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Excerpts from Speech by Mississippi Governor Barnett


(Following are excerpts from the address of Mississippi Gov. Rees R. Barnett to the Harvard Law School forum Feb. 4. In the early part of his speech, Barnett dealt with the attractions of his state and recent signs of its economic progress, concluding that "all areas of this nation are aware of the peace, harmony, and opportunities, that exist in Mississippi.")

It is a pleasure to be with you tonight and I would like to tell you a little about Mississippi, our opportunities, our economic development, and our progress.

I hope all of you will visit our great state. I would like for you to see our beautiful new football stadium seating 46,000; our coliseum which will seat 10,000; I wish you could see the 35,000 acres of water known as the Great Pearl River reservoir, which will be completed within the next year and see the beautiful, scenic, historic Gulf Coast where we have the longest man-made beach in the world--A 23 mile sand beach....

Mississippi is the greatest states' rights state in the nation. Mississippians as far back a 1944, took a firm stand against the socialletis platforms that were then shaping up. For 20 years, we have steed upon the sound foundation of constitutional government and states' rights. In the last Presidential election, our people voted unpledged and we gave our electoral votes to that great conservative, Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia....

We have heard much here of late with reference to the rights of states being sacrificed and ruthlessly destroyed by an all-consuming federal government. The federal government is constantly making a whipping boy out of the states and is assuming to exercise powers it does not have under the Constitution and that, by the Constitution, were expressly reserved in the states and the people thereof by the Tenth Amendment.

Today, more than at any times in this century, men and women, north and south, east and west, are rallying to the defense of fundamental principles.... These Americans hold, with me, that the preservation or maintenance of state sovereignty is indispensable to the preservation of human rights. We are convinced that once the right of a state to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over a local problem is lost, human rights, liberty, and freedom will perish....

The people of the states are extremely conscious of this usurpation of the Constitutional rights of the states, but much needs to be done to awaken the states to their perilous condition. There is a crying need for the states to organize into a compact, expressing the feeling of the states with reference to these usurpations, the consequent destruction of our Constitutional form of government, and presenting a common front against such unconstitutional encreachment by the federal government....

Surely, the states are conscious of their peril and of the peril to their people. We must no longer remain idle or complacent. The clarion must be sounded for the states to come to their own defense and obtain a restoration of Constitutional government.

States rights and Constitutional government are inseparable. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States very clearly states the position of the states as related to the federal government, and here is what it says:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Any high school student can understand what those 28 words mean. It is indeed regrettable that many decrees, orders, and edicts have been issued wholly contrary to the meaning of the Tenth Amendment.

The courts adhered to the meaning and fundamental principles of the Tenth Amendment for nearly 100 years, and further held that state soverignty could not be bartered away or surrendered by legislative action. Then suddenly, they reversed [earlier] decisions,...and began to enter orders, decrees, and edicts based on sociological ideas as advanced and advocated by Gunnar Myrdal and others, thereby whittling away, year by year, the rights that are reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment. These decisions are in conformity with the wishes of the left-wing and Communist front organizations.

We must not fall into the trap of worldwide Communism. The basic tactics of worldwide Communism is to divide and to conquer. It is to set free nation against free nation, and within the nation, to set brother against brother. Its objective in the United States is to promote tension, turmoil, strife, and to bring about misunderstanding and mistrust.

States rights and local self-government are older than the Constitution. They existed before the Union was formed and were recognized and protected by Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution itself.

The preservation of the prerogatives of people of a sovereign state, their right to deal exclusively with domestic problems and the absolute and unqualified denial of a totalitarian state in the United States--these principles are just as vital as, and more intimately affect, the welfare of every man, woman, and child in America than even such important questions as foreign policy and all other serious questions which we face today, important as those issues are. May God forbid that your respective states and mine, our counties, our cities, our farms, and our businesses shall ever be subject to Washington bureaucratic police rule.

If we lose states rights which safeguard the most precious of all human rights--the right to control and govern ourselves at home--the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--then may we ask, "For what is a man profiteth if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"

A state that loses the right to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over its own local affairs, loses its political soul, and its citizens have lost their most valuable freedom.

I wish to emphasize that the term "states' rights" means much more to the people of this nation than simple theory. It means the preservation of democracy and freedom itself....

Every section of this nation favors human rights. Everybody favors human rights. But it is a fraud upon the American people to pretend that human rights can long endure without Constitutional restrictions on the power of government. Many people living today have seen this truth written in blood in recent human history.

Hitler offered the people of Germany a short cut to human progress. He gained power by advocating human rights for minority groups. Under his plan, the Constitutional rights of the people were destroyed. The proposal to take from you the right to deal with your local problems in a way that is satisfactory to you and to invest the right to deal with those problems in Washington in a way that is wholly unsatisfactory to you is so antagonistic to our form of government and so contrary to everything that we have stood for since 1776 that it is obliged to be un-American in principle and undemocratic in execution.

The moment that government becomes remote, distant, mysterious, and beyond the comprehension of the people themselves, danger arises, and we subject ourselves to the possibility of abuse of power and ultimate dictatorship. When the United States of America was formed and the Constitution was written, the people were insistent in demanding that local government be forever preserved in all of its dignity and all of its safeguards. In the drafting of the Constitution, it was specifically provided that the right and authority of the states to conduct their own affairs should be preserved inviolate and there was conferred upon the federal government only so much power and authority as was necessary to control and regulate the relationships of the states to one another and the conduct of this nation's foreign affairs and unified defense.

Ratification of the Constitution by the original states--of which Massachusetts was one--was obtained only after the citizens in each state received definite and positive assurances that this fundamental concept of government was recognized by the Constitution Is this principle of states' rights as archaic doctrine, as insisted by those who seek the concentration of power in Washington? I say to you that it is a living principle, as vital and essential today as it was in the foundation days of the Republic--the doctrine of free society and free men, as opposed to regimentation of thought and action.

Democracy is not a thing of Washington. Democracy is a thing of the cross-roads. It is at the crossroads of America that the children of this nation live. It is at the crossroads that their children are born--that they go to church on Sunday--that the schools are placed--that the average American citizen lives his life and is finally taken to his reward. It is at the crossroads that the life of America takes place--not in Washington.

That is where I stand tonight. I am convinced that our schools are local affairs, as is the police force, the fire department, the city and county governments, the habits of the people, the conduct of local business, and all the hundreds of affairs of daily life The right to work, leaf or play, to choose our vocation and to change our job, to guide the education of our children, to attend the church of our choice, to work with whom we please, to go where we choose, are not inherent and divine rights. These rights are our solely because the federal government, by the Constitution, was denied the power to interfere with them. Also, the fields of education, housing, employment, apportionment of state legislatures, voting qualifications, police powers, tidelands oil rights, and other sundry situation, are reserve powers under the Tenth Amendment.

Government, if not properly restricted, is essentially a dangerous thing. There is no truth more fundamental than that power seeks always to increase. I believe that the maintenance of states' rights is indispensable to the preservation of human rights--that once the right of a sovereign state to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over a local problem is lost, human rights, liberty, and freedom will perish in the catastrophe. The people of all communities, cities, counties and states must either rule or they will be ruled.

There is no such thing as a vacuum in politics or government. If the rights of a sovereign state and local units of government are taken away, they will be replaced by a totalitarian government--a police state. Only our Constitution stands between the people and a dictatorship. If politicians are allowed to circumvent, misconstrue, cripple or disobey the Constitution, then Constitutional government is in jeopardy and the liberty and freedom and right of every American citizen to the pursuit of happiness are menaced.

This Republic is an indestructible Union of indestructible states. But a historical fact that many seem to have forgotten is that the states of this Union are the fundamental sources of all sovereignty and all power. The Constitution merely states, in the form of a written contract, the degree of sovereignty that the states transfer to the federal government. The sovereignty was principally in the field of defense and operating highways and poet offices. The sovereignty of the states flows both upward and downward--upward to the federal government and downward to the counties and municipalities. Some theorists try to reduce the principle of states rights to an absurdity by saying that if states have a right to disagree with matters of national policy affecting their interest, then counties and municipalities likewise have a right to disagree with policies of the state affecting their interests. These people are simply not familiar with the fasts of history.

Counties and municipalities are creatures of the state, even as the federal government is the creature of the states. The Constitution was not ratified by the people of the U.S. or by the people of the 13 colonies voting in a mass referendum. It was ratified by the legislatures of the 13 states, acting as the duly constituted officers of the people. In other words, the states ratified the Constitution in their capacities as sovereign political communities.

This dual sovereignty feature of our government is what sets it apart as an economic creation of the political genius of man. It sets it apart from all other governments in that it puts the powers which matter most to the people--namely, the police powers and the administration of local affairs--it places these close to the people where they can exercise vigilance on their adopted servants.

Not a single word of the Constitution can be changed by judicial decree or Congressional act. Any change is the prerogative of the legislatures of the states. They are the only ones who can change the wording--either by adding to or taking from--this is clearly stated in the Constitution...

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