What role did federalism play in the Civil Rights Movement?

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If we ask what factor fueled the Civil Rights Movement, rarely would anyone answer “federalism,” because a deep understanding and analysis is required to prove this. The easy way out is “discrimination” and “segregation.” But those are the obvious answers. We also need a better answer to the question of the factors that began the US Civil War. Slavery is obvious, but federalism was an equal benefactor to it.

Submitted: September 20, 2013

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Submitted: September 20, 2013

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What role did federalism play in the Civil Rights Movement? 

by Chanpreet Singh

 

 

If we ask what factor fueled the Civil Rights Movement, rarely would anyone answer “federalism,” because a deep understanding and analysis is required to prove this. The easy way out is “discrimination” and “segregation.” But those are the obvious answers. We also need a better answer to the question of the factors that began the US Civil War. Slavery is obvious, but federalism was an equal benefactor to it. Although slavery was permitted in the Constitution, the states were given the power to decide its legitimacy. One would’ve right away expected a clash between the North and the South to come when the North leans towards their morals and abolishes slavery, whereas the South establishes the institution in their lifestyle and society to the degree it becomes hard for them not to permit it. The South had the power to keep slavery in the mid-1800s just as they had the power to keep the Blacks segregated in the 1960’s. These powers were given to them through federalism. Now if America had a unitary democratic system, changes of the Civil Rights Movement would have occurred faster and smoother in the South. 

A unitary democratic system is the exact opposite of what federalism is. In federalism, there are three levels of government: national, state, and local. But in a unitary system, there’s only one, emphasis on “unitary.” Some may argue that states would have little to no voice in such type of a government, but the fact for sure is that the federal law is the law that everybody follows. Say if the Constitution permitted slavery, slavery was legal and constitutional, and it had to be followed. State and local governments couldn’t make any of their own laws, because to some degree, they really didn’t exist. If America had a unitary democratic system, then what are the chances that Jim Crow laws were to exist? Jim Crow laws were state and local laws, because they were never found in the US Constitution. Now they were obviously written in the state constitutions of, say, Alabama. Another reason why the movement sparked was that the federal courts supported the Southern states at times. When these laws hadn’t ever existed, then who were they going to support?  

But if the state and local governments didn’t exist, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t ever to be represented. Emphasizing on the “democratic,” a unitary democratic system would’ve been a better system for representing and giving a voice to the common man. This issue was going to get some heat anyway, but it was going to be resolved in a proper manner. The point is that if America didn’t have federalism in place at that time, the violence and the events that took place in the Civil Rights Movement would’ve never occurred. The issues of slavery and ultimately racial discrimination against the blacks would’ve been resolved faster and smoother than they have been.  

 


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