is why they came up with
the Constitution. This was finally ratified, though many opposed it, because it was full of compromise. These
compromises left unresolved issues which primarily revolved around the question of the rights of the individual
states versus the new Federal government. When they fought for independence from Great Britain they were
taking the position of localism while the empire represented centralism. Many of those, including Thomas Jefferson,
saw this new Federal government as being little better that the King. As a result there were several disputes over
the rights of the individual states before the one that actually came to fruition in 1861.
One of the first statements for states' rights came in 1798 from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Their
objection to the Alien and Sedition acts led to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves in which they took the position
that the states had the right to nullify a Federal law they did not agree to. Thus the word nullification came to be the
first on the way to discussion of secession.
The next serious discussion of states' rights came from New England in 1804. There were those who wanted New
England to secede from the other states. Their hero Alexander Hamilton rejected their views so they turned to
Aaron Burr, which aggravated the relationship between those two men to the point that Burr killed Hamilton. Their
main issue was the territorial expansion which came with the Louisiana Purchase.
Disagreement over the War of 1812 led to the Hartford Convention. Many of the same men from New England
objected to the war enough that they again threatened secession. They left us a list of other specific complaints:
1. Prohibiting any trade embargo lasting over 60 days, they did not like Jefferson's Embargo Act.
2. Requiring two-thirds Congressional majority for declaration of offensive war, admission of a new state,
or interdiction of foreign commerce, disagreement of the War of 1812.
3. Removing the Three-fifths representation advantage for the South. This continued to plague Northerners
until the war.
4. Limiting future Presidents to one term. They did not like the Southerner Jefferson's reelection.
5. Requiring each President to be from a different state than his predecessor. They did not like the idea
of Southern domination. Just think, they didn't even know about Madison yet, also from Virginia.
It is clear that they did not like the Southern domination of the national government. I personally believe that they
main reason that the South would want to leave in 1860 is that with the election of a man who had not even
appeared on the ballot in Southern states that it was clear that not only would the South not be equal in the central
government, but that they would be in the back seat. Apparently this bothered some Northerners when the South
was in control.
Leslie R. Tucker