States’ rights is often used as a crutch when the actual intentions of the speaker are too offensive or unpopular to be stated plainly. More specifically, it is used to shroud racism. One of the most vocal advocates of states’ rights in the history of our country was Jefferson Davis. On February 2nd, 1860, on the floor of the Senate, he said:
Resolved, That the union of these States rests on the equality of rights and privileges among its members, and that it is especially the duty of the Senate, which represents the States in their sovereign capacity, to resist all attempts to discriminate either in relation to person or property, so as, in the Territories — which are the common possession of the United States — to give advantages to the citizens of one State which are not equally secured to those of every other State.
It’s important to note that “property” can be read as “slaves”. Davis’ point is that it is unfair for free states to prohibit the expansion of slavery into the western territories. He asserts that the individual sovereignty of each state supersedes directives from the federal government. The states’ rights that Davis was claiming were the rights to engage in slavery and to suppress the right to freedom of speech of those who are opposed to slavery. Since speaking to these points directly would have exposed him as cruel, repressive, and un-American, he veils his aspirations in the cloak of “states’ right”.
The most prominent advocate of states’ rights in the 20th century was George Wallace. As an undeniable racist, Wallace asserted that the state of Alabama had the right under the 10th amendment to maintain Jim Crow segregation. In 1970, he made it clear that his intentions were to keep black people down and prevent them from attaining political power:
There’s no reason to let any one group call all the shots in this state. And you know the militant black bloc vote in this state, if they take over, it’s going to control politics for the next 50 years in Alabama, and I know you are not going to let that happen.
In 1968, while running for President as a 3rd party candidate, he said this that is eerily similar to some of the rhetoric heard at the recent tea party protests:
Yes, they’ve looked down their nose at you and me a long time. They’ve called us rednecks — the Republicans and the Democrats. Well, we’re going to show, there sure are a lot of rednecks in this country.
And that brings us to this week, with Texas Governor Rick Perry saying:
I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion inton [sic] the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state. That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The vagueness of Perry’s statement lends credence to the idea that his underlying motive is to stir the pot of racial tension. He doesn’t offer a single example of how the federal government has become too oppressive. He doesn’t cite one instance of an inappropriate intrusion into the lives of citizens. If there was an actual reason to believe that the federal government is overstepping its Constitutional power, it would have been expected that Gov. Perry would give us the courtesy of mentioning the inappropriate act that took place. Alas, we are only left with the words that he chose to give us. And those words are painfully similar to devout anti-abolitionists, segregationalists, and racists. He seems to have the intention of rousing discord amongst those who are already inclined to disapprove of the first black President. He is using the same arguments put forth by Jefferson Davis in defense of slavery for the purposes of … well, the tangible purpose of Perry’s statement is unclear. He is appealing to the same crowd that George Wallace appealed to when he lamented the idea of blacks gaining political power. It is truly unfortunate that in a country where 63% of its citizens are indifferent enough to the President’s race that they will say that they approve of the job he is doing, the governor of the 2nd largest state in the Union chooses to appeal to the most hateful and small minded among us.
This diary was cross-posted from http://www.NextTenWords.com