With occasional reflection on the perpetual absurdity/intrigue of life and society in general.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

States’ Rights, but to What? - Featured Editorial and Social Commentary - NY Times

One hundred and fifty years ago today South Carolina declared its independence from the United States. The move had been in the offing since early November, when Abraham Lincoln’s election led the state’s leaders to fear that Washington would begin to restrict slavery in the territories and in their own state. That was the proximate cause, at least; there was more to it. Beyond the election, South Carolina was no longer happy in a union with the free states, where northern opponents of slavery were allowed to openly denounce the “peculiar institution” in Congress and in their home states.

It’s true, then, that South Carolina seceded over states’ rights: though, as neo-confederates are loath to admit, the specific right in question concerned the ownership of human chattel. One of the South’s persistent complaints was the northern states would not vigorously cooperate in the return of fugitive slaves and that the free states allowed antislavery organizations to flourish.

In other words, for South Carolina, slavery and states’ rights were not mutually exclusive; in fact, they were the same thing. Today too few people understand the intricate legal history that connects slavery to states’ rights — and as a result a needless debate continues, 150 years after secession began...

...South Carolinians no longer trusted the national government, the free states or the Constitution. In that sense, secession was most definitely about states’ rights. But it is vital to remember just which rights South Carolina was committed to defending.

For the complete editorial follow the link: The NY Times

This adds a bit of clarification and context to the concept, historical origins, and political rhetoric around "states' rights." Growing up in SC (rarely admitted), i consistently heard the polite but veiled sentiment of revisionist history - that the southern secession was over "states' rights," not slavery. The integral part of that perspective that was so often omitted by SC-loving adults (and repeated by their children) was the fact that the only state right that was of concern to SC was the institution of slavery. If you read the entirety of the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, the predominant reason for secession and the only specific delineation becomes quite clear - and the myth of any other explanation disintegrates. The above article further develops and defends that fact.

Also, it is quite eery how much the social/political divisiveness of that sad period in US history parallels the current cultural trends and political landscape of this country. Ignorance holds a strong ground - sad.

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