Challenging The Confederate ‘States’ Rights’ Narrative
The following page is several years old, but with the upcoming sesquicentennial celebration of the Confederacy’s formation coming up, we’re starting to hear a lot about how “But [your name]! They weren’t all about slavery, it was mostly about states’ rights!” While, yes, the reasons for secession were numerous and complex, “states’ rights” has become something of a meme among not just formerly Confederate states and Neo-Confederates, but among elements of the right in general, including extremist libertarians like Ron Paul and secessionists like Rick Perry.
But let’s focus on the Neo-Confederates alone: how well-read are they with their own states’ history? A few years ago, cartoonist Jim McCullough was nice enough to write up a side-by-side comparison between the US Constitution and the CSA Constitution, not including amendments. Why yes, cartoonists are indeed more than qualified as reference material.
Since both Constitutions are written in full, interpret it as you will, but McCullough concludes that the CSA Constitution’s effect on states’ rights were negligible. In fact, while the Confederacy granted its states the right to regulate its waterways, impeach federally-appointed state officials, and distribute bills of credit, it also removed rights otherwise guaranteed in the US: to grant voting rights to non-citizens, to outlaw slavery within its borders, and in some cases to self-regulate interstate trade. More controversial states’ rights issues, such as the federal government’s right to suppress insurrections, were largely ignored in the rewriting of the Constitution.
That language strongly suggests that the preamble to the CSA Constitution, “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character…” was primarily written for those who wouldn’t be bothered to read beyond the technical details, and further that the Confederacy was, well, not a confederacy (a CINO?)
In conclusion: Next time you’re given the “states’ rights” meme from a Neo-Confederate or similar, ask them if they ever bothered to read their own Constitution. Either theirs or ours. Or ask if you can wear their hat.