The predominantly Southern idea that individual states were sovereign from the federal government enabled the Civil War. As a result of this mindset, Southern politicians believed that the had the right to secede from the union if they disagreed with its policies. Lincoln, however, did not think the states had this right. Thus, the Civil War began.
This idea originated with the Anti-Federalists in the late 16th century. During the ratification process of the Constitution, both Federalists and Anti-Federalists created many documents portraying their viewpoints on the proposed Constitution. An excerpt from one such document, written by an Anti-Federalist, clearly illustrates this states' rights theory:
“The... premises on which the new form of government is erected, declares a consolidation or union of all thirteen parts, or states, into one great whole, under the firm of the United States... But whoever seriously considers the immense extent of territory comprehended within the limits of the United States, together with the variety of its climates, productions, and commerce, the difference of extent, and number of inhabitants in all; the dissimilitude of interests, morals, and politics in almost every one, will receive it as an intuitive truth, that a consolidated republican form of government therein, cannever form a perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to you and your posterity, for to these objects it must be directed: this unkindred legislature therefore, composed of interests opposite and dissimilar in nature, will in its exercise, emphatically be like a house divided against itself” (Clinton)
Essentially, as early as 1787 some politicians already feared that the varying economic and social interests of the different states made it impractical for them to be forced to be forced to submit to a strong central government.
This idea is apparent once again in the Kentucky Resolutions, written in response to the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts:
“Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes — delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government”
Basically, the states are only entered into a weak contract with the federal government, and entirely maintain the right to govern themselves.