When Texas Gov. Rick Perry said last month that his state had the right to secede from the United States, liberals scoffed, laughing at the mere suggestion.
When polls showed that one third of Texans believed in the right of secession, one liberal blogger said it was further proof of “just how whacked out Republicans are becoming during these days of their political exile.” When various states introduced sovereignty resolutions, including South Carolina and Oklahoma, liberals considered it childish posturing; the Charleston City Paper‘s Greg Hambrick wrote, S.C.’s legislature was just “stomping their feet in dissatisfaction” with the Obama administration.
For many, the question of American secession was settled once-and-for-all by Abraham Lincoln’s military victory against the South. Not so, writes Kirkpatrick Sale, author and director of the Mulberry Institute, a pro-secession think tank: “Of course, it is true that the particular secession of 1861-65 did not succeed, but that didn’t make it illegal or even unwise. It made it a failure, that’s all. The victory by a superior military might is not the same thing as the creation of a superior constitutional right.”
Sale raises a good point. If the Founding Fathers had lost the American Revolution to Great Britain, would the colonial’s quest to secede from England have been decided forever, all because of a military loss? The idea that the U.S. could still be an outpost of the British Empire is one that many today would find as laughable as some find secession.
Consider the secessionist movements around the world the U.S. has supported in just the last few decades. When the Soviet Union collapsed, and its 15 satellite nations declared their independence, America cheered. Our military intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s found the U.S. on the side of the Albanian secessionists. On the American Left, support for Tibet’s secession from China remains a popular cause célèbre.
But these are secessionist movements elsewhere. Isn’t it unpatriotic to want to break up the United States? The author of our most famous secessionist document — the Declaration of Independence — didn’t think so. After all, it was Thomas Jefferson who said at his first presidential address, “If there be any among us who wish to dissolve the Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed.” And it was Jefferson who joined with James Madison to pen the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which said, “where powers were assumed by the national government which had not been granted by the states, nullification is the rightful remedy,” foreshadowing John C. Calhoun.
So often associated with slavery and racism, the first post-revolution American secessionist movement was the Hartford Convention of 1814, in which many New Englanders no longer wished to be associated with Southern and Western slave states. Wrote Massachusetts secessionist leader Timothy Pickering, a former chief of staff for President George Washington: “The people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West … The Eastern states must and will dissolve the Union and form a separate government.”
Abraham Lincoln, the man who so many believe settled the secession question forever, was once a far more radical proponent of secession than any Republican today. Lincoln once believed secession was a permanent and inalienable right, or as he said on the House floor in 1848, “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better … Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so much of the territory as they inhabit.”
And Gov. Perry was laughed at simply for saying he believed a state had the constitutional right to secede.
But what does any of this have to do with the modern United States? Isn’t secession crazy? Perhaps. But no more crazy than nationalizing American banks, the auto industry, newspapers, and other private enterprise. Secession is no more crazy than spending trillions of dollars on wars that don’t make sense and to stimulate an economy that already suffers from excessive spending, saddling future generations with unthinkable debt. Liberals never consider the radical expansion of government crazy, but responsible, per Obama’s current example. But any suggestions to radically decentralize or reduce government, perhaps even by chopping it up into more manageable portions, is considered either impossible, immature, or unpatriotic.
American secession is no more crazy than American socialism. But the longer secession is laughed at and socialism is applauded, the more likely the chance the tradition with the deepest American roots will once again bear fruit.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.