November 09, 2005

I agree with Paul Smith

... that individual states do indeed have a right to secede from our Union. It is one of the basic tenets of the founding of the United States. The Declaration of Independence states

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

One of America's icons, Abraham Lincoln, was adamantly opposed to this portion of the Declaration, however. As Paul notes on his blog:
Lincoln felt secession was based on an erroneous claim about the nation's founding. In the secession view, expounded by South Carolina Sen. John Calhoun in the 1840s and echoed by SVR's Naylor today, the Union was a voluntary compact among sovereign states, which can be broken.

"The other view is no, the Constitution is not a pact among states; it is a contract among all people in the nation - it's an irreversible commitment," says Stephen Presser, a legal historian at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Since Lincoln and the North were victorious in the conflict that essentially decided this question once and for all (for Jason: this means the Civil War), the question has all but become irrelevant. Still, the idea remains. Thomas DiLorenzo, in his book The Real Lincoln, brings to the fore Abe's view that the states -- once they agreed to ratify the US Constitution -- were bound to the Union in perpetuity. Obviously, Abe proved this "correct" not via debate and negotiation, but via military force and suspension of the Constitution itself. In my view, Lincoln's opinion of secession would shock the Founders who, based on their Declaration of Independence, clearly believed the contrary.

In addition, Jefferson and Madison, in their respective "Kentucky and Virginia Resolves," proposed that America was a Union of States (my emphasis):
... the Resolves were not merely protests against despotic legislation, but protests against an interpretation of the Constitution that would lead to a centralized government like the one the colonists had just seceded from.

The Kentucky Resolve averred that the states were not "united on the principles of unlimited submission to their General Government" insofar as they had only delegated definite powers. Thus, "whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force."

Madison in the Virginia Resolve emphasized that the national government's powers were "limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact." And that in case of "deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers," the states were duty bound "to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil."

A significant stpulation, however, was that
Madison did not see interposition as a remedy for any disagreement with the central government --only for dangerous violations of the Constitution.

I suppose the constitutional issues that triggered the Civil War can debated as "dangerous violations." Or not.


Historians who have not ignored the Resolves have vilified them as contrary to the command of the Constitution; the logic of the Resolves, they say, points directly toward secession. But those who heap abuse on the Resolves disregard the principles behind the federal union. The Americans who seceded from Great Britain valued the right of a people to govern themselves.

For example, when Virginia ratified the Constitution it made clear that if the national government attempted to aggrandize itself, the delegated powers could be "resumed." Rhode Island also unequivocally stated that "the powers of government may be resumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness." (Sounds just like the Declaration!)

Clearly, the only way the delegated powers can be resumed is through secession. Thus, rather than purveying an alien doctrine, the Resolves simply affirmed what most took for granted-viz, the right of the people of a state to withdraw from the union.

I don't believe secession would ever rear its head again in the United States, and if it did, the invocation of the "Lincoln Doctrine" would quell said secession. But San Francisco may be attempting a bit of secession right now:
The passage of "Measure I," dubbed "College not Combat" would seem to say that it has. Apparently, by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, the voters of San Francisco have called for military recruiters to stay out of public high schools and colleges.

Here's a statement of the "College not Combat" principles. Yawn.

The measure, though non-binding (can't risk those federal $$ now, can we?), "encourages city officials and university administrators to exclude recruiters and create scholarships and training programs that would reduce the military's appeal to young adults."

Well gee, let's see -- if such "encouragement" leads to outright exclusion of military recruiters, I say let the federal funds dry up immediately.

Posted by Hube at November 9, 2005 03:59 PM | TrackBack

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Reeling from the election and seeing the dream of the 1,000 year Republican majority head for the door, wingnuts turn their thoughts to....

...the legitimacy of succession.

I'm laughing inside, where it counts.

Posted by: Jason at November 9, 2005 04:18 PM

There's a headline you don't see everyday. Stunned the hell out of me. Just for the record, that second pullquote was not me, but a quote from the original article that prompted my musings.

Jason, step back from your hatred and anger long enough to actually read: the original article came out Monday, and I blogged before the election results came out. Remember the words of a truly wise person: "Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice."

Posted by: Paul Smith at November 9, 2005 04:25 PM

"From Hawaii to South Carolina, dozens of groups across America are promoting a similar cause."

We call these groups, crackpots. They have always been with us, but on the day the Republicans get trounced, the legitimacy of succession becomes the hot topic in the DE-wingnutosphere.

Yep, Probably just a coincidence.

Posted by: Jason at November 9, 2005 04:43 PM

Hey Jas, er, uh, Russo -- do you ever read? Here it is again, for the ADHD crowd:

I don't believe secession would ever rear its head again in the United States, and if it did, the invocation of the "Lincoln Doctrine" would quell said secession.

The whole point of the post is to point out that secession (note the spelling, you dope) was considered a quite legitimate measure against an ever-increasingly powerful national government.

Continue to comment with inane irrelevancies. They will not last.

Posted by: Hube at November 9, 2005 05:02 PM

Paul: thanks for noting that. I should have been more clear.

Posted by: Hube at November 9, 2005 05:02 PM

I'd have to agree with you, Hube, about the nature of the the balance of state/federal power under the US Constitution as written and the Lincoln Doctrine.

Abe, however, was no great respecter of that document, and he pretty well drove a stake through its heart in 1861 when he began his unjust War for Cotton against the Confederate States of America, which not only did not pose a threat to the United States but which also had no WMDs and was not seeking to acquire them...

Seriously, though, Abe could point to a document that bound some of the states to perpetual Union. Unfortunately for him, that document is the Articles of Confederation, which was repudiated in a manner contrary to its own binding provisions when the 1787 document was adopted. In such an event, though, Lincoln's entire presidency (and that of every president since George Washington) would be illegitimate, and he should rightly be considered nothing more than a freebooter and a terrorist who used his followers to subjugate the several state, and not a legitimate head of state.

I wonder what part of the notion of "reserved powers" Lincoln did not understand.

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at November 9, 2005 08:14 PM

Oh, and by the way -- has Jason always been such a putz?

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at November 9, 2005 08:15 PM

You do know that Vermont threatens to secede every year and cut us off from our steady supply of Ben & Jerry's, right? It's become part of their yearly state business.

Posted by: Bronwen at November 10, 2005 08:05 AM

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