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Time for a Whiff of Union Grapeshot? The Ugly Return of States' Rights

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Message Richard Rapaport

Whether Governors McDonnell and Barbour are red-neck muttonheads, or sly apologists for "the Cause," they have given a welcome opportunity to bring up what sounds like the return of "States Rights," the vicious euphemism that was the Southern battle-cry during the insurrection and today, the ugly reaction to the recent passage of Barack Obama's universal health care. Today, we find that it is not only politicians from the old Confederacy who are again waving the bloody flag of "States Rights," but also leaders of states in the Mountain West and Southwest, who similarly find it useful to denounce the Federal Government, albeit at pretty much at the same time they sup so heartily at the Federal trough.

In Governors McDonnell's and Barbour's "misstatement," we clearly hear what might be considered the new "States Rights-Speak" coming also from Governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Rick Perry of Texas. This go-round, they are joined by a passel of other Republican Chief Executives who have undertaken to sue the Feds over the constitutionality of health care reform, again under the rubric of "States Rights." It has been Perry of Texas who has most vocally flirted with the States Right's theme of secession as if the issue had not already been settled in blood. States Rights has also become a popular rallying cry for the new crop of tea-partyists.

There is even a popular, if high-schoolish, argument that the Civil War was about "States Rights," rather than slavery. It is instructive to listen to Abraham Lincoln's own explanation of the roots of the Civil War and the need for the Union to fight on to final victory. He made the argument during his March 4, 1865 Second Inaugural, one of the finest orations in the history of the English language. In his speech, Lincoln urged his Union compatriots on to triumph even, he told the crowd gathered on the west side of the Capitol, "if God wills that it continue " until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword."

For those who believe there was sneaky intelligence behind Governors McDonnell's and Barbour's omission of slavery as the cause of the Civil War, there is additional angst to the fact that April, chosen to be both Virginia and Mississippi's "Confederate History Month," is the most bitter of Civil War times. Less than a week after Lee's April 9, 1865 surrender to Grant at central Virginia's Appomattox Courthouse, President Lincoln was murdered by a Southern sympathizer. When Lincoln was killed that April, his fellow Unionists, for the most part, did not cry out for retribution. What they did was take to heart the soaring phrase from the Second Inaugural -- "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."

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Richard Rapaport is a Bay Area-based writer. Originally from New England, he understands the quiet Yankee ways, and thinks its time to make a little noise.
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