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

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If the North was willing to follow the peaceable dictates of its martyred President, the South, physically and socially wrecked by the war, found its own angry post-Civil War agenda and an ability among Southerners to ignore reality and believe somehow that theirs was not only a moral victory, but something like a military victory.

The South never did truly accept the verdict of the war nor the strictures of the peace that followed. Reconstruction, which sought to integrate former slaves into the national life, was despised and discredited by southern whites, whose States Rights ideology led to Jim Crow -- an era of lynch law exemplified by the arch-racist film epic, "Birth of a Nation." By 1900, many states had voted to systematize American apartheid into law, backed up by the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1948, when Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces by executive order, Southerners responded by bolting the Democratic Party and running Sen. Strom Thurman of South Carolina for President on what was, not surprisingly, called the "States Rights Party," "Dixiecrat," for short. It was not until the 1960s, a century after the War Between the States, that the nation underwent a virtual "Second Civil War," the early-1960s non-violent uprising against the forces of States Rights that finally achieved a modicum of civil and voting rights for the descendants of former slaves.

It would be comforting to believe, as some did, that the 2008 election of Barack Obama ushered in the start of a new era. With the rise of the Tea Party, and the rightward lurch of the Republican Party, it may be that the celebration of the end of American racism was premature. Remember this, however. Just as the forces opposed to slavery enlisted the power of righteousness to defeat the South, so too will the opponents of this latest outbreak of the virus of "States Rights" unite in favor of Federalism in the face of the return of the euphemism behind which hides America's original sin. Perhaps it is time again for the Rebels to taste another whiff of Union grapeshot!

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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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