States Rights

What a chilly morning here at beggars Tomb! It appears that spring has forgotten us and winter has once again reared its ugly head. Recently through many discussions the concept and the idea of states rights has become prominent in my thinking and in what I would consider a solution for the problems that face the United States. From the beginning of our founding this argument has permeated the fabric of America. Jefferson and others wanted the states to maintain a stronger presence in order to limit the ability of the federal government to become a tyrannical entity. Hamilton on the other hand wanted and believed that only a strong central government could guarantee the rights of citizens. Hamilton believe this because he thought that rights emanated from the government and not from the creator. The main disconnect between the arguments of yesteryear and today is the concept of whether rights actually come from the creator or come from the government. If you look at the wording of the Constitution itself it is apparent that the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights were thought to have predated the government of the United States and the Constitution itself. Under our constitutional government the Constitution provides for a division of power between the states and the federal government. The system that we use for all intents and purposes is called federalism. The premise of federalism is that it placed limits on the power of the federal government and allowed states to make control over many of the functions that the government undertakes. Since the founding of our nation the agreement of the division of power has never really been decided. From time to time depending on who is in the White House and the Congress the division of power changes. The 10th amendment to the Constitution clearly reserved power for the states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The wording and interpretation of various parts of the Constitution keep the argument of states rights alive even today. Beginning in the 1930s the federal government in the United States has grown exponentially. The federal government has usurped power and taking on responsibilities that were not clearly designated to it by the Constitution. The federal government has taken upon itself to remove power from the states and the people, which is power that the framers of the Constitution never intended for the federal government have. For example the federal government through the Department of Education regulates the educational process of United States. The federal government also tries to manage healthcare, commerce and various other points in an individual’s life to which they have no basis to interfere. To look at and understand the competency and ability of the government to manage anything all we need to do is look at the conditions of education and the finances of the federal government. Our federal government has no ability to manage itself, much less interject into the lives of the individual. It is apparent by the $16 trillion debt, and growing, that the federal government does not have the desire nor the ability to manage itself and maintain strong fisical principles. It is a well known and accepted fact that people closer to the situation would and are better at managing it. Therefore it is in the best interest of the people for them to have a greater say so on what transpires locally. 


In 1789 the Constitution of the United States was adopted. The adoption of this document created a strong national government, the place limits on the powers that this government could exercise through the 10th amendment which was adopted in 1791. It is very clear that during the early days of our nation state governments played a much larger role than the federal government did. The only responsibilities the federal government had were for internal improvements such as roads and bridges, currency, patents, and tariffs. If you look at the wording of the Constitution the federal government was only exercising authority over the items in which it was expressly given power to do so. The state governments had the responsibility of property law, education, public health rules, criminal procedures, and economic functions like banking, insurance and common laws. The states were truly more influential in the everyday lives of Americans at that time. The argument that the federal government should had more power never abated. In the 19th century many leaders on the state level argued that the states had absolute sovereignty and that the states had the power of nullification. Nullification is a process in which a state could it invalidate any law passed by Congress. It is generally considered that states rights, and the the wanting of a strong state government is what caused 11 southern states to secede from the Union informed the Confederacy. No matter what we’ve have learned in American history, slavery at this time was not an issue. While it would become one later on in the war, the beginning of the Civil War was planted with the seeds of the original argument between Jefferson and Hamilton, that argument being sovereignty of the states versus a strong central federal government. It is important to understand that up into this point the United States itself had no individual citizens. The people were citizens of their respective states, and then the states were citizens of the United States. During the Civil War era and the reconstruction period that followed Congress passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution. The 13th amendment abolished all forms of slavery, the 14th amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law for all citizens and the 15th amendment guaranteed voting rights. The 14th amendment has become the foundation and basis for civil rights laws and legislation and court rulings that predominated the 20th century and much of the modern history of the United States. 


Since the 14th amendment seems to be a major linchpin in decisions made up into this point in this nation concerning civil rights, and effectively dismantling the state sovereignty is important to look at the validity of the amendment. It is at this juncture that many people argue and imply that the issue of states rights were solved. Anytime the argument is made that the states rights issue is still important for some reason it all seems to revert and revolve into a racial discussion. The idea that a strong state government is better in many respects than a strong federal government, has absolutely nothing to do with the race of individual, and everything to do with what the Constitution actually says. Outside of the South six states including New Jersey, Ohio Kentucky, California, Delaware and Maryland all failed to ratify the 14th amendment. In the South 10 states, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana all rejected the 14th amendment by the elected state legislatures. That means a total of 16 legally elected legislatures out of 37 failed to ratify the 14th amendment. During this time of reconstruction the federal government had deprived the southern states of their seats in the Senate and did not lawfully pass the resolution of submission in the first instance. The southern states which had rejected this amendment were coerced by federal statute passed in 1867 that took away the right to vote or hold office from all citizens who had served in the Confederate Army. It was during this point that military governors were appointed and instructed to prepare the role of voters. It is important to understand that all of this happened in spite of the presidential proclamation of amnesty that was issued. The Congress there instructed the military leaders to disband the legally elected legislatures of the state, and then hand pick and choose a new legislature without the input of the people. It was only under these new legislatures that the states were coerced into voting to ratify the 14th amendment. Abraham Lincoln had declared many times that the union of the United States was inseparable and indivisible. The acceptance of the 13th amendment after his death abolishing slavery had been accepted as legal by citizens North and South. In 1867 Congress passed a law that declared the southern states did not have their seats in either the Senate or House in the next session and less they ratified the 14th amendment this was an unprecedented step because it did not have the right or the power to compel a state to act. If you asked a historian, a scholar, or even a constitutional law your to point out this specific point in the Constitution that gave Congress this right they would be hard-pressed to do so for the simple fact that it does not exist. It is also very important to understand that this procedure was never sanctioned by the Supreme Court of the United States. Pres. Andrew Johnson even agreed and said that this law was unconstitutional and even vetoed the law, but Congress overrode his veto. In July of 1868 the legislatures of Ohio and in New Jersey had notified the Secretary of State that they were rescinding their earlier action of ratification. The state of Oregon also passed a rescinding resolution for their earlier vote of ratification in October 1868. The ratification of the southern states were considered usurpation, unconstitutional, revolutionary and void. 

W.E. Wooward in his famous work, A New American History, published in 1936 says: 

“to get a clear idea of the succession of events let us review Pres. Andrew Johnson’s actions in respect to the ex-Confederate states. In May, 1865, he issued a proclamation of amnesty to former rebels. Then he established provisional governments and all the southern states. They were instructed to call constitutional conventions. They did. New state governments were elected. White men only had the suffrage the 15th amendment establishing equal voting rights at not yet been passed. Senators and representatives were chosen, but when they appeared at the opening of Congress they were refuse admission. The state governments however continued to function during 1866. Now we are in 1867. In the early days of that year Thaddeus Stevens brought in, as chairman of the house reconstruction committee, a bill that propose to sweep all the southern state governments into the wastebasket. The South was to be put under military rule. The bill passed. It was vetoed by Johnson and passed again over his veto. In the Senate it was amended in such fashion that any state could escape military rule and be restored to its full rights by ratifying the 14th amendment and admitting black as well as white man to the polls.” 

In challenging the constitutionality of this bill Pres. Andrew Johnson said in his veto message, “I submit to Congress whether this measure is not in its whole character, scope and object without precedent and without authority, and palpable conflict with the plaintiffs provisions of the Constitution, and utterly destructive of those great principles of liberty and humanity for which our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic have shed so much blood and expanded so much treasure.” 

Therefore it is contended that the 14th amendment was never legally ratified and he is a black spot on the face of the United States and a record that it is disgrace to free government and a government that is considered a government of law. In the final analysis out of the 37 states that were in the union at this time, the necessary number of 28 to ratify the 14th amendment which is become an integral part of the majority of legislation in the United States today and a point that the federal government usurped the sovereignty of the state only was ratified by 21 states. In plain English the 14th amendment failed the ratification process. 

Another issue in which states rights received setbacks due to the usurpation of power by the federal government was during the Great Depression era of 1929 the 1942. This this time, with the exception of our modern time can be regarded as the greatest time of growth of the federal government. The new deal by Pres. Roosevelt created jobs programs and establish social welfare benefits including aid to families with dependent children. Roosevelt also during this time increase the federal government’s role in labor relations and agriculture. The Supreme Court had ruled that several of the new deal initiatives were unconstitutional because they violated the commerce clause, part of article 1 of the Constitution. The justices on the court felt that some of the new deal measures unconstitutionally regulated local transactions which was an area that was under the sovereignty of the state and not under the province of the federal government. In order to maintain what he had achieved Roosevelt expanded the Supreme Court to 15 justices. He then attempted to pack the courts by adding justices that were sympathetic to his views. His attempt to enlarge the Supreme Court did not pass Congress but due to justices retire he was able to appoint many justices that were sympathetic to the new deal to the court. 

When Pres. Reagan took office in 1981 he contended that the federal government a grown too large. He promised that he would reduce the size of the federal government and during his inaugural address said, “demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people.” Reagan did in fact push to/many federal departments and programs such as the education department and the national endowment for the arts Ronald Reagan’s views on what the proper balance of power between the federal government and the states was became a precursor for the 1990s and the states rights developments through mid-1997 

Leave a Reply