The Right Of State Secession Is Historically Defensible
by Al Benson Jr.
My good friend and co-author with me of "Red Republicans and Lincoln’s Marxists" Donnie Kennedy just returned from a secession and nullification conference in Atlanta on February 25, 26. He noted that there was a very good crowd; the conference room they met in was packed, and there were folks there from all over the country, from California to New England and points in between.
Several years ago the topic of secession was looked upon as only fit for members of the flat earth society. No sensible (politically correct) person would stoop to even discuss such a taboo topic. Today, secession isn’t out of bounds anymore, thanks to a runaway Marxist regime in Washington that is obviously hell-bent on repeating the benign "reforms" of such world luminaries as Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung.
Many have argued over the years that the Southern states did not have the right to secede before Lincoln commenced the War of Northern Aggression. Some with extreme tunnel vision have even taken the position of "once in the Union always in the Union."
Others, with a better grasp of historical context, have said that if the states that ratified the Constitution had not had the right to secede then they never would have entered the Union to begin with. Most court historians today take the standard Unionist position–once in the Union always in. And, being the "historians" they are (and I use that term loosely) they studiously bury any opposing viewpoints under tons of their bovine fertilizer so no one will be tempted to look too far. The right of state secession and also of nullification, is something they get paid to make sure you don’t dig too deeply into. But let’s sweep a little of their fertilizer out of the way with the broom of more accurate history and see what we find.
For starters, let’s go back all the way to the Declaration of Independence. Look at the opening sentence. It states "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 status to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." What else is being addressed here but secession? That’s not my opinion solely. Others, more astute than I, have voiced the same thoughts. In the book "Liberty, Order and Justice" by James McClellan (Center for Judicial Studies, Washington, D.C.) the author, on page 65, in referring to the colonists, stated: "…they turned in the final stages of resistance to thoughts about the nature of free government. In the end, they came reluctantly to the conclusion that secession was their only recourse." Remember, Mr. McClellan was writing about 1776, not 1861. He has labeled what the colonies did in regard to Great Britain as secession. In effect, the thirteen colonies seceded from Great Britain. If, then, secession was wrong, we should go back, hat in hand, to Britain and beg to again take up the status of colonies!
Some sources have noted that several states, in their ratification ordinances, clearly stated that, should joining the Union harm their states or their people, they reserved the right to withdraw and go their separate ways. Two of these states were New York and Virginia.
And some researchers have discovered that, apparently, from our earliest days, Northerners thought that secession was clearly legal and constitutional. The question has been raised, and I think it a valid one–would, at that point in history, states have gotten themselves into a "union" they could not withdraw from under any circumstances? Given the predisposition of the American worldview at that time toward liberty, I think such a proposition is patently absurd. I realize that, at that time, Alexander Hamilton and other federalists gave us a constitution that was, at best, a mixed bag. But even so, the states would not have knowingly gotten themselves into a situation from which there was no way out.
In the New England mind, secession could not have been all that bad because the Northeastern states actually threatened to do it three times before 1860. Once, in 1814, they actually sent delegates to Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss the secession of the New England states from the Union. The Northeast did not like the War of 1812. It wasn’t good for business with England, so the New England states were thinking about seceding so they could continue their business as usual with England. The war ended before they actually had to vote on it and so they just went home. So, in 1814, secession was alright for New England, but in 1860 it was all wrong for the Southern states!
When the Southern states seceded, starting with South Carolina in late 1860,
they did so in a very orderly fashion. Clarence Carson in "A Basic History of the United States–Volume 3" told us: "The procedure of secession was to have an election for delegates to a state convention, to meet in convention, and to adopt ordinances of secession. This was done in accord with the Southern understanding of what would be in keeping with the United States Constitution. It had, after all, been ratified by states acting through conventions. Could they not ‘un-ratify’ it–secede from the Union–in the same fashion?" Although Carson didn’t address the question, we know that some of the Northern states had taken an identical position earlier in the 19th century.
Some of the constitutional ratification language for the State of Virginia was as follows: "We, the delegates of 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, whenever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression…" I submit, if that is not a clear statement of the right of secession, then no one has ever heard one! And how appropriate is that language for our own day when a Marxist regime is siphoning off whatever remaining liberties we have left as fast as it can get away with it.
So the right of secession was never clearly in doubt in this country until the Southern states seceded in 1860-61. At that point, what the North had threatened to do three different times suddenly became immoral and treasonous in the eyes of many Northern politicians, even though, at that point, many Northern newspapers still recognized the right of secession.
According to columnist Joseph Sobran: "…even many Northerners agreed that a sovereign state had the right to withdraw from the Union. A large body of people in the North were willing to accept a peaceful separation from the South. Lincoln had thousands arrested without trial for expressing such views, including several Maryland legislators who, while remaining in the Union, opposed using force to keep other states from seceding." So much for personal liberty in the post-American Lincoln regime!
So the topic of secession has, again, become one for open discussion. This is good. It needs to be brought out and openly debated in the public forum while the media and the court historians are still busily trying to sweep it under the rug and pretend it isn’t really there. It’s about time we lifted the rug up isn’t it folks?
Content ©2010 Al Benson Jr.
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