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states' rights

In the Twentieth Century

Although the Union victory in the Civil War definitively ended the possibility of nullification and secession, the states' rights doctrine did not die. In the second half of the 20th cent. it was vigorously revived by Southern opponents of the federal civil-rights program. In the presidential election of 1948, a Southern states' rights party (the Dixiecrats) was organized with J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina as its candidate, and it carried four Southern states. The desegregation controversy of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s engendered many states' rights statements by Southern political leaders such as Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama. In 1962, federal troops were used at the Univ. of Mississippi to enforce a federal court ruling that ordered the admission of a black student to the university. Although the doctrine of states' rights is usually associated with the Southern wing of the Democratic party, it is not exclusive to any particular section or political party. The vast increase in the powers of the federal government at the expense of the states, resulting from the incapacity of the states to deal with the complex problems of modern industrial civilization, has led to renewed interest in states' rights. In the 1980s and 90s, states' rights proponents, under the banner of "federalism" or "the New Federalism," attacked the great increase in federal government powers that had occurred since the New Deal. On taking power of both houses of Congress in the 1994 elections, conservative Republicans proclaimed the beginning of a process of "devolution," with much power reverting to the states; several years later, however, it was clear that reality had not met this prediction. State sovereignty has been affirmed and expanded, however, by recent, often narrowly decided, decisions of the Supreme Court.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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