A Source Book of American Political Theory

By Benjamin Fletcher Wright Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII THE STRUGGLE FOR STATE SOVEREIGNTY

INTRODUCTION

The relation of state and national powers has been one of the really persistent problems of American government. The Resolutions of the First Continental Congress, the conduct of the Revolution by the Second Continental Congress, the attempt of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation to levy an impost duty, the powers assigned to the central government by the Federal Convention of 1787, Hamilton's financial program, the Alien and Sedition Acts, certain decisions of the Supreme Court, the second war with England, the "tariff of abominations,"--these and many other measures have afforded grounds for protest by one or more states on the basis of the inherent or residual powers which they retain. At one time or another every state in the Union has opposed some action of the national government on the basis of its contravention of the rights reserved to the states by the Constitution. In other words the principle of state rights is by no means an exclusively southern doctrine. Rather is it a minority doctrine. Usually the south has been in the minority and has therefore resorted to the use of this principle more often than other parts of the nation, but there have been notable examples, as in the case of New England during the War of 1812, when the south was included in the majority and a minority in the north made use of the defensive theory most fully developed by southern writers.

In the great controversies where the theory of state sovereignty has played an important part the minority group has ordinarily been a section or a class rather than a state. But, since there is no similar constitutional basis for the defence

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