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Limited Federal government power
Under the American Constitution, the Federal government could not impose the removal of institutions installed by State governments.
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A theory based on the Constitutional interpretations notably championed by John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis that upheld the notion of championing individual State sovereignty. This debate began with Thomas Jefferson who believed that the United States government's power was derived from its social contract with individual states willing to join the union. Included in this doctrine is the notion that states had the legal right to both join and secede the Union. Many Southerner leaders interpreted the constitution to allow individual state the right to nullify any federal law that the state deemed unconstitutional.
The primary state institution that was the arguments of states' rights and nullification defended is the institution of slavery. Thus, slavery is still at the core of this issue.
[P1] Southern states felt it was unconstitutional for the federal government to impose rule over state mandated institutions. [P2] The tension around this led to the Civil War.
Rejecting the premises
[Rejecting P2] This does not mean that States' Rights were the primary cause of the Civil War.