In its early years, the U.S. wasn’t so much “United” as “States.” Over time, the federal government has become more powerful, but states have continued to assert their independence on everything from gun control to medical marijuana. In this hour, we ask: If we’re all Americans, why do states still matter? Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell describes how his state has left the feds in the dust when it comes to climate change policy. Historian Eric Foner discusses the successes and failures of the 14th Amendment, created to protect us from the states. And a long-haul trucker explains why she’d like to do away with states altogether.
Historian Eric Foner discusses the origins and changing meanings of the Fourteenth Amendment. He explains how a law intended to protect individual rights in the wake of the Civil War ended up emboldening corporate power in the Gilded Age and beyond.
How Did West Virginia Get its Name?
Some say it’s the best Virginia, but West Virginia might once have been known as Westsylvania, or as the more grandiloquent Vandalia. So what happened? Find out here, with West Virginia native Catherine Moore.
Throughout American history, the relationship between the federal government and the states has taken various forms, leading historians to coin creative (and culinary) metaphors to describe the different distributions of power. Think you can do better than the examples below? Cook up your own metaphorical descriptor and post it below. (Click here for a Federalism refresher.)
Some of BackStory‘s favorite metaphors (we’re not making these up…):
- Marble Cake Federalism
- Layer Cake Federalism
- Birthday Cake Federalism
- Fruit Cake Federalism
- Fry-Bread Federalism
- Picket Fence Federalism (not as delicious)
How would you describe the relationship between the federal government and the states? Add your suggestion below, and we’ll read our favorite new political metaphors on our next show!
- One way of thinking about the Constitution: a “peace pact” among the states
- Google preview of States’ Rights and American Federalism: A Documentary History
- Federalism as a philosophy
- Alison LaCroix, author of Ideological Origins of American Federalism, sees a distortion of history in the debate over states’ rights
- Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions argue for states’ rights
- NPR story on Franklin, and other states-that-never-were
- Historian Eric Foner’s articles on Reconstruction and beyond
- The Reconstruction Amendments and their significance today
- Primary sources on the 14th Amendment from the Library of Congress and Cornell Law
- The post-bellum American Black Codes
- Encyclopedia Virginia on the creation of West Virginia