The Civil War Sesquicentennial is over, but salvos are still being fired at Southerners by those who typically claim that it is we who are “still fighting the war.” The latest was the letter “Cause was slavery” in which the writer claims that “states rights” was a revisionist canard made up by Southerners to excuse the war.
In fact, the concept of “states rights” became a huge political movement in the South in the 1820s in response to blatantly unconstitutional federal tariffs protecting Northern industry at the expense of the South.
South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun famously coined the phrase “states rights” in his “Southern Exposition and Protest,” written in Charleston in 1828 in response to the tariffs, in which the concept of state sovereignty and the threat of breaking away from the Union were prominent. By the 1830s, the entire state of South Carolina was fiercely divided between two influential political organizations, the States Rights Free Trade Party and the States Rights and Union Party. Each was determined to fight against the tariffs, the former advocating nullification and secession, the latter advocating ending tariffs and preserving the Union.
As Calhoun ably surmised in his protest, the country was being divided into hostile, incompatible sections based on economic interests, which would ultimately lead to war.
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