Secession Crisis

    States' Rights  "Powers Reserved To The States"

The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, were adopted as a single unit two years after ratification of the Constitution. Dissatisfaction with guarantees of freedom listed in the Constitution led the founding fathers to enumerate personal rights as well as limitations on the federal government in these first 10 amendments. The Magna Carta, the English bill of rights, Virginia's 1776 Declaration of Rights, and the colonial struggle against tyranny provided inspiration and direction for the Bill of Rights.

The 10th Amendment 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." This amendment was the basis of the doctrine of states' rights that became the ante-bellum rallying cry of the Southern states, which sought to restrict the ever-growing powers of the federal government. The principle of states' rights and state sovereignty eventually led the Southern states to secede from the central government that they believed had failed to honor the covenant that had originally bound the states together.

The nullification crisis of the 1830s was a dispute over Northern-inspired tariffs that benefited Northern interests and were detrimental to Southern interests. The legal basis for the Southern call for nullification of the tariff laws was firmly rooted in states'-rights principles. Northern proposals to abolish or restrict slavery- an institution firmly protected by the Constitution- escalated the regional differences in the country and rallied the Southern states firmly behind the doctrine of states' rights and the sovereignty of the individual states. Southerners viewed the Constitution as a contractual agreement that was invalidated because its conditions had been breached. The Confederacy that was subsequently formed by the seceded states was patterned on the doctrine of states' rights. That doctrine, ironically, played a large role in the destruction of the country that it had caused to be created.

Fascinating Fact:  Wartime need for a centralized government that could impose conscription, as well as other measures necessary to win its freedom, conflicted sharply with states'-rights doctrine.


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