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The U.S. Constitution States Rights v. Federal Power.

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1 The U.S. Constitution States Rights v. Federal Power

2 The British colonies that made up the original 13 states were founded individually and separately. Their main legal connection was their common relationship with Great Britain. Once that tie to Britain was broken, theoretically there was no legally binding reason that they could not each go on as autonomous independent states.

3 There were, however, many practical reasons why it made sense to form some sort of alliance or confederation to address common problems: Trade Relations with Native Americans Security from attacks by France, Spain or other foreign rivals Common grievances against British policies

4 Early attempts at uniting the colonies: 1685-1689 – Dominion of New England; united New England, 1685-1689 – Dominion of New England; united New England, New York and New Jersey colonies; sought to impose more New York and New Jersey colonies; sought to impose more British control. Overthrown by colonists during Glorious British control. Overthrown by colonists during Glorious Revolution. Revolution. 1754 – Albany Plan of Union – Attempt to unify colonies 1754 – Albany Plan of Union – Attempt to unify colonies during the French and Indian War. Rejected by colonies. during the French and Indian War. Rejected by colonies. 1774 – First Continental Congress – rebel government/alliance 1774 – First Continental Congress – rebel government/alliance of the 13 colonies to respond to grievances against England and of the 13 colonies to respond to grievances against England and oversee Revolutionary War once fighting started in 1775. oversee Revolutionary War once fighting started in 1775.

5 Early attempts at uniting the colonies: 1685-1689 – Dominion of New England; united New England, New York and New Jersey 1685-1689 – Dominion of New England; united New England, New York and New Jersey colonies; sought to impose more British control. Overthrown by colonists during Glorious colonies; sought to impose more British control. Overthrown by colonists during Glorious Revolution. Revolution. 1754 – Albany Plan of Union – Attempt to unify colonies during the French and Indian War. 1754 – Albany Plan of Union – Attempt to unify colonies during the French and Indian War. Rejected by colonies. Rejected by colonies. 1774 – First Continental Congress – rebel government/alliance of the 13 colonies to respond to 1774 – First Continental Congress – rebel government/alliance of the 13 colonies to respond to grievances against England and oversee Revolutionary War once fighting started in 1775. grievances against England and oversee Revolutionary War once fighting started in 1775. The first two plans for union were rejected by colonies; The first two plans for union were rejected by colonies; The Continental Congress was plagued with divisions, slow The Continental Congress was plagued with divisions, slow and ineffective, and financially dependent on the states…. and ineffective, and financially dependent on the states….

6 The Articles of Confederation 1777 – 2 nd Continental Congress passes Articles of Confederation, the first successful union of American states. There were limitations: Congress could not directly tax citizens. Congress could ask states to raise taxes, but they often refused. Amendments had to be approved by all states. States retained broad powers.

7 U.S. Constitution 1787 – Constitution proposed to strengthen federal union, dividing powers between states and federal government. 1789 – Constitution ratified after much controversy. Unresolved questions remained…..

8 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power Constitution unclear as to who had final say on conflicts between states and Feds over separation of powers. Role of the courts in determining these issues unclear in early days of the nation. Some examples follow:

9 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1798 – Congress passes Sedition Act, making criticism of the government illegal. Jefferson and Madison argue in Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions that states can, and should, nullify federal laws, like the Sedition Act that they deem unconstitutional. Issue never resolved, as Jefferson was elected President and repealed Sedition Act.

10 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1814 – War of 1812 causes financial hardship to New England states, which had opposed entry into the war. Hartford Convention meets to consider action. They discuss possible secession from union and separate peace with Britain. War ends before action is taken. Question of legality of secession remained unanswered.

11 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1832 – Nullification Controversy South Carolina opposes new federal tariffs which economically damage So. Carolina. Legislature declares the tariff null and void in S.C. President Jackson threatens military action. S.C. threatens armed resistance. Southerners talking secession. Congress passes compromise tariff with lower rates. S.C. and Jackson calm down. Issue of state power to nullify federal law still unresolved.

12 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1861 – Secession of South Carolina Election of Abraham Lincoln, who opposed slavery, with virtually no support in the South, compels South Carolina’s government to declare independence from the U.S. A standoff results between Washington and S.C. is broken when S.C. takes military action against a federal fort in Charleston harbor. Lincoln’s response will determine whether the federal govt. will permit secession.

13 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1861-1865 – Civil War Legal questions never resolved in the Constitution will now be decided by force of arms: Can a state legally choose to leave the union? Can the federal government legally abolish slavery within a state? Which has precedence, the private property rights of the slave- owner or the human rights proclaimed in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence?

14 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1861-1865 – Civil War The southern Confederacy lost the war; this determined that: - states can’t secede from the union, - the federal government can free slaves in individual states and permit them to exercise their rights. The fact that these issues were decided in war and not in court left the issue of states rights still unresolved in the minds of many people.

15 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1877 – Compromise of 1877 Due to political deal over contested presidential election, states reassume the right to discriminate based on race and federal government backs off on enforcing laws protecting rights of African Americans. Interpreted by many as victory for states rights position.

16 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1896 – Plessy v. Ferguson Decision U.S. Supreme Court sanctions racial segregation with “separate but equal” doctrine. Actions of white supremacy groups considered state issues. If states choose not to prosecute or convict rights violations, so be it. Carry over to voting rights; states not prevented from setting up discriminatory local voting requirements

17 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1954 – Brown v. Topeka Bd. Of Education U.S. Supreme Court rejects “separate but equal” as inherently unequal, encouraging federal action to address civil rights violation within states.

18 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1957 – President Eisenhower sends federal troops to enforce federal court order to de-segregate Central H.S. in Little Rock, Arkansas, after state and local government refuses to comply. States rights argument once again raised to defend racial segregation on the grounds that the majority in the state supported it. Federal policy prevailed, but there was much resistance in Little Rock and other areas over the next several years.

19 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1962 – Federal govt. intervenes in state college integration cases in Alabama and Mississippi Feds ruled that public institutions supported by taxes must be available to all citizens regardless of race.

20 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1964 – Civil Rights Act Violation of individual civil rights defined as a federal offense, providing better enforcement of 14 th and 15 th amendments. Past cases where states chose not to prosecute civil rights crimes or acquitted clearly guilty defendants could now be retried in federal courts as violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

21 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power 1965 – Voting Rights Act Provided for enforcement of federal voting rights within states, including banning discriminatory restrictions on voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, which also were declared unconstitutional in Supreme Court decisions.

22 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power Conclusions: The effect of the Federal Government’s actions since the last half of the 20 th century have generally established the dominance of federal law in the area of individual civil rights, though there is still some resistance to this and also some criticism of the federal government for violating civil rights.

23 Issues with States Rights and Federal Power Conclusions: There remains a strong separation of powers between state and federal government jurisdictions in areas where state and federal laws do not directly overlap. The issue of the legality of secession is currently a moot point. The principle that federal laws take preference over conflicting state laws has become generally accepted.


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