States’ Rights: Breaking Down the Historic Rallying Cry of the Hateful and Ignorant

states-rightsI’m a big believer in learning from history.  As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  This is a common statement I use when debating “states’ rights” advocates.

Not that I dismiss our Tenth Amendment, or the fact that states are granted certain rights over their own citizens, but history shows us that those who use “states’ rights” as their basis for argument when it comes to denying equal rights to a particular group of people always lose.

Not only do they lose, but history looks back on them with disdain for their hate and ignorance.

For the sake of this article, I’m going to stick with just the seven states which comprised the Confederate States of America:

  • South Carolina
  • Mississippi
  • Georgia
  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Texas

During the days of slavery, these states used “states’ rights” as their defense for the continuation of slavery.  States had the “right” to allow slavery if that’s what their citizens supported.  This was the driving force behind the Civil War.


Fast forward a bit to women’s suffrage.  Not a single one of these states gave women the right to vote on the national level until passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Move forward some more and we get to the issue of racial segregation and the civil rights push for desegregation.  Yup, once again, these states opposed desegregation.  Can you guess what was their primary basis for this defense?  If you guessed “states’ rights” you would be correct.

Around that same time the issue of interracial marriage was a hot topic.  I’m sure you won’t be shocked by this either, but every single one of these states outlawed interracial marriage until the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

See, even back during the fight to legalize interracial marriage, many conservatives used the Bible and “states’ rights” to argue that it was legal for them to deny Americans their Constitutionally protected rights.

And now here we are with the battle for gay rights and same-sex marriage.

Can you guess how many of these original seven states of the Confederacy have legalized same-sex marriage?  If your guess would be zero, you’re absolutely right.

And can you guess the primary argument many within these states are using to defend the right for these states to deny gay Americans the right to marry?  Once again, “states’ rights” and the Bible.  Though I completely ignore the Bible argument as our First Amendment clearly states that every American has the right to freedom of religion.  Laws cannot be passed which force Americans to adhere to the beliefs of any particular religion.

You know, the whole “separation of church and state” thing.

Is anyone noticing a pattern here?  Our history is littered with the fight for civil rights, equal rights, Constitutionality of law and those opposing such things based on the premise that states have the legality to deny these rights to groups of people they oppose.

But of course “states’ rights” is contingent upon the fact that states cannot pass laws which violate the Constitution.  Again, denying gay Americans the right to marry based on religious beliefs is unconstitutional.

Also found in this pattern is the fact that each time these bigots use “states’ rights” to justify their intolerance and hate – they’ve always been wrong.

This is why I dismiss those who say, “Well, Republicans were the party of Lincoln and Democrats were the party of racism.”  Yes, that’s correct if you want to place a label on things.  But by doing so you’re ignoring the glaring reality.

It’s like I’ve said before, it’s clear that the parties have switched ideologies over time.  However, the people living in these particular areas have remained, more or less, exactly the same when it comes to intolerance and ignorance.


And this isn’t a partisan debate, the facts overwhelmingly prove it.

It’s not just some massive coincidence that the seven states which comprised the Confederate States of America in support of slavery are also the same states which opposed women’s suffrage, desegregation, interracial marriage and now same-sex marriage.  Almost always using the argument of “states’ rights” to support their unconstitutional beliefs.  All issues that today we view as horrifically ignorant times in our country’s history.

But they believe that this time they’ll be on the right side of history?

These people, generation after generation, press forward with their ignorance, intolerance and hate thinking that with each vital battle for equal rights in this country they’re going to win.

Yet history shows time after time after time again that they’ve not only lost these battles, but when we look back on those who supported such ignorance we do so with complete disgust.

But, of course, this time things will be different, right?

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.

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  • Sandy Greer

    Why The Right thinks ‘exclusion’ is the best way forward is beyond me. But they embrace Hate and Bigotry like they believe the rest of us either hold these ideals, or aspire to them.

  • cereus

    What happened to the other Confederate states?

  • ecosystemdown

    A bit off-topic, but these southern states also practice horrible cruelty to animals / wildlife through “field trials” and “penning” of coyotes and foxes, and bear baiting. (Yes, these things happen in contemporary America.) They claim states’ rights and they can do what they want…however sickening.

  • real_world_truth

    I’m curious, Allen as to why you identified only 7 of the 11 Confederate States of America? Is there some historical factoid I missed that is the reason for the exclusion of the other four? Great article by the way.

  • Matthew Reece

    Only individuals can have rights because only individuals exist. States are abstract ideas that have no independent form in physical reality, nor do they have any consciousness. Therefore, they cannot have rights. It is unfortunate that many conservatives and libertarians lack the philosophical literacy to understand this.

  • Dennis Ledford

    so why not let us remove ourselves from the failing union and leave us alone

    • DavidD

      Because SCOTUS says no and if you try you will be tried for treason.It’s settled law.
      Also being a third generation Texan and a veteran I don’t want to live in such a state where people who feel the way you do have any more authority than you have now.In fact it’s time for you to be forced to the margins where you belong.You can believe what you want but if you make any overt acts you can take the consequences.
      I will not leave and will fight you to my last breath.You do not represent me and belong on the trasheap of history.

  • Cynthia Padley

    You are so spot on !!!

  • Ant

    ummmmmmmmmm, pretty sure Virginia was a part of the CSA

    • DavidD

      Virginia did not fit the critera of opposing all these progresive ideas that the author laid out.Neither did Tennesee or North Carolina.