When our Founders broke the bonds of political association with the British Empire in 1776, the former colonies became free and independent States constituting thirteen separate communities, each asserting its sovereignty. This state of affairs received confirmation by both the Articles of Confederation (1778) and the subsequent Treaty of Paris (1783). Thus Americans themselves, as well as their former British overlords, acknowledged that each State was a separate and sovereign entity.
The sovereignty of the several separate States is crucial to a proper understanding of the process by which these United States gave their consent to a Constitution in 1787-88. When delegates from the States met in Philadelphia in May 1787, they came as representatives selected, directly or indirectly, by the citizens of their respective States. These delegates were not given authority by the people of their States to make any binding agreements; rather, they were only to discuss proposed changes to the Articles of Confederation. Any changes to the Articles might become effective only if they were ratified in convention by the citizens of the separate States.
The result of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 was, of course, the drafting and ultimate ratification of the U.S. Constitution. However, that document did not become binding until nine of the original thirteen States had ratified it for themselves. That happened in 1788, and thus the nine signatory States entered into a compact or contract with each other. By doing so, they created a political union for their mutual benefit and security. The four States that initially remained outside this voluntary union for a time were not bound by the compact until they later signed on to it.
It is important to note that no State (or States) could answer for another State. Each State acceded to the compact by its own sovereign will. Moreover, all of them understood that they might secede from the compact by the same means by which they had acceded to it in the first place—a convention of their citizens or their representatives in assembly—if they perceived it in their best interests.
Under the 9th and 10th amendments to the compact (part of the 1791 Bill of Rights), the States were further recognized as the repositories of ultimate political sovereignty. All powers which they had not expressly delegated to the general government were retained by the States themselves, including the rights of nullification, interposition, and secession. The power to force a State or States to remain in the voluntary union against their will was nowhere to be found in the powers delegated to the general government or any of its agencies.
Without States Rights, which have been trampled upon since the military defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, we have no rights at all. To be exact, we have no remedy against an encroaching tyranny on either a national or global scale. Until recently, only in the South were States Rights given consideration as an antidote, however quaint and anachronistic, to the growth of illicit power in Washington, DC. In the past year or so, the call for States Rights and State Sovereignty has resounded from Vermont to California. Perhaps the South was right after all?
The legitimate assertion of States Rights is nothing more than the people of the separate States exercising their inalienable rights to change their form of government whenever it ceases to fulfill the purposes for which it was created. In our system, of course, government’s role was to protect our God-given rights to life, liberty, and property.
Those who oppose States Rights today often defend their position out of 1) ignorance or 2) self interest. The former simply does not understand the American founding principles; the latter profit in some way or another from the current centralization of political power in DC. One is a fool, the other a knave. No matter, for they are both liberty’s enemies. Those of us in The League of the South who support States Rights and it natural outworking of nullification, interposition, and secession know that absent this bedrock principle we cannot survive as a free and prosperous people. If others outside the South wish to abandon States Rights, we wish them well in their servitude. As for us, we understand that this hallowed principle, though long languishing, is the key to preserving those blessed gifts God chose to bequeath us through the exertions of previous generations of Southerners. As we Alabamians are fond of saying: “Audemus jura nostra defendere.”