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States Rights

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State's Rights is a concept that dates to the very earliest times of government in what would become The United States.

When the British Colonies of North America broke from Great Britain, they declared themselves free and independent States deriving their sovereignty from the People. This form of government (bottom-up) differed from the government they rejected (top-down). They did this, in part because they realized that the restraints of time and distance would always limit access of individuals to their representatives in a central government. In the 18th Century transport and communications were far harder than today so these problems were worse.

When the representatives of the various State Governments met to unite themselves in order to win their Freedom from Great Britain, they formed a central government under the Articles of Confederation.

After the American Revolutionary War, many Americans advocated a stronger Federal Government. A Convention was called to strengthen and revise the Articles of Confederation. This Convention soon came to be dominated by a group of politicians that wished a New Constitution. Writing a New Constitution was outside the mandate granted to these representatives, but they went forward with their plan anyway.

From this convention emerged not only the Constitution of the United States of America, but factions which became known as Federalist and anti-Federalist. The names Federalist and anti-Federalist were given to those groups by those in power (they were politically motivated to name themselves and their enemies), and really can be misunderstood.

  • The Federalists (not the Federalist Party, that would come later)-desired a National Government invested with broad powers and robust authority (top-down government).
  • The anti-Federalists (also not the anti-Federalists that would come later) - desired a more limited Federal Government with specific powers (bottom-up government).

The anti-Federalist faction within the Constitutional Convention were able to include plenty of language that they hoped would limit the power of the central government, and insure it wouldn't strip rights from the people and their direct representatives, the States. However, the anti-Federalists weren't satisfied that Individual Liberties and States rights were safeguarded by the new Constitution. [[George Mason] and Elbridge Gerry introduced amendments essentially equivalent to The Bill of Rights near the end of the Convention, but these amendments were defeated. In essence, most of the delegates were convinced by the Federalists assurances that "we'd never do that".

At the end of the Convention, all but three of the Delegates voted to recommend the new Constitution to the States for adoption. Despite enormous pressure to join in a unanimous recommendation, Mason, Gerry, and Edmond Randolph refused to sign the Constitution and prepared to lead a fight against ratification in the States.

The Constitution was eventually ratified by enough states to be adopted, but only after promises from some of the leading Federalists to add a bill of rights similar to that proposed by Mason and Gerry, and after further assurances that States Rights would be protected.

The concept of States Rights has become identified with slavery and succession, but it's far more than just that.

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