In John MacKay’s Oct 17 column he aptly demonstrates his ability to parrot tired historical propaganda. Specifically, he asserts that “state’s rights arguments” were used to justify both slavery and Jim Crow laws. I will attend to the latter momentarily, however the former is complete and utter bunk. State’s rights or nullification (the right of a state to ignore unconstitutional federal laws) were used AGAINST slavery. This is evidenced by the numerous incidents of northern states refusing to comply with (nullifying) the Fugitive Slave Act (FSA). This action was taken in spite of the fact that the US Supreme Court (Ableman v. Booth (1859)) established the FSA as being constitutional. The south seceded, in part, in opposition to the notion of nullification, not in support of it. At that time there was not a single federal anti-slavery statute to which they could have objected, so the whole idea that they seceded because of their desire to ignore the federal government’s dictates is ludicrous.
However, states rights were used to prop up Jim Crow laws. But, if states rights can be used to fight slavery on one hand and support racism on the other, the problem is not with states rights per se, but rather with the mechanism that permits a people to establish such unjust laws in the first place: democracy. Somehow I imagine Mr. MacKay would be in full support of state’s right (and rightly so) were a racist federal government attempting to impose racist dictates upon resisting states.
The curious reader is invited to go here to learn more about nullification.