It was bizarre to come across this article in the Globe and Mail today (1863 and all that: The issue of where federal authority ends – The Globe and Mail). What was the point of it, I thought, as it recalled some very specific occurrences of events that happened in American history, back to and including the U.S. Civil War. Towards the end of the article was this passage:
In the midst of the self-perpetuating slaughter in Missouri and Kansas, slavery was indeed an issue: Missouri was a slave state. But states’ rights were an authentic issue, too. The Civil War definitively answered the first question. It did not definitively answer the second. Now many Americans are beginning to ask it again. It took exceptional intrusion by federal forces to make this happen.
Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, in his revivalist rhetoric, invokes a historic resistance to the simple phrase “federal forces.” In his big rally the other day at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, he implicitly asks the very question that motivated the Confederate raiders: Where does the authority of the federal government end? Or does it?
From what I can tell, the author started with Glenn Beck’s rally and worked backwards. The ending question in bold and non-italics is a valid one. Americans – indeed, anyone living in a modern state – has reasons to question the authority of a central government and how much power it has over individuals. But to invoke States’ rights is a poor way of doing it. States’s rights are associated with efforts to prolong slavery, provoke the Civil War, uphold Jim Crow laws and foster racial segregation. Why anyone would want to bring them up I can’t tell, unless they were ignorant or racist.
As to the other phrases I put in bold italics, I highlighted those because it is a terrible way of elevating the issue of States’s Rights. There is an implied equation when in fact there is no such equation: slavery as an issue, as an evil, vastly outweighs any issue concerning the rights of States. I am surprised to see it stated like that. At best phrasing it that way is lazy thinking.