The Declaration of Constitutional Principles (Southern Manifesto) | Study Guide

United States Congress

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The Declaration of Constitutional Principles (Southern Manifesto) | Quotes


The unwarranted decision of the Supreme Court in the public school cases is now bearing the fruit always produced when men substitute naked power for established law.

The declaration begins by blasting the Supreme Court for issuing an "unwarranted" decision that represents an exercise of "naked power" and not "established law." The language is shrill and full of emotional appeals. The authors suggest that the Brown decision is an abuse of power that goes against fundamental American principles.


The Founding Fathers gave us a Constitution of checks and balances.

The authors invoke the authority of Constitution and the founding fathers, implying that the ideas of the Declaration of Constitutional Principles align with the most basic American values. They claim that their point of view, and not the court's, represents the founders' vision. The authors also cite the constitutional provisions for making amendments, implying that the Supreme Court is altering the document without following constitutional norms.


We regard the decisions of the Supreme Court in the school cases as a clear abuse of judicial power.

This is the core argument of the declaration. The authors claim that the court is abusing its power, usurping the power of Congress, and violating the rights of the states that are established under the Constitution. Conservatives railed against many decisions rendered by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891–1974), author of the Brown decision, accusing him and the court of judicial activism. Angry conservatives displayed signs and bumper stickers that demanded "impeach Earl Warren."


The original Constitution does not mention education. Neither does the 14th Amendment.

The authors of the declaration argue that because education is not specifically mentioned in the Articles of the Constitution or the 14th Amendment, the court should not make rulings impacting how states organize or provide education. The authors' position implies that the intentions of the men who wrote the Constitution and its amendments are of utmost importance. This argument has been called "strict constructionism" or "originalism." In the 21st century, strict constructionism continues to be supported by some politicians and judges, such as Justices Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) and Neil Gorsuch (b. 1967).


Every one of the 26 States that had any substantial racial differences among its people ... approved the operation of segregated schools.

The authors rely on tradition to buttress their argument that segregation is legal. They suggest that the fact that many states passed laws allowing segregation shows that it is a reasonable policy. Opponents of segregation would point out that when the Constitution was written, slavery was legal and widely considered to be acceptable. Only ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 prohibited the institution of slavery.


The doctrine of separate but equal schools 'apparently originated in Roberts v. City of Boston (1849).'

The authors cite a footnote that traces the origin of the "separate but equal" principle to a Massachusetts court case. They are trying to show national agreement on the issue, which is a point that the court concedes in that footnote by calling segregated schools "a nationwide problem."


In 1896 the Supreme Court expressly declared that under the 14th Amendment no person was denied any of his rights if the States provided separate but equal facilities.

The authors cite the majority decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, pointing out that the court is abandoning precedent. The court readily acknowledges this, explaining that what matters was not the thinking of the authors of the 14th Amendment or of the Plessy decision. Instead, Warren wrote, the justices had to consider education's "present place in American life."


The Supreme Court, speaking through Chief Justice Taft, a former President of the United States, unanimously declared in 1927 in Lum v. Rice.

In citing Lum v. Rice, the authors are trying to buttress their argument in several ways. First, this case offers an even stronger precedent than Plessy, as it involved a challenge to segregated schools. Second, it was a unanimous court upholding segregation. Third, a chief justice wrote the decision. That this chief justice had once been president is not relevant. Presidents are not necessarily constitutional scholars, although Chief Justice Taft was fully versed in constitutional law.


It is founded on elemental humanity and commonsense, for parents should not be deprived by Government of the right to direct the lives and education of their own children.

Claiming that segregation is "founded on elemental humanity and commonsense" is a common white supremacist justification of racial inequality. The authors go on to proclaim parents' right "to direct the lives and education of their own children" but the ignore the fact that a system of segregated schools denies that same right to African American parents.


Though there has been no constitutional amendment or act of Congress changing this established legal principle almost a century old.

The authors return to their initial argument that amendments are the only way of altering the Constitution and acts of Congress are the only legitimate form of legislation. They use these points to buttress the claim that the court was exercising "naked judicial power."


The Supreme Court of the United States, with no legal basis for such action, ... substituted their personal political and social ideas for the established law of the land.

This statement consolidates the charge of "judicial activism," the idea of judges substituting their own policy preferences for constitutional or statutory language. The authors believe that the nation's laws and Constitution support the right to impose segregation. They accuse the Supreme Court justices of ignoring the law.


This unwarranted exercise of power ... is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races.

The authors claim that segregation has contributed to racial harmony and social stability. Countless memoirs by African Americans and histories of life in the segregated South make clear that the "amicable relations" cited here existed only in white imaginations. African Americans chafed at the inequality, humiliation, and potential violence that they faced each day.


Without regard to the consent of the governed, outside mediators are threatening immediate and revolutionary changes in our public schools systems.

The authors use the term "consent of the governed," a phrase borrowed from the Declaration of Independence, to suggest that their position is supported by fundamental American values. Opponents of segregation noted that the authors of the declaration failed to take into account the fact that segregation was imposed upon citizens, or "the governed." When segregationists denied voting rights to African Americans or banned them from enrolling in certain schools, they completely disregarded the concept of "the consent of the governed"—those affected by such policies did not consent to them and, indeed, fought against them.


The explosive and dangerous condition created by this decision and inflamed by outside meddlers.

The authors claim that racial peace and harmony had existed in the South and that any challenge to segregation was the work of "outside meddlers." They suggest that African Americans in the South have no objections to segregation. Similar arguments had been used by Southern apologists for slavery, calling abolitionists "outside agitators." The authors of the declaration acknowledge the rising tensions related to race in the South but attribute them to troublesome outsiders, not to the entrenched racism that African Americans and others were struggling against.


We commend the motives of those States which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means.

The authors grant legitimacy to Southern attempts to resist integration. This argument denies the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution (in Article 6), which holds that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Instead, it endorses the states' rights doctrine that was first advanced by the Southern states before the Civil War and was invoked often in the 1950s and 1960s to resist the civil rights movement.

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