5.3.1. The Midwest, 1865-1900: Last Stand for States Rights


The last bastion of states rights:

McClure v. OwenIowa, 1868 (26 Iowa 243); Ex parte HolmanIowa, 1869 (28 Iowa 88); Knorr v. Home Ins. Co. of New York  Wisconsin, 1869 (25 Wis. 143)

  •  The Civil War spawned a dramatic expansion of the federal power and led many Americans to view their country for the first time as a nation rather than a collection of states.  But pockets of states-rights sentiment lingered in the Midwest despite the region’s staunch wartime support of the Union.
  • States-rights sentiment in Iowa was a product of the railroad wars – specifically, the standoff between Iowa state and federal courts as to whether local government had to pay off their railroad bonds.  The Iowa supreme court complained of federal courts’ “extremely offensive language” which had “launched [the country] upon the stormy sea of judicial conflict,” and in 1869 Justice Joseph Beck – following Wisconsin’s lead in the Booth cases –released county officials after a federal court jailed them for refusing to raise taxes to pay off bonds.  Beck’s colleagues reluctantly overturned his decision, “having more respect for the [federal] axe than the executioner.”
  • Wisconsin, having savored the taste of states rights during the Booth era, was reluctant to let go after the war.  During the decade after the war the Wisconsin supreme court repeatedly challenged Congress’s efforts to expand federal judicial power by allowing easier removal of cases from state to federal courts.  In In re Tarble (1870), the court repeated its performance in Booth by ordering the release of a soldier being held by federal officials on desertion charges.  The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly reversed these decisions – thus, ironically, making Wisconsin the vehicle for cementing the postwar increase in federal judicial power.

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“[The U.S. Supreme Court ] disregarded principles at the very foundation of the federal judicial power, without the restraining influence of which, the country will be launched upon the stormy seal of judicial conflict between State and federal courts … Not only is the [Gelpcke] decision … remarkable for bold disregard of precedent, but it is distinguished … in the use of language extremely disrespectful toward the Supreme Court of a State.  It is to be hoped that it may not be followed as a precedent for like offenses against judicial propriety.”

– Justice Joseph Beck, in McClure

 

“It is natural enough, in view of our late rebellion, that the tendencies in the popular, and perhaps in the legal, mind should be toward a strong assertion of federal power … [But] it is a question of … doubt, whether the states the original sovereignties, hold their reserved powers wholly subject to the judgment of the federal court.”

-Justice Byron Paine, in Knorr