I have no illusions about this latest secession petition phenomenon. Nothing will directly come of this, and the people who are behind it are mostly people who would be singing “God Bless America” at the tops of their lungs had Mitt Romney been elected. On the other hand, it sure has a lot of people talking about secession, which shows that the idea of it remains an important part of the American political consciousness.
But, in response, most of the comments coming from political hacks display a deep, deep ignorance of the history of secession and the Constitutional realities behind it.
In response, I thought I’d list some retorts to the basic myths which most of the anti-secession screeds are intent on perpetuating.
1. The Constitution does not prohibit secession. The legal argument boils down to this: 1. The Constitution does not mention secession. In any way. 2. The Tenth Amendment says: “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.” Now I don’t have a Ph.D. in logic, but even I can figure out that if something is not mentioned, then, according to the 10th Amendment, it isn’t prohibited to the states. In fact, it is the opposite of prohibited. Now I know that the Supreme Court says no secession allowed, which means the federal government has declared that you can’t escape the federal government. Gee, that’s no shocker. So, sure, if you believe that the federal government should be the last word on what the federal government can and cannot do, then that’s fine. Just don’t pretend that we have constitutional government. If the federal government gets to decide what the Constitution says, then the Constitution is nothing more than a suggestion box for the feds.
2. The Civil War did not “settle” the issue. Well, it settled the issue in the way that I settled the matter of ownership of that Steve Garvey baseball card when I beat up that other kid and took it. (OK, that never happened, but you get my point.) Secession was never settled beyond the federal government’s assertion that it has the right to kill people who try to exercise their rights protected by the Tenth Amendment.
3. Secession is treason/unAmerican/craaaazy/for slavers only. Prior to the confederacy, there were some slaveowners who got together and seceded from their government. They were called Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. If you’re opposed to the secession of 1776, then that’s fine, you might be consistent on this issue, but if you’re one of these right-wing pundits who thinks the Declaration of Independence should be read aloud every July 4, and then says that secession is nutso, you might try actually reading that document you profess to love.
The Declaration makes a simple argument:
1. Humans have rights from the Creator
2. Governments exist to secure those rights (a debatable assertion but we’ll roll with it.)
3. When the government fails to secure those rights, we can ditch it and start our own government.
That’s pretty much all it says. If you thought that was true in 1776, when tax rates were 1% and there was no such thing as a the EPA or the FBI or the IRS, why is it not true now? Because we’re so much more free now? And, no, the Declaration did not say that the government is free to violate rights as long as people get to vote on it.
The Declaration establishes that there’s no such thing as treason, and a free government requires the assumption of just secession. Lysander Spooner explains (in No Treason #1):
Thus the whole Revolution [of 1775–1783] turned upon, asserted, and, in theory, established, the right of each and every man, at his discretion, to release himself from the support of the government under which he had lived. And this principle was asserted, not as a right peculiar to themselves, or to that time, or as applicable only to the government then existing; but as a universal right of all men, at all times, and under all circumstances.