Southern rightists and libertarians insisted that federal laws prohibiting denial of voting rights for blacks and outlawing segregation in public accommodations were unconstitutional, citing the Tenth Amendment. But federal courts ruled that Congress was within its rights in banning such discrimination within the states.
The anger of Southern whites was reflected in the prevalence of the Confederate battle flag on pickup trucks and in store windows. Gradually, however, the American Right retreated from outright support of racial segregation and muffled the rhetorical threats of secession (although the idea still surfaces once in a while as it did in comments last year by Texas Gov. Rick Perry).
Instead, the Right has sought to impose a reinterpretation of the Constitution by using its increasingly powerful media tools to revise the history of the United States and pretend that Madison and other Founders designed the Constitution as a document to establish the authority of the states to defy the federal government.
This revisionist view is now at the heart of the Tea Party movement and is reflected in comments by Republican presidential hopefuls, such as the insistence of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas that much of what the federal government has done domestically in recent decades has been unconstitutional. It also apparently was what Gingrich was driving at with his recent comment about his belief in the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.
But the Right leaves out of this narrative the key fact of why the Constitution was drafted in the first place: to get rid of the Articles of Confederation with that language about sovereign and independent states in a non-binding "firm league of friendship."
It simply doesn't fit the Right's narrative that the Constitution represented the nation's single greatest consolidation of federal power -- nor that the key Founders, including James Madison, saw this new constitutional authority as a practical way to build a stronger nation, then and for the future.