National Power: The Tool of SlaversFACT: standing outside in the cold won’t cause you to catch a cold.

I know you might find it hard to accept that mom was wrong. But she was. Viruses cause colds, and the fact that people tend to congregate inside and have closer contact with each other in the winter accounts for the uptick in sickness between late fall and early spring.

The notion that getting cold causes a cold falls into the category of “conventional wisdom.”

Conventional wisdom can give us a great deal of insight into the world around us. It often rests on a foundation of time-tested experience. But it can also lead us badly astray – like assuming staying warm will prevent the common cold. Oftentimes, mere repetition of a “fact” endows it with an aura of truth. As a result, we should always take a somewhat skeptical view of conventional wisdom. The notion that “everybody knows such-and-such is true” can often obscure outright fabrications.

For instance, everybody knows supporters of slavery depended on states’ rights. Right?


In fact, it took strong, centralized power in D.C. to create, sustain and protect the institution of slavery.

Nevertheless, conventional wisdom inextricably ties state sovereignty, state rights and nullification to slavery. Most Americans believe this narrative. As a result, opponents of decentralizing the U.S. system, use the slavery issue as a club to bludgeon “states’ rights” advocates into submission. Many Americans won’t even consider returning authority back to the states, nullifying unconstitutional acts, or talking about state sovereignty, because they don’t want anything to do with the slavery associations.

In truth, the nationalists and centralizers own slavery’s legacy.


Slavers understood they needed a powerful centralized authority to protect the institution even before the Constitution was ratified. In fact, powerful South Carolina Philadelphia Convention delegate Charles Pinckney presented a plan for the new government early on. It was overshadowed by James Madison’s Virginia plan and got little attention. But like Madison’s vision, Pinckney yearned for a strong central authority.  Historian H. Robert Baker points out that the South Carolina delegation “proved among the most trenchantly nationalist during the secret convention and public ratification debates.”

Pinckney left no doubt as to his feelings on “state sovereignty” during the Convention.

“The idea, which has so long been falsely entertained of each being a sovereign State must be given up he said, “For it is absurd to suppose there can be more than one sovereignty within a government.” Pinckney contended that the states would retain “nothing more than mere local legislation.”

Pinckney and many of his southern delegates recognized a strong national government was necessary to maintain an environment friendly to their economic interests, and those interests intertwined with slavery.

The nationalists didn’t get what they wanted in the Philadelphia Convention. As ratified, the Constitution limited federal power, and left most authority to the states and the people. But southern interests did succeed in constitutionalizing slavery, explicitly in Article 4 Sec. 2, the fugitive slave clause.

From the moment of ratification forward, southern slavers would rely on federal power and centralized authority to enforce the fugitive slave clause and maintain the institution of slavery, even as free northern states appealed to their state sovereignty to protect their black citizens.