July 1st, 2011

A Celebration of Secession


photo credit: J Heffner

The mere mention of the word “secession” leads many an American to recoil in horror. A superficial understanding of the poorly-named “Civil” War has left a bad taste in the mouths of those who cram said mouths full of barbecued meats and junk food in an annual celebration of the very action they think they despise.

As we celebrate Independence Day this year, it becomes increasingly apparent that many who wrap themselves in patriotic paraphernalia do not see the cognitive dissonance they suffer from. America’s revolutionary war against her former imperial master was an explicit act of secession. The invective hurled at anybody today who references the word, let alone advocates for its implementation, is saddening in general, and hypocritical when the individual celebrates in certain cases that which they attack in others.

Why was secession okay back then, but not now? Surely the Tories during colonial times employed the same rhetoric, accusing the rebels of treason and sedition. They who were loyal to the British empire have spawned a philosophical progeny who today uses the same arguments against their fellow countrymen. Rebellion against the Crown was acceptable, but against the federal government is attacked?

Reading the list of grievances in the Declaration provides an interesting point of reference to compare against today’s governmental atrocities. In many ways, the King’s offenses were laughably insignificant in comparison to today’s abuses. In others, our government thankfully has not yet come close. But if the injustices perpetrated on our ancestors were deemed sufficient to secede then, it seems obvious that should a similar standard be exceeded in our own day, then secession might (or should) be “on the table.”

Jefferson was right to note that “governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes,” observing that “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” But when a free people has reached a point of being unable to tolerate aggression that has found neither recourse nor remedy, why is secession not a praiseworthy alternative?

I’m not necessarily advocating that anybody secede today, but I am suggesting that the dismissive rhetoric so often used to attack those who suggest it be done away with—especially by those who champion the “shot heard ’round the world” and everything that followed. One cannot both praise America’s secession from Britain two centuries ago while also claiming that secession has no place in today’s political discourse.

And so, I wish to all a happy independence day, and praise God that the statesmen of centuries gone by had the bravery to secede from an oppressive, distant government.

23 Responses to “A Celebration of Secession”

  1. Adam
    July 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    You’ve hit this theme before, Connor but it is still an interesting read. I know you try to make the parallel with your last sentence about a distant government, but I think most Americans at the time of the Revolutionary War saw the English and the King as the “Other” while today we still view our government as “Us.” Also, the ease of communication with the Internet and television makes a huge difference. It is much easier to whip up secession and rebellion against a faceless “King” than it is against a readily accessible (at least in image and speaking) President and elected representatives.

  2. Adam G.
    July 1, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Disloyal rot.

    The American Revolution was, well, a revolution (or rebellion if you prefer). The Civil War was a secession. Secession is a specific legal claim about the juridical relations between the United States of America. Most all Southern thinkers of the time recognized the difference between secession and revolt/revolution, and some of them felt that there was no legal right to secession and argued for pure revolution instead.

    The American Revolution was justified because God ordained the American Union. Secession was unjustified for the same reason.

  3. Charles D
    July 1, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    Just so you know that you libertarians are not alone here, I fully support secession and for my money, Lincoln should have let the South go their merry way back in 1860. If a state wants to secede, why should we prevent them from doing so? However, if they secede, we close all military bases in the state, shut down all federal offices of any kind, withdraw all federal employees including military, stop sending Social Security checks to that state’s citizens, cut them off Medicare and immediately cut off all federal funds going to that state for any purpose.

    No problem, you want to secede, hold an election and if a majority wants to leave, go for it.

  4. Chip
    July 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    I wonder why the Mormons of the late 1800s were so bent on joining the union to begin with…. To me, it seems like some very mixed-up priorities to renounce one of one’s most significant beliefs/practices (polygamy) in order to obtain “statehood”. Where were their ethics? Where was their integrity? Why were they soooo small to GIVE UP their independence at such a high price??? Can we really call their decision “good”?

    It is because of this morality that we are where we are.

  5. Connor
    July 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Adam,

    I think most Americans at the time of the Revolutionary War saw the English and the King as the “Other” while today we still view our government as “Us.”

    I agree that many think that “we” and “the government” are one in the same (or close enough), but many have come to feel that they have grown so far apart as to be entirely distinct. I fall in the latter camp, I think.

    Adam G.,

    Secession is a specific legal claim about the juridical relations between the United States of America.

    No, it’s not. That’s an extremely narrow definition; secession applies to countries other than the USA. I’m defining secession as a withdrawal of allegiance from the established political order, in the attempt to establish a new and independent government. Under such a definition, which is not an uncommon one, both the American Revolution and the “Civil” War find roots in that basic action. In other words, secession played a part in both.

    The American Revolution was justified because God ordained the American Union. Secession was unjustified for the same reason.

    God ordained the institution of marriage, too, but he doesn’t justify abusive husbands keeping their wives in check through deception and aggression. I completely disagree with your conclusions.

    Charles,

    However, if they secede, we close all military bases in the state, shut down all federal offices of any kind, withdraw all federal employees including military, stop sending Social Security checks to that state’s citizens, cut them off Medicare and immediately cut off all federal funds going to that state for any purpose.

    We should be doing all that anyways, regardless of any secessionist movements.

    Chip,

    I wonder why the Mormons of the late 1800s were so bent on joining the union to begin with…

    In many ways, the restoration of the gospel and the formation of this country are very intertwined. I suppose that the Saints wanted to be reunited with the country they were forced to flee, and their strong support for the Constitution further influenced that desire.

  6. DALANE
    July 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    You make some interesting points. I do think it is importatnt to remember, the Colonists were rebelling against a tyranny, while we should rebel against our own ignorance and apathy. It is not our government that is the problem. We have a sacred and inspired Constitution. It is amazing and has created the greatest civilization in the world. We have only gone awry because we have allowed our citizenry to be uneducated in the prinicples of the Constitution, thus causing us to elect the unprinicpled and think we should leave God out of our society. We need to go back to the principles that made us great and we will restore our Constitution and our freedom.

  7. Charles D
    July 4, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Dalane, I for one would consider a government that operates completely outside the Constitution to be a problem. Couple that with a political system that is controlled by moneyed interests rather than popular will and you have a recipe for tyranny. In many cases we cannot elect principled leaders because they aren’t on the ballot because they can’t raise enough money to get there without giving up their principles – assuming they had any to begin with.

    The impetus for the revolution was a government that was unresponsive to the people and was operating primarily to enrich early corporations and the aristocracy. That’s a very good description of modern day America unfortunately.

  8. JJL9
    July 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Charles, I think Dalane meant that government itself cannot operate outside of the Constitution without the ignorance and apathy of the general populace.

    As to your suggestion that “we cannot elect principled leaders because they aren’t on the ballot because they can’t raise enough money to get there without giving up their principles”, that again would be the fault of the ignorance and apathy of the general populace.

    If one state happens to consistently start electing principled leaders, then it might make a lot of sense for them to secede.

    We can elect principled leaders if we all support them and vote for them. Unfortunately, we don’t, but that’s not the fault of “the government”. Rather, the government that you describe as being “unresponsive to the people” is a direct result of the ignorance and apathy of the people.

  9. Charles D
    July 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    So again we must blame the victims. Is it ignorance and apathy, or is it the overweening influence of money? If we equate money to free speech and consider a legal entity chartered by a state to be a person with the full rights granted to our human citizens, then we end up with a system that promotes apathy and a media that actively increases ignorance.

    If the general populace suddenly became smart and activist, would they then be so flush with disposable income that they could overwhelm the unlimited secret cash provided to unprincipled politicians courtesy of the Citizen’s United ruling? Blaming the populace isn’t the answer. We need to give people a reason to cast off their apathy, and provide them access to information and the background and context to understand it. Neither of those is going to happen because it would require interference by government. Of course, failure to do so has given us a government that considers the Constitution little more than toilet paper. But that’s all our fault, conveniently.

  10. JJL9
    July 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    “If the general populace suddenly became smart and activist, would they then be so flush with disposable income that they could overwhelm the unlimited secret cash provided to unprincipled politicians courtesy of the Citizen’s United ruling?”

    Ummmm, no need for anyone to be flush with disposable income. I can find out everything I need to about every candidate because I want to, regardless of the amount of money they or their campaigns have. My voting patterns have absolutely nothing to do with how much money a politician raises.

  11. Charles D
    July 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    So we should all be like you, JJL9. If we were, everything would be great. So exactly how are you planning to convince everyone to gain your level of knowledge and mimic your voting behavior?

    Seems like one of the classic libertarian problems. A great deal of idealism with little or no real-world applicability.

  12. JJL9
    July 7, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    “So exactly how are you planning to convince everyone to gain your level of knowledge and mimic your voting behavior?”

    I’m not planning on any such thing. I do everything I can to share my opinions on the principles that lead to success, happiness, and prosperity, but it is nobody’s responsibility to “convince everyone” of anything.

    There is no magic cure. But increasing the power of government and decreasing individual liberties (I think you implied that there should be some sort of restrictions regarding campaign donations and such) would be quite the opposite of trying to “convince everyone” to believe in the same principles, since doing so would violate those very principles and would inevitibly lead to more corruption, not less.

  13. Charles D
    July 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    It seems to me that the increasing threats to our civil liberties are coming with the explicit backing of those providing most of the campaign “donations”. The attacks of basic civil liberties of the Bush Administration have been increased under Obama – both parties and, one presumes, their chief financial backers – are strong advocates of the national security state with its attendant reductions in individual rights.

    I don’t believe in magic. I don’t think that people will suddenly come to their senses and elect responsible politicians who respect the Constitution. I don’t think that corporations and financial institutions that have been bailed out by the politicians they funded are going to suddenly have a change of heart. I don’t believe politicians whose power and prestige flows from their “donor” base and their media spotlight will suddenly decide that their oath to defend the Constitution takes precedence over their self-interest.

    More government, at least of the kind we have now, is not the answer. But wishing things were different and arguing about pie-in-the-sky theories about what ought to happen isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. In fact, it plays right into the hands of those profiting from the status quo.

    If we are going to change American government, we first have to gain control of it.

  14. Christopher W
    July 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    America is an Empire. And, according to the Declaration of Independence, several of our colonies (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) have the right to secede. See: http://doublebirds.blogspot.com/2011/07/time-for-another-revolution.html

  15. Adam G.
    July 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    The historical ignorance here would be appalling if it weren’t par for the course among Americans:

    1.

    I wonder why the Mormons of the late 1800s were so bent on joining the union to begin with…. To me, it seems like some very mixed-up priorities to renounce one of one’s most significant beliefs/practices (polygamy) in order to obtain “statehood”. Where were their ethics? Where was their integrity? Why were they soooo small to GIVE UP their independence at such a high price??? Can we really call their decision “good”? \

    The Mormons were “so bent” on joining the Union as a state because they had no choice. They were already part of the Union as a territory, the federal government was already going to crush polygamy anyway, etc. Utah was *occupied* by federal troops, remember?

    2.
    I’m defining secession as a withdrawal of allegiance from the established political order, in the attempt to establish a new and independent government.

    Or you could define it as a turnip. The Southerners who attempted to secede were using my “extremely narrow” definition.

    If we use your definition, then the Southern cause was unjust because it attempted to incorporate distinct geographic regions by force–East Tennessee, W. North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri.

    3.

    God ordained the institution of marriage, too, but he doesn’t justify abusive husbands keeping their wives in check through deception and aggression.

    What had the United States done that was deceptive and aggressive prior to the secession of the Southern states? Using your marriage analogy, the South was like a spouse that wanted a divorce because her husband had never hit her but said that he would if she divorced him. Pretty circular in other words.

  16. Cynthia L.
    July 29, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    > Why was secession okay back then, but not now?

    Um, because today people can vote to change all levels of your government, including federal, to their liking. Whereas the colonists could not.

    > But if the injustices perpetrated on our ancestors
    > were deemed sufficient to secede then, it seems
    > obvious that should a similar standard be exceeded in
    > our own day, then secession might (or should) be “on
    > the table.”

    It’s not really the magnitude of the grievances that matters, it is the availability of avenues (i.e. voting) to redress those grievances. If you have grievances, you should just vote to change the stuff that bothers you, and convince others to do the same. If you can’t convince enough people to follow your voting suggestions such that the change gets made, then what that means is that the people don’t like your idea. So the people probably don’t want to secede with you to implement your idea, either.

  17. Cynthia L.
    July 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    However, I do fantasize that we could, as the classic slate article says, “ditch Dixie” (and for all the same reasons he lists): http://www.slate.com/id/102291/

  18. JJL9
    July 29, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Cynthia, is it just that simple? So if the majority votes to take away your possessions you will have no reason to complain because all you have to do is “vote to change all levels of your government, including federal”?

    Democracy (without absolute protection of individual rights) is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

  19. Cynthia L.
    July 30, 2011 at 3:58 am #

    When Connor says “today’s governmental atrocities” and you say “take away your possessions” do y’all mean “have the lowest taxes as % of GDP since 1951″ or “have the lowest income tax rates in decades”?

    http://www.businessinsider.com/government-tax-receipts-by-source-2010-12

  20. Brandon
    August 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    What had the United States done that was deceptive and aggressive prior to the secession of the Southern states?

    How about institute punitive tariffs that gave economic advantage to the North at the expense of the South, in the name of the Whig/Republican “American System”, a euphemism for warmed-over British mercantilism/protectionism?

  21. Charles D
    August 5, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Lincoln made a very big mistake that we are still paying for. He should have told the South not to let the door hit them in the behind on their way out. The Confederacy would hardly have lasted a generation since their key potential trading partners were strongly anti-slavery and they had no industry, or infrastructure or financial resources. The other benefit would be that precedent could have been established that states could secede when they wanted.

    One of the most attractive things about secession today is that it would end the empire (if permitted of course). If we lost a handful of very conservative states and a handful of very liberal states for opposite reasons, it would do in the U.S. military/intelligence establishment by eliminating their funding and many of the bases upon which they depend. That of course, is precisely why it would never be permitted.

  22. David Edward Garber
    July 4, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    As best as I understand civil disobedience… I believe that laws can potentially be every bit as tyrannical and/or unjust as those who make them. And I believe that we have no moral obligation to obey such laws. I also believe that, as a matter of practicality, it’s usually best to humor our would-be tyrants by obeying their bad laws as we work peacefully to change them; however, there are exceptions, such as with both Biblical Daniel and LDS polygamists. I’m not entirely sure when exceptions are proper and when they are not, but I do know that, if/when we choose such a route, then we had best be willing to accept the consequences of our defiance, since tyrants generally don’t like to be defied.

  23. David Edward Garber
    July 4, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    I also believe that state nullification (or interposition) is related to civil disobedience, and that many of the same concepts apply. In fact, all U.S. public officers take a solemn oath to uphold our nation’s federal Constitution and, therefore, are arguably Constitutionally obligated to defy unconstitutional laws.

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