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Secession: Is it a Good Thing? Is It Possible?
As I have told members, many times, I am in favour of the right, of individual states, to secede. When the Federal State becomes too heavy hended, and it does not adequately represent it's citizens, or the individual states they reside, the staes have the right to part with the Federal State, and go their own way. It's all about Liberty!

To start this thread, I am presenting an article, by Dr Walter E Williams, discussing wheather secession is possible, and a right to pursue.

Quote:Do States Have a Right of Secession?

by Walter Williams (April 19, 2002)

Do states have a right of secession? That question was settled through the costly War of 1861. In his recently published book, "The Real Lincoln," Thomas DiLorenzo marshals abundant unambiguous evidence that virtually every political leader of the time and earlier believed that states had a right of secession.

Let's look at a few quotations. Thomas Jefferson in his First Inaugural Address said, "If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left to combat it." Fifteen years later, after the New England Federalists attempted to secede, Jefferson said, "If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation ... to a continuance in the union .... I have no hesitation in saying, 'Let us separate.'"

At Virginia's ratification convention, the delegates said, "The powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression." In Federalist Paper 39, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, cleared up what "the people" meant, saying the proposed Constitution would be subject to ratification by the people, "not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong." In a word, states were sovereign; the federal government was a creation, an agent, a servant of the states.

On the eve of the War of 1861, even unionist politicians saw secession as a right of states. Maryland Rep. Jacob M. Kunkel said, "Any attempt to preserve the Union between the States of this Confederacy by force would be impractical, and destructive of republican liberty." The northern Democratic and Republican parties favored allowing the South to secede in peace.

Just about every major Northern newspaper editorialized in favor of the South's right to secede. New York Tribune (Feb. 5, 1860): "If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861." Detroit Free Press (Feb. 19, 1861): "An attempt to subjugate the seceded States, even if successful could produce nothing but evil -- evil unmitigated in character and appalling in content." The New York Times (March 21, 1861): "There is growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go." DiLorenzo cites other editorials expressing identical sentiments.

Americans celebrate Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, but H.L. Mencken correctly evaluated the speech, "It is poetry not logic; beauty, not sense." Lincoln said that the soldiers sacrificed their lives "to the cause of self-determination -- government of the people, by the people, for the people should not perish from the earth." Mencken says: "It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in the battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of people to govern themselves."

In Federalist Paper 45, Madison guaranteed: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." The South seceded because of Washington's encroachment on that vision. Today, it's worse. Turn Madison's vision on its head, and you have today's America.

DiLorenzo does a yeoman's job in documenting Lincoln's ruthlessness and hypocrisy, and how historians have covered it up. The Framers had a deathly fear of federal government abuse. They saw state sovereignty as a protection. That's why they gave us the Ninth and 10th Amendments. They saw secession as the ultimate protection against Washington tyranny.

Editor's Comment: Secession is not protection against establishing a government to prevent the abolishment of slavery. The key issue in the right to secession is not separating oneself from a government that prevents the "self-determination" of "peoples," but separating oneself from a government that fails in its purpose: the protection of individual rights.

Secession or Nullification
by Walter Williams (May 5, 2002)

Summary: In violation of both the letter and spirit, the federal government imposes unconstitutional and costly mandates covering the gamut from education and land usage to how much water can be used to flush toilets.

[]A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Loyola University (Maryland) professor of economics Thomas DiLorenzo's "The Real Lincoln," a book that presented abundant evidence that most of the Founders took the right of state secession for granted. Despite that evidence, some readers concluded differently. Let's consider an alternative to secession in response to federal government encroachment on our liberties.

Suppose Congress enacted the Federal Clean Thoughts Act (FCTA) and President Bush signed it. Under its provisions, before books and newspaper reports could be published, and before television and radio programs could be broadcasted, prior approval of their "fitness" would have to be obtained from the Federal Clean Thoughts Commission. Several parties bring a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court charging FCTA is a violation of the First Amendment. However, the court finds that under the Constitution 's "general welfare clause," the law is constitutional.

What do Americans do? Do we accept the tyranny or pick up the sword, or do we think about state secession again? I would hope that the response of my fellow Americans wouldn't be: "Williams, the law is the law. The Court has said FCTA is constitutional, and our job is to obey." What's clear in this scenario is that the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government are joined with one another to undermine our Constitution and destroy our liberties.

Do we allow the federal government to determine the scope of its own powers? Should we accept whatever Congress, the White House and the courts say is constitutional? Not according to Alexander Hamilton, who in Federalist Paper 28 said, "The State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority."

One response to federal encroachment is for state governments to declare federal laws that have no constitutional authority null and void, and refuse to enforce them. While the U.S. Constitution provides no specific provision for nullification, the case for nullification is found in the nature of compacts and agreements. Our constitution represents a compact between the states and the federal government. As with any compact, one party does not have a monopoly over its interpretation, nor can one party change it without the consent of the other. Additionally, no one has a moral obligation to obey unconstitutional laws. That's not to say there isn't a compelling case for obedience to unconstitutional laws: the brutal force of the federal government to coerce obedience.

While Congress hasn't yet enacted such a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, most of what Congress does, with U.S. Supreme Court and White House sanction, represents constitutional encroachments of varying degrees.

You say, "Williams, explain that." Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution enumerates (lists) those powers delegated to Congress. The Tenth Amendment reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." That clearly says that powers not delegated to Congress by Article I, Section 8 belong to the people and the states.

In violation of both the letter and spirit, the federal government imposes unconstitutional and costly mandates covering the gamut from education and land usage to how much water can be used to flush toilets. I wonder when a governor and his state legislature will summon the courage to declare some of these federal laws null and void, and refuse to enforce them.

Of course, Washington might respond by not sending back money the citizens pay in federal taxes. Then the potential of ugliness arises because the state can establish a mechanism to withhold the money its citizens send to Washington.

Parting Company: Rick Perry and Seceding From The Union
by Walter Williams (April 22, 2009)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry rattled cages when he suggested that Texans might at some point become so disgusted with Washington's gross violation of the U.S. Constitution that they would want to secede from the union. Political hustlers, their media allies and others, who have little understanding, are calling his remarks treasonous. Let's look at it.

When New York delegates met on July 26, 1788, their ratification document read, "That the Powers of Government may be resumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same."

On May 29, 1790, the Rhode Island delegates made a similar claim in their ratification document. "That the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness: That the rights of the States respectively to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same."

On June 26, 1788, Virginia's elected delegates met to ratify the Constitution. In their ratification document, they said, "The People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will."

As demonstrated by the ratification documents of New York, Rhode Island and Virginia, they made it explicit that if the federal government perverted the delegated rights, they had the right to resume those rights. In fact, when the Union was being formed, where the states created the federal government, every state thought they had a right to secede otherwise there would not have been a Union.

Perry is right when he says that there is no reason for Texas to secede. There are indeed intermediate actions short of secession that states can take. Thomas Jefferson said, "Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." That suggests that one response to federal encroachment is for state governments to declare federal laws that have no constitutional authority null and void and refuse to enforce them.

While the U.S. Constitution does not provide a specific provision for nullification, the case for nullification is found in the nature of compacts and agreements. Our Constitution represents a compact between the states and the federal government. As with any compact, one party does not have a monopoly over its interpretation, nor can one party change it without the consent of the other. Additionally, no one has a moral obligation to obey unconstitutional laws. That's not to say there is not a compelling case for obedience of unconstitutional laws. That compelling case is the brute force of the federal government to coerce obedience, possibly going as far as using its military might to lay waste to a disobedient state and its peoples.

Finally, here's my secession question for you. Some Americans accept and have respect for the Tenth Amendment, which reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Other Americans, the majority I fear, say to hell with the Tenth Amendment limits on the federal government. Which is a more peaceful solution: one group of Americans seeking to impose their vision on others or simply parting company?

Oklahoma Rebellion
by Walter Williams (July 16, 2008)

One of the unappreciated casualties of the War of 1861, erroneously called a Civil War, was its contribution to the erosion of constitutional guarantees of state sovereignty. It settled the issue of secession, making it possible for the federal government to increasingly run roughshod over Ninth and 10th Amendment guarantees. A civil war, by the way, is a struggle where two or more parties try to take over the central government. Confederate President Jefferson Davis no more wanted to take over Washington, D.C., than George Washington wanted to take over London. Both wars are more properly described as wars of independence.

Oklahomans are trying to recover some of their lost state sovereignty by House Joint Resolution 1089, introduced by State Rep. Charles Key.

The resolution's language, in part, reads: "Whereas, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows: 'The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.'; and Whereas, the Tenth Amendment defines the total scope of federal power as being that specifically granted by the Constitution of the United States and no more; and whereas, the scope of power defined by the Tenth Amendment means that the federal government was created by the states specifically to be an agent of the states; and Whereas, today, in 2008, the states are demonstrably treated as agents of the federal government. … Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives and the Senate of the 2nd session of the 51st Oklahoma Legislature: that the State of Oklahoma hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States. That this serve as Notice and Demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers."

Key's resolution passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a 92 to 3 vote, but it reached a bottleneck in the Senate where it languished until adjournment. However, Key plans to reintroduce the measure when the legislature reconvenes.

Federal usurpation goes beyond anything the Constitution's framers would have imagined. James Madison, explaining the constitution, in Federalist Paper 45, said, "The powers delegated … to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, [such] as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce. … The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people." Thomas Jefferson emphasized that the states are not "subordinate" to the national government, but rather the two are "coordinate departments of one simple and integral whole. … The one is the domestic, the other the foreign branch of the same government."

Both parties and all branches of the federal government have made a mockery of the checks and balances, separation of powers and the republican form of government envisioned by the founders. One of the more disgusting sights for me to is to watch a president, congressman or federal judge take an oath to uphold and defend the United States Constitution, when in reality they either hold constitutional principles in contempt or they are ignorant of those principles.

State efforts, such as Oklahoma's, create a glimmer of hope that one day Americans and their elected representatives will realize that the federal government is the creation of the states. A bit of rebellion by officials in other states will speed that process along.

Birth of Big Brother: How the Court deep-sixed the Tenth
by George F. Smith (March 2, 2002)

Summary: Although the state relies on the threat of force to fund that budget, most Americans support big government and willingly pay their taxes.

[]Don't make the fatal mistake of believing government can't do anything right. No organization could expand to the point of commanding a budget in excess of two trillion dollars and be completely inept -- not even the bumbling bureaucracy in Washington. Although the state relies on the threat of force to fund that budget, most Americans support big government and willingly pay their taxes.

So what is it Big Brother's doing right?

"Educating" us. Compulsory, taxpayer-financed schooling carefully corrupts the foundations of a free society. Government schools invariably preach the primacy of the group over the individual, thus destroying the concept of individual rights. [1]

How did we get saddled with government schools? Statists can point to no less an enemy of tyranny than Jefferson himself, who thought government should provide rudimentary education to ensure that people were smart enough to safeguard their freedom. [2] Although the first tax-funded school appeared in Boston in 1635, compulsory education didn't take root until 1852, when Massachusetts passed a law forcing every child to get an education. Federal meddling in government school curriculum started in 1958, in reaction to another "crisis" -- the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik. [3] Though President Reagan decried the mediocrity of public schools in 1982, he also cited a Gallup Poll showing most Americans believed the fix was to throw more taxpayer dollars at the problem. [4]

That had to be an education establishment "moment" if ever there was one.

But we're a country that respects the rule of law, and the supreme law of the land does not assign government the task of educating us. [5] Nor does it allow government to spread itself all over our lives the way it's doing now. If the Tenth Amendment means what it says -- that the powers "not delegated to the United States by the Constitution" are reserved to the states or to the people -- how did Big Brother get so big, legally?

If we open our history books, we'll find that Chief Justice John Marshall, in 1819, issued the first landmark ruling corrupting the philosophy of limited government. It "is the duty of the court to construe the constitutional powers of the national government liberally," Marshall wrote, in supporting the constitutionality of a national bank. [6]

Although a national bank didn't appear to be on the minds of the Framers, Marshall reasoned, "[i]t was not their intention, in these cases, to enumerate particulars. The true view of the subject is, that if it be a fit instrument to an authorized purpose, it may be used, not being specially prohibited. Congress is authorized to pass all laws 'necessary and proper' to carry into execution the powers conferred on it." [7]

Following Marshall's logic, if the government's "authorized purpose" is to stop terrorism, for example, it may "pass all laws 'necessary and proper'" to eliminate terrorists. Since a national ID card law is not "specially prohibited," there are no legal barriers to stop Congress from passing it. And when ID cards don't do the trick, we move on to prefrontal lobotomies, because that, too, could be construed as "necessary and proper."

In spite of Marshall's constitutional inversion, the growth of state power in the 19th century was fairly moderate. After the War of Secession, our mostly free society produced two notable results: successful people and those who hated them. The haters found moral relief in altruism -- the doctrine of sacrifice, that the haves owed something to the have-nots -- and political opportunity in statism, that the government has a duty to redistribute wealth to achieve "social justice."

Under pressure to "do something" about economic polarities, government in 1913 passed a "soak the rich" income tax amendment and created a new national bank, the Federal Reserve System.

After the stock market crash in 1929, statists blamed unbridled capitalism for the economic misery government created through the Federal Reserve's manipulation of the money supply. [8] Roosevelt offered the country a stronger dose of the same interventionist poison, but sold it to the public as medicine.

There was only one problem: the Supreme Court found many of his measures lacking in constitutional authority. So in March, 1937, Roosevelt had a little chat with America. He told the people he was trying to save them, but the Court was getting in his way. He said it was getting in his way unconstitutionally. He suggested that maybe Justices should be forced to retire at age 70, which would clear six of them from the bench immediately, and that maybe he would push for amendments to the Constitution if the Court didn't change its position. [9]

It worked. The Court capitulated. A few weeks after Roosevelt issued his threat, the Court upheld a minimum wage law in West Coast Hotel vs... Parrish (1937), clearly acting against precedent. [10]

The Tenth Amendment had been unofficially repealed. Instead of rule by law, we became a country ruled by demagogues and the favors they dispense or withhold.

Walter Williams, in reviewing Charlotte Twight's new book, "Dependent on D.C.," which appears to offer many insights into the history of government growth [11], quotes the author as saying we must commit "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" to the effort of regaining our liberty.

Our founders made the same commitment, but future generations lost it.

For all their brilliance, our founders never completely threw off the clutching cloak of altruism, the doctrine that man exists to serve others. This is grotesquely at odds with our founding philosophy of man's inalienable rights, that each man is an end in himself and not a sacrificial object of society. If we let self-sacrifice be our moral ideal, we've given government the means of enslaving us, and liberty, to the extent it exists, will be by permission, rather than right.


[1] Rand, Ayn, "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", New American Library, New York, 1962.

[2] - Jefferson and state-supported education

[3] - A timeline of public education in America

[4] - A Nation at Risk

[5] - U. S. Constitution

[6] - McCulloch vs. Maryland

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rand, Ayn, "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", New American Library, New York, 1962.

[9] - Roosevelt fireside chat, March 9, 1937

[10] - The Supreme Court Reborn

[11] - A Nation of Sheep: Dependent on D.C.


Parting company
Posted: August 07, 2002
1:00 am Eastern

By Walter Williams
© 2009 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Each July 4, we celebrate the founding of our nation, but how many Americans understand – much less respect – the founding principles? I fear that, for most Americans, July 4 is a celebration of a day off of work, an excuse for fireworks and feasting on barbecue but not a day to celebrate and enshrine the liberties the Founders sought for us. Some of this is the result of dumbed-down schooling, but a large part, I fear, is simple contempt for our founding principles.

Let's look at a few founding documents to see what's your take on them. On June 26, 1788, Virginia's elected delegates met to ratify the Constitution. In their ratification document, they said, "The People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will."

When New York delegates met on July 26, 1788, their ratification document read, "That the Powers of Government may be resumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same."

On May 29, 1790, the Rhode Island delegates made a similar claim in their ratification document: "That the powers of government may be resumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness: That the rights of the States respectively to nominate and appoint all State Officers, and every other power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States or to the departments of government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the same."

Here's a couple questions for you: Has the United States Congress usurped powers that were not delegated to it by the Constitution? From their ratification statements, isn't it clear that the nation's Founders assumed that States and the people have a right to take back powers they granted Congress in the Constitution? All but your highly trained legal scholars, politicians and bureaucrats – and others having contempt for the founding principles – will agree: Yes, Congress has exceeded its delegated powers. And, yes, states have a right to take back (resume) powers delegated to the federal government – in a word the right to secede from the Union.

The Founders, who feared federal consolidation of power, saw secession as the ultimate brake on federal abuse and usurpation. However, President Abraham Lincoln, through nothing less than brutal military force, settled that issue. He acted unconstitutionally and with ruthless contempt for the founding principles.

Have you ever wondered why Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were never tried for treason? The easy answer is that plaintiffs would have been laughed out of court because the right of state secession had been taken for granted.

What can be done now? Are there any signs that those Americans who want to unconstitutionally control the lives of others are going to let up soon? I say no, but there's a peaceful resolution proposed by Free State Project, whose motto is, "Liberty in our lifetime."

Twenty or 30,000 Americans who love liberty would move to one state, possibly New Hampshire, peaceably take over the legislature, negotiate with Congress to obey their oath of office to uphold the Constitution and, if necessary, secede from the Union.

Parting company is an option
Posted: December 24, 2003
1:00 am Eastern

By Walter Williams
© 2009 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

A fortnight ago, in "Let's Do Some Detective Work," I provided unassailable evidence that Congress had vastly exceeded powers delegated to it by our Constitution.

In last week's column, "Getting Back Our Liberties," I argued that liberties lost are seldom regained, but there was an outside chance to regain them if enough liberty-minded Americans were to pursue Free State Project's proposal to set up New Hampshire as a free state.

Free State Project intends to get 20,000 or so Americans to move to New Hampshire and, through a peaceful political process, reduce burdensome taxation and regulation, reform state and local law, end federal mandates, and attempt to restore constitutional federalism as envisioned by the nation's founders.

Since there was only a remote possibility we could successfully negotiate with Congress, the courts and the White House to obey the U.S. Constitution, I speculated that liberty could only be realized by a unilateral declaration of independence – namely, part company. Quite a few readers criticized the idea, calling secession unconstitutional. Let's look at it.

On March 2, 1861, after seven states had seceded and two days before Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, Sen. James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin proposed a constitutional amendment that said, "No State or any part thereof, heretofore admitted or hereafter admitted into the Union, shall have the power to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the United States."

Several months earlier, Reps. Daniel E. Sickles of New York, Thomas B. Florence of Pennsylvania and Otis S. Ferry of Connecticut proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit secession. Here's my no-brainer question: Would there have been any point to offering these amendments if secession were already unconstitutional? I'm guessing, no.

But there's more evidence. The ratification documents of Virginia, New York and Rhode Island explicitly said that they held the right to resume powers delegated should the federal government become abusive of those powers.

There's more evidence. At the 1787 constitutional convention, a proposal was made to allow the federal government to suppress a seceding state. James Madison, the father of our Constitution, rejected it, saying: "A Union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound."

Professor Thomas DiLorenzo, in his revised "The Real Lincoln," provides abundant evidence in the forms of quotations from our Founders and numerous newspaper accounts that prove that Americans always took the right of secession for granted. Plus, secession was not an idea that had its origins in the South. Infuriated by Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the first secessionist movement started in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other New England states.

Every single bit of evidence shows that states have a right to secede. There's absolutely nothing in the Constitution that prohibits secession. What stops secession is the brute force of a mighty federal government, as witnessed by the costly War of 1861. Only one thing good came out of that war: It eliminated slavery. It's had a devastating legacy for future generations of Americans, in that since the issue of secession was brutally settled, the federal government is free to run roughshod over the safeguards envisioned by the Framers, namely the Ninth and 10th Amendments.

There's little to suggest that the same brutality wouldn't be encountered if secession were tried again, as one writer cautioned: If New Hampshire seceded, massive troops along with today's deadly modern military equipment would be on its soil before lunch.

Steven Yates

This essay has two bold aims: first, to identify the conditions which justify secession, and second, to conclude that since those conditions were effectively met in 1860s America, the secession of those parts of the United States desiring freedom from the central government was justified on both moral and legal grounds.

Secession here means the process of political divorce and formation of at least one new sovereign unit through a formal declaration of independence. Secession can take at least two forms. In the first, a section of a larger political entity (such as a state or a group of states) separates from the whole (the Union) and formally declares itself a sovereign, independent unit. While this may change geographical borders, the political structure and legal apparatus of the original unit is left mostly intact. For Americans, the best known successful instance of the first of these is, of course, the separation from Great Britain of the original Thirteen Colonies, and the formation of the first Union under the Articles of Confederation. The best known failed attempt is that of the Confederacy which led to the War for Southern Independence (called by most historians the "Civil War," a term I have elected not to use here).

In the second, all (or most) regions of the larger unit secede at once. The larger unit is dissolved, sometimes to be replaced with a new and improved model, sometimes not. The best example of this is the dissolution of the Union as defined by the Articles of Confederation, and its reformation in 1787 under the Constitution. The most significant recent example is the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is extremely important to note that a secession need not necessarily involve violence. The replacement of the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution was non-violent. The secessions of the Baltic States from the Soviet Union were relatively bloodless in comparison to previous attempts by satellite states to free themselves of Communism (think of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Hungary in 1956, and so on). The dissolution of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic took place peacefully. It is possible that the Confederacy might have separated peaceably had Confederate troops not erred tragically by firing on Fort Sumter. Thus, political divorce might be accomplished peacefully if the larger power either is willing to let the smaller one go, or is incapable of preventing a formal declaration of independence which is recognized as legitimate by other nations.

The literatures of moral, political, legal, and economic philosophy have surprisingly little to say about secession.1 Major figures in the history of political philosophy neglect at regardless of their orientation. Until recently, there was little reason for scholars other than specialized historians to study secession. Today, though, the topic is crying out for sustained philosophical attention. The above list of secessions is hardly exhaustive, and more may very well be on their way. The Azerbaijanis want to secede from Armenia. The Chechens have fought a valiant, if so far unsuccessful, struggle for freedom from Russian domination. The Kurds have long wanted freedom from Iraqi control. Quebec is moving to secede from the rest of Canada.2

The grounds which I use to defend a right of secession are fundamentally moral, incorporating a Constitutionalism holding that a Constitution is a morally binding contract between citizens and a government they created. Both contemporary libertarian philosophy and Austrian-school economics have provided compelling arguments for individualism and economic liberty. Together, they supply a broader philosophical and socioeconomic context in which neosecessionist arguments are at home. While secessionist movements are occurring all over the world, to keep the subject matter down to manageable size, I will limit this discussion to cases which have occurred on American soil.

Two final introductory comments are in order.

(1) There are some who prefer to bypass non-economic arguments for liberty and secession. I consider this shortsighted. It implies that a choice must be made between individualism, economic liberty, and political freedom on the one hand and morality on the other. Since many of those we must convince respect moral considerations and are suspicious of purely economic arguments, this effectively cedes a crucial element of the discussion to the collectivists and centralists. It is necessary, therefore, to show that individualism, political freedom, and economic liberty are morally superior to collectivism, centralization, and servitude. Without each of these elements, no defense of liberty, whether to justify secession or for any other purpose, is complete.3

(2) Late in this essay, I will reach the conclusion that secession is a live option both morally and legally; government by consent of the governed includes the right to secede, and to form a new government. I do not infer from this that any state or group of states ought to secede. Secession, as we shall see, is a procedure with enormous and potentially grave consequences -- military, economic, and otherwise. Consequently, my conclusion is that secession ought to be considered as an absolute last resort, to be attempted only after every reasonable effort to restore government to its original functions has been blocked, every avenue closed off, every effort to discuss issues met with disdain or silence. Anything less would be irresponsible.

The argument of this essay -- what I will call the neosecessionist argument -- is in this case straightforwardly deductive:

Quote:(1) Government has legitimate -- but strictly limited -- functions which can be identified and shown to be such.

(2) If government has legitimate but strictly limited functions which can be identified and shown to be such, and if a given government develops in such a way that it ignores its legitimate functions and instead undertakes tasks it cannot reasonably perform or should not perform (because they violate its legitimate functions), then individuals living under the given government are morally justified in taking action to restore limited government, including, as a last resort, secession.

(3) The federal government of the United States sometimes developed in ways that ignored its legitimate functions, and instead undertook tasks it could not reasonably perform or should not perform (because they violated its legitimate functions).


(4)American citizens are morally justified in taking action to restore limited government, including, as a last resort, secession.


The role of Premise (1) in the neosecessionist argument is to underscore the fact that neosecessionists are not closet anarchists motivated by hatred of government as such and opposed to it tout court -- propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding. Human nature being what it is, we cannot live in society without rules, or without a legitimate authority to recognize and/administer them when necessary. One of James Madison's most famous observations was, "If men were angels, government would not be necessary." Such realizations show why the institution is legitimate.

Yet, history shows all too well that this institution cannot really be trusted; not all of its participants behave morally and responsibly. Moreover, government, once established, is almost exclusively an agency of coercion (or threat thereof). Madison went on: "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." Thus, there is the need to limit government somehow, as a condition of its legitimacy. Madison then put his finger on the central problem in political morality: "In framing a government, which is to be administered by men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, to control itself." The tendency of some to accumulate power and privileges at the expense of others and at the expense of the liberties they have been entrusted to uphold must somehow be checked.

A contractarian view of limited government proposes to do this: in a free society, government results from a contract between governors and governed; it derives its moral and its legal justification from the consent of the governed. The government of a free society is accountable to its citizens. It serves rather than rules them. If it ceases to serve and becomes a master (or in some other way fails to fulfill its role), then citizens have a right to do something about it: change it from within, leave its jurisdiction, or void their contract with it. Our concern here is with the third.

But first, let us be as clear as we can about what limited government is. What is this ideal on which our own country was founded, from which we contend it has departed, and to which neosecessionists (among others) desire to return? And what is its basis? What makes it superior to other options? Frederic Bastiat, the great nineteenth-century economist, statesman, and author, wrote:

Quote:We hold from God the gift that includes all others. This gift is life: physical, intellectual, and moral life.

But life cannot maintain itself alone. The creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course. Life, faculties, production, in other words, individuality, liberty, property, this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.

... Each of us has a natural right -- from God -- to defend his person, his liberty, his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent on the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?4

John Locke, of course, had presented the classic formulation of the doctrine of a natural right to property over a century-and-a-half earlier:

Quote:God, who hath given the world to all men in common, hath also given them the reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life and convenience. . . .

Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person; this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it that excludes the common right of other men.5

Some twentieth-century defenders of these same basic ideas, Ayn Rand, for example, eliminate the theistic component:

Quote:The source of rights is man's nature.... The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A -- and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational be ing: nature forbids him the irrational.6

Murray Rothbard argued along similar Aristotelian lines:

Quote:"Natural rights" is the cornerstone of a political philosophy which, in turn, is embedded in a greater structure of "natural law." Natural law theory rests on the insight that we live in a world of more than one -- in fact, a vast number -- of entities, and that each entity has distinct and specific properties, a distinct "nature," which can be investigated by man's reason, by his sense perception and mental faculties. . . . The species man . . . has a specifiable nature, as does the world around him and the ways of interaction between them. . . . [T]he nature of man is such that each individual person must, in order to act, choose his own ends and employ his own means in order to attain them. Possessing no automatic instincts, each man must learn about himself and the world, use his mind to select values, learn about cause and effect, and act purposively to maintain himself and advance his life. Since men can think, feel, evaluate, and act only as individuals, it becomes vitally necessary for each man's survival and prosperity that he be free to learn, choose, develop his faculties, and act upon his knowledge and values. This is the necessary path of human nature; to interfere with and cripple this process by using violence goes profoundly against what is necessary by man's nature for his life and prosperity.7

Rothbard thus enumerates a basic axiom, one's right to self-ownership: "the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being, to 'own' his or her own body; that is, to control that body free of coercive interference."8 From this he derives a right to justly acquired property in a way which intersects with Locke's view above.

These remarks all point to the task of limited government. The task of limited government is to serve as an institutional vehicle for recognizing and protecting the antecedent rights of individuals to life, liberty, the non-coercive and non-fraudulent pursuit of happiness, the non-coercive and non-fraudulent pursuit of property, the retention of legitimately-acquired property, and the enforcement of mutually-agreed-upon contracts. It also serves as the agency of punishment against individuals who transgress these rights, according to an explicit body of laws. Bastiat again:

Quote:If every person has a right to defend -- even by force -- his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly.... The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.9

The world into which we are born does not sustain us. For all known plant species and nearly all animal species, built-in processes and instincts ensure their survival. Human beings, I would maintain, have a survival instinct as well -- but it does not operate in the same way as that of other animals. For human beings have a capacity no other living thing has, so far as we know: the ability to think, or reason. Thought -- rationality -- does not work automatically. Hence, we must learn to think, to identify regularities in our surroundings. Then we must take specific courses of action. As Rand puts it, we survive by means of our minds. Minds, moreover, come one to an individual; "there is no such thing as a collective brain."10 Hence, we are essentially individual human beings.11 Thought being a condition for human action, it follows that all human action is individual action; references to collective actions are metaphorical at best. This should not be taken to preclude communication and voluntary interaction with others, the development of team efforts in which a number of individuals have come to agreement on a specific course of action, the formation of organizations, and the divisions of labor which result when all realize that more can be accomplished when people work together than when they work alone.

Given the indifference of the physical-biological universe, we must work; that is, we must produce the means of our survival amidst scarce resources, either producing for ourselves or producing for others, trading with them things they value for things we value. Clearly, we must be free to initiate and conduct such exchanges, whose details are only evident to the participants in the exchange. We must be free to develop such organizational arrangements as make such exchanges more efficient. Outside interference with such development can have only one result -- to slow it down, or worse, to stop it altogether, or even to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Historically, the institution which has most often interfered with the capacities of human beings to acquire knowledge, act freely in the world, identify what others value, and set about to provide it either singularly or as a member of some institutional entity, is government. Here is where trouble threatens, and why we should attempt to limit government. Let us state our moral premises clearly: since action is a necessary condition for the survival and self-improvement of an individual, it is morally proper that every individual be regarded as the sole owner of his own mind, his own life, the fruits of his own labors, and the fruits of honorable transactions with others. Conversely, no individual has a moral claim on the mind, life, labor, or transactions of another individual (unless the two have come to a specific contractual arrangement). Hence, no individual has the right to forcibly interfere with or defraud another individual.

The idea behind limited government is the idea that government should protect these basic principles, which are taken as more basic than any legal arrangements since they derive from the conditions for human survival and self-improvement in this life. The principles themselves can be understood either theisti-cally or non-theistically. Though we have refrained from going into the issue here, many writers have argued that a theistic understanding of the universe and of the foundations of freedom is both reasonable and provides a greater moral impetus to take correct and morally responsible actions than any non-theistic account. Be this as it may, limited government still emerges as the greatest of political ideals, supporting those who defend natural rights. It establishes the responsibility of government as an institution enforcing the rule of law which protects rights understood as antecedent to its legal apparatus. Advocates of limited government, therefore, necessarily reject the idea that governments can invent rights by legislative fiat. They see government-manufactured rights as leading away from the rule of law, and toward rule by politicians and bureaucrats who, more and more, come to wield arbitrary and unpredictable force to advance their own causes. Advocates of limited government see the latter as one of the key developments behind the slow erosion of individual freedoms in the United States.


Bastiat observed a tendency among people which ought to make every defender of limited government pause a moment:

Quote:When they can, [people] wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. This is no rash accusation. Nor does it come from a gloomy and uncharitable spirit. The annals of history bear witness to the truth of it: the incessant wars, mass migrations, religious persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce, and monopolies. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man -- in that primitive, universal, and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.12

Eighty-five years later, Albert Jay Nock would elaborate:

Quote:There are two methods ... whereby man's needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.... The State ... whether primitive, feudal, or merchant, is the organization of political means. Now since man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion, he will employ the political means whenever he can -- exclusively, if possible; otherwise, in association with the economic means. He will, at the present time that is, have recourse to the State's modern apparatus of exploitation: the apparatus of tariffs, concessions, ' rent-monopoly, and the like.13

History, indeed, testifies that actual governments have never accepted the limited role assigned to them by the tradition of natural-rights. Our own system of federalism had its critics, the Antifederalists, who held that the Constitution delegated too much power to the central government. Even those who accept limitations on their authority tend to abrogate those limitations and increase their power until open rebellion results. The problem, Bastiat and Nock suggest, lies not so much with government per se but with human nature itself.

This suggests that -- aside from the possibility of intervention by the Almighty -- limited government will never be more than either a temporary, unstable arrangement or a regulative ideal. Human beings must produce the means of their survival, and they can do this only through individual action, through the re-arrangement of raw materials supplied by nature into useful materials, useful either for one's own purposes or for the purpose of trade with others. This, of course, is Nock's economic means. But most human beings, as Bastiat observed, tend to want to satisfy their needs and desires in the most expedient fashion, wjlh-the least amount of effort. So if a political means of obtaining the means of their survival is made readily available, they will seize on it. Hence, the origin of plunder, as opposed to production, as a means of satisfying one's wants: "[S]ince man is naturally inclined to avoid pain -- and since labor is pain in itself -- it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work."14 An expansion of government (e.g., to extend a subsidy or protect some local enterprise with a tariff), if made available, will come to look very attractive as a means of insuring a "short cut" to success and prosperity. Certain forms of plunder will be entirely legal: Bastiat calls them "legal plunder."

In addition, government tends to attract people more interested in the political than in the economic means of getting things done. Conversely, those more content with the economic means tend to be uninterested in government -- unless relying exclusively on the economic means becomes inconvenient or places them at an automatic disadvantage. Consequently, governments have found it easy to seize control of the economic means. In our society, this has occurred in increments. The history of America's railroads shows conclusively that the process was already underway by the 1820s15; the trajectory of modern "public education" reveals another government usurpation which began in the 1850s.16 With the Federal Reserve System, adopted in 1913, the federal government began to assume control of money, banking, and credit, eventually leading to the destabilizations which produced the Great Depression17 -- its inroad to control over more and more of the economy via the creation of New Deal entitlements which now constitute the lion's share of the federal budget.

The mixture of political means with economic means typically results in special privileges for some at the expense of others. There is an automatic incentive to compromise, since the person who resists political temptations while others make full use of them automatically ends up at a competitive disadvantage. It is easy to forget Jefferson's remark that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Thus, we must restate the basic problem of political morality: if government does not restrain its nature itself, and if it has a natural tendency to expand, accumulate power, and become increasingly tyrannical, then how do citizens restrain it? Of course, government is just people. It isn't a mysterious entity standing above them.

Remember, our government is still representative; people have the right to vote, and can get rid of presidents and representatives they find unsatisfactory. Even the fact that some representatives have vastly more money and resources than their would-be challengers doesn't abrogate the fact that they can be voted out of office. In practice, of course, this doesn't always happen; today it doesn't even happen that often. A politician can retain his position by making promises to constituent groups -- special interests -- thus using the political means. Many citizens with interests of one sort or another seem to be easily tempted by such promises, and special interest groups have multiplied during the twentieth century; it would be easy to list several dozen special interest groups now influential in politics. So given that those who control government come from the citizenry (where else can they come from?), and must be supported by at least some of them, our question has an important corollary: how can citizens restrain their own temptations to pursue political as opposed to economic means of satisfying their needs and desires? Basti-at, as usual, framed the problem well:

Quote:Generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws. This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice.18

It is important not to underestimate the formidable nature of this problem, which may be the biggest source of the corruption of free markets and free societies. Both Rand's and Rothbard's denials that human beings have any "automatic instincts" is probably false if meant literally; if human beings have any instincts, they are for security, which they easily choose over freedom when maintaining freedom requires more effort than being safe (as it so often does).19 If anything, Bastiat's and Nock's remarks are acknowledgements that human nature includes what we may call, however Nietzschean this rings, a will to security -- perhaps born of the fact that the universe around us is indifferent to our needs and ends and, viewed from a limited perspective, may often seem to openly thwart them. Different people derive a sense of security from different things. Some people pursue security by pursuing political power over others -- these people are naturally attracted to positions in government. Others pursue security by pursuing special advantages to avoid open competition -- these people are easily tempted by the political means offered by those in government.

These pursuits, arguably, corrupt the very language: rights become not individual rights to pursue one's interests without coercive interference from others, but entitlements to specific goods, often on the basis of a collective identity -- requiring coercive interference with others. Liberty does not mean economic freedom from coercion but political empowerment. Free action and personal responsibility become alien concepts. Actions become possible only given certain institutional arrangements -- to be supplied by political means. Responsibility is shifted from the individual to the individual's environment (socioeconomic, etc.). Justice itself comes to mean advantages for us (my interest group).

Yet the core truth remains that human beings are not necessarily slaves to this will to security or to any other alleged instinct. We can overcome such natural inclinations with our intelligence. This, I maintain, is a necessary truth; were it not so, the mere identification of this or any other natural inclination would be a cognitive impossibility. Overcoming them has been done; the existence of our sciences, our technologies, our industries, and many other facets of twentieth-century life show that human beings are capable of overcoming their wills to security with a wide variety of intellectual, technological, and economic achievements.

Today, however, philosophies which emphasize security over truth and liberty have risen to power. Egalitarianism, for example, stresses the moral imperative of making all individuals and groups as economically equal as possible -- automatically placing moral and political shackles on anyone who tends to soar ahead of the pack. Socioeconomic determinism regards an

19As H.L. Mencken puts it in his cynical Notes on Democracy, individual as a product of immediate circumstances -- automatically placing his capacity for independent thought, action, and personal responsibility in doubt. The social sciences of the past 150 years have been a great impetus to these developments, as well as having benefited directly from them as established disciplines in modern public universities. Since the various features of the socioeconomic environment can be observed, categorized, and to some extent manipulated politically, many political intellectuals have contributed directly to an expanded government, ideally with themselves (or their proteges) at the helm. Such people believe that they constitute an elite which alone has the knowledge, wisdom, and motivation to redress social inequalities, and to build, from the center outward, a progressively more egalitarian state. Of course, a moment's thought should make it clear that egalitarianism is an illusion; no citizen or group of citizens would be equal, either politically or economically, to the egalitarians themselves, who would remain a powerful political elite. Nevertheless, promises of cradle-to-grave security have often proven irresistible. Though overcoming the will to security with intelligence is possible, this is no more automatic than any other act of human cognition; it takes effort. For many people today, making this effort will be very hard -- some have almost a lifetime of false promises to overcome.

The genuine elite in a free society is an elite of talent, ability, and achievement. Its members have obtained their standing through work and accomplishment, not through coercive interference with the honest labors of others. An elite of achievement must be contrasted with the elite of privilege which develops from increased use of the political means under an expanding central government, requiring coercive interference with others and making it more and more difficult for honest, hardworking citizens to function economically. When an elite of privilege takes power, individuals showing evidence of genuine talent, ability, and the capacity for achievement become a threat. Eventually, the latter must take action. Among their possible courses of action may be organization and secession from the geographical domain controlled by the elite of privilege. We therefore turn to the question of a right of secession itself.


Premise (1) of the neosecessionist argument thus emerges triumphant; it is up to human beings to conquer their weaknesses. When their governments get dictatorial enough, people will rise to the occasion. For whenever elites of privilege seize the helm of government, individuals of ability -- or merely uncorrupted integrity -- will begin first to chafe with discomfort and, when not recognized, engage in more and more active forms of rebellion. The will to security, after all, is not simply an impulse to legislate oneself into political slavery; under conditions of political repression it can be re-tooled into a servant of liberty. In practice, a government-supplied cradle-to-grave security becomes less and less distinguishable from repression -- meaning that there is more security in both political and economic freedom than in bondage.

In addition, there remain those individuals, however few in number, who realize through their own force of intellect that economic liberty is superior to political bondage, and that an expanding government is therefore not to be trusted. These individuals will maintain the ideals of individuals' rights to life, liberty, and justly acquired property, and to the belief that government should be limited to recognizing and protecting these rights. Some of these individuals will write down their thoughts where they will be available for anyone motivated to seek them out. Hence, despite the natural tendency of governments to accumulate power, a belief in liberty and its benefits will survive -- despite lack of official recognition, and even in the face of opposition (witness the survival of Ayn Rand's ideas in the face of the open hostility of the twentieth-century intellectual establishment). Among the resulting notions will be major alterations in government, ranging from secession to complete dissolution.

John Locke addressed the problem of when the "dissolution of governments" is justified:

Quote:The constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act of society, whereby provision is made for the continue ation of their union under the direction of persons and bonds of laws made by persons authorized thereunto by the consent and appointment of the people, without which no one man or number of men amongst them can have authority of making laws that shall be binding to the rest. When any one or more shall take upon them to make laws, whom the people have not appointed so to do, they make laws without authority, which the people are not therefore bound to obey; by which means they come again to be out of subjection and may constitute to themselves a new legislative as they think best, being in full liberty to resist the force of those who without authority would impose anything upon them.20

Locke believed, in other words, that citizens have a fundamental right to abolish a government which oversteps its legislative bounds and abuses its authority. Locke discusses a number of circumstances under which governments are dissolvable, but not all pertain to a right of secession. For example, Locke discusses the right of a citizenry to dissolve a government which is neglectful. Other circumstances do raise the question of secession, such as what happens when governments betray their trust: "The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves or any part of the community masters or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people."21 The trust of government is the protection of rights, e.g., the right to justly-acquired property. Those in government who substitute their own agendas have abrogated this trust. Locke goes on:

Quote:Whenever the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience, and are left to the common refuge which God hath provided for all men against force and violence. Whensoever, therefore, the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society, and either by ambition, fear, folly, or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people, by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people who.have a right to resume their original liberty, and by the establishment of a new legislative, such as they shall think fit, provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.22

The same applies to what Locke called individual "supreme executors":

Quote:He acts also contrary to his trust when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society to corrupt the representatives and gain them to his purposes, or openly pre-engages the electors and prescribes to their choice such whom he has by solicitations, threats, promises, or otherwise won to his designs, and employs them to bring in such who have promised beforehand what to vote and what to enact. Thus to regulate candidates and electors, and new-model the ways of election, what is it but to cut up the government by the roots, and poison the very fountain of public security?23

Locke nowhere mentions secession as such. But his discussion opens the door to the issue at one crucial juncture. Virtually no government explicitly states in any official document that one or more of the regions under its authority may secede or that it may not; the issue is simply never breached. Locke tells us:

Quote:If a controversy arise betwixt a prince and some of the people in a matter where the law is silent or doubtful, and the thing be of great consequence, I should think the proper umpire in such a case should be the body of the people; for in cases where the prince hath a trust reposed in him and is dispensed from the common ordinary rules of the law, there, if any men find themselves aggrieved and think the prince acts contrary to or beyond that trust, who so proper to judge as the body of the people -- who, at first, lodged that trust in him -- how far they meant it should extend? ...

[If the people] have set limits to the duration of their legislative and made this supreme power in any person or assembly only temporary, or else when by the miscarriages of those in authority it is forfeited, upon the forfeiture, or at the determination of the time set, it reverts to the society, and the people have a right to act as supreme and continue the legislative in themselves, or erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good.24.

Thus, for Locke, a given government, headed by a given sovereign, was not a permanent and unalterable institution. The citizenry had the right to replace their sovereign, and even replace their government. Does this include the right to organize and divorce themselves from a government which has betrayed its trust? The suggestion here is that where the law itself is silent, the people decide. Thus, if a group of people has a serious complaint against their sovereign, and they wish to secede, they have every right to do so.

Locke, again, does not say this explicitly, and it would be putting words in his mouth to attribute to him any unqualified claim of a right of secession. Thomas Paine, however, picked up a century later where Locke left off, defending the rights of the then-flourishing thirteen colonies against abusive British elites of privilege. Paine endorsed essentially the same natural-rights philosophy as Locke. In Paine's The Rights of Man, we read:

Quote:Natural rights are those which always appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the rights of others.25

In Common Sense, Paine, having lived in the colonies only a few months, forcefully attacked the British elite of privilege, and argued on behalf of American colonists that:

Quote:A government of our own is our natural right: And when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance.26

Such sentiments bore fruit on American soil with the Declaration of Independence, which qualifies as a statement of secession if anything does. Thomas Jefferson, its author, picks up the idea where Paine leaves off:

Quote:When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them to another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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 rights 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 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 affect their safety and

happiness----[W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations

... 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.27

Thus, those men who inspired or led the founding of the United States held that a group of citizens is morally justified in leading a separation from a government which ceases to fulfill its proper functions, violates honorable agreements, or abandons the role of a servant and assumes that of a master.

We can find occasional statements today that a right of secession exists. Some of these are very heavily qualified. Allen Buchanan discusses the right of secession in the context of group rights, explaining the relative neglect of the topic from the alleged neglect of group rights by liberalism:

Quote:The views on secession advanced in this book . . . will . . . provide a strong case for revising liberal doctrine's apparent refusal to recognize group rights as fundamental moral or constitutional rights. This result in turn will help to explain why liberalism, in spite of its emphasis on self-determination, diversity, and consent, has not included a right to secede but has instead remained largely silent on secession. . . .

My hypothesis is that the issue of secession has been an embarrassment that liberals have sought to ignore because it challenges two fundamental tenets of liberalism: the universalism that is a chief part of liberalism's inheritance from the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and the preoccupation with individual rights to which liberalism has been led by its conviction that the ultimate unit in the moral universe is the individual person. . . .

Liberalism's conviction that what matters most, morally speaking, are individuals, and its hostility toward those who would devalue the individual in the name of the collective ... make it at minimum suspicious of the very concept of a group right. This suspicion has led ... some liberal thinkers to underestimate the role that group rights, including a right to secession, can play in protecting individuals and the values that they affirm in their lives -- particularly the value ... in being members of groups.28

Listening to Buchanan, one would think that the concept of group rights had played virtually no role in twentieth-century moral philosophy public policy. This, of course, is very strange.

Let us consider the views of one of those liberals whom Buchanan would unquestionably reject as too individualistic, Austrian-school economist Ludwig von Mises. Mises was no proponent of group rights in any sense of this term; yet, for Mises, there is unquestionably a right of secession that can be derived exclusively from the rights of individuals, bypassing groups completely:

Quote:If a democratic republic finds that its existing boundaries, as shaped by the course of history before the transition to liberalism, no longer correspond to the political wishes of the people, they must be peacefully changed to conform to the results of a plebiscite expressing the people's will. It must always be possible to shift the boundaries of the state if the will of the inhabitants of an area to attach themselves to a state other than the one to which they presently belong has made itself clearly known.

Whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known ... that they no longer wish to remain united to the state to which they belong at the time, but wish either to form an independent state or to attach themselves to some other state, their wishes are to be respected and complied with. This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars.

[This] right of self-determination ... is not the right of self-determination of a delimited national unit, but the right of the inhabitants of every territory to decide on the state to which they wish to belong ..., the right of self-determination of the inhabitants of every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit.

. . . If . . . one seeks to determine their political fate against their will by appealing to an alleged higher right of the nation, one violates the right of self-determination no less effectively than by practicing any other form of oppression.29

Mises takes the view that individuals may choose to separate themselves and their property from the territory claimed by an abusive government. At first glance, this sounds extreme. No doubt it runs contrary to today's prevailing opinions which owe more to Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and Rawls, than to Locke, Paine, or the Austrian school. The former reject individualism, and see societies as quasi-organic entities in which it is the job of government, not communities of individuals, to resolve social problems in ways suitable to them. Still, the former (and their many disciples) hold that they, as intellectuals, have the knowledge and wisdom to reshape society to fit an intellectual ideal, using both the universities and expanded government -- especially the powers of the courts -- as the most convenient instruments.

It should be sufficient to show that this kind of thinking has generated a great deal of tragedy in our century. The two bloodiest tyrannies the world has ever seen, Nazism and Communism, are both variants of it. Our own society is, at present, heading in a similar direction partly due to a widespread acceptance among the influential elite that government is capable of fulfilling a myriad of tasks beyond its original purpose of protecting individuals' rights to life, liberty, and justly acquired property. The widespread relativism and nihilism (postmodernism) rampant in the universities is rapidly robbing the rest of society of its moral compass, which would be its major weapon of resistance to the increasing control over their lives. Government, as Jefferson observed, tends to accumulate power. He wrote, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."30

Our government has proven to be as prone to this tendency as any, and now some fear we are progressing toward a home-grown, American brand of tyranny. This is the source of the current anti-government sentiment, and of the question of secession. Supposing that creating the government of a Constitutional republic means creating a contract between governers and governed, if either partner to the contract fails to hold up its end of the bargain, the contract may be dissolved, and the government loses legitimacy. A right of secession exists, in this case, if individual rights include the right to organize a new body politic to escape the reach of a repressive regime. These, of course, are still very general remarks. Let us turn to concrete applications.

Continued From Above


The above material should establish the moral right of secession, that is, it should establish premise (2) above. Now we come to the all-important question: is (3) true? For while (2) establishes a right of secession in principle, (3) holds that secession is justified at specific times. This, of course, is a far more provocative claim. Thus, it might help to consider an earlier case of secession from the Union, and to consider the arguments its defenders provided, a case we may think of as

Quote:a precedent which is cemented in our history, perhaps by the divine hand, for specific use in our day when evil and conspiring men would attempt to destroy the sovereignty of the 50 States along with the Constitution.31

Our present federal government was created when nine states ratified the Constitution, thus replacing the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was the contract by which the states created the federal government, and limited its powers by creating specific branches of government, and by delegating specific tasks to each, allowing each to check the powers of the others, in order to keep the whole on a short leash. The Federalist Papers were written to allay the fears of those who thought the Consti-tutiojivyould give too much power to the new federal government. While this got the Constitution ratified, it is doubtful that the /new Union was ever as stable during its first century as the history books imply.

The Constitution explained how a territory could enter the Union as a state, but was unspecific regarding secession. It is suggestive, though, that the Articles of Confederation used the term Perpetual Union which appears nowhere in the Constitution. The Federalist Papers also avoid secession as a topic, but they contain numerous references to state sovereignty. Hamilton observes that "The State governments by their original constitutions are invested with complete sovereignty."32 Madison adds: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."33 He chastised the critics of the Constitution for thinking of the two as rivals:

Quote:the ultimate authority,... resides in the people alone, and ... will not depend merely on the comparative ambition or address of the different governments whether either, or which of them, will be able to enlarge its sphere of jurisdiction at the expense of the other.34.

Nevertheless, both Hamilton and Madison were convinced that there would be more danger to the Union from the states than to the states from the Union.35 This seemed to make questions of secession moot.

Belief that states had the right to secede was nevertheless widespread. Secession movements stirred in 1798,1801,1811, and 1814 for various reasons.36 A secession convention was actually held in Hartford, Connecticut, shortly after the War of 1812, to discuss the possibility of the secession of New England.37 William Rawle, an attorney and early authority on the Constitution, was among the first to discuss secession from the constitutional point of view.

Quote:It is not to be understood, that interposition would be justifiable, if the people of a state should determine to retire from the union, whether they adopted another or retained the same form of government, or if they should, with the express intention of seceding, expunge the representative system from their code___

It depends on the state itself to retain or abolish the principle of representation, because it depends on itself whether it will continue a member of the Union. To deny this right would be inconsistent with the principle on which all our political systems are founded, which is, that the people have in all cases a right to determine how they will be governed.

This right must be considered as an ingredient in the original composition of the general government, which, though not expressed, was mutually understood, and the doctrine heretofore presented to the reader in regard to the indefeasible nature of personal allegiance, is so far qualified in respect to allegiance to the United States. It was observed, that it was competent for a state to make a compact with its citizens, that the reciprocal obligations of protection and allegiance might cease on certain events; and it was further observed, that allegiance would necessarily cease on the dissolution of the society to which it was due.

The States, then, may wholly withdraw from the Union, but while they continue they must retain the character of representative republics.38

According to Rawle, then, there is an implied right of secession in the Constitution. But secession is not, in his view, a step which ought to be taken lightly and frivolously.

Quote:The secession of a state from the Union depends on the will of the people of such state. The people alone as we have already seen, hold the power to alter their constitution. The constitution of the United States is to a certain extent incorporated into the constitutions of the several states by the act of the people.

The state legislatures have only to perform certain or-ganical operations in respect to it. To withdraw from the Union comes not within the general scope of their delegated authority. There must be an express provision to that effect inserted in the state constitution. This is not at present the case with any of them, and it would perhaps be impolitic to confide it to them. A matter so momentous ought not be entrusted to those who would have it in their power to exercise it lightly and precipitately upon sudden dissatisfaction, or causeless jealousy, perhaps against the interests and the wishes of a majority of their constituents.

But in any manner by which a secession is to take place, nothing is more certain than that the act should be deliberate, clear, and unequivocal. The perspecuity and solemnity of the original obligation require correspondent qualities in its dissolution. The powers of the general government cannot be defeated or impaired by an ambiguous or implied secession on the part of the state, although a secession may perhaps be conditional. The people of the state may have some reasons to complain in respect to acts of the general government, they may in such cases invest some of their own officers with the power of negotiation, and may declare an absolute secession in case of their failure. Still, however, the secession must in such case be distinctly and peremptorily declared to take place on that event, and in such case -- as in the case of an unconditional secession, the previous ligament with the Union, would be legitimately and fairly destroyed. But in either case the people is the only moving power.39

Rawle was not alone in thinking of secession as a Constitutional right. The history of the period is replete with other such remarks. Daniel Webster commented that "If the Union was formed by the accession of the States, then the Union may be dissolved by the secession of the States." He added that

Quote:The Union is a Union of States founded upon a Compact. How is it to be supposed that when different parties enter into a compact for certain purposes either can disregard one provision of it and expect others to observe the rest? If the Northern States willfully and deliberately refuse to carry out their part of the Constitution, the South would be no longer bound to keep the compact. A bargain broken on one side is broken on all sides.40

Horace Greeley wrote in the New York Tribune:

Quote:If the Declaration of Independence justified the secession of 3,000,000 colonists in 1776,1 do not see why the Constitution ratified by the same men should not justify the secession of 5,000,000 of the Southerners from the Federal Union in 1861.

We have repeatedly said, and we once more insist that the great principle embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence that government derives its power from the consent of the governed is sound and just, then if the Cotton States, the Gulf States or any other States choose to form an independent nation they have a clear right to do it.

The right to secede may be a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless; and we do not see how one part can have a right to do what another party has a right to prevent. We must ever resist the asserted right of any State to remain in the Union and nullify or defy the laws thereof; to withdraw from the Union is another matter. And when a section of our Union resolves to go out, we shall resist any coercive acts to keep it in. We hope never to live in a Republic where one section is pinned to the other section by bayonets.41

Even Abraham Lincoln, in 1847, had said that "any people whatever have a right to abolish the existing government and form a new one that suits them better."42 It is clear, then, that secession was considered a live option, as was shown by additional stirrings in the years 1832, 1845, and 1856 -- some in northern states -- all prior to South Carolina's actually putting the idea to official test in December of 1860 with the Ordinance of Secession.

Many historians have contended that the southern states seceded mainly to preserve slavery. If this is true, then since any moral code taking its starting point from the individual's right to life, liberty, and justly acquired property requires the rejection of slavery, this would cast doubt on the moral legitimacy of the Confederacy. But it is doubtful there was any intent on the part of Confederate authorities to preserve slavery. First, and most obviously, the institution only affected a small percentage of the white population (under ten percent owned slaves). It seems unlikely that thousands would have gone willingly to their deaths against a numerically and militarily superior foe just to help a handful of plantation owners keep their slaves.43 Slavery was, in fact, dying out on its own. Jefferson Davis even observed that regardless of the outcome of the War for Southern Independence, the slave property of southerners "will eventually be lost."44 As Dowdey also notes:

Quote:Slavery was passing. With no importations to replace the slaves being sold south, as large plantations continued to cease the slave-system operation and few yeomen held aspirations to slave ownership, the time would come when there would be no more slaves.45

Finally, it is clear from Lincoln's own words -- unfortunately mostly unknown -- that despite his publicly stated purpose "To free the slaves," legal equality between whites and blacks was hardly a motive force of the War. In 1858, Lincoln had stated unequivocally:

Quote:I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races -- that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races.... I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.46

In a similar context, Lincoln wrote that "If I could preserve the Union without freeing the Negro, I would do so."47 He also had doubts about the feasibility of doing away with slavery: "I think no wise man has yet perceived how it could be at once eradicated without producing a greater evil even to the cause of human liberty itself."48 In other words, contrary to prevailing opinions, freeing the slaves wasn't the reason the North went to war at all!

What created the acute dilemma over slavery was the fact that while the institution was widely perceived to be immoral, it was nevertheless understood as Constitutionally acceptable. In 1857, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote, in Dred Scott v Sanford, that "the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution."49 Taney went on to describe "negroes" as an "inferior race" whose members could not be citizens of the United States. The southern economy, moreover, had come to depend in large measure on slavery; freeing slaves all at once threatened enormous dislocation. Too, in light of the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831, many white southerners -- rightly or wrongly -- feared the growing black population too much to trust it with freedom. As a result, southern states perceived attacks on slavery as attacks on southern culture and their right of self-determination. Nevertheless, there was no special attachment to slavery as definitive of southern culture.

Lest there be any doubts as to where Jefferson Davis actually stood, the Confederate Constitution explicitly forbade importing any more African slaves, and he once vetoed a bill which he deemed in conflict with this:

Quote:Gentlemen of Congress: With sincere deference to the judgment of Congress, I have carefully considered the bill in relation to the slave trade, and to punish persons offending therein, but have not been able to approve it, and therefore do return it with a statement of my objections. The Constitution (Art. I, §7) provides that the importation of African negroes from any foreign country other than slave-holding States of the United States is hereby forbidden, and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same. . . . This provision seems to me to be in opposition to the

policy declared in the Constitution -- the prohibition of the importation of African negroes -- and in derogation of its mandate to legislate for the effectuation of that object.50

In other words, Davis knew the institution would gradually die out as more and more slaves were able to buy their freedom or die and not be replaced.

The reason the southern states gave for secession was their desire for a self-determination they saw themselves losing in the face of both government intrusions and broken agreements -- in short, to escape a federal government which had already stepped outside its bounds. In 1831, the federal government unilaterally imposed high tariffs on imports which automatically favored northern states at the expense of southern ones. South Carolina resisted, nullifying the tariff and creating the Nullification Controversy.51 The nullifiers spoke of seceding right then and there, threatening a confrontation with President Andrew Jackson which would have started the War for Southern Independence in 1831 instead of 1861. The tension was exemplified in Jackson's toast at a large dinner party: "Our Union must be preserved," to which Vice President John C. Calhoun, a South Carolinian, replied, "To our Union, next to our liberties, most dear." Jackson made it clear he would not tolerate Nullification and threatened to send troops into South Carolina if it seceded.52 South Carolina blinked, as there was as of yet no Confederacy or anything like it, meaning that the state would have been entirely on its own. But from that time forward, the northern states and the southern ones were on a collision course.

Matters began to come to a head in 1846 when territory purchased from Mexico -- what became New Mexico, Arizona, and southern California -- came with a "proviso" forbidding slavery in those states, in violation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which had established the legality of slavery in all new states south of the lateral from the southern boundary of Missouri extending west to the Pacific.53 Clay's Compromise of 1850 admitted/California as a non-slave state and allowed New Mexico and Utah to choose -- offering the progressively outnumbered southern states nothing. Southerners saw northerners as using the slavery issue for political and economic gain, as a means of extending their manufacturing economy. What southerners feared was not so much the end of slavery but the destruction of their agrarian way of life in the face of the growing industrialization of the North. Days before his death in 1851, Calhoun predicted that "The Union is doomed to dissolution. . . . The probability is that it will explode in an election within twelve years."54

He was right. The election of Lincoln directly precipitated South Carolina's decision to secede. The situation had deteriorated to the point where physical violence was breaking out between northerners and southerners, often with the tacit support of the northern states. The worst such incident was the murderous assault in Northern Virginia by a group of abolitionists led by John Brown in October of 1859. Southerners, offended by such actions, and even more by the North's refusal to repudiate them, were looking for an opportunity to leave the Union. As Lincoln was perceived as more hostile to southern interests than was his opponent Stephen Douglas, his election gave them the opportunity, and on 17 December 1860, South Carolinians convened to secede from the Union. Three days later, they adopted the Ordinance of Secession:

Quote:We, the people of the State of South Carolina in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the ordinance adopted by us in Convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord 1788, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was radified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and the other States, under the name of the "United States of America," is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord, I860.55

Tracts with names like The South Alone Should Govern the South appealed to other southern states to leave the Union and form what would become the Confederacy, and by April of 1861, six more states had seceded. Soon-to-be Confederate President Jefferson Davis made some remarks which are worth our attention. In January of 1861, prior to his leaving, he told the U.S. Senate:

Quote:It is known to Senators who have served with me here, that I have, for many years, advocated, as an essential attribute of State sovereignty, the right of a State to secede from the Union.... Secession ... is to be justified upon the basis that the States are sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again, when a better comprehension of the theory of our government, and the inalienable rights of the people of the States, will prevent anyone from denying that each State is sovereign, and thus may reclaim the grants from which it has made to any agent whomsoever.56

References to slavery are conspicuous by their absence. In his 18 April 1861 address to the Confederacy at Montgomery, Alabama, Davis stated that secession and formation of a new country were justified for the same reason that the breakaway of the thirteen original colonies from Great Britain had been justified:

Quote:Our present political position . . . illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established. The declared purpose of the compact of the Union from which we have withdrawn was to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity": and when, in the judgement of the sovereign States composing this Confederacy, it has been perverted from the purposes for which is was ordained, and ceased to answer the ends for which it was established, a peaceful appeal to the ballot box declared that, so far as they are concerned, the Government created by that compact should cease to exist.57

In an address at Richmond, Virginia, on 22 February 1862, after the North had begun waging war, Davis added:

Quote:The people of the States now confederated became convinced that the Government of the United States had fallen into the hands of a sectional majority, who would pervert that most sacred of all trusts to the destruction of the rights which it was pledged to protect. They believed that to remain longer in the Union would subject them to continuance of a disparaging discrimination, submission to which would be inconsistent with their welfare, and intolerable to a proud people. They therefore determined to sever its bounds and established a new Confederacy for themselves.... The experiment instituted by our revolutionary fathers, of a voluntary Union of sovereign States . . . had been perverted by those who, feeling power and forgetting right, were determined to respect no law but their own will. The Government had ceased to answer the ends for which it was ordained and established.. . . True to our traditions of peace and our love of justice, we sent commissioners to the United States to propose a fair and amicable settlement... but the Government at Washington, denying our right to self-government, refused even to listen to any proposals for peaceful separation. Nothing was then left to do but to prepare for war. . . . We are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our fathers made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty.58

In short, Davis believed his cause was the same as those who originally formed the Union: to create and preserve an ideal of government by consent of the governed, an ideal he accused the North of having systematically violated. In the case of those states in the second wave of secessions -- Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas -- this was clearly the reason.

To sum up, it seems clear that on any reasonable interpretation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the South was right! If the Declaration of Independence was morally legitimate, then so was South Carolina's Ordinance of Secession and other such declarations. The peoples of the southern states were within their rights to secede from the Union and form a new sovereign unit. Premise (3) of the argument was true during the period 1830-1861; and therefore (4), the statement that secession was then justified, is also true.


1 The only two book-length works on the topic are Allen Buchanan, Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce from Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991), and Lee C. Buchheit, Secession: The Legitimacy of Self-Determination (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1978). The first is marred by its subsuming self-determination in a collectivist ethos. For why this is a fault, see Steven Yates, Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (San Francisco: ICS Press, 1994), pp. 97-102.

2 Lansing Lamont, Breakup: The Coming End of Canada and the Stakes for America (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994).

3 For a more complete statement of this position, see Tibor Machan, Individuals and Their Rights (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1989).

4 Frederic Bastiat, The Law (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, [1850] 1950), pp. 5-6.

5 John Locke, Second Treatise on Government (New York: Hafner, [1690] 1969), p. 134.

6 Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights," in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), pp. 94-95.

7 Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: A Libertarian Manifesto (New York: Collier, 1973), pp. 27-28.

8 Ibid., p. 28.

9 Bastiat, The Law, pp. 6-7.

10 Ayn Rand, "What Is Capitalism?" in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: Signet, 1967), p. 16.

11 Machan, Individuals and Their Rights, pp. 21-22.

12 Bastiat, The Law, pp. 9-10.

13 Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy, The State (New York: Libertarian Review Foundation, [1935] 1973), pp. 26-27.

14 Bastiat, The Law, p. 10.

15 Clarence B. Carson, Throttling the Railroads (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1971).

16 George Roche, The Fall of the Ivory Tower: Government Funding, Corruption, and the Bankrupting of Higher Education (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1994).

17 Murray N. Rothbard, America's Great Depression, 4th ed. (New York: Richardson and Snyder, 1983).

18 Bastiat, The Law, pp. 10-11.

19 As H. L. Mencken puts it in his cynical Notes on Democracy, "The common man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1926), p. 148.

20 Locke, Second Treatise on Government, pp. 229-30.

21 Ibid., p. 233.

22 Ibid. p. 233.

23 Ibid., p. 234.

24 Ibid., p. 246-47.

25 Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, [1787] 1987), p. 43.

26 Thomas Paine, Common Sense (New York: Penguin Classics, [1776] 1986), p. 98.

27 Quoted in Paine and Jefferson on Liberty, Lloyd S. Kramer, ed. (New York: Continuum, 1988), pp. 63-64.

28 Buchanan, Secession, pp. 7-8, emphasis added.

29 Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, and San Francisco: Cobden Press, [1962] 1985), pp. 108-11.

30 Thomas Jefferson, "Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington of 1788," in The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Adrienne Koch and William Peden, eds. (New York: Random House, 1994), p. 447.

31 Joseph Stumph, Saving Our Constitution From the New World Order (Salt Lake City, Utah: Northwest Publishing, 1993), p. 213.

32 The Federalist Papers, no. 32.

33 Ibid., no. 45.

34 Ibid., no. 46.

35 Ibid., no. 45.

36 Ashley Halsey, Jr., Who Fired the First Shot? (New York: Fawcett World Library, 1963), p. xiii.

37 James Ronald Kennedy and Walter Donald Kennedy, The South Was Right (Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing, 1994), p. 312.

38 William Rawle, A View of the Constitution (Baton Rouge, La.: Land and Land, [1825] 1993), pp. 234-35, emphasis added.

39 Ibid., pp. 238-39.

40 Quoted in Kennedy and Kennedy, The South Was Right, p. 313.

41 Quoted in ibid., pp. 313-14.

42 Quoted in ibid., p. 313.

43 Ibid., pp. 34-35.

44 Quoted in ibid., p. 35.

45 Clifford Dowdey, The History of the Confederacy: 1832-1865 (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1955), p. 62.

46 Ibid., p. 55.

47 Cited in ibid., p. 219.

48 Cited in ibid., p. 6.

49 Quoted in Halsey, Who Fired the First Shot? p. 18.

50 Quoted in Kennedy and Kennedy, The South Was Right, p. 332.

51 William W. Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina 1816-1836 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965).

52 Dowdey, The History of the Confederacy, p. 38.

53 Ibid., p. 31.

54 In ibid., pp. 350-51.

55 In South Carolina: A Documentary Profile of the Palmetto State, Elmer D. Johnson and Kathleen Lewis Sloan, eds. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1983), pp. 350-51.

56 Quoted in Kennedy and Kennedy, The South Was Right, pp. 316-17.

57 Quoted in ibid., p. 322.

58 Quoted in ibid., pp. 328-29.

[b]Released: July 23, 2008

Middlebury Institute/Zogby Poll: One in Five Americans Believe States Have the Right to Secede

Survey finds 18% would support a secessionist effort in their state

UTICA, New York -One in five American adults - 22% - believe that any state or region has the right to "peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic," a new Middlebury Institute/Zogby International telephone poll shows.

I believe any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic:



Not sure

The level of support for the right of secession was consistent in every region in the country, though the percentage was slightly higher in the South (26%) and the East (24%). The figures were also consistent for every age group, but backing was strongest among younger adults, as 40% among those age 18 to 24 and 24% among those age 25 to 34 agreed states and regions have secession rights.

Broken down by race, the highest percentage agreeing with the right to secede was among Hispanics (43%) and African-Americans (40%). Among white respondents, 17% said states or regions should have the right to peaceably secede.
I would support a secessionist effort in my state:



Not sure

Politically, liberal thinkers were much more likely to favor the right to secession for states and regions, as 32% of mainline liberals agreed with the concept. Among the very liberal the support was only slightly less enthusiastic - 28% said they favored such a right. Meanwhile, just 17% of mainline conservatives thought it should exist as an option for states or regions of the nation.

Asked whether they would support a secessionist movement in their own state, 18% said they would, with those in the South most likely to say they would back such an effort. In the South, 24% said they would support such an effort, while 15% in the West and Midwest said the same. Here, too, younger adults were more likely than older adults to be supportive - 35% of those under age 30 would support secession in their state, compared to just 17% of those over age 65. Among African Americans, 33% said they would support secession, compared to just 15% of white adults. The more education a respondent had, the less likely they were to support secession - as 38% of those with less than a high school diploma would support it, compared to just 10% of those with a college degree.

To gauge the extent to which support for secession comes from a sense that the nation's current system is not working, a separate question was asked about agreement that "the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections." Nearly half of respondents agreed with this statement, with 27% who somewhat agree and 18% who strongly agree.
I believe the United States' system is broken and cannot be fixed by traditional two-party politics and elections:



Not sure

The telephone poll, conducted by Zogby International, included 1,209 American adult respondents. It was conducted July 9-13, 2008, and carries a margin of error of +/- 2.9 per cent.

The sponsor of the poll was the Middlebury Institute, a think tank for "the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination," based in Cold Spring, NY. Their website address is:

For content, contact: Kirkpatrick Sale, Director, Middlebury Institute, at 845-265-3158 or

For methodology, contact: Fritz Wenzel, 315-624-0200 ext. 229 or 419-205-0287 or

For a detailed methodological statement on this survey, please visit:


Secession: still a popular idea?
By Alex Mayer

On The Volokh Conspiracy, George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin writes about a topic that gets very little attention these days: Secession. That’s right. By states. From the United States of America.

Somin notes a recent Zogby poll that showed a surprising 22 percent of Americans believe that any state has the right to “peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic.”18 percent would support a secessionist movement in their own state.

Support for a secession movement in one’s own state was actually consistent among all regions of the U.S., though slightly higher in the South (24 percent).

Hispanics and African-Americans were also more willing to believe in the right to secession (43 and 40 percent, respectively) than whites (17 percent).

32 percent of liberals believed in the right to secede, compared to just 17 percent of conservatives.

Note: this is actually not as un-timely a topic as it seems; if you’ll remember, following John Kerry’s defeat in 2004, there was considerable discussion of secession by bitter Democrats and blue-state voters (shown above, a proposed map here) — not all of it on the fringe, either.

Quote:The idea isn’t just a joke; one top Democrat says, “The segment of the country that pays for the federal government is now being governed by the people who don’t pay for the federal government.”

“Some would say, ‘Oh, poor Alabama. It’s cut off from the wealth infusion that it gets from New York and California,’” said Lawrence O’Donnell, a veteran Democratic insider and now senior political analyst at MSNBC. “But the more this political condition goes on at the presidential level of the red and blue states, the more you’re testing the inclination of the blue states to say, ‘So what?’”

Slate even devoted an article — “Could the Blue States Secede?” — to examining the legal possibilities of secession.

Constitutional law professor Ann Althouse reacted with incredulity at the Zogby poll findings, saying that “all these people [who believe in a right to secession] have the law wrong and don’t seem to know the basics of the history of the Civil War,” and called them “fascinatingly stupid.”

But, Ilya Somin points out, that’s not necessarily true. His arguments:

1) The Constitution does not prohibit secession.

Quote:“I don’t think that belief in a right of secession by itself demonstrates ignorance about either law or American history. The Constitution is famously silent on the issue of secession. It doesn’t explicitly guarantee states a right to secede, but also doesn’t explicitly forbid secession.”

He adds that while the Articles of Confederation contained language describing the Union as “perpetual,” the Constitution “does not include any such language.” Therefore, “This silence has led to ongoing debate over the constitutional status of secession. Prior to the Civil War, many respected scholars and political leaders claimed that secession was permitted by the Constitution.”

2) The Civil War did not necessarily conclude that secession is prohibited:

Quote:There is no question that the federal government defeated the south’s attempt to secede. However, superior military might doesn’t prove superior constitutional right. There are many instances in American history where federal and state governments managed to get away with violating the Constitution by applying superior force. The imposition of Jim Crow segregation on blacks in the South is the most notorious example.

..I should emphasize that I think that the federal government was right to suppress the Confederates’ efforts to secede. But not because secession is always illegal and impermissible. Rather, the Union was right in that instance because the southern states sought to secede for the indefensible purpose of protecting and extending the evil institution of slavery. Moreover, none of the southerners’ constitutional rights had been infringed by the federal government. Things would look very different if a state sought to secede for the purpose of defending fundamental human or constitutional rights rather than continuing to violate them; if, for example, the feds were trying to force slavery on unwilling free states.

Interestingly, Somin notes that even Abraham Lincoln himself, in his First Inaugural Address, while saying he believed the Union was “perpetual,” left open the possibility that states had the right to secede: “If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might in a moral point of view justify revolution; certainly would if such right were a vital one.” Lincoln, of course, correctly denied that the South met this standard in 1861.

Somin concludes:

Quote:In sum, the text of the Constitution is ambiguous about secession, and nothing in our later history definitively forecloses the possibility that secession might be permissible in some situations. The Zogby poll respondents might be ignorant in so far as they may believe that the federal government will allow states to secede at will. But they are not necessarily ignorant or stupid to believe that states have a right do so - irrespective of whether the federal government is likely to honor that right.

What do you think? Do states have the right to secede? Under what circumstances should they be allowed to do so?

Secession Myths

1. The entire question of secession was settled during the Civil War.

Myth Busted - the application of Federal military might to invade, occupy and forcibly repatriate the Southern states in no way answered the legal question of the legality of secession. In point of fact it can rightly be argued that the Federal government exceeded its delegated powers by using force against a the states.

2. Secession is the same as revolution and revolutions always mean bloodshed.

Myth Busted - A revolution is a change in government, secession is merely a separation of governments, a divorce or a disillusion of a compact.

3. No state have ever seceded anywhere in the world.

Myth Busted - recent examples would include, Montenegro, Lithuania, Estonia, All of the former Soviet Republics, and even Scotland regained some of her sovereignty in 1999 (something she lost in 1805)

4. If one or more of the various states secedes it will likely end up no better than a third world country, isolated, alone and poor.

Myth Busted - Not true, a free Alaska would be Saudi Arabia with snow, California would be the world's 7th largest economy. Other states would of their own choosing form trade alliances and various confederations or even federal unions. The point is these would be on their terms, governemnt of and by the people.

5. The United States was born on the 4th of July 1776, a state has no right to leave.

Myth Busted[i] - The United States was not born in 1776, that was thirteen free and independent colonies shedding the yoke of imperialism. The United States was born with the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, its parents being the free and independent states.

6. If a state were to leave the Union it would mean war, the Federal government would never allow it.

[i]Myth Busted
- This myth plays right into the very notion of tyranny and governmental control. If the Federal government were to invade a state seeking to establish self-determination using the very same justification found in the Declaration of Independence would that act in and of itself not be enough to convict the Federal government of tyranny? Governments are supposed to do what the people allow, not the other way around.

7. Secession is treason, secessionist are traitors.

Myth Busted - The love of one's state is not treason, loyalty to one's home is not treason. The belief in government of and by the people is not treason. The belief in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution reserving all rights not specifically delegated to the Federal government to the States and People is not treason. Tyranny, oppression and perversion and usurpation of the Constitution is treasonou

First published Fri Feb 7, 2003; substantive revision Thu Jan 11, 2007

Until quite recently secession has been a neglected topic among philosophers. Two factors may explain why philosophers have now begun to turn their attention to secession. First, in the past decade there has been a great increase not only in the number of attempted secessions, but also in successful secessions, and philosophers may simply be reacting to this new reality, attempting to make normative sense of it. Second, in the same decade the idea that there is a strong case for some form of self-government for groups presently contained within states has gained ground. Once one begins to take seriously the case for special group rights for minorities — especially if these include rights of self-government — it is difficult to avoid the question of whether some such groups may be entitled to full independence.[/size]

1. Philosophical Issues of Secession

Political scientists, sociologists, and political economists attempt to describe and explain the causes and effects of secessionist movements and of states' reactions to them. Philosophers focus on the moral issues and on clarifying the conceptual framework for thinking about secession. Philosophical work on secession can be divided into three categories: (1) attempts to articulate the conditions under which a group has the moral right to secede; (2) examinations of the compatibility or incompatibility of secession with constitutionalism, (3) attempts to determine what position international law should take regarding secession.

It is useful to distinguish secession from other ways in which "separation" or "state-breaking" can occur. In what might be called secession in the classic sense, a group in a portion of the territory of a state attempt to create a new state there; secessionists attempt to exit, leaving behind the original state in reduced form. A different case, exemplified by the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, occurs when there is agreement between the populations or at least the leaders of two regions (which together comprise the whole territory of the state), to split the state into two new states. Yet a third case is that of externally-imposed partition of an existing state into two or more new states. In the past partition usually occurred when a deal was struck between two powerful neigboring states at the expense of the state that was partitioned, as with the partitioning of Poland between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. At present, externally-imposed partition is more likely to be considered as a last resort for dealing with intractable ethno-national conflict within a state. In what follows, the focus is on secession in the classical sense.

1.1 Theorizing the moral justification of secession or the moral claim-right to secede

Though many who pursue the first project do not make this explicit, they are concerned with the moral justification of unilateral secession or the moral right to secede unilaterally, that is with secession that is undertaken without the consent of the state and without constitutional sanction. A theory of the right to unilateral secession is most urgently needed, not only because unilateral secession occurs more frequently than consensual secession, but also because it is both more controversial and more likely to result in large-scale violence.

Consensual secession is secession that results either from a negotiated agreement between the state and the secessionists (as occurred when Norway seceded from Sweden in 1905) or through constitutional processes (as the Supreme Court of Canada recently envisioned for the secession of Quebec).[1] Constitutionally sanctioned secession is achieved either by the exercise of an explicit constitutional right to secede (which only a few constitutions currently contain) or by constitutional amendment.

Sometimes it is not clear whether a theorist is advancing a theory of the conditions under which secession is morally justified, that is, the conditions under which a group has a moral liberty-right or mere moral permission to secede, or a theory of the conditions under which a group has the claim-right to secede. Talk about “the right to secede” is ambiguous between these alternatives. A claim-right includes not only a liberty-right or mere permission (i.e., that a group is justified in seceding in the sense that if they do so they do not thereby act impermissibly), but also a correlative obligation on the part of others not to interfere with the attempted secession.

The distinction between establishing that a group is morally justified in (unilaterally) seceding (in the sense of having a liberty-right) and establishing that the group has a moral claim-right to secede (unilaterally) is crucial, though rarely explicitly drawn by philosophers writing about secession. Having the liberty-right does not imply having the claim-right: A group might be morally justified in seceding and yet it might not be the case that others (including the state from which the group is seceding) are obligated to refrain from interfering with the group's attempt to secede. Therefore, an argument that suffices to establish that a group is justified in seceding under such and such conditions may not suffice to establish that the group has a (claim-) right to secede under those conditions. Yet when philosophers attempt to develop a moral theory of secession by appealing to intuitions about hypothetical examples of secession, it is often unclear whether the intuition elicited is about the moral justifiability of the secession (the mere permissibility) or about the existence of a moral claim-right.[2]

1.2 Constitutional theorizing about secession

Some philosophers have distinguished between the question whether and, if so, under what conditions a group has a moral claim-right to secede and the question of whether and, if so, under what conditions a constitution ought to or may include a right to secede. For example, while acknowledging that secession may sometimes be morally justified (where this presumably means the group in question has the claim-right to secede), Cass Sunstein has argued that constitutional recognition of a right to secede is incompatible with the principles of constitutionalism (or at least democratic constitutionalism)[3] (Sunstein, 1991). Sunstein argues that a basic principle of constitutionalism is that political institutions, including the constitution itself, must be designed so as to encourage citizens to engage in the hard work of democratic politics, where this means competing in the public forum on grounds of principle, with a minimum of strategic bargaining. Following Albert O. Hirschman, (Hirschman, 1970) he then contends that if the constitution acknowledges a right to secede then discontent minorities will be tempted to shirk the hard work of principled, democratic politics either by actually seceding when the majoritarian decisions go against their preferences or by using the threat of secession as a strategic bargaining tool as a de facto veto over majority rule. In either case, democracy will be undermined.

However, as argued Buchanan (1991, 132), Sunstein fails even to consider the possibility that a constitution could so hedge the right to secede as to reduce the threat of exit by minorities to acceptable proportions. The analogy here is with the right of constitutional amendment as found in the U.S. Constitution. This right is significantly hedged: two super-majorities, one in the Congress, the other among the States, are required for amendment. Similarly, an appropriately hedged right to secede is not incompatible with the principles of constitutionalism: Well-designed procedural hurdles (super-majorities, waiting periods, etc.) can make secession sufficiently difficult to avoid an unacceptable risk of premature exit or strategic bargaining by minorities, while still making secession possible under appropriate conditions. The current Ethiopian Constitution in fact includes such a hedged right to secede, requiring not only two super-majorities in favor of secession, but also a waiting period. So although appropriate constitutional design regarding secession must cope with the risks that secession will impair democratic processes, constitutional recognition of a right to secede does not appear to be incompatible with constitutionalism.

Wayne Norman goes further, arguing that there are significant advantages to constitutionalizing conflicts over secession.[4] The Supreme Court of Canada recently took the same position, arguing that the potentially disruptive process of secession by Quebec can be subjected to the rule of law by a process of negotiation and constitutional amendment.[5]

There is yet another argument for including a right to secede in a constitution. In some cases, when a new political entity is being created out of two or more independent or semi-autonomous entities, including a right to exit in the constitution of the new entity may be necessary as an inducement to join the new union. Under conditions of uncertainty as to how the new union will work, constitutional recognition of a “bail out” option may be necessary to get the new union going[6] (Buchanan 1991, ch. 4).

There is much philosophical work to be done on the question of when and if so how the right to secede might be constitutionalized. It will require both an account of the principles of constitutionalism and of the morality of secession and an empirically-based knowledge of the conditions under which various constitutional arrangements can be reasonably expected to realize the principles of constitutionalism in a manner that is consistent with the morality of secession.

2. Theories of the Right to Secede

There are two main types of theories of the right to secede (understood as a unilateral claim-right): Remedial Right Only Theories and Primary Right Theories.[7] Remedial Right Only Theories analogize the right to secede to the right to revolution, understanding it as a right that a group comes to have only as a result of violations of other rights. On this view secession is justified only as a remedy of last resort for persistent and serious injustices. The right to unilateral secession thus understood is not primary, but rather derivative upon the violation of other, more basic rights; hence the label ‘remedial right only’. Sometimes the term "Just Cause Theories" is used to refer to Remedial Right Only Theories and the term "Choice Theories" to refer to Primary Right Theories.

Different versions of Remedial Right Only Theories specify different lists of the injustices that can ground the remedial right. Consider, for example, a Remedial Right Only Theory that includes among the grounds for the (unilateral) right to secede the following: (a) large-scale and persistent violations of basic human rights, (b) unjust taking of the territory of a legitimate state (where secession is simply the taking back of wrongly taken territory, as with the secession of the Baltic Republics from the Soviet Union in 1991), and © in certain cases, the state's persisting violation of agreements to accord a minority group limited self-government within the state (Buchanan, 2004). A more austere Remedial Right Only Theory would recognize only (a), persistent, large-scale violations of basic human rights (in the most extreme case, genocide or other mass killings) as sufficient to justify unilateral secession.[8]

Primary Right Theories of the unilateral right to secede recognize that a group can have a right to secede on remedial grounds, but they contend that the (unilateral) right to secede can exist even when the group has not been subject to any injustice. This second type of theory thus holds that there is a right to unilateral secession over and above whatever remedial and hence derivative right there may be.

Primary Right Theories are of two types: Ascriptivist (predominantly nationalist) Theories and Plebiscitary (or majoritarian) Theories. The former hold that certain groups whose memberships are defined by what are sometimes called ascriptive characteristics, simply by virtue of being those sorts of groups, have a unilateral (claim-)right to secede. Ascriptive characteristics are those that are ascribed to individuals independently of their choice and include being of the same nation or being a “distinct people.” The most common form of Ascriptivist theory holds that nations as such have a right of self-determination that includes the right to secede in order to have their own state.

Plebiscitary Theories in contrast hold that a unilateral moral claim-right to secede exists if a majority residing in a portion of the state chooses to have their own state there, regardless of whether or not they have any common characteristics, ascriptive or otherwise, other than the desire for independence. They need not be co-nationals or members of a distinct society.

What the two types of Primary Right Theories have in common is that they do not require injustice as a necessary condition for the existence of a unilateral (claim-)right to secede. They are Primary Right Theories because they do not make the unilateral (claim-)right to secede derivative upon the violation of other, more basic rights, as the Remedial Right Only Theories do.[9]

No attempt will be made here to provide a comprehensive comparative evaluation of these rival theories (see Buchanan, 1997). Instead we will only identify only their major strength and weaknesses.

2.1 The right to secede as a right to territory

As Lea Brilmayer has rightly stressed, secession is not simply the formation of a new political association among individuals or the repudiation by a group of persons of their obligation to obey the state's laws. (Brilmayer, 1991) It is the taking of a part of the territory claimed by an existing state. Accordingly, rival theories of secession must be understood as providing alternative accounts of what it takes for a group to come to have a claim to territory that is at the time included in the territory of an existing state. We discover below that the most serious objections to the two varieties of Primary Right Theories question the cogency of their accounts of exactly what it is that gives a group within this state a claim to a portion of the territory claimed by the state. In contrast, the Remedial Right Only approach appears to provide a more cogent account of the secessionists' claim to territory.

2.2 Remedial Right Only Theories

This approach to unilateral secession recognizes at least two ways a group can have the requisite valid claim to territory: (a) by reclaiming territory over which they were sovereign but which was unjustly taken from them (as with the Baltic Republics' secession from the Soviet Union in 1991); or (b) by coming to have a claim to sovereignty over the territory as a result of availing themselves of a last resort remedy against serious and persistent violations of basic human rights. A more expansive reading of (b) would include among the injustices that can ground a unilateral right to secede, not only the violation of basic human rights, but also the state's major violations of, or unilateral revocation of, intrastate autonomy agreements (as with Milosovic's destruction of Kosovo's autonomy in 1989).

With respect to (a), the basis of the secessionists' claim to territory is straightforward: they are simply reclaiming what was recognized by international law as theirs. With respect to (b) the Remedial Right Only Theory begins with the presumption that existing states that are accorded legitimacy under international law have valid claims to their territories but then argues that such claims can be overridden or extinguished in the face of persistent patterns of serious injustices towards groups within the state. The idea is that the validity of the state's claim to the territory cannot be sustained when secession is the only remedy that can assure that the fundamental rights of the group will be respected.

Given the tendency for unilateral secession to provoke massive violence, the obvious strength of the Remedial Right Only approach is that it places a significant constraint on unilateral secession — namely, the requirement of a serious and persistent grievance of injustice suffered by the secessionists. To that extent, it captures the intuition that nonconsensual state-breaking, like revolution, is a grave affair requiring a weighty justification. More specifically, this view provides a plausible explanation of how the state can come to lose its entitlement to the territory: it does so by failing to do what gives states a moral claim to control territory in the first place, namely, providing justice for those within its jurisdiction.

Another strength of the Remedial Right Only approach is that it appears to provide the right incentives: States that are just (or at least do not persist in very serious injustices) are immune to legally permitted unilateral secession and entitled to international support in maintaining their territorial integrity. On the other hand, if, as the theory recommends, a unilateral right to secede as a remedy for serious and persistent injustices is acknowledged, this will give states an incentive to act more justly.

Some critics have complained that the Remedial Right Only approach to unilateral secession is disturbingly irrelevant to the concerns of many groups seeking self-determination. They say that in most cases it is nationalism that fuels the quest for self-determination, not grievances of injustice per se. (Moore, 1998) An advocate of the Remedial Right Only view might respond that the latter is only an account of unilateral secession, not a comprehensive theory of self-determination. Thus the Primary Right Only approach to unilateral secession is compatible with a fairly permissive stance toward intrastate autonomy, including various forms of self-government for national minorities within the state. The point is to uncouple the unilateral (claim-)right to secede from the various legitimate interests that groups — including national minorities — can have in various forms of self-determination short of statehood.

Moreover, the Remedial Right Only approach need not reject claims to independence on the part of nations; it only rejects the much stronger assertion that nations as such have a unilateral right to secede. In many cases the groups that suffer persistent grave injustices are in fact nations, and therefore would be accorded the right to secede by the Remedial Right Only Theory. To that extent it is inaccurate to say that this type of theory ignores the realities of national self-determination movements. But just as important, the Remedial Right Only Theory, when integrated into a comprehensive theory of self-determination that includes a principled account of when intrastate autonomy arrangements warrant international support, will address the concerns of national minorities in cases in which they do not have a unilateral right to secede.

What the Remedial Right Only approach does not do is concede that nations as such — independently of any persisting pattern of grave injustices — have a unilateral right to secede. But it can be argued that this is a virtue of the account, not a defect. It thereby avoids the objection to which Ascriptivist Theories are vulnerable, namely, that they endorse a unilateral right to secede for all nations in a world in which virtually every state contains more than one nation and in which nations are not neatly sorted into discrete regions of the state's territory, but instead claim the same territories. The point is not simply that the Ascriptivist view is unfeasible; in addition its support for the idea of the ethnically exclusive state is an incitement to ethnic cleansing if not genocide. However, this line of argument can supply an effective reply to the objection that Remedial Right Only Theories neglect the importance of nationalism only if the account of the right to secede they advance is properly situated in a plausible, more comprehensive theory of self-determination.

2.3 Plebiscitary Theories

The appeal of Plebiscitary Theories is that they appear to make the determination of boundaries a matter of choice or, more accurately, of majority rule. To that extent they seek to bask in the popularity of democracy. (Philpott, 1995) However, given what is at stake in secession, it is far from clear that the mere fact that a majority of persons residing in a portion of a state desire independence should be a sufficient reason to give them a unilateral right to secede, in the absence of any grievances. Why should one assume that the mere fact of residence in an area authorizes persons to decide by majority vote not only to change their own citizenship but also to deprive others (the nonsecessionists) of their citizenship and to remove a part of the territory of the state without the consent of the citizens who happen to live outside the area in question?

To put the point bluntly, the Plebiscitary Theory seems to fly in the face of the doctrine of popular sovereignty. According to that doctrine, which lies at the core of the liberal-democratic conception of the state, the state's territory is properly conceived of as the territory of the people as a whole, not just those who at a particular time happen to reside in a portion of it. But if this is so, it is hard to understand how the mere fact that a majority of citizens in a certain portion of the peoples' territory desire to have that territory become an independent state could confer on them the right unilaterally to appropriate it.

In other words, the weakness of the Plebiscitary Theory is its account of what grounds the secessionists' right to the territory. Just how serious this flaw is becomes more evident when one recalls that according to the Plebiscitary Theory the state from which a local majority may secede may be perfectly just. As a general account of what grounds valid claims to territory the Plebiscitary view looks implausible indeed: valid claims to territory would come and go as majorities come and go. But quite apart from the obvious problem that this view makes state boundaries liable to extraordinary instability, why the mere desire of certain people who happen to be in the majority in the region of a state should generate a title to territory that voids the territorial claims of even the most just state remains a mystery.

In addition, critics of the Plebiscitary view have pointed out that the justifications for democratic governance within given political boundaries do not support the thesis that boundaries may be redrawn simply by majority rule. (Buchanan, 1998a) There are two chief justifications for democratic governance. The first is that democracy is intrinsically valuable from the standpoint of a very basic principle of morality, namely, that all persons are entitled to equal consideration. The core idea is that the basic moral equality of persons requires that they have an equal say in the decisions that determine the basic character of their polity. But it appears that this justification for democracy does not imply that the decision whether to secede should be determined unilaterally by a majority in favor of secession in a portion of the territory of an existing state as opposed to being determined by a majority of all the citizens.

The first justification for democracy tells us that all who are members of a particular polity — all who must live under one system of rules that determine the fundamental character of social life — should have an equal say or should participate as equals in deciding what those rules are to be. But the principle of democratic rule cannot tell us what the boundaries of the polity should be, because in order to implement the democratic rule we must already have fixed the boundaries of the polity. The right to democratic governance is a principle that specifies a relation of equality among members of the same polity, not a right to determine the membership of polities or their territorial boundaries.

The second chief justification for democracy is instrumental: It holds that democratic governance tends to promote important goods, including peace, freedom, and other dimensions of well-being. Once again, the force of the justification depends upon the assumption that what is being justified is a process of decision making for a polity. The claim is that the well-being of all the citizens will be best served if all the citizens are allowed to express their preferences through voting, at least on fundamental matters that affect all. Plainly, this argument cannot support the assertion that only some citizens (those in a particular portion of the polity) ought to be able unilaterally to decide a matter that will affect all citizens of the polity. Hence it cannot support the Plebiscitary Right view of the unilateral right to secede. Because neither of the justifications for democracy supports the Plebiscitary view, the latter is not entailed by the commitment to democracy.

2.4 Ascriptivist Theories

This approach to unilateral secession has a long pedigree, reaching back at least to Nineteenth Century nationalists such as Mazzini, who proclaimed that every nation should have its own state. Critics of the Ascriptivist variant of Primary Right Theory argue that it would legitimize virtually unlimited unilateral, forcible border changes because it confers an entitlement to its own state on every nation (or “people” or distinct society). For reasons noted above this appears to be not only unfeasible, but a recipe for increasing ethno-national conflict.

However, those who advocate the Ascriptivist Theory reply that it does not require every nation (or distinct people) to exercise its unilateral right to secede and have conjectured that were their theory generally accepted not every group upon which it confers this entitlement would choose to secede. Nevertheless, given the historical record of ethno-nationalist conflict, the worry remains that institutionalizing the principle that every nation is entitled to its own state would exacerbate ethno-national violence, along with the human rights violations it inevitably entails. Thus the moral costs of incorporating the Ascriptivist version of Primary Right Theory into international law may appear prohibitive — especially if there are less risky ways to accommodate the legitimate interests of nations, such as better compliance with human rights norms and recourse to intrastate autonomy arrangements.

There are variants of Ascriptivist theory that go some distance toward allaying the worry that acceptance of the theory would add fuel to the fires of ethno-national conflict by qualifying the unilateral right of secession for nations (or distinct peoples) in various ways. For example, the Ascriptivist may hold that there is a presumption in favor of each nation or distinct people having a right to its own state if it so desires, or a prima facie unilateral right to secede for all such groups, but the international legal system is justified in requiring some groups to settle for autonomy arrangements short of full independence to avoid dangerous instability or to accommodate similar claims by other groups to the same territory. This way of responding to the worry about adding fuel to ethno-national conflicts comes at a price: What was originally billed as a unilateral right of every nation as such to its own state now looks more like a highly defeasible presumption in favor of independence for nations. And unless a fairly concrete account of the conditions under which the presumption is not defeated is provided, it is hard to know what the practical implications of this qualified Ascriptivist view are. What is needed is an account of how the putative presumption in favor of statehood for nations is to be weighed against competing claims and values.

Earlier, we observed that critics of the Ascriptivist version of Primary Right Theory tend to focus on the potential costs in terms of exacerbated ethno-national conflict of incorporating the view into international law. However, it is not enough to note the potential costs of acceptance of the Ascriptivist Theory and its incorporation into international law. It is also necessary to understand the putative benefits of having a system in which the rights of nations to their own states is acknowledged. Accordingly, David Miller has usefully distinguished two ways in which Ascriptivist theories can be supported: by arguments to show that nations need states or by arguments to show that states need to be mono-national. (Miller, 1995)

The first type of argument has two variants: One can argue that nations need to have their own states, either (1) in order to be able to protect themselves from destruction or from forces that threaten their distinctive character, or (2) in order for co-nationals to have the institutional resources to be able to fulfill the special obligations they owe one another as members of an “ethical community,” in Miller's phrase. Both of these considerations can, under certain circumstances, weigh in favor of some form of political self-determination for nations, but it is not clear that either is sufficient to ground a general right of all nations to full independence and hence a unilateral right to secede. Indeed Miller marshals them in support of a weaker conclusion: that nations have a “strong claim” to self-determination.

The second type of justification for the view that nations are entitled to their own states also has two variants: The first, which dates back at least to John Stuart Mill's Considerations On Representative Government, (Mill, 1991) asserts that democracy can only flourish in mono-national states, because states in which there is more than one nation will be lacking in the solidarity, trust, or shared sentiments and values that democracy requires. The second, advanced by David Miller, asserts that states need to be mononational in order to achieve distributive justice, because distributive justice requires significant redistribution of wealth among citizens and the better off will only be willing share their wealth with their less fortunate fellow citizens if they see them as co-nationals. (Miller, 1995) Both forms of the “states need to be mononational” argument raise very interesting questions about the motivational conditions necessary if crucial state functions are to be successfully performed.

Mill apparently based his judgment that multination states are incompatible with democracy on historical experience. However, some would argue that there are cases of multinational democratic states: Canada, Belgium, and perhaps Switzerland (depending upon whether one regards the latter as multinational or merely multi-ethnic). One might also add the U.S., since most Indian tribes have a legal status that approaches sovereignty.

Of course modern proponents of Mill's argument would be quick to point out that the continued existence of Belgium and Canada are in doubt due to nationalist secession movements. (However, at present the secession of Quebec seems very unlikely.) On the other hand, it could be argued that Mill's generalization is prematurely pessimistic: genuine democracies are a very recent phenomenon and until even more recently there have been almost no serious attempts, even on the part of democratic states, to recognize the claims of nations within states, through various forms of autonomy arrangements.[10] So as a justification for acknowledging a right to independent statehood for all nations, with the risk of instability and violence this might entail, Mill's pessimism about multinational democracies may seem to some to be premature. The most reasonable strategy would seem to be to do more to ensure that states respect the human rights of their minorities and to encourage intrastate autonomy agreements rather than giving up on the idea of multinational states.

The second version of the “states need to be mono-national” argument also faces serious objections. First, whether or not nationalism will facilitate or instead block large-scale redistribution of wealth will depend upon the character of the nationalism in question. Nationalist solidarity may not extend to willingness to redistribute wealth. As socialists from Marx onward have observed, the privileged minority has often been quite adept at appealing to nationalism to counteract the redistributive impulse. Second, even in cases where nationalist sentiment facilitates redistribution, one must ask: what else does it facilitate? Miller appears to argue from the fact that a morally pristine, highly idealized nationalism would facilitate distributive justice (or democracy) to the conclusion that nations as such are entitled to their own states or at least to a presumption thereof. But there are many historical instances in which the national unity that Miller assumes will be harnessed for the pursuit of distributive justice has been ferociously directed toward conquest and against non-nationals and dissenting members of the nation itself.

The foregoing comparative evaluation of the main types of theories of the unilateral (claim-)right to secede suggests that the Remedial Right Only approach is superior. However, at present it is fair to say that none of the rival types of theories is sufficiently worked out for a definitive comparative evaluation to be possible. For each type of theory there are unanswered questions and potential objections. For example, Primary Right Theories that include unjust annexations of territory among the injustices that ground a unilateral (claim-)right to secede must provide a satisfactory solution to what has elsewhere been called the moral statute of limitations problem (Buchanan 1991, 88): how durable are claims to independence based on past unjust takings — how far back in history may a group go in making the case that they are entitled to their own state because they previously had one?

More importantly, a Remedial Right Only Theory of the unilateral right to secede will only be defensible in the end if it rests upon a plausible account of what entitles a state to control over a territory in the first place. Without such an account the Remedial Right Only view appears arbitrarily to privilege the status quo by requiring secessionists to bear the burden of showing that they have suffered serious and persistent injustices in order to establish their claim to territory. To answer this objection, the Remedial Right Only theorist would have to provide a justice-based theory of legitimacy, arguing that what grounds the state's claim to territory is its provision of justice, and that it is for this reason that only serious injustices can void that claim.[11]

All three types of theories must address satisfactorily what may be called the problem of authentic voice. For Ascriptivist and Remedial Right Only Theories this means providing a reasoned answer to the question “what counts as an authentic decision to exercise the right to secede?” (Is there some nonarbitrary way of specifying what sort of majority is required in favor of secession before it can be said that the group in question has chosen to exercise its right to secede?). Similarly, Plebiscitary Right theorists must provide a principled account of how large a majority in favor of secession must exist, before it can be said that the right to secede exists.

In addition, all three types of theories must articulate a plausible account of the rights of those within the seceding territory who oppose secession. For example, are there circumstances in which the anti-secessionists should be granted dual citizenship, so that they can preserve their citizenship in the state from which the secession is occurring? Are there circumstances in which they deserve compensation for losses they incur when a new state, perhaps with different property laws, is created?

Finally, as suggested earlier, the implications of each type of theory for international law regarding secession should be explained. In the next section, we explore briefly the relationship between views about the moral (claim-)right to unilateral secession and the question of what position international law should take on unilateral secession.

3. Secession and the Philosophy of International Law

The deficiencies of existing international law regarding secession motivate the project of developing principled proposals for reform. At present international law recognizes only a very narrow set of circumstances under which the unilateral right to secede exists as an international legal right, namely, when a group is subject to colonial domination. The difficulty with this conception of the international legal right to unilateral secession is that, while clearly embodying the idea that serious and persistent injustices can generate a right to unilateral secession, it arbitrarily restricts the injustices that generate the right to the special case of classical colonialism, where a metropolitan power dominates a racially and/or ethnically distinct group in an overseas colony. Another difficulty is that while international legal practice has confined the unilateral right to secede to the so-called “saltwater decolonization” case, several important international legal documents include reference to an apparently much broader “right of self-determination of all peoples” which is said to include the right to choose full independence, and hence the right to secede.[12] One way to conceive of the chief task for a moral theory of international law regarding secession is that it must provide a reasoned basis for removing the arbitrary restriction from which the current law suffers, while avoiding the dangerously expansive notion that all “peoples” are entitled to their own states, in a world in which virtually every existing state includes more than one “people,” in which several “peoples” claim the same territory, and in which there are no international institutional principles or mechanisms for sorting out these conflicting claims.

An important choice for the moral theorist of international law regarding secession regards the scope of the right itself. On one view, international law should simply acknowledge, under certain conditions to be specified by the theory, a group's right to its own state; on the other view, international law should distinguish between (a) the conditions under which a group should be accorded the right to repudiate the jurisdiction of the state over a portion of the state's territory and to attempt to establish its own control there and (b) the conditions under which international law should recognize the secessionist entity as a legitimate state, with all the rights, immunities, privileges, and obligations this entails.

The difference between these two options can be appreciated if we take the example of a Remedial Right Only approach to proposals for reforming international law regarding secession. For simplicity, suppose that the Remedial Right Only theory under consideration recognizes only large-scale and persistent violations of basic human rights as grounding the unilateral right to secede, and suppose that group G has suffered such violations. On the first view, the proposal is that international law should simply acknowledge that G has the right to its own legitimate state if forming a new state is the remedy of last resort for large-scale, persistent violations of the basic human rights of members of G, where this means that other states should recognize the new entity as having all the rights, privileges, immunities, powers, and obligations this status entails. On the second view, there are two distinct questions the international law of secession should address: First, has G suffered large-scale and persistent violations of basic human rights and second, does G satisfy the conditions for recognitional legitimacy, for being recognized as a legitimate state? The second view would maintain that although the group's having suffered large-scale and persistent violations of basic human rights is sufficient for acknowledging its right to repudiate the state's jurisdiction and attempt to set up its own state, something more is required before international law should recognize the new entity as a legitimate state; in particular, the new state should provide credible assurances that it will respect the rights of minorities within its territory.

Making recognition of legitimate statehood dependent in this way upon satisfying basic requirements of justice obviously coheres with the Remedial Right Only theory's approach to secession, which involves rewarding states that respect rights. But there is much to be said for distinguishing, regardless of which theory of the right to secede is adopted, between the right to secede (understood as the right to repudiate the state's authority over a portion of its territory and to attempt to set up a new state there) and the right to recognition as a legitimate state. New entities created through secession typically are keen to receive recognition of their legitimacy because of the benefits this confers, including access to favorable trade regimes, loans and credits from international agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and the ability to participate as an equal with other states in the making of international law. Distinguishing between whether a group has the right to secede (to repudiate the state's jurisdiction and attempt to establish its own state) and whether it has the right to recognition as a legitimate state enables the international legal system to impose normative conditions on recognition in circumstances in which new states have strong incentives to satisfy them.

A fully-developed philosophical theory of what the international law of secession ought to be would be quite ambitious and complex. It would have to include not only an account of the connection between the right to secede and the right to recognition, but also a theory of justified intervention in support of or against secession that would cohere with a more general position on the legitimate use of force across borders.

4. Conclusion

Philosophical work on secession falls into three main categories: (1) attempts to develop an account of the moral right to secede (understood either as a claim-right or as a mere liberty), (2) investigations of the compatibility or incompatibility of secession with constitutionalism, and (3) attempts to determine what posture international law should adopt concerning secession. In each of these areas of inquiry, as well as in the connections among them, exploration of the moral issues of secession provides a powerful lens through which to examine some of the most important issues of moral-political theory, including perhaps the most fundamental issue of all: what gives a state a valid claim to its territory?


Brilmayer, L. 1991, “Secession and Self-Determination: A Territorial Interpretation,” Yale Journal of International Law 16: 177-202.
Buchanan, A. 1991, Secession: The Legitimacy of Political Divorce From Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec, Boulder: Westview Press.
–––, 1997, “Theories of Secession,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 261: 31-61.
–––, 1998a, “Democracy and Secession,” in Secession and National Self-Determination, M. Moore (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
–––, 1998b, “What's So Special About Nations?,” in J. Couture, K. Nielsen, and M. Seymour (eds.), Rethinking Nationalism, Calgary, University of Calgary Press.
–––, 2002, “Political Legitimacy and Democracy,” Ethics, 112/4 (July): 689-719.
–––, 2004, Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
–––, 2006, “Uncoupling Secession from Nationalism and Intrastate Autonomy,” in Negotiating Self-Determination, H. Hannum and E. F. Babbitt (eds), Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Hirschman, A., 1970, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Gans, H., 2003, The Limits of Nationalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mill, J.S., 1991, Considerations on Representative Government, New York: Prometheus Books.
Miller, D., 1995, On Nationality, New York: Clarendon Press.
Moore, M., 1998, “Introduction,” in Secession and National Self-Determination, M. Moore(ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Norman, W., 2006, Negotiating Nationalism: Nation-Building, Federalism, and Secession in the Multinational State, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Philpott, D., 1995, “A Defense of Self-Determination,” Ethics 105:352-85
Sunstein, C., 1991, “Constitutionalism and Secession, ”University of Chicago Law Review 58: 633-70.
Wellman, C., A Theory of Secession: The Case for Political Self-Determination, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Other Internet Resources
The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (Princeton University)
[This site links to numerous academic centers, think tanks, international organizations, government agencies, NGOs, journals and news organizations dealing with self-determination and secession.]

Secession Videos


Why four more rooms, JohnL?

I know you think you understand what you thought I said,
but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!
JohnWho Wrote:Why four more rooms, JohnL?


Because I have more to post here. I'll probably need more.

How Is America Going To End?
Who's most likely to secede?
By Josh Levin
Posted Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2009, at 7:02 AM ET

In the American end times, our government will take one of two forms. One possibility is that federalism will give way to an all-powerful central government. (In yesterday's global-warming thought experiment, this was the climate strongman scenario.) The other option is decentralization—in the absence of a unifying national interest, the United States of America will fragment and be supplanted by regional governance.

America was designed to avoid these two extremes—to keep the states and the national government in balance. The United States will end when the equilibrium mandated by the Constitution no longer holds. Tomorrow, I'll look at how the country might transition from democracy to totalitarianism. Today, I'll focus on America's disintegration.

Predictions of modern America's collapse usually say more about the speaker than about the country's condition. Igor Panarin, the Russian political scientist who believes the United States will break into six pieces in 2010, seems to be extrapolating from what happened to the Soviet Union. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who paid lip service to secession at a tax-day rally earlier this year, was less predicting America's downfall than feeding chum to a riled-up, "Secede!"-chanting crowd. "[I]f Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people," Perry said, "you know, who knows what might come out of that."

Eric Zuelow, a history professor at the University of New England and the editor of The Nationalism Project, argues that "loud voices" like Perry's bolster the country's strength. The fact that we can debate our country's legitimacy is a sign of national health. For the United States to fall to pieces, Zuelow says, it'll take more than a demagogue on a PA. Americans will have to come to believe they're no longer Americans.

It wasn't always certain that the states would be as united as they are today. In An Empire Wilderness, Robert D. Kaplan explains that James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, envisioned America as "an enormous geographical space with governance but without patriotism, in which the federal government would be a mere 'umpire,' refereeing competing interests." There are regional and ideological differences in the modern United States: People in the Deep South and the Pacific Northwest eat different foods, have different accents, and (generalizing broadly) have different lifestyles and values. But as compared with a place like the USSR, a constructed nation with immense regional diversity, the United States is bound together tightly by its shared origins, a common language and culture, and a widely held belief in the country's mythologies (American exceptionalism, self-reliance, and social mobility). In times of perceived danger, Americans pull together. After 9/11, Zuelow says, "I don't care where you were in the country, the response was We've been attacked. … It wasn't, We eat grits and We eat salmon."

What kinds of countries fall apart? Jason Sorens, a political scientist at the University at Buffalo who studies contemporary secessionist movements, says that ethnicity, economics, and ideology all come into play. A secessionist sweet spot typically lies in a region with an embedded minority that has a common language and a history of prior independence. Latvia and Lithuania fit those requirements, as do the Serbs in Bosnia and Canada's Quebecois. According to Sorens' models, it's no surprise that there aren't any large-scale movements to break up the United States—the country is too prosperous and too cohesive. (Sorens' own Free State Project—a push to get libertarians to swarm New Hampshire and influence local politics—is "not a secessionist movement," he says, though "there are a lot of people [in the project] who would support that as a last resort.")

That's not to say that everyone who lives in America is content with the state of the union. As Wikipedia's "list of U.S. state secession proposals" indicates, there's no shortage of groups that want the country to split up. American secessionism, however, is less a populist movement than a collection of cranky, lonesome idealists. Thomas Naylor, the brains behind the Second Vermont Republic—a group that bills itself as "perhaps the foremost active secessionist organization in the country"—bemoans the fact that his movement shares the separatist marquee with less serious-minded folk. Naylor mentions one squadron of Long Islanders who've given their "new country" a national animal (Atlantic blue marlin) and a national crustacean (blue crab). The League of the South is also a perpetual source of heartburn for Naylor—the retro-Confederate group insists on singing Dixie at meetings and has a strange obsession with returning American spelling to its traditional Southern roots. By contrast, Naylor likes what he sees out of the Texas Nationalist Movement. That independence-espousing organization doesn't appear to be racist, homophobic, or violent, Naylor says, though on the last count "you can never be sure."

Naylor is more soft-spoken than you'd expect for someone who regularly refers to America as an "evil empire." He is 73 years old, stands a sturdy 6 feet 3, and has longish white hair that gives him the look of a founding father. A retired Duke economics professor, he was inspired to come to Vermont in 1993 after seeing an Oprah episode on downshifting your life. (One of the guests was a man who moved to Vermont to run a country inn.) In Secession: How Vermont and All the Other States Can Save Themselves From the Empire, Naylor writes that American civilization "promotes affluenza, technomania, e-mania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism." The Second Vermont Republic aspires to dissolve the union nonviolently and return Vermont to the independent status it held briefly in the late 18th century. Naylor believes the mystique of a free Vermont or a free Novacadia—a secessionist joint venture with Maine, New Hampshire, and Canada's four Atlantic provinces—would catalyze separatism throughout America. Ben and Jerry's is "not in the ice cream business," he explains. "They [are] in the Vermont business. We're in the Vermont business also."

I'm eating lunch at an outdoor cafe in Waitsfield, Vt., with Naylor and Rob Williams, the editor of the independence-espousing Vermont Commons newspaper. Secession, according to Williams, is "as American an impulse as apple pie." The Declaration of Independence marked the United States' secession from the British Empire. New England considered leaving the U.S. during the War of 1812, and Maine seceded from Massachusetts in 1820. Up until the Civil War, nobody questioned the idea that breaking free from the central government was legal and justifiable under the right circumstances. Today, Williams admits, mutual revulsion at the idea of secession is one of the few things the left and right can agree on. "Abraham Lincoln did a number on us," he says.

Naylor ultimately wants the Vermont legislature to call a statewide convention to consider articles of secession. That's not happening soon, even in the land of Bernie Sanders. Kirkpatrick Sale, the founder of the secessionist think tank the Middlebury Institute (and, at 72, the other grand old man of American secessionism), acknowledges that it was "in the depths of the Bush administration that this secession movement began and gained strength." Sale feared that left-wing enchantment with Barack Obama would hinder his cause, but he's been heartened by the progress of the "state sovereignty movement"—bills being pushed by state lawmakers who want to curb federal authority.

At this point, the state sovereignty push reeks of wishful separatist thinking. But the fact that secession is a marginal idea today doesn't mean it won't ever come to pass. How might secession transition from a fringe idea to a country-ender? In my conversations with economists, political scientists, and futurists, three broad themes came up that I found the most persuasive: economic collapse, the rise of localism, and North American reshuffling.

Peter Schiff is one of the recession's biggest winners. The Connecticut stockbroker, once a cable news piñata on account of his predictions of economic catastrophe, is now celebrated for his eerily accurate prophecies. Schiff, who has formed an exploratory committee in anticipation of a potential 2010 Senate run, believes America is going under thanks to a "phony economy" built on borrowed cash. The stimulus, he argues, will make things worse by temporarily taping over structural problems with unsustainable borrowing and spending. "After we do the wrong thing and destroy [the value of] our money, are we going to become a totalitarianist country?" Schiff asks. "Will there be a Soviet revolution or an American revolution?"

Let's say there's an American revolution—who leaves first? Once the feds "start imposing just huge taxes," Schiff says, the states that have to pay more in than they're getting back out will pull their stars off the flag. Schiff lists Texas and California as potential pull-out candidates, whereas "Florida probably wants to stay because of all the Social Security money."

If taxation doesn't cause a mass revolt, economic polarization could yank everything apart. "The Sun Belt states and the interior West are growing faster than the Midwest," says secession scholar Jason Sorens. "If they get rich enough, they might see their membership in the U.S. as burdensome if they have to support dying industries in Ohio and New York." (Sorens apparently hasn't considered the possibility that Cleveland and Buffalo will become America's oases thanks to global warming.)

A place like Texas has the means to support itself as an independent country. What it needs is an ideological spark. Northern Italy's Lega Nord could be a potential model. Rather than emphasize a linguistic or ethnic difference, the political party has espoused independence for economic reasons. In Italy's 1996 general elections, the political party won 10 percent of the vote nationwide by calling on rich, conservative northerners to go it alone in a state called Padania. In the last eight years, Lega Nord has moderated its separatist rhetoric as it's become a part of Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government. (Still, the party is regularly accused of xenophobia.)

For secession to tear the United States to pieces, somebody has to jump first. "As states leave, more states want to leave," Schiff says, "which is why the government will try to say you can't leave, or we'll invade you." The Second Vermont Republic's Thomas Naylor agrees that someone has to set a secessionist example. But Naylor doesn't believe that the U.S. would try to "enslave free Vermont." (His farcical suggestion: "They could burn all the maples and destroy all the black-and-white Holsteins.") If American troops did invade Montpelier, he says, it would destroy America's moral authority just as attempts to stamp out anti-Communist movements in the Soviet Bloc eventually undercut the USSR.


The Institute for the Future's Jamais Cascio contends that "very few national entities maintain their structural coherence for much more than a couple hundred years." In Cascio's 50-year forecast "The Long Crisis," the United States breaks into eight pieces. By 2054, the Midwestern states have invaded the Gulf and Southern Federation, with New Columbia (the Atlantic seaboard) and Pacifica (the West coast) supplying arms to the Southern insurgents.

What could precipitate such a schism? Cascio foresees a shift to localism—a focus on eating where we live, on supplying our own energy (micro-wind and micro-solar), and on fabricating our own products (and possibly weapons) with industrial-grade 3-D printers. Allen Buchanan, the author of Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce From Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec, says that (while he's not predicting this) climate change, a pandemic, or an economic collapse could lead to what he calls sauve qui peut secession—"let him save himself who can."

This idea of a reversion back to a time when no kingdom or ruler had enough power to control a large territory squares with collapsists like Dmitry Orlov and James Howard Kunstler, who argue that America will revert to pre-industrial times in the post-petroleum age. In an essay called "Thriving in the Age of Collapse," Orlov writes that a dearth of oil will force people "to stay put most of the time, perhaps making seasonal migrations, and to make use of what they have available in the immediate vicinity." Not one to dwell on the negative, the Russian writer points out that societal collapse boosts one's health and vigor: "[T]he air will be much cleaner, there will be no traffic jams, … [l]ocal culture will make a comeback, [and p]eople will get plenty of exercise walking around, carrying things, and performing manual labor."

In 1995, a referendum on Quebec independence failed by less than 1 percent of the vote. What might have happened if Quebec had broken away, and Canada were severed into Western and Eastern chunks? As in Italy, where tax receipts from the wealthy North prop up the more-destitute South, Canada's richer west side (Alberta and British Columbia) helps support the poorer Maritime provinces back east. Without Quebec keeping the country contiguous, Canada's Westerners might want to go it alone rather than export their riches.

What would happen to the U.S. upon Canada's disintegration? North America's borders have remained pretty much static for the last century. (The same can't be said for, say, Europe and Africa.) But this stability shouldn't imply that our dividing lines make sense. In 1981's Nine Nations of North America, Joel Garreau argued that the continent's borders don't reflect how we live. Garreau's nine nations map—which highlighted regions where people share common values, culture, and natural resources—wasn't intended to be predictive of a future breakup. Still, something like Canadian breaking could bring on a continental reordering. British Columbia might join Washington and Oregon to form a Pacific Northwest partnership—Ecotopia? The Republic of Cascadia?—and the Maritime provinces could flit away from Canada to become a part of Novacadia.

In the absence of logical borders, how have we stayed intact? Mostly because the Quebecois remain the continent's only serious nationalist movement—a sizable embedded minority with its own identity and its own language. One path to continental disintegration is the radicalization of America's Quebecois: Spanish-speaking immigrants. No matter what immigration laws go on the books, the U.S. will still need cheap labor, and Mexicans and Central Americans will continue to head north to pursue this country's higher wages. By 2050, by which time whites will be a minority in America, Hispanics are expected to make up 29 percent of the population.

Can we all just get along? In a lecture at the 2006 Pop!Tech conference, Juan Enriquez—the author of The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future—said it depends on how we treat Spanish speakers. If Lou Dobbs and the English-only crowd become the architects of America's foreign policy, Enriquez argues, America is in peril. "How you treat people today is going to be remembered for a long time," Enriquez says, noting that the license plates in Quebec read Je me souviens—I remember.

Charles Truxillo, a professor at the University of New Mexico, says it's too late to save the United States we know today. Truxillo believes this century will see the birth of La República del Norte, a sovereign "Mexicano nation" in what's now the American Southwest. "The U.S. ripped these areas off from Mexico in 1848," he says, and the debt has come due. Rather than fight what's inevitable, Truxillo says North America should toss out the melting pot and learn to love "autonomous sovereign zones"—a French-speaking nation for the Quebecois, a Spanish-speaking nation for the Latinos, and an English-speaking nation for the Anglophones.

It's no accident that, when you ponder both secession and climate change, the most convincing end-of-America scenarios involve Canada and Mexico. For the last 160 years, America has been the hemisphere's alpha dog. But the United States is not a closed system—we're tightly integrated with our neighbors, and the forces that might crush the U.S. will also affect them. One conspiracy theory, pushed by loony swift-boat-truther Jerome Corsi, has it that the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will soon share a common passport, currency, and military. While the propaganda about the looming North American Union is completely bogus, it's certainly true that we are not alone. Take away the artificial borders and we're all just North Americans, clinging to each other for life. If America ends, so will Canada and Mexico. And if Canada or Mexico goes down the tubes, we won't be long for this continent either.

Divided We Stand
What would California look like broken in three? Or a Republic of New England? With the federal government reaching for ever more power, redrawing the map is enticing, says Paul Starobin


Remember that classic Beatles riff of the 1960s: “You say you want a revolution?” Imagine this instead: a devolution. Picture an America that is run not, as now, by a top-heavy Washington autocracy but, in freewheeling style, by an assemblage of largely autonomous regional republics reflecting the eclectic economic and cultural character of the society.

There might be an austere Republic of New England, with a natural strength in higher education and technology; a Caribbean-flavored city-state Republic of Greater Miami, with an anchor in the Latin American economy; and maybe even a Republic of Las Vegas with unfettered license to pursue its ambitions as a global gambling, entertainment and conventioneer destination. California? America’s broke, ill-governed and way-too-big nation-like state might be saved, truly saved, not by an emergency federal bailout, but by a merciful carve-up into a trio of republics that would rely on their own ingenuity in making their connections to the wider world. And while we’re at it, let’s make this project bi-national—economic logic suggests a natural multilingual combination between Greater San Diego and Mexico’s Northern Baja, and, to the Pacific north, between Seattle and Vancouver in a megaregion already dubbed “Cascadia” by economic cartographers.

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Patrick Henry declares ‘give me liberty, or give me death’ in his 1775 speech urging the colonies to fight the British.

Devolved America is a vision faithful both to certain postindustrial realities as well as to the pluralistic heart of the American political tradition—a tradition that has been betrayed by the creeping centralization of power in Washington over the decades but may yet reassert itself as an animating spirit for the future. Consider this proposition: America of the 21st century, propelled by currents of modernity that tend to favor the little over the big, may trace a long circle back to the original small-government ideas of the American experiment. The present-day American Goliath may turn out to be a freak of a waning age of politics and economics as conducted on a super-sized scale—too large to make any rational sense in an emerging age of personal empowerment that harks back to the era of the yeoman farmer of America’s early days. The society may find blessed new life, as paradoxical as this may sound, in a return to a smaller form.

This perspective may seem especially fanciful at a time when the political tides all seem to be running in the opposite direction. In the midst of economic troubles, an aggrandizing Washington is gathering even more power in its hands. The Obama Administration, while considering replacing top executives at Citigroup, is newly appointing a “compensation czar” with powers to determine the retirement packages of executives at firms accepting federal financial bailout funds. President Obama has deemed it wise for the U.S. Treasury to take a majority ownership stake in General Motors in a last-ditch effort to revive this Industrial Age brontosaurus. Even the Supreme Court is getting in on the act: A ruling this past week awarded federal judges powers to set the standards by which judges for state courts may recuse themselves from cases.

All of this adds up to a federal power grab that might make even FDR’s New Dealers blush. But that’s just the point: Not surprisingly, a lot of folks in the land of Jefferson are taking a stand against an approach that stands to make an indebted citizenry yet more dependent on an already immense federal power. The backlash, already under way, is a prime stimulus for a neo-secessionist movement, the most extreme manifestation of a broader push for some form of devolution. In April, at an anti-tax “tea party” held in Austin, Governor Rick Perry of Texas had his speech interrupted by cries of “secede.” The Governor did not sound inclined to disagree. “Texas is a unique place,” he later told reporters attending the rally. “When we came into the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.”

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Thousands of Texans hold a ‘Tea Party’ in downtown San Antonio in April protesting federal bailouts.

Such sentiments resonate beyond the libertarian fringe. The Daily Kos, a liberal Web site, recently asked Perry’s fellow Texas Republicans, “Do you think Texas would be better off as an independent nation or as part of the United States of America? It was an even split: 48% for the U.S., 48% for a sovereign Texas, 4% not sure. Amongst all Texans, more than a third—35%—said an independent Texas would be better. The Texas Nationalist Movement claims that over 250,000 Texans have signed a form affirming the organization’s goal of a Texas nation.

Secessionist feelings also percolate in Alaska, where Todd Palin, husband of Governor Sarah Palin, was once a registered member of the Alaska Independence Party. But it is not as if the Right has a lock on this issue: Vermont, the seat of one of the most vibrant secessionist movements, is among the country’s most politically-liberal places. Vermonters are especially upset about imperial America’s foreign excursions in hazardous places like Iraq. The philosophical tie that binds these otherwise odd bedfellows is belief in the birthright of Americans to run their own affairs, free from centralized control. Their hallowed parchment is Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, on behalf of the original 13 British colonies, penned in 1776, 11 years before the framers of the Constitution gathered for their convention in Philadelphia. “The right of secession precedes the Constitution—the United States was born out of secession,” Daniel Miller, leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, put it to me. Take that, King Obama.

Today’s devolutionists, of all stripes, can trace their pedigree to the “anti-federalists” who opposed the compact that came out of Philadelphia as a bad bargain that gave too much power to the center at the expense of the limbs. Some of America’s most vigorous and learned minds were in the anti-federalist camp; their ranks included Virginia’s Patrick Henry, of “give me liberty or give me death” renown. The sainted Jefferson, who was serving as a diplomat in Paris during the convention, is these days claimed by secessionists as a kindred anti-federal spirit, even if he did go on to serve two terms as president.

The anti-federalists lost their battle, but history, in certain respects, has redeemed their vision, for they anticipated how many Americans have come to feel about their nation’s seat of federal power. “This city, and the government of it, must indubitably take their tone from the character of the men, who from the nature of its situation and institution, must collect there,” the anti-federalist pamphleteer known only as the Federal Farmer wrote. “If we expect it will have any sincere attachments to simple and frugal republicanism, to that liberty and mild government, which is dear to the laborious part of a free people, we most assuredly deceive ourselves.”

In the mid-19th century, the anti-federalist impulse took a dark turn, attaching itself to the cause of the Confederacy, which was formed by the unilateral secession of 13 southern states over the bloody issue of slavery. Lincoln had no choice but to go to war to preserve the Union—and ever since, anti-federalism, in almost any guise, has had to defend itself from the charge of being anti-modern and indeed retrograde.

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The U.S., as envisioned by some percolating secessionist movements.

But nearly a century and a half has passed since Johnny Rebel whooped for the last time. Slavery is dead, and so too is the large-scale industrial economy that the Yankees embraced as their path to victory over the South and to global prosperity. The model lasted a long time, to be sure, surviving all the way through the New Deal and the first several decades of the post-World War II era, coming a cropper at the tail end of the 1960s, just as the economist John Kenneth Galbraith was holding out “The New Industrial State,” the master-planned economy, as a seemingly permanent condition of modern life.

Not quite. In a globalized economy transformed by technological innovations hatched by happily-unguided entrepreneurs, history seems to be driving one nail after another into the coffin of the big, which is why the Obama planners and their ilk, even if they now ride high, may be doomed to fail. No one anymore expects the best ideas to come from the biggest actors in the economy, so should anyone expect the best thinking to be done by the whales of the political world?

A notable prophet for a coming age of smallness was the diplomat and historian George Kennan, a steward of the American Century with an uncanny ability to see past the seemingly-frozen geopolitical arrangements of the day. Kennan always believed that Soviet power would “run its course,” as he predicted back in 1951, just as the Cold War was getting under way, and again shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed, he suggested that a similar fate might await the United States. America has become a “monster country,” afflicted by a swollen bureaucracy and “the hubris of inordinate size,” he wrote in his 1993 book, “Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy.” Things might work better, he suggested, if the nation was “decentralized into something like a dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment.”

Kennan’s genius was to foresee that matters might take on an organic, a bottom-up, life of their own, especially in a society as dynamic and as creative as America. His spirit, the spirit of an anti-federalist modernist, can be glimpsed in an intriguing “mega-region” initiative encompassing greater San Diego County, next-door Imperial County and, to the immediate south of the U.S. border, Northern Baja, Mexico. Elected officials representing all three participating areas recently unveiled “Cali Baja, a Bi-National Mega-Region,” as the “international marketing brand” for the project.

The idea is to create a global economic powerhouse by combining San Diego’s proven abilities in scientific research and development with Imperial County’s abundance of inexpensive land and availability of water rights and Northern Baja’s manufacturing base, low labor costs and ability to supply the San Diego area with electricity during peak-use terms. Bilingualism, too, is a key—with the aim for all children on both sides of the border to be fluent in both English and Spanish. The project director is Christina Luhn, a Kansas native, historian and former staffer on the National Security Council in Ronald Reagan’s White House in the mid-1980s. Contemporary America as a unit of governance may be too big, even the perpetually-troubled state of California may be too big, she told me, by way of saying that the political and economic future may belong to the megaregions of the planet. Her conviction is that large systems tend not to endure—“they break apart, there’s chaos, and at some point, new things form,” she said.

The notion that small is better and even inevitable no doubt has some flavor of romance—even amounting to a kind of modern secular faith, girded by a raft of multi-disciplinary literature that may or may not be relevant. Luhn takes her philosophical cue not only from Kennan but also from the science writer and physicist M. Mitchell Waldrop, author of “Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.”
Associated Press

Some Vermont residents have proposed that the state secede from the U.S.
Fighting to Secede

From Texas to Hawaii, these groups are fighting to secede

American secessionist groups today range from small startups with a few laptop computers to organized movements with meetings of delegates from several states.

The Middlebury Institute, a group that studies and supports the general cause of separatism and secessionism in the U.S., has held three Secession Congresses since its founding in 2004.

At the most recent gathering, held in New Hampshire last November, one discussion focused on creating a new federation potentially to be called “Novacadia,” consisting of present-day New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. An article highlighted on the group’s Web site describes Denmark as a role-model for the potential country. In the months following the convention, the idea “did not actually evolve into very much,” says Kirkpatrick Sale, the institute’s director.

Below the Mason-Dixon Line, groups like the League of the South and Southern National Congress hold meetings of delegates. They discuss secession as a way of accomplishing goals like protecting the right to bear arms and tighter immigration policies. The Texas Nationalist Movement claims that over 250,000 Texans have signed a form affirming the organization’s goal of a Texas nation.

A religious group, Christian Exodus, formed in 2003 with the purpose of transforming what is today South Carolina into a sovereign, Christian-run state. According to a statement on its Web site, the group still supports the idea, but has learned that “the chains of our slavery and dependence on Godless government have more of a hold on us than can be broken by simply moving to another state.”

On the West Coast, elected officials representing greater San Diego County, Imperial County and Northern Baja, Mexico, have proposed creating a “mega-region” of the three areas called “Cali Baja, a Bi-National Mega-Region.”

Hawaii is home to numerous groups that work toward the goal of sovereignty, including Nation of Hawaii. The group argues that native Hawaiians were colonized and forced into statehood against their will and without fair process, and therefore have the right to decide how to govern themselves today. In Alaska, the Alaska Independence Party advocates for the state’s independence.

There is also a Web site for a group called North Star Republic, with a mission to establish a socialist republic in what today is Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

A group of American Indians led by activist Russell Means is working to establish the Republic of Lakotah, which would cover parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. In 2007, the Republic presented the U.S. State Department with a notice of withdrawal.

Even for the hard-edged secessionist crowd, with their rapt attentiveness to America’s roots, popular texts in the future-trend genre mingle in their minds with the yellowed scrolls of the anti-federalists. “The cornerstone of my thought,” Daniel Miller of the Texas Nationalist Movement told me, is John Naisbitt’s 1995 best seller, “Global Paradox,” which celebrates the entrepreneurial ethos in positing that “the bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players.”

More convincingly, the proposition that small trumps big is passing tests in real-life political and economic laboratories. For example, the U.S. ranked eighth in a survey of global innovation leadership released in March by the Boston Consulting Group and the National Association of Manufacturers—with the top rankings dominated by small countries led by the city-state republic of Singapore. The Thunderbird School of Global Management, based in Arizona, has called Singapore “the most future-oriented country in the world.” Historians can point to the spectacularly inventive city-states of Renaissance Italy as an example of the small truly making the beautiful.

How, though, to get from big to small? Secessionists like Texas’ Miller pledge a commitment to peaceful methods. History suggests skepticism on this score: Even the American republic was born in a violent revolution. These days, the Russian professor Igor Panarin, a former KGB analyst, has snagged publicity with his dystopian prediction of civil strife in a dismembered America whose jagged parts fall prey to foreign powers including Canada, Mexico and, in the case of Alaska, Russia, naturally.

Still, the precedent for any breakup of today’s America is not necessarily the one set by the musket-bearing colonists’ demanded departure from the British crown in the late 18th century or by the crisis-ridden dissolution of the U.S.S.R. at the end of the 20th century. Every empire, every too-big thing, fragments or shrinks according to its own unique character and to the age of history to which it belongs.

The most hopeful prospect for the USA, should the decentralization impulse prove irresistible, is for Americans to draw on their natural inventiveness and democratic tradition by patenting a formula for getting the job done in a gradual and cooperative way. In so doing, geopolitical history, and perhaps even a path for others, might be made, for the problem of bigness vexes political leviathans everywhere. In India, with its 1.2 billion people, there is an active discussion of whether things might work better if the nation-state was chopped up into 10 or so large city-states with broad writs of autonomy from New Delhi. Devolution may likewise be the future for the European continent—think Catalonia—and for the British Isles. Scotland, a leading source of Enlightenment ideas for America’s founding fathers, now has its own flourishing independence movement. Even China, held together by an aging autocracy, may not be able to resist the drift towards the smaller.

So why not America as the global leader of a devolution? America’s return to its origins—to its type—could turn out to be an act of creative political destruction, with “we the people” the better for it.

—Paul Starobin is the author of After America: Narratives for the Next Global Age, recently published by Viking, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

#19 Long Live Secession

By Christopher Ketcham

Jan. 20, 2005 | The idea of an American right of secession -- a state's right to abandon the union -- today invites a veritable cyclone of scorn and bafflement. Secessionism, you will be told, is immoral, treasonous, seditious, the failed machination of slave-holding Southerners whose nutty dream died in the judgment of 1865. "What insanity it is to reopen this issue," says Pauline Maier, professor of American history at MIT.

What you will not hear is that secessionism is as old as the states themselves, that it was not always a reviled idea, that it cleaves to the heart of a celebrated but perhaps outmoded American principle -- the rebellion against centralized power -- and that it is a founding American act enshrined in our most revolutionary document. "[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive," counsels the Declaration of Independence, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government."

Although secessionism today is politically impossible, if tenuously legal, the secession specter has arisen again, waking to the Declaration's call to self-governance. In 2005, it is the blue-state Northerners, bitter from the defeat of Nov. 2, who are, ironically, wearing its robes.

If their plaints have an epicenter, it is in Charlotte, Vt., in the wood-frame house of Thomas Naylor, professor emeritus, agitator, author, Rage Against the Machine fan, and founder and chair of the "Second Vermont Republic." Naylor seeks the rebirth of Vermont as the independent nation it was between 1777 and 1791. White-haired, jowly and soft-spoken, Naylor describes his little band of "rebels" (the Second Vermont Republic boasts 125 card-carrying members) as "a peaceful, democratic, libertarian, grassroots movement opposed to the tyranny of the United States," which has become "too big, too centralized, too intrusive, too militarized, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities."

Like the original red-state secessionists, it is to the founding documents -- the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States -- that Naylor turns to buttress his belief in the morality and legality of secession. "We are enmeshed in a global system of conquest and destruction in which Corporate America and the United States government manipulate and control the lives of millions of ostensibly free individuals," he writes in his "Vermont Manifesto," published in 2003. "How many Americans are prepared to die to make the world safe for McDonald's, Wal-Mart, 747s, gas-guzzling SUVs, the Internet, Bill Gates, and the rest of the Forbes 400 richest Americans?"

Naylor comes to his radicalism by a not uncommon boomerang of contrary experience. He grew up in the 1940s in Jackson, Miss., one-time hotbed secessionist slave state, but hated the states'-righters who lamented the "war of Southern independence." Naylor kicked his way out of Jackson and went on to found a software company that sold $50,000-a-pop programs to Fortune 500 companies. After he sold the enterprise in 1980, he claims to have never again touched a computer.

For 30 years, Naylor was a professor of economics at Duke University, where he became best known as the co-creator of a freshman course on the giant topic of the "meaning of life" and as the coauthor of the subversive, anti-consumerist book "Affluenza." He also worked as a management consultant to corporations and governments worldwide -- including, fatefully, the Soviet Union, in whose peaceful collapse Naylor happens to see the future of the United States of America.

If the dark comparison holds -- the United States, according to Naylor, enjoys a similar far-flung geography, a one-party political system disguised in multiparty rhetoric, a corporate socialism that defies free markets, and a congressional incumbency as stable as the Politburo -- then Vermont is the antidote. By this, Naylor means the Vermont of small towns, small farms, small businesses, local governance, grassroots democracy, green activism: Vermont as the gentle Switzerland of North America (but armed to the teeth, as Vermonters enjoy hunting in the woods).

The push for the Second Vermont Republic is no anomaly. Today there are secession movements afoot in Hawaii and Alaska, both complaining, with some validity, that fraud and coercion forced their entrance into the union. In New York, activist and author Jason Flores-Williams, lately best known for his disruptions at the Republican National Convention, plans a New York City secession movement "as much Andy Warhol as it is Tom Paine," he says, predicting his "secession parties" will become "the most happening cultural events in NYC, events that echo up and down the hierarchy."

Flores-Williams might consider contacting the people at Republic of Atlantica, which imagines a seaboard megalopolis nation stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C. Three thousand miles to the west, the Republic of Cascadia seeks to comprise Oregon, Washington and British Columbia as the country "whose software is on 97 percent of the world's computers." The group's Web site warns, "For too long have our people put up with indifference and condescendence from distant seats of power."

Most recently, on Nov. 15, a former evangelical minister from California named Jeff Morrissette announced the founding of the Committee to Explore California Secession, or Move On California. California as a nation, Morrissette notes, would be the world's fifth-largest economy -- larger than those of China, France, Italy and Canada. Among Morrissette's "train of abuses" is the brazen piracy of the California energy crisis in 2000 and 2001, which resulted in $9 billion in overcharges to consumers -- "economic sabotage," as Morrissette describes it, engineered by Enron and other energy traders close to the Bush administration.

"I'm not sure that secession is legal or constitutional," Morrissette says. "But I would certainly draw an analogy to the colonists and King George. The colonists didn't ask. They simply declared it done." He adds: "The legality and constitutionality are really a moot point. New nations are born by a declaration of independence."

The Constitution is silent on the matter of secession -- neither denying nor authorizing -- and up until the Civil War, the silence was the object of tortured interpretation. It was axiomatic among many antebellum constitutional scholars, both North and South, that if the states were once sovereign entities that had acceded to joining the union, then they implicitly retained the right to rescind the treaty and withdraw. In essence, it was argued, the Constitution's silence implied consent to the right of secession.

The 10th Amendment appears to back this argument. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States," the amendment reads, "are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." In other words, states are delegated powers, not sovereignty. Sovereignty remained with the people of the state.

Antebellum thinking was typified by Alexis de Tocqueville's assessment in "Democracy in America." "In uniting together, [the states] have not forfeited their nationality; nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people," Tocqueville observed in 1835. "If one of the states choose to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly by force or right."

Secession was taught at West Point to young cadets like Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant. Petulant states in the formative years of the republic habitually threatened it, with Yankees, and abolitionists especially, showing an early fondness for cutting loose from a union that increasingly catered to Southern slaveholder interests. In 1804, lawmakers in New England and New York plotted a failed secession movement, and eight years later, during the War of 1812, the threat to New England's trade with English Canada was enough to prompt a second and wider Northeastern cry for departure, resulting in the official complaint of the Hartford Convention of 1815.

So it was that on the eve of the Civil War, in the spring of 1861, secession as a basic American principle inspired dozens of Northern newspapers to editorialize on behalf of the Southern independence movement. New York City's newsmen were particularly noisy in their support. "If the cotton States decide they can do better out of the Union," said the New York Tribune, organ of abolitionist publisher Horace Greeley, "we insist on letting them go in peace. The right to secede may be a revolutionary right, but it exists nevertheless." The New York Herald offered: "Each State is organized as a complete government, possessing the right to break the tie of the Confederation. Coercion, if it were possible, is out of the question." The day after Jefferson Davis was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, the Detroit Free Press warned: "An attempt to subjugate the seceded States, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil -- evil unmitigated in character, and appalling in extent."

The counterpoint -- however unpopular in the press and on the street -- had the benefit of being espoused rather eloquently by the newly elected president. In his 1861 inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln distilled the anti-secession argument to its essence. He claimed that no American state had the right to secede because (among other reasons) "no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination." Somewhere out there, beyond the letter of the law, Lincoln said, the "organic law" of the government provides for the "Union" as an infinite entity, "indestructible" and "perpetual."

In fact, a "perpetual union" established in 1781 under the Articles of Confederation, grandfather to the Constitution, was indeed rendered, in the words of the Constitution's preamble, "more perfect" in the abiding document that was ratified by nine of the 13 states in 1791. "Perpetual union" was dropped from the Constitution's final language because the sovereign states refused to accept the concept -- in the written contract, anyway -- of an indissoluble bond under the new government. But the real significance of "more perfect union" is hardly clear: What exactly did the founders mean by "perfection"?

"How do we know," asks Columbia law professor Michael Dorf, writing in FindLaw, "that the 'perfection' of the Union required stronger rather than weaker bonds?" "A 'more perfect Union' between states presumably means they will be more perfectly joined," says Daniel Farber, a professor of law at UC-Berkeley and the author of "Lincoln's Constitution." However, Farber admits that the question of the legality of secession of 1861 is likely unanswerable, again, because of the silence of the founding document. "My conclusion is that, on balance, the anti-secessionist argument is stronger," he says. "But since the original Constitution doesn't expressly speak to the subject, it's impossible to prove this conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt."

If current scholarship can't answer the question, then we might look to the telling record of the rump Congress of 1861 in its legislation following the secession fever that spring. On March 2, after seven states had already seceded, an amendment was proposed to outlaw their departure. Today, Pepperdine University law professor H. Newcomb Morse asks the obvious question: "Why would Congress have even considered [Constitutional] amendments forbidding or restricting the right to withdraw from the Union if any such right was already [prohibited] under the Constitution?"

Adding to doubts about Lincoln's logic was his odd use of the marriage metaphor in explaining the concept of the union. He blasted the kind of marriage that the South had in mind: "The Union, as a family relation," Lincoln averred, "would not be anything like a regular marriage at all, but only as a sort of free love arrangement -- to be maintained on what that sect calls passionate attraction."

Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor and constitutional scholar, takes exception to this line, for the argument can be made that free love among the states is exactly what the founders envisioned. "Lincoln's view of secession seems clearly wrong," Levinson wrote in a FindLaw column in 2003. "After all, few of us today support a view of marriage that demands its maintenance whatever the degree of unhappiness (or worse) it brings to one of the parties." Levinson upends Lincoln's metaphor, noting that "every marriage 'constitution' [has] a de facto secession provision. And for good reason: One suspects that many people would hesitate to get married if divorce were legally impossible."

In the 1780s, the sovereign American states were indeed hesitant, enough so that three of them -- Virginia, New York and Rhode Island -- wrote escape clauses into their state ratification documents inexplicitly preserving the right to secede. North Carolina and Rhode Island at first refused to join the union, during which time the nascent nationalist government regarded them as foreign sovereigns.

As Levinson argues, the respectful treatment given North Carolina and Rhode Island "indicates that all the states were in an important sense sovereign when they entered into the Constitution."

By dint of his iconic stature and the kindness of historians (and his assassination, which rendered Lincoln tragic), Lincoln's claims of the illegality of Southern secession come to us pure, unalloyed and unassailable across the judgment of the ages. But Lincoln was not the moral paladin that the hagiographic textbooks portray him to be.

We might take a moment to consider the maverick history -- some call it the real history, others denounce it as a blasphemic, spiteful revision -- that places Lincoln as the first of the imperial presidents, an opportunist who in service of a vast expansion of federal power twisted the law in the name of what neoconservatives (who happen to be Lincoln lovers all) call moral clarity.

Loyola College professor of economics Thomas DiLorenzo, in his recent book "The Real Lincoln," argues -- and is much attacked for it -- that Lincoln's "moral clarity" was entirely fiscal. Lincoln as the inheritor of the Whig/Hamiltonian principles of centralized government, writes DiLorenzo, fought the war of 1861-65 not to abolish slavery or gestate "a new birth of freedom" but to erect high protective tariffs that would promote Northern industry (industry that bankrolled the Republican Party), while government would offer subsidies to companies building canals and railroads. Lincoln presided, says DiLorenzo, over the bloody birth of the American corporate-welfare imperium.

While DiLorenzo has his objectors, it's clear from Lincoln's own words that the blood of the Civil War was not shed, as popular convention would have it, in service of destroying slavery (which likely would have died a natural death from economic, technological and mass immigrant pressures). Lincoln in the summer of 1862 told Horace Greeley, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it ... What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."

Notably, the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation arrived just two weeks before that year's gubernatorial elections, which lends weight to the suggestion that freeing the slaves was a political maneuver; after all, politicians do not make earth-shattering decisions on a whim two weeks before an election. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves where they were already free, in the North, and freed them where it had no jurisdiction, in the Confederacy. It also had the effect of stirring up violent opposition to three Republican governors who were expected to challenge Lincoln in 1864. The governors were toppled from office by an electorate driven as much by racism as disgust at what appeared to be a dictatorial fiat.

And if saving the union was Lincoln's sole purpose, then breaking the law appeared to be his method. One wonders what kind of union he hoped in the end to save. As DiLorenzo notes, Lincoln was the first and only president to suspend habeas corpus. He shut down hundreds of newspapers that preached peace or criticized his administration, arrested thousands of political dissenters en masse, censored telegraph communications, used federal troops to intervene in elections, even deported a congressional opponent. Church ministers too felt his heavy hand: They were threatened with imprisonment if they failed to include at the beginning of each service a prayer for Lincoln and the preservation of the union.

According to Edward S. Corwin, writing in 1947 in his book "Total War and the Constitution," Lincoln probably "invented" the war-powers doctrine that has since provided such convenient legal cover for militarist ventures issuing from the White House. Oddly appropriate, then, that George W. Bush, announcing "victory" in his war, should have landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Following the attacks of Sept. 11, some news outlets, notably the New York Times, went so far, not incorrectly perhaps, as to dub Bush "Lincolnesque."

Which brings us back to zealous Thomas Naylor and the modern-day secessionists. Unfortunately, they face a Supreme Court decision barring the path to disunion -- the 1868 case of Texas vs. White, in which Lincoln's ex-treasurer and court appointee Salmon P. Chase, who wrote the legislation that financed the Civil War, issued the judicial coup de grâce to secession. Chase's justification in the highest court was fundamentally the same as Lincoln's on the brink of war, and almost identical in language. Chase said that despite Texas' having been an independent republic before joining the union in 1845, it had no right to secede. "The Constitution," Chase wrote, "in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States."

Some scholars question Chase's objectivity, given that he was a war appointee and the war's public financier. "There must have been an overwhelming fatefulness in Chase's mind," writes John Remington Graham, the author of "Constitutional History of Secession," and an amicus lawyer in the failed Quebec secession movement in Canada during the 1990s. "The country [had] suffered a million casualties in combat, and had probably lost another four hundred thousand from starvation. This enormous conflict had cost something like three-fourths of the assessed value of all taxable property in the United States in 1860, and had multiplied the national debt fifty-three times in only four years." Under the circumstances, Graham claims, "[Chase] could not write the truth, so he wrote something else."

The secession issue, however, was collateral to the issue at law in Texas vs. White, which at bottom concerned the legitimacy of state bond sales during the secessionist period of 1861-65. The secession question would have been directly considered in providing Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, a fair and speedy trial to answer the treason charge leveled in federal court following his arrest in May 1865. (It was a treason, wrote Harper's Weekly, "so towering, so sanguinary, so causeless" that the magazine, and many others, called for Davis' death.)

But Davis was not tried. He was held for two years in prison and then released in 1867 on a $100,000 bond -- paid for, in part, by none other than abolitionist Horace Greeley. Today, Davis apologists -- he was the first "president," they say, to appoint a Jew to his cabinet, and the only one to adopt a black child -- assert that he was never tried because federal prosecutors feared losing the case.

In any case, Texas vs. White, as penned by Salmon Chase, serves as established law. However, Columbia law professor Dorf suggests that a loophole exists in the Chase decision: Texas vs. White may have made unilateral secession illegal but the door remains open to secession "through consent of the states," as Chase wrote -- what Dorf calls secession by mutual agreement.

Although the Constitution provides no method on how to effect this friendly goodbye, Dorf suggests the process of constitutional amendment, meaning a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures, which ensures that a majority of the federalized states agrees to the departure of the seceding state. Whether this is doable depends on the graces of polities and politicians who fully realize that if one state goes, all could go -- and the United States would then be well on its way to collapse. And, clearly, it's not doable.

"Secession is not possible today without violence," exclaims MIT's Maier, the author of the acclaimed "American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence." "To assume something different is mad. It's to follow the example of the Southern secessionists who thought that they could just leave the union peacefully -- and, nuttier still, get a part of the unsettled territory as a parting gift. It's almost as crazy as the idea that once you topple a dictator, democracy happens, much as weeds appear on a plowed field. Isn't it time that Americans began learning something from history? Or must we again bleed ourselves into wisdom?"

Naylor is undeterred. He offers that no state is more historically prepared for going it alone than Vermont, which he calls "the most radical state in the Union" in terms of town meetings and direct democracy. Vermont, Naylor says, was the first state to outlaw slavery in its constitution of 1777, the first to mandate "universal manhood suffrage," and is currently one of only two states that allows incarcerated felons to vote. It has no death penalty and virtually no gun-control laws, yet remains one of the least violent jurisdictions in America. It has no military bases, no strategic resources, few military contractors. All three members of its congressional delegation voted against the Iraq war resolution.

Vermont is rural and wild, with the highest percentage of unpaved roads in the nation, the highest percentage of residents living in the countryside; it was the first state to ban billboards alongside highways. It is rebellious: It fathered Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys and 200 years later elected Howard Dean. With its vigorous environmental-impact laws, Vermont fended off the depredations of Wal-Mart superstores longer than any other state; Montpelier is the only state capital in America without a McDonald's restaurant. Following mock secession debates in seven Vermont towns in 1990, all seven voted for secession.

As it happens, Naylor in his fringe venture has found a rare advocate in the figure of George F. Kennan, the venerated former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and architect of Cold War containment, who envisioned in disenchanted old age just such a dismembering of the United States as Naylor espouses. Kennan as early as 1993 observed that the country might be broken into nine republics whose boundaries serendipitously align with the likes of Atlantica, Cascadia, and the free republics of Alaska and Vermont. "There is a real question," Kennan observed, "as to whether bigness in a body politic is not an evil in itself."

When Naylor wrote Kennan outlining a map of New England that united Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, Kennan responded with a thunderous letter dictated from his sick bed: "I write to say that in the idea of the three American states' ultimate independence, whether separately or in union, I see nothing fanciful ... I see no other means of ultimate preservation of cultural and societal values that will not only be endangered but eventually destroyed by an endlessly prolonged association [with] the remainder of what is now the U.S.A."

And should the "remainder" refuse Vermont's peaceable request to separate -- and the nation will -- what could Vermont do in answer?

Naylor is a pacifist and will not take up arms, though he admits that Vermont, with its mountains and forests, and high gun ownership among an historically contrarian people, is ideal ground for a guerrilla insurgency. "This is a call for nonviolent revolt against the world's global superpower by 608,000 people," he says. "What will the superpower do? Will it burn off the sugar maple trees? Will it destroy all the black-and-white Holstein cows? Just imagine trying to enslave independent-minded Vermonters."

Looks like one more possible act of secession on the horizon: Is Secession a Good Idea?.

Quote:Is Secession a Good Idea?

October 17, 2012 by Dan Mitchell

I’m not talking about secession in the United States, where the issue is linked to the ugliness of slavery (though at least Walter Williams can write about the issue without the risk of being accused of closet racism).

But what about Europe? I have a hard time understanding why nations on the other side of the Atlantic should not be allowed to split up if there are fundamental differences between regions. Who can be against the concept of self-determination?

Heck, tiny Liechtenstein explicitly gives villages the right to secede if two-thirds of voters agree. Shouldn’t people in other nations have the same freedom?

This is not just a hypothetical issue. Secession has become hot in several countries, with Catalonia threatening to leave Spain and Scotland threatening to leave the United Kingdom.

But because of recent election results, Belgium may be the country where an internal divorce is most likely. Here are some excerpts from a report in the UK-based Financial Times.
Quote:Flemish nationalists made sweeping gains across northern Belgium in local elections on Sunday, a success that will bolster separatists’ hopes for a break-up of the country. Bart De Wever, leader of the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), is set to become mayor of the northern city of Antwerp, Belgium’s economic heartland, after his party emerged as the largest one, ending about 90 years of socialist rule. …The strong result recorded by the Flemish nationalist is likely to have an impact across Europe, where the sovereign debt crisis, which has seen rich countries bail out poor ones, has revived separatist sentiment throughout the continent. Flanders, which is the most economically prosperous region of Belgium, has long resented financing the ailing economy of French-speaking Wallonia, and Sunday’s victory will strengthen its demand for self-rule. Lieven De Winter, a political scientist at Université Catholique de Louvain, said that Mr De Wever’s victory was a clear step forward for separatists who had long been campaigning for secession from the southern part of the country.

Purely as a matter of political drama, this is an interesting development. We saw the peaceful split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia about 20 years ago. But we also saw a very painful breakup of Yugoslavia shortly thereafter.

Belgium’s divorce, if it happened, would be tranquil. But it would still be remarkable, particularly since it might encourage peaceful separatist movements in other regions of other nations.

[Image: belgium.gif]

I think this would be a welcome development for reasons I wrote about last month. Simply stated, the cause of liberty is best advanced by having a a large number of competing jurisdictions.

I’ve opined about this issue many times, usually from a fiscal policy perspective, explaining that governments are less likely to be oppressive when they know that people (or their money) can cross national borders.

Belgium definitely could use a big dose of economic liberalization. The burden of government spending is enormous, consuming 53.5 percent of economic output – worse than all other European nations besides Denmark, France, and Finland. The top tax rate on personal income is a crippling 53.7 percent, second only the Sweden. And with a 34 percent rate, the corporate tax rate is very uncompetitive, behind only France.

Sadly, there’s little chance of reform under the status quo since the people in Wallonia view high tax rates as a tool for extracting money from their neighbors in Flanders. But if Belgium split up, it’s quite likely that both new nations would adopt better policy as a signal to international investors and entrepreneurs. Or maybe the new nations would implement better policy as part of a friendly rivalry with each other.

So three cheers for peaceful secession and divorce in Belgium. At least we know things can’t get worse.

P.S. Brussels is the capital of Belgium, but it is also the capital of the European Union. Don’t be surprised if it becomes some sort of independent federal city if Flanders and Wallonia become independent. Sort of like Washington, but worse. Why worse? Because even though Washington is akin to a city of parasites feasting off the productive energy of the rest of America, Brussels and the European Union are an even more odious cesspool of harmonization, bureaucratization, and centralization, richly deserving of attacks from right, left, and center.

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