It took on new force with fears of the federal government in Washington interfering with their cherished way of life. It gathered steam with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And it all came into full flower when shore batteries fired on Fort Sumter. It was the spirit of the Old Confederacy, a state-sponsored rebellion hellbent on protecting its "peace and safety" from the party that took possession of the government on March 4, 1861.
The rebels launched a grisly war against the Union. In his inaugural address, Lincoln warned the Confederacy: "You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."
"Peace and safety" are ideals drawn from South Carolina's Dec. 24, 1860, declaration of secession from the Union. The expression was designed to encompass all that the Deep South states held dear - chiefly, their existence as sovereign states and their ability to decide the propriety of their domestic institutions, including slavery.
This virulent hostility to the Union led the Old Confederacy to conclude - as expressed by South Carolina - that with Lincoln's elevation to the presidency, "the slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy."
Federal government as the enemy.
Today there is a New Confederacy, an insurgent political force that has captured the Republican Party and is taking up where the Old Confederacy left off in its efforts to bring down the federal government.
No shelling of a Union fort, no bloody battlefield clashes, no Good Friday assassination of a hated president - none of that nauseating, horrendous stuff. But the behavior is, nonetheless, malicious and appalling.
The New Confederacy, as churlish toward President Barack Obama as the Old Confederacy was to Lincoln, has accomplished what its predecessor could not: It shut down the federal government, and without even firing a weapon or taking 620,000 lives, as did the Old Confederacy's Civil War.
Not stopping there, however, the New Confederacy aims to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, setting off economic calamity at home and abroad - in the name of "fiscal sanity."
Its members are as extreme as their ideological forebears. It matters not to them, as it didn't to the Old Confederacy, whether they ultimately go down in flames. So what? For the moment, they are getting what they want: a federal government in the ditch, restrained from seeking to create a more humane society that extends justice for all.
The ghosts of the Old Confederacy have to be envious.
South Carolina wept and wailed as it withdrew from the Union, citing the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision when it noted that states in the North had elevated to citizenship "persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety."
Not to worry, Old South, the New Confederacy's spirit is on the move.
In June, the Supreme Court got rid of fundamental legal protections against racial discrimination in voting. Legislation aimed at suppressing votes is pending across the country, notably in the Deep South.
But don't go looking for a group by the name of New Confederacy. They earned that handle from me because of their visceral animosity toward the federal government and their aversion to compassion for those unlike themselves.
They respond, however, to the label "tea party."
Cobert I. King is a former deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post.