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The GOP of “Lincoln and Liberty” has been gone for about 50 years.

GOP States Rights Party

How Republicans Became a "States' Rights" Party—Berry Craig

But Sean Spicer just made it official: the Republicans are “a states' rights party.”

President Donald Trump’s press secretary said so the other day in response to a reporter’s question about why his boss axed President Obama’s policy that freed transgender students to use toilets and locker rooms that that correspond to their gender identity.

Spicer said that transgender rights is “a states’ rights issue” and that the Republicans are “a states’ rights party.” Southern Democrats used to say the same thing in defense of slavery, segregation and denying African Americans the vote.

The Republicans started down the “states’ rights road” in the 1960s with the Nixon-era “Southern Strategy.”

The Republicans started down the “states’ rights road” in the 1960s with the Nixon-era “Southern Strategy.” The GOP went after conservative white Democrats in the old Confederate states who were ready to abandon their ancestral party because it championed sweeping federal civil rights legislation.

Doubtless, Trump and his flack know the history of “states’ rights” and of “America First,” the latter one of the president’s favorite phrases.

“America First” is not as well known as “states’ rights.” An “America First Committee” vehemently opposed U.S. entry into World War II.

Some committee members were genuine pacifists who believed war was morally wrong. But the organization is better known for its reactionary adherents who hated Jews and spoke admiringly of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

More than a few right-wing Republicans embraced the America First Committee because they despised President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his “communistic” New Deal.

Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, was the group’s most popular speaker.

He was an “enthusiast of fascism,” wrote historian Eric Rauchway. “Lindbergh accepted a medal from Herman Goering ‘in the name of the Fuehrer’ during a visit to Germany in 1938, and ‘proudly wore the decoration.’”

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Historian Susan Dunn wrote that "It is extremely unfortunate that … Trump chose to brand his foreign policy with the noxious slogan ‘America First,’ the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler."

“States’ rights” is considerably older. For going on two centuries, it was white code for white supremacy.

Before the Civil War, the South’s powers-that-be cried “states’ rights,” meaning the right of states to sanction slavery.

In 1860-1861, leaders of eleven southern states trumpeted “states’ rights,” seceded from the Union and established the Confederacy because they feared Abraham Lincoln and the “Black “Republicans” would flex Uncle Sam’s muscles to abolish slavery.

From the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the 1960s, Southern politicians resurrected the “states’ rights” slogan to justify Jim Crow segregation and stripping the ballot from African Americans.

While Trump’s GOP is for “states’ rights,” the original GOP was steadfastly nationalist. Abraham Lincoln and the first Republicans believed the federal government had the power to keep slavery out of the western territories.

As the Civil War progressed, the GOP got behind the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which ended slavery. After the war, the Republicans backed the 14th Amendment, which made African Americans citizens, and the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the vote.

All three Reconstruction-era amendments represented the party’s founding principle: that the United States is a federal republic in which the central government is supreme over state governments.

The 1864 Republican platform recognized “the paramount authority of the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

(The platform also declared “that foreign immigration, which in the past has added so much to the wealth, development of resources and increase of power to the nation, the asylum of the oppressed of all nations, should be fostered and encouraged by a liberal and just policy.”

An 1866 gathering of Kentucky Republicans hailed “the supremacy of the national constitution and laws” over state laws. “The States are not absolutely sovereign,” they maintained.

Berry Craig

Berry Craig