Power versus Liberty
On a human and political level, the
essential nature of life is a struggle for civil rights and
freedom, or liberty. Our entire national history reflects these
elements of struggle. The Civil War was the crucible where these
elements collided. Issues linger today from this War.
Rights" and Civil War
"States' Rights", a concept
invoked by North and South before, during and after the Civil
War, was advanced and defended differently by each. As a result,
it is a much-maligned and misunderstood political concept.
Its expression reflects a belief that
States hold unto themselves appropriate powers that maximize the
liberties of its citizens while keeping at bay the intrusiveness
of a more powerful central government. At its core, the issue is
a struggle over the dividing line between the powers of the
Federal Government and the States, and resistance to the
encroachment of national power in our lives. As Thomas Jefferson
viewed it in its rawest form, the object of government was power
at the expense of liberty.
Thomas Jefferson discussed the principle
in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, whose purpose
was to contest the Alien and Sedition Acts and argue that the
Federal Government had overstepped its Constitutional bounds.3
Before the Civil War, some members of
state delegations in the North actually threatened first to
secede from the Union due to the oppressive nature of slavery,
citing Thomas Jefferson's "States' Rights" arguments.4
In the South, before the Civil War, "States' Rights"
was cited as justification for seceding from the Union in order
to preserve what the southern aristocracy considered the North's
unfair abridgement of the Constitution's arrangement on slavery.
Slavery, it must be noted, is not mentioned or alluded to at all
in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.
The Civil War was fought to end slavery,
so our children's history books tell them. This
over-simplification ignores more complex factors. The Civil War
was fought, as President Lincoln said, first, to primarily
preserve the Union.5
He said this because the southern States invoked "States'
Rights" as justification for secession, following through
on a threat they had been making for decades.
The Civil War seemingly eliminated the
concept of "States' Rights" because it ended slavery.
But the Civil War did not eliminate the concept of "States'
Southern State governments and the Supreme
Court, dominated again by the Democratic Party, re-invoked
"States' Rights" to dismantle Reconstruction and the
newly-won civil rights for black Americans, which were all
championed by Republicans. "States' Rights" was then
used by Democrats to resist a renewed federal push for civil
rights well into the 20th century.
"States' Rights" – i.e. the
balance and division of powers between States and Federal
government – remains a legitimate concept even after Democrats
misapplied it to precipitate Civil War, and even after Democrats
invoked it yet again to re-enslave and oppress black Americans.
"States' Rights" however is in the minds of many
people today a discredited concept only because it was used as
justification to allow Southern States to protect their
"peculiar institution" of slavery.
I have expounded on this to reveal an
The same immoral Democratic Party that
defended slavery and the suppression of civil and voting rights
under a concept of "State's Rights" -- far removed
from its original construct -- now totally distances itself from
the concept. Instead, Democrats are the party of monolithic
central government, yet whether they argued their agenda under
"States' Rights", the New Deal, or the Great Society,
they continue to abuse power and endanger liberty.
Democrats today ridicule conservative
notions of "States' Rights", attributing moral intent
to us that, ironically, is only the heritage of the Democratic
Democrats depict principled resistance to
powerful, arbitrary, intrusive and oppressive central government
as something automatically bad. We should not be ashamed to hold
and defend these contrary beliefs because our Republic was
founded and has thrived under these principles.
I cannot say that I am a zealot for
"States' Rights", but I can say that the Democrat's
and "liberals' " desires to continually strengthen and
expand the power of the Federal Government concerns me – and
it is the same concern that was expressed from the earliest days
of our Republic. I believe Thomas Jefferson, of all the
Founders, was most correct about the struggle between power and
Here is the point of this brief diversion,
ladies and gentlemen. The Voter's March agenda represents
continued extension of central government into our lives, much
of it unnecessary. The dividing line between the powers of the
Federal Government and the States is again being moved.
In response to the Florida election, Voter's
March demands sweeping reforms and national legislation. This is
the "liberals' " pat answer to any issue.
Many States' officials, to the chagrin of
"liberals", observed the election, assessed their own
voting processes and procedures, achieved bipartisan consensus,
and have taken steps to address them. Florida for instance,
effective January 1, 2002, implemented sweeping electoral
reforms that bars punch cards -- the source of hanging chads that
was claimed to be all Mr. Gore's -- and sets recount standards.
National legislation, however, is pending.
The matter is boiling to a head.
Pending Congressional Legislation
Republican Representative Robert Ney
introduced H.R. 3295 in the House on November 14, 2001. The bill's
co-sponsor is Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer.
This is an extensive bill attempting to
address a few of the provisions demanded in the "Voters'
Bill of Rights" by the "Action Agenda for Electoral
Reform" and Voter's March.
The purpose of the bill sounds innocuous
until you delve into the specific language. The summary,
published by Congress, is to:
"…establish a program to provide
funds to States to replace punch card voting systems, to
establish the Election Assistance Commission to assist in the
administration of Federal elections and to otherwise provide
assistance with the administration of certain Federal election
laws and programs, to establish minimum election administration
standards for States and units of local government with
responsibility for the administration of Federal elections, and
for other purposes."
Let me address only the more important
sections of this bill.7