If At First You Don’t Secede

If you have spent anytime at all in the western part of Virginia, you’ll find that monuments dedicated to U.S. Civil War are just about everywhere.  For example, there are historical markers, statues, even an occasional flag or two.  Generally, a lot of people who are native to the Shenandoah Valley are quite suspicious of the government in Washington due, in part, to the events before, during, and after that conflict.  After all, a number of battles took place here and tales of the brutal actions of General Sheridan linger in the minds of many to this very day.

But now time for a bit of history, eh?  The idea of secession was integral to the formation of the United States of America.  After all, the War for American Independence against Great Britain was a secessionist movement.  The thirteen colonies (or states) no longer sought redress or a greater sway in the matter of the government of Great Britain, but instead wished to break free of that government and to rule themselves as they saw fit.   Once they achieved victory, out of concern over a strong federal government, the states first came together to create a very weak united federal government under a document called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.   This largely ineffective “perpetual” government was soon replaced by our present Constitution.  But with this new government did the states reserve the right to secede if they so chose?   There was no clear-cut answer.  During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, a number of New England states threatened secession over the issue of the Louisiana Purchase.  His response? “Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part. Those of the Western confederacy will be as much our children & descendants as those of the Eastern.” Jan. 29, 1804.  And “God bless them both, & keep them in Union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.” August 12, 1803.  Andrew Jackson took the opposite viewpoint when faced with prospect of South Carolinian secession over the issue of tariffs.  “The Constitution of the United States, then, forms a government, not a league, and whether it be formed by compact between the States, or in any other manner, its character is the same.  It is a government in which all the people are represented, which operates directly on the people individually, not upon the States; they retained all the power they did not grant.  But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union. To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union, is to say that the United States are not a nation” Dec. 10, 1832.  In neither of these two cases, of course, did any state or states secede from the union.

Then, on December 24, 1860, after the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina issued the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union (the full text of which can be found here).  In the ensuing weeks, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all withdrew from the Union.  In response, on April 15, President Lincoln issued a call for troops to put down what he saw as an illegal and unconstitutional rebellion.  Although an earlier effort by some Virginians to secede failed, the government was quite unwilling to take up arms against its Southern neighbors and therefore passed an ordinance of secession two days later.  (text found here).  This act was followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina all removing themselves from the Union.  Perhaps the history you learned in high school would lead you to believe that everyone thought secession was illegal and that war was the only solution.  Not so.  For example, consider the mixed opinions of the then living former Presidents of the country.  Martin Van Buren (8th, New York) opposed secession and was an advocate for war.  John Tyler (10th, Virginia) supported peaceful secession and was even elected to represent Virginia in the Confederate Congress.  Millard Fillmore (13th, New York) initially in favor of the war later opposed Lincoln and supported the Democrats and peace in 1864. Franklin Pierce (14th, New Hampshire) although against secession was a heavy critic of the war and Lincoln, saying, “‘I will never justify, sustain, or in any way or to any extent uphold this cruel, heartless, aimless unnecessary war.’  He opposed just as firmly Lincoln’s violations of civil rights, and thought the Emancipation Proclamation showed, his biographer states ‘that the true purpose of the war was to wipe out the states and destroy property.’”  (Jefferson Davis, Unconquerable Heart, page 360).  James Buchanan (15th, Pennsylvania) spoke against secession but also against a war to prevent it.  In an 1860 message to Congress he stated, “Our union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war.” After the bloody and costly war ended one would expect the issue of secession to be as dead as the mounds of fallen soldiers.  In 1869, the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White that secession was unconstitutional, stating, “The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States.”

Let us flash back to the present.  I cannot recall ever meeting a Virginian who called for secession, at least orally.  The phrase “the South will rise again” was more of a metaphor than a true call for action and I assumed that such was the same in other former confederate areas as well.  No one actually advocates secession these days.  Boy, was I wrong and my experiences in Tennessee and South Carolina taught me otherwise.  Like so many Virginians, a lot of Tennesseans and South Carolinians maintain a healthy distrust of the federal government.  But some go further, advocating secession for his or her home state or region.  Of these people and movements, the most organized that I found was the League of the South.  They maintain chapters are not only in the traditional south, but also claim members in California, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma, and West Virginia (who would think?).  I would suspect, however, that most of their branches outside of the Deep South are quite small.  After all, how many of you knew about the Virginia group?  The purpose of this organization, according to their website, is “To advance the cultural, social, economic, and political well-being and independence of the Southern people by all honourable means.”  But the ideas of secession permeate more than just nostalgic Southerners.  For example, in Hawaii and Alaska, the two most recent additions to the American Union, there are dedicated secessionist movements.  Then you also have the neighboring New England states of Vermont and New Hampshire.  As a handful in Vermont look to create a quasi-socialist paradise, two groups vie for control of New Hampshire, activist libertarians and theocratic Christians.  Will any of these efforts succeed and break away?  And if they attempt a feat, what will be the federal government’s response?  Will we be engulfed or torn asunder as a result of another Civil War?

So what are my thoughts on this subject?  My theory on American government, be it local, state, or federal, is that the primary focus is and should be to protect the lives, liberty, and property of her citizens.  Should any government fail its critical duties, then the people (ideally, through their elected representatives) have the right to withdraw from this corrupt and worthless government.  Way too radical, you think?  Do these thoughts not hearken back to the ideas which founded this great nation?  Did Thomas Jefferson not write similarly in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”?  Secession, in my mind, serves as final tool to bulwark against the threat of tyranny.  Like war, it should not be used lightly or without cause, but if a state (or locality) feels as if the federal (or state) government has usurped power or has repeatedly violated the Constitution then it can and should exercise this extreme option.  It should serve as a last resort to advance the cause of liberty, freedom, and self-determination.  Does the government exist to serve the people or do the people exist to serve the government?  Don’t local, state, and federal governments serve at the pleasure of the citizenry?  How much closer would the government adhere to the agreed upon rules if they could be punished with the loss of revenue and constituents?  Say that Massachusetts wished to become its own nation to better promote their liberal values.  Although I would think such a move terribly foolish, regardless of the reasoning, I would respect the will of the people of Massachusetts and could not neither take up arms against them nor advocate reaffixing the state to the nation under threat of violence.  To do so would undermine the spirit of liberty and the right of the men and women of Massachusetts to consent to their own governance.  All this being said, I truly hope that American government can be restored rather than broken apart.  Despite the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of secession, I predict that the issue will resurface in the mainstream within the next 25 years. Will the American experiment crumble into fifty separate nations or will the issue be resolved through peaceful diplomacy…or bloody warfare?  Are we, or will we be, a Republic of fifty United States or an Empire of provinces?  Therein lies our answer.  If we lay aside or are stripped of the principles and values under which this nation was founded, then I have little choice but to say, “If at first you don’t secede…”

Update: I’ve got a poll about this subject up in a recent post, so head on over and cast your vote.

10 Replies to “If At First You Don’t Secede”

  1. Ist and foremost, this post is way to long for the simple folk of the Valley to read. You lost them after the second sentence. In the future you may want to stick to sound bites, its easier for their little minds.

    I find it ironic that you mention that southerners traditionally distrust the government since, 1) they never distrusted Bush/Cheney(which even the dumbest of people did), and 2) these same southerners are disproportionately dependent on government aid like Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare disability and food stamps. Talk about biting the hand that feeds them.

    Lastly, I WISH the bubba’s of the south would secede!! These people contribute absolutely nothing positive to the American experience, in fact they drag us down. You have the highest obesity rates, highest teen pregnancy, highest poverty rates, lowest high school graduation rates, highest health costs, you eat road kill, etc. The south is nothing but leaches on the american system. Couple that with all the idiot bible thumpers who want to take this country backwards, I think most intelligent people would agree that the south should be given their own island, far from the US, preferrably over an earthquake fault line or next to an active volcano.

    1. Point taken. Maybe this post is too long, but I had a good bit to say. I expect that from your thoughts that either you are not a Southerner, or you are one who has disowned the culture. In any event, it does seem strange that Southerners would embrace President Bush from a political standpoint, but what other choice did they have? Did the Democrats offer a conservative alternative? After all, Bush gave the impression of being a “good old boy” and said many things that people liked. Too bad his actions rarely matched his words.

      Second, as people begin to expect food, money, and housing from government, they become dependent very much like a drug. In order to break this cycle, we must wean them off aid and re-instill the spirit of self-reliance. I know that this is not an easy task, but it is critical if we are to survive as a free nation.

      Lastly, the South certainly does have its share of flaws that are in need of correction. But on the other hand, certain other segments of the population annoy me greatly (the Yankee superiority complex, liberals, overbearing atheists, to name just a few). However, I do not wish death or plague upon them. They have as much right to their thoughts as I. After all, is that not the true spirit of America?

      Thank you for your comment. Hopefully in your search you will find an intelligent Southerner one day.

      1. VirginiaConservative,

        My name is Mark and I am considering moving to Virginia because, although I was born in Minnesota, (out for 21 years in the Air Force) I now find it far too liberal, socialist, lazy and lawless for my family and myself. Can you tell me if Virginia is a conservative state and a little about life in Virginia?

  2. Thanks for your explanation and post, I do apologize for the harshness of my post, perhaps I misinterpreted your post. I hope that we can have meaningful dialogue in future posts. Thanks Again.

    Julie

  3. To Julie:

    There are too many northern liberals who have no idea what the rest of the country is like. I am also from the North, but I now live in Richmond. I have lived all over this country and abroad in Africa and Asia. Let me set you straight on the demographics of our country:

    The most racist people in our country are Northeastern Liberal Democrat voters from the cities and suburbs. They view minorities as cute and quaint, but unequal, and they view blacks as too inept to live without the government’s help. This is a wide-spread feeling in the North. Southern people, in general, look at minorities as equals, and judge them so. The racism in the South is not nearly as widespread.

    The creepiest “bubba” like people live in the upper northeast, like near Hartford, Connecticut. They are dirty, crude, and they don’t give a damn. They have no manners, and cussing at 2 year old children is the norm. I have not encountered anyone like this in the South. Southern people are the most generous and gracious people I have met. They are full of dignity, no matter how little income they have.

    The dumbest people live around our Northern Cities. They make decisions based on emotions, not logic or reason. They fill their heads with what they think passes for intelligence – socialism – but they for the most part are completely devoid of any moral intelligence. They don’t believe in moral intelligence or knowledge. In the South, you may find a person who is not very well “educated” in terms of book smarts, but that same person may possess a wealth of moral knowledge.

    The Northerner is naive; they will follow any cool fad and get sucked in by almost every piece of emotional propaganda, call it intelligence, and then have the nerve to label someone else as stupid. The Southerner is skeptical by nature and is humble about what they possess as knowledge – and mindful about what they don’t know.

    The best schools in our country are in the South – especially Texas. The worst, bombed out, stinky, poorly planned, poorly maintained, cruddy, and violent schools are in the North. The best infrastructure in our country is in the South. The North is a mess.

    Southern people work for a living. Welfare is a Northern thing.

    I could go on and on, but my anger at reading your comment to this article is waning.

    Julie, I would love to secede and leave snotty morons at the mercy of San Francisco communists.

  4. I would also add to Disgusted’s post that the South is a viable economy all on its own. It possesses abundant natural resources like coal, iron, oil and gas, and timber. Its agricultural sector is sophisticated to the point of self-sufficiency with export surpluses available. Infrastructure is awesome here. The South also has a large and growing industrial base with plenty of well-educated people to man those positions. We have some of the best technical schools in the world here. Also, we have a mild climate. If the 11 states of the Old Confederacy were a separate nation, we would be the world’s third largest economy. But don’t worry, Julie. If we do secede, we’ll keep exporting our BMWs, Mercedes and Toyotas to you. But you’ll have to pay a tariff, of course.

  5. To Julie

    It is a shame that you are not a dictator for the federal government. I can tell by your attitude that if you were, maybe you would UN-OCCUPY our southern states and we could have our southern country back. If I am not mistaken we tried to leave and you yankees shed much innocent blood ,so much so that we could’nt leave. You should watch what you say because some people are still angry about that !!!!! Part of my family is buried in a grave yard nearby that has many good men in it that fought for the southern cause. As it stands today the federal government does not represent me or my beleifs of what a government should be. And no I’m not racist. There are some black people I like …Some I don’t. The same with white people. Some I like, some I don’t. Some of them are in government, And one is wherever you are !!!!!
    I do hope that things get better for all people everywhere, but I wiil never accept all of the BS coming out of washington dc. As far as bible thumping goes….I have a few of those too! Although I don’t attend church, I do think you need to go!!!! I have tried to be nice but because of your remarks, I must tell YOU that I AM….
    OFFENDED IN TEXAS

  6. As a northerner with Southern ancestors, and one who spent so many summers of his youth on Chesapeake Bay that if you erased, all my memories of Ohio, I would tell you I was a Marylander, I feel compelled to inform you Julie, that it is not just a few southerners that view the northeastern, and West Coast liberal establishments as arrogant, elitist, and untrustworthy, not only in its world view but its relativist amoral philosphy.

    I remind you that 57 million citizens of the United States, did not vote for Barack Obama, do not believe that the federal government is, or should be, the answer to everything. If the south should ever secede again, it could very well set off a migration of labor, brain power and wealth, that would cripple the North.

  7. virginiaconservative

    Thank you for a great post – clearly you put in much research. Your conclusions in the last paragraph are poignant and really the best argument for various liberties we historically have enjoyed but are now in jeopardy of losing.

    The argument against succession by most rational mainstream citizens would be that they love their country and could not image life without it. What that notion fails to acknowledge is the difference between government and nation.

    The American Nation is the people that make up our country. The government is merely a mechanism that provides for an orderly existence in our nation. And as you pointed out, Jefferson made it clear in the Declaration of Independence that government validity comes from the governed — “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In essence, when government becomes an obstacle to liberty instead of the protector of liberty, action is justified. And the American Nation will not only survive, but thrive.

    I do not see that we are at that point now, but when that times comes (and I feel that the loss of liberties we now suffer is an irreversible tide), having a sound view of our options is essential. Thank you again for a great post.

    paul

  8. The civil war was a mistake. I wish more than anything that the north would have given up on you. Let you have your country. When I say this to my other liberal northern friends they clinch their proverbial pearls and say “But how could? We brought the south into the modern era. Without the north there would still be slavery!” I really scoff at the idea because if you look at other countries in the western hemisphere that also relied heavily on African slaves for labor, countries like Brazil and the carribean nations, all those countries had completely abolished slavery by the 20th century. The south would have had to abolish slavery sometime sooner than later simply because of the population explosion of blacks over whites. Not only did africans have a greater birth rate but combined with the still continuing importation of slaves and certain state population which were already majority black, and the inablity to migrate north as easily like what happened during the great migration surely the white and dominate population of the south would have been overcome with the black majority eventually. Do I think slavery was the main reason for the south’s secession? yes! But I don’t think the eventually abolition of slavery that resulted from that war was reason enough to say that war was completely necessary. I am a person that believes strong in soveriegnty. I believe in sovereignty of the minorities in China at the expense of the Chinese state and I also believe in the south’s sovereignty from so-called nothern tyranny. Over the past decade I have seen the south and the south’s politics and politicians continually drag the rest of the country with them. I have seen your intolerance, self defeatism, and blatant ignorance on such mundane issues as GLOBAL WARMING keep our nation from addressing issues that direly need remedy. I am not saying that the north is free from blame and that everyone here acts logically and that everyone in the south is lock-step in the same position. I am just saying the culture of the south is so steeped in blinding religion, the legacy of racial prejudice combined with a stubborn ignorance that the southern population, in general, is the easiest to convince to vote against their own personal best interests. I wish your region was free to choose your own central government away from the influence or medling of the north so you could be as free and liberated as you think what others have convinced you is liberty and freedom is- and what that feels like. You could directly see how those anti-socialist, pro-rich, pro-christian, anti-environmental, anti- worker’s rights polcies really suit your needs! if it would have been completely your decision free of the yankee pinko fascists sodomites liberty stealing federal government~
    and digusted– just because people say please and thank you- doesn’t mean they’re not assholes.

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