All This Talk About Secession

Recently, Rush Limbaugh indicated that certain states may want to secede which resulted in a firestorm of criticism. Even some Texas Republicans are wanting to secede from the union over Trump’s loss. It’s true that the nation appears vastly divided not only over the election, but the handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the nomination of the latest Supreme Court Justice, among other things. Secession, however, isn’t a bad thing, and the Founders believed it to have been wise in the event that the compact of the thirteen states were at odds with the federal government. Of course, our own dalliance with secession brings to mind the War Between the States (Civil War), so many Americans naturally view it as an inherent evil. Lest we forget, the U. K. recently seceded from the E. U. without a shot fired. Much like a divorce, secession can be nasty or amicable.

Not very long ago, F. H. Buckley saw the publication of his book, American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup. I, first, heard about this work on the Tom Woods podcast when the latter interviewed the former. His suggestion, based on comparative data, is that America undergo a secession. Buckley uncovered that trust in federal government has fallen from 77% in 1964 to 19% in 2015. Furthermore, only a third of Americans say that others can be trusted, which is down from half in 1972. Secession would be remedy to this woe, because once split apart we’d likely find ourselves surrounded by people whom we better trust and share common interests. This would, in turn, result in greater prosperity since we could rely on these neighbors to keep their promises. It would also make us more willing to look after one another through social welfare programs.

One such example of a rather recent secession, in addition to the U. K. leaving the E. U., without a militant onslaught would be the so called “velvet divorce” of the Czechs and the Slovaks in 1993. These were combined in 1918 as one nation after the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell. Despite having differences in language, culture, and religion, these peoples constituted a nation for a long time until they decided to separate. They resolved border, asset, and debt issues through negotiation and have since maintained a friendly relationship. In our current United States, I no more want people from the West Coast or New England determining how I live than I suppose they’d want the same from me. Yet, when you think West Coast, one usually envisions ridiculous liberal policies that are “woke” and ineffective with the high taxation of virtue signaling it brings. They may likely think of us as backwoods rednecks clinging to our guns and Bibles. Fine and well. I’m content to allow them to live how they deem fit so long as they respect my choices in similar and different matters.

One issue exists: no scholar or politician argues for a right of secession under Constitutional law. When the Founders framed the nation, they had in mind a federal republic more than a unitary state. After the Revolutionary War, the thirteen colonies had no common enemy to unite them, so why would they form a compact. Because were they separate, they might align themselves with nations hostile to other colonies (states) and that could prove more disastrous than if they bound together. It was believed at that time that each state retained sovereignty over its own affairs, and with a miniscule federal government, there was no power large enough to do otherwise until Lincoln waged the Civil War. Had you asked ante-bellum Americans what country they were from, they would have replied with their respective state. Robert E. Lee was a Virginian, for example, before anything else.

The common belief was that the Constitution was a compact among the thirteen states, and when one so believed that their rights had been impugned, they could simply withdraw. Madison argued as much in the first Constitutional Convention and in Federalist 43. Here’s what Buckley writes.

It was an argument he would repeat in drafting the 1798 Virginia Resolutions. In its ratifying convention, Virginia reserved the right to secede when the powers granted to the federal government had been perverted, to the injury or oppression of the state. That, said Madison, would safeguard Virginia should it object to the federal government. So Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution was expressly conditioned on a right of secession.

With this understanding, we can see why southern states seceded when they did. Perhaps, though, this time a proper secession could be accomplished without the bloodshed. It might make for a happier and more prosperous nation.

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