States' rights

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States' rights is the concept that individual states have rights as semi-sovereign subnational units of government in the United States. Racists used the phrase during the Civil Rights Era to oppose Federal action to de-segregate the South. Federalism has been debated since the founding of America, and involves many political, economic, and legal (constitutional) issues. Liberals know what conservatives rarely admit, that local (state) majorities can be as tyrannical as national majorities.

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Early years of the Republic

In the early years after United States was founded, the Articles of Confederation the states, former colonies of the British Empire, still had considerable freedom to oppress their own citizens with discriminatory laws, interfere with free trade across the United States and make a mess of their own public finances. Eventually the system under the Articles was proven unworkable. The Congress under the Articles could not levy tax or regulate commerce, and did not have a standing army or navy. The political leaders decided to hold a convention in Philadelphia to draft a new constitution, in which the United States Constitution, the constitution still used today, was written.

With the ratification and implementation of the Constitution, the federal government gained much more power, having an executive branch (the president), the Congress, and a federal judiciary (the Supreme Court). However, the constitution also have placed limits on the powers of each federal branch, and the Tenth Amendment explicitly states all powers not delegated to federal government are reserved to the states and the people.

The issue of states' rights was reignited when the Alien and Sedition Acts was passed under President John Adams and two states, Virginia and Kentucky, issued resolutions (Kentucky Resolutions authored by Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Resolution by James Madison) to nullify the Act as unconstitutional. The resolutions did not have much impact then, and the Alien and Sedition Act was repealed under Jefferson's presidency. However, the concept that a state can nullify a federal statute was used again in the Nullificaiton Crisis.

Nullification Crisis

In 1832, the Tariff of 1832 was passed by Congress. Although this tariff was lower than the one of 1828, it still infuriated the South. The state of South Carolina passed an ordinance to nullify the tariff of both 1828 and 1832. The principle architect of tariff nullification was John C. Calhoun, who had also secretly authored a document titled South Carolina Exposition and Protest to protest the 1828 tariff. President Andrew Jackson was incensed by South Carolina's defiance and threatened to invade. Finally a compromise was reached and the tariff was lowered.

American Civil War

In 1861 when President Abraham Lincoln assumed authority, several southern states seceded to form the Confederacy. Lincoln sent armies to quell the rebellion, resulting the Civil War, one of the bloodiest war in American history. States' rights were an important factor of the conflict, although some say it was primarily about slavery.

Racial desegregation

In the 1950-1960s, the branches of federal government gradually began to end racial segregation in the South, which were instituted after the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction. The Supreme Court handed down decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education among others to declare segregation unconstitutional, while the Congress passed a variety of legislations protecting Civil Rights. The South reacted by claiming states' rights to enact and enforce segregation. Governor of Alabama George Wallace even attempted to personally resist school desegregation. Politicians in the South who used states' rights to justify segregation also included Strom Thurmond, Robert Byrd and Sam Ervin. However, this approach did not succeed, as the South was desegregated eventually due to federal enforcement.

States' rights today

Today, states' rights were not held with great importance as they had before. However, nowadays since the conservatives have used the expanded federal power to enact conservative policies, the liberals have invoked the concept of states' rights in some issues. One example is medicinal use of marijuana, which is currently illegal federally but several states have legalized it. Another is gay marriage, which liberals have opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment using states' rights argument.

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