Secession… it may be closer than you think.
by Michael Naragon
On April 15, while many Americans were filing their taxes or their extension requests, thousands rallied across the country to protest the government’s perceived abuses of the Constitution. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry spoke at a rally which featured angry cries of “Secede!” from the crowd of Lone Star citizens.
“We’ve got a great union” Perry, a Republican, said Wednesday. “There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”
Perry’s comments have received harsh criticism from Texas Democrats, including State Rep. Jim Dunnam, who claimed that talk of secession was akin to supporting racial division and anti-American sentiment.
“Talk of secession is an attack on our country,” Dunnam said. “It can be nothing else.”
Journalist Geraldo Rivera called the governor’s statements “grossly irresponsible” and said Perry was placing himself in position for possible impeachment. Others have claimed that Perry was trying to make a national impression to set up a potential run for the presidency in 2012.
On Friday, The Dallas Morning News reported that a poll of 500 Texans showed 31 percent believed they had the right to secede, and 18 percent would vote for secession if given the opportunity. The Morning News stated that those who believed Texas had a right to secede were “incorrect” in that belief, using the outcome of the Civil War as proof of the illegality of secession. Or, as they might have said, might makes right.
While news outlets like the Morning News have used the fact that 82 percent of Texans would not vote to secede as proof that the people had no real interest in the idea, the fact that 18 percent would do so today should at least beg more discussion. Are the conditions right at the moment for another attempt by the states to opt out of their Constitutional contract? No.
However, decisions made by the Obama administration in the coming weeks, months, or years could increase that potentiality, as a case can be made that the conditions in the 2009 version of the United States are at least similar to those in Antebellum America.
No taxation without representation?
In many of the interviews done at the Tea Party assemblies on Wednesday, participants were asked about their reasons for rallying. In a now-infamous interview by Susan Roesgen from CNN at the Chicago Tea Party, protesters explained to Roesgen that they weren’t being represented in Washington. She scoffed at the idea, claiming that they had plenty of representation.
What Roesgen failed to consider was that only 30 percent of Americans supported the $700 billion bailout of banks by George W. Bush, according to an AP poll on September 26, 2008. That bill passed with little Congressional resistance, despite the fact that nine out of every ten phone calls that were made to Washington by the voters at that time urged lawmakers to vote against the bill.
On Feb. 17, President Obama signed a second earmark-filled bailout that spent $787 billion more and increased the national debt yet again. Obama also directed hundreds of billions to be used to solve the mortgage crisis, and his budget will, if passed, expand the federal deficit even more. All of the spending bills have met with popular resistance, the most remarkable examples being the national Tea Party rallies on February 27 and April 15.
In 1832, the state of South Carolina rejected two national tariffs, an act which President Andrew Jackson equated with treason. This bold action came as a result of the Northern industrial states, influenced by urban areas and domestic goods, imposing their will on the less represented Southern states, who relied on an agrarian economy and exported much of their produce, including cotton, to England and elsewhere.
A high tariff, or tax on goods imported from other countries, benefited the industries in the North by insulating them from foreign competition. In the South, however, their exports were now subject to retaliatory tariffs imposed by their trading partners overseas. In short, the North was using its power of ideological majority in the Congress to force economic hardship on the South.
Eventually, a compromise was reached regarding the tariff question, but the incident led South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun to begin rallying support for secession from the Union. In 1850, in a speech Calhoun wrote but was too ill to read, he described the reasons for Southern discontent.
“At that time [of the writing of the Constitution] there was nearly a perfect equilibrium between the [North and South], which afforded ample means to each to protect itself against the aggression of the other; but,” Calhoun continued, “as it now stands, one section has the exclusive power of controlling the government, which leaves the other without any adequate means of protecting itself against its encroachment and oppression.”
Many of the thousands attending Wednesday’s Tea Parties see the liberal-dominated government as equally oppressive, affecting their future incomes and those of their children in the same way that the Northern states affected the futures of those in the South. As Roesgen pointed out to the Chicago protesters, Americans do participate in a representative government. However, the “we won” attitude of the Democrat-controlled Congress and the Obama administration, and the speed in which they appear to be fundamentally changing the United States, regardless of what the Constitution may or may not allow, has caused many to feel their representation is minimal at best.
Our increased indebtedness to China, Saudi Arabia, and other nations, and the fact that the Federal Reserve, according to an Federal Open Market Committee report on March 18, has begun printing money to monetize the debt, has left many Americans feeling powerless in a nation that continues to spiral into economic difficulty. Also, members of the Fed, as some Tea Party supporters have correctly asserted, are not popularly elected representatives.
Is secession illegal?
The Dallas Morning News and their comrades in the American media have repeatedly asserted that secession is obviously illegal as they discussed the statements Gov. Perry made in Austin Wednesday. One-third of Texans disagreed. Who’s correct?
The Morning News explained that the outcome of the Civil War determined the legality of secession. In other words, the successful use of force made the law. It would be interesting to discover if the editorial staff of the Morning News would also support the legality of China’s occupation of Tibet or the Sudanese treatment of opposition in Darfur.
This is not to say that the North’s actions in the Civil War are equal to the oppression or genocide on display in the world today, but to say that the use of force determines right is a curious statement coming from a U.S. newspaper. More likely is the fact that the media in general, including those at the Morning News, oppose the idea of secession. And the Tea Party movement that brought it into the open, for that matter.
No statement in the Constitution of the United States proclaims secession to be illegal. In absence of direct references in the document, the intentions of the Framers may be derived from their public and private discussions on the matter.
When America looked to add the Louisiana Territory to the nation in 1803, many believed it would divide the nation, as a representative republic could only exist, in their view, in a small country. President Thomas Jefferson, writing to Dr. Joseph Priestley on Jan. 29, 1804, appeared to be unconcerned about secession.
“Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part,” Jefferson wrote. “Those of the western confederacy will be as much our children & descendants as those of the eastern … yet I should feel the duty & the desire to promote the western interests as zealously as the eastern, doing all the good for both portions of our future family which should fall within my power.” Apparently, Jefferson had not consulted with the Morning News before writing to Dr. Priestley.
Jefferson and John Adams, amidst rumblings of secession in New England during the War of 1812, both deplored the idea of states leaving the Union, but never made any statement about that idea being illegal.
Indeed, James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” who was so influential in its development, never declared the Constitution irrevocable. In his notes On Secession, written in 1834, Madison wrote that an individual state could not nullify a law of the United States while still adhering to the Constitution, but he does not say that a state was prohibited from opting out of the contract altogether.
In fact, in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, Madison, with Jefferson, wrote that every state has a right to “nullify of its own authority all assumptions of power by others.”
Many of those attending the Tea Parties on April 15 held signs displaying the Tenth Amendment: “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.”
Jefferson Davis also used the Tenth Amendment as a justification of secession in 1860. The editors of The Dallas Morning News may be interested to read that there is no provision in the Constitution for the federal government to use force against a state that secedes from the Union, although force was apparently used to make secession “illegal.”
How does this relate to the current climate?
While many on cable news were busy using derogatory sexual references to demagogue and minimize the effect of the national Tax Day rallies, they ignored the true intent and significance of this popular uprising in Texas and elsewhere in America. Conservatives in the United States, much like the agrarian South, are beginning to feel alienated by their Union.
Janeane Garofalo would undoubtedly make a racial comparison between the two historic groups, as she claimed the Tea Party movement was simply a white uprising against an African-American president. She apparently ignored the numerous anti-Bush, anti-Congress, and pro-Constitution signs that were predominantly displayed at each of the 200-plus rallies.
Fiscal conservatives have deplored the use of current and future taxpayer money to be used for the bailouts and the thousands of earmarked projects that were included in the legislation, including money for ultra-liberal groups such as ACORN. Even though millions of Americans called and e-mailed their so-called representatives to influence their votes, the measures have passed easily, with both Democrats and Republicans voting in favor of the bills.
If Congress and the Obama administration manage to pass an amnesty bill, legalizing millions of “undocumented workers” and likely gaining millions of votes for the Democrat party, the conservative movement in the United States could see itself permanently isolated. Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has already released a report labeling many conservatives as “right-wing extremists” and a danger to national security, equating them to militia and white supremacy movements.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the Southern states also saw their voting power diminish further and further until they had no influence over laws, such as tariffs, which directly affected their region in a very negative way. Southerners were also labeled as extremists by the abolition movement, which characterized the entire region of the South as being pro-slavery, even though most Southerners did not own slaves.
This national influence, not slavery, was the driving impetus for the South to secede. As Confederate Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon wrote in his memoirs, even after the Civil War had begun, “the South could have saved slavery by simply laying down its arms and returning to the Union.”
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not eradicate slavery, as students are almost invariably taught. The Proclamation outlawed slavery in the South (in which Lincoln had no power in 1862-1863), but only if the South persisted in fighting past Jan. 1, 1863. If the South had surrendered before that date, the practice of slavery would have continued in the post-war years. Therefore, if slavery was their driving motivation, why did they continue fighting after Jan. 1, 1863? According to historian Roger McGrath, more than 75 percent of the population of the South did not even own slaves. Why would the vast majority of Southerners insist in fighting for a practice in which they did not participate?
In the same way many misunderstand the crisis which caused the Civil War, liberals also misunderstand the way the current economic crisis is causing the backlash of the Tea Party movement. If conservative-leaning states, such as Texas, see their influence drastically reduced or eliminated because of the actions of the federal government, they may once again question if the Constitution is a contract that can be cancelled.
On The Web: theconstitutionalalamo.com/2009/05/08/secession/