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States' Rights in the Confederacy


STATES' RIGHTS IN THE CONFEDERACY. The doctrine of states' rights, especially as advanced by John C. Calhoun in his books A Disquisition on Government and A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, led to secession of the Southern states, but a faction of some of its strongest adherents impaired the ability of the Confederacy to win the Civil War (1861– 1865). Led by Governor Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, Governor Zebulon B. Vance of North Carolina, and Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, the Confederacy attacked conscription as unconstitutional and impeded its operation even after favorable decisions by Confederate courts. The army was crippled by their insistence on the right of states to appoint officers, and by the policy of some states to withhold men and arms from the Confederate government and maintain their own troops. This states' rights faction opposed suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, so that the government was unable to employ that tool for periods aggregating more than a year and a half. They opposed impressment of supplies for the army by entities other than the states. Laws were repealed that had given the Confederate government a monopoly in foreign trade, by means of which it had exported cotton and brought in war supplies through the blockade. This faction hampered the effective prosecution of the war by the Confederate government, and in the end contributed to its downfall.


Hill, Louise B. State Socialism in the Confederate States of America. Charlottesville, Va.: Historical Publishing, 1936.

Owsley, Frank L. State Rights in the Confederacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931.


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