On Secession and Southern Independence
By Dr. Michael Hill
President, The League of the South
The voluntary union (or confederacy) of States known as the United States was born of a secessionist movement against Great Britain, and our Declaration of Independence is, at base, a secessionist document. How, then, can secession legitimately be called "un-American?"
When our Founding Fathers broke the bonds of political association with the British Empire in 1776, the former colonies became free and independent States constituting thirteen separate communities, each asserting its sovereignty. This state of affairs received confirmation by both the Articles of Confederation (1778) and the Treaty of Paris (1783). Thus Americans themselves, as well as their British foe, acknowledged that each State was a separate and sovereign entity.
The sovereignty of the separate States is an important issue in understanding exactly how the United States was formed under its Constitution of 1787-88. When delegates from the States met in Philadelphia in May 1787, they came as representatives selected by the people (i.e. citizens) of their respective States. These delegates were not given authority by the people of their States to make any binding agreements, rather, they were only to discuss proposed changes to the Articles of Confederation. Any changes to the Articles might become effective only if they were ratified in convention by the citizens of the separate States.
The result of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 was , of course, the U.S. Constitution. However, that document did not become binding until nine of the thirteen States had ratified it for themselves. That happened in 1788, and thus these nine States entered into a compact (or contract) with each other. By doing so, they created the political union known as the United States. The four States that remained outside of this union for a time were not bound by the compact. Eventually, though, all thirteen States united under the Constitution.
It is important to note here that no State (or States ) could answer for another State. Each State acceded to the compact by its own sovereign will. Moreover, all of them understood that they might secede from the compact by the same means by which they had acceded to it, and that is by a convention of the citizens or their representatives.
Nowhere in the Constitution is it forbidden for a State to secede from this voluntary union. In fact, the Tenth Amendment (contained in the Bill of Rights of 1791) expressly confirms that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constituition nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The power to force a State against its will to remain in the union is absent among the powers delegated to the general (or federal ) government, therefore, the right of secession is reserved to the States, or more precisely, to the people of the States.
Some of the New England States actually threatened to secede several times before 1860 (e.g. 1803, 1807, 1814, and 1844-45). At no time did the Southern States deny them this right. However, when a number of Southern States seceded in 1860-61, Lincoln and the Republican Party went to war to prevent the South from exercising its Constitutional right to secede. Simply put, Lincoln placed the forced unity of the States above the Constitution itself, and this action set him in opposition to the principles of the American Founders.
Lincoln’s "victory" in 1865 thus marked the end of true Constitutional government in America. In its place he created an "American Empire" that now defines the limits of its own power without serious regard to the Constitution. Formerly free and sovereign States have become little more than administrative provinces of an all-powerful central government in Washington, DC.
Without the right of secession (which, by the way, the people of the States still possess) we have no remedy for encroaching tyranny on either a national or global scale. The New World Order is, after all, the logical outworking of Lincoln’s assault on the South and its guiding principle of State sovereignty. No people can be truly free without the means of withdrawing from an illicit regime that is destructive of life, liberty, and property. Our forebears in 1787-88 understood that at some time in the future their descendants might find it necessary and profitable to dissolve the political bonds that joined the States together in voluntary union. That time came in 1860-61, and indeed it may be prudent again in the twenty-first century if we are to be a free people.
Secession is nothing more than the assertion of the inalienable right of a people to change their form of government whenever it ceases to fulfill the purposes for which it was created. Under our Constitution this should be a peaceful remedy. The decision of a State or States to withdraw from a confederacy or league (and not to overthrow it by rebellion) ought not be seen as a revolutionary or insurrectionary act. To call the secession of a sovereign State from a voluntary union an act of "treason" or "rebellion" is sheer folly. Yet this is what most Americans –especially Southerners–have been taught.
One of the most common criticisms that the League of the South receives is that "secession is impractical and/or unattainable." We agree that it certainly is both as long as the people of the States remain ignorant of or apathetic toward the very practical remedy to tyranny bequeathed us by our forefathers. The League’s primary goal is to counter the lies and distortions that have lulled people into a fatal misunderstanding of their condition and to bring hope and encouragement in place of their despair. In doing so we lay the foundation for a new Southern Confederacy. The people of the States, though long languishing, indeed hold the weapon and the legitimate power (sovereignty) to wield it against the current tyranny. The only ingredient lacking is the will of the people to wield it.
The League of the South, therefore, insists on the legitimacy of the right of secession. May it be the will of God to favour our honourable Cause.
© 2000 The League of the South