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COUP WATCH: Restoring the Confederacy -- From Red Rock Eater News Service

by Phil Agre Saturday, Jan. 13, 2001 at 11:37 PM

The movement to restore the Confederacy is really picking up steam. John Ashcroft's alliance with a wide range of far-right groups is but the tip of the iceberg. I was particularly struck by Gale Norton's comments lamenting the defeat of the Confederacy. Is she advocating the restoration of slavery? Probably not. But she is certainly part of the movement to undo the legal reforms that overthrew Jim Crow.

COUP WATCH: Restoring the Confederacy -- From Red Rock Eater News Service  
COUP WATCH:  Restoring the Confederacy -- From Red Rock Eater News Service

By Phil Agre

Fri, 12 Jan 2001 12:55:45 -0800

[The movement to restore the Confederacy is really picking up steam. John Ashcroft's alliance with a wide range of far-right groups is but the tip of the iceberg.  I was particularly struck by Gale Norton's comments lamenting the defeat of the Confederacy.  Is she advocating the restoration of slavery?  Probably not.  But she is certainly part of the movement to undo the legal reforms that overthrew Jim Crow. The pattern is clear.  You will recall that the conservative wing of the Supreme Court, in its breathtaking concurrence with the decision that ended the vote-counting in Florida, twisted the Court decisions that overturned States' Rights defiance in the South into an instrument for deciding the election.  And that was just the culmination of a long-term trend.

Until now, the States' Rights party has been sufficiently marginal that we haven't had to look hard at their arguments.  But now they control the country, so we have to start looking more closely.  And when you look closely at the arguments of States' Rights and Property Rights proponents, you generally find something surprising: despite what they say in their headlines, they are not actually claiming a right to be left alone.  Quite the contrary, they are arguing for a right to inflict harm on others.  Gale Norton worked for an industry- backed legal foundation that supported so-called property rights in environmental cases.  She also strongly supported similar positions as attorney general of Colorado.  But in most cases those "rights" consist of activities that cause pollution to enter other people's air and water, or that cause erosion of neighboring land or beaches, or that harm migratory animals that had provided benefits to others long before such a thing as property existed.  And as Nathan Newman points out below, the controversies over slavery that led to the Civil War were not just a matter of permitting southern whites to buy and sell human beings without interference from the north; in fact they were attempts by the southern states to compel northerners to abet these evil practices.

Of course states have rights, and so do property owners.  Nobody is contesting that.  The real controversies begin when the exercise of putative "rights" spills over the borders and property lines and affect others.  That is why we have a federal government, and it is why we have laws, and democracy, and a judicial system.  The "leave me alone" party is, in fact, the "do unto others" party.  Their modus operandi is to go around hitting people while yelling "stop hitting me".  This was entirely clear during the election, and it is becoming plain as day right now.

Here are a few more related items:

Southern Partisan: "Setting the Record Straight"

Ashcroft Appearance on Schlafly's 1997 Conspiracist Video

1998 article on Ashcroft

The President Elect Sails into the Storm

Considering a Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments

Thanks to everyone who contributed.]

This message was forwarded through the Red Rock Eater News Service (RRE). You are welcome to send the message along to others but please do not use the "redirect" option.  For information about RRE, including instructions for (un)subscribing, see

Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2001 13:30:39 -0500

From: "Nathan Newman" <>

    by Nathan Newman

The comments of Interior Secretary nominee Gale Norton talking about the "loss" of states rights due to the Civil War just once more highlights the lie that the Civil War was fought over states rights, rather than fought to preserve slavery.

In fact, if anything, the Civil War was caused by Southern States using their control of the Congress and the Supreme Court to use federal law against Northern states which resisted slavery within their own territory.

The primary example of this was the Fugitive Slave Law used by the federal government to force free states to return runaway slaves to their masters in the South.

In fact, Southerners took this law and assumed the right not only to go to court to force the return of slaves but would go into Northern states and kidnap blacks, often not even slaves, while claiming that they had the right of "self-help" in recovering their "property".

In 1842, the US Supreme Court in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 536, made this right of southerners to defy Northern laws against self-help kidnappings IN NORTHERN STATES a constitutional right.  The decision explicitly repudiated Northern states' rights to regulate their own affairs in regard to kidnapping in their own borders.  This repudiation of states rights is clear, as Justice Story wrote: "It is scarely conceivable, that the slave-holding states would have been satisfied with leaving to the legislation of the non-slave Holding states, a power of regulation, in the abscense of that of Congress". Where Southern interests in slavery mattered, they were all for extinguishing local state power in favor of that of the federal government.

The next blow to Northern states rights was of course the much more famous 1857 Dred Scott decision which declared that Southerners were free to bring slaves to free states, and yet keep those slaves as slaves in defiance of Northern anti-slavery laws.  The Court declared that no state had the right to grant freedom and citizenship to such slaves or prevent them from being brought in to their states.  The case makes a big deal how such control is vested solely in the federal government.

It was the South that declared war on states rights in the North, using the Congress and the US Supreme Court to de facto extend slavery into Northern states.  It was the reaction in the North that three years after Dred Scott elected Abraham Lincoln into office, not on a platform of abolishing slavery in the South, but of refusing to allow the South to extend it anymore to the North.

And the South reacted to this threat to slavery, NOT TO ANY THREAT TO STATES RIGHTS, by seceding.  It was the South that had abused states rights to support slavery and when it looked like they could no longer do so, they protected slavery by seceding.

It was all about slavery and racism.  Nothing more, except possibly the North being the ones asserting their states rights against the abusive power of the federal government that had been controlled by the slave states.

In a similar manner, those who talk about "states rights" are the ones who are the first to support a rightwing US Supreme court intervening in the Florida election, the first to support federal government in interfering in state tort claims, the first to support the federal government in overturning laws like the Massachusetts Burma law to resist buying goods from that human rights violating country.

Conservatives talk about states rights, but when local governments do anything they don't like, they are the first to invoke federal power to overturn those state laws.  This is usually done for the sake of property rights, and that is the real tradition of the Confederacy - the supremacy of property rights over human rights.

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