The secession movement in America
June 29

The secessionist movement has been gaining momentum and media attention for a number of years. The argument of many secessionist organizations often cites the 10th amendment and the current weakening of state’s rights under the control of the growing federal government. While the issue of secession may be constitutionally plausible, many states and organizations are so preoccupied with the question of “can we secede from the union?” that they fail to recognize the deeper question—“should we secede, and if so, is it economically and socially plausible?”

My recent article “The role of secession in the 2010 Texas governor’s race” explored the secession movement in Texas as it relates to Texans and Governor Rick Perry’s upcoming gubernatorial bid. In it, I drew correlations between some TEXAS organizations and their decidedly “confederate” viewpoints. I went on to explain how his speech at the Texas TEA party in April may prove to hurt Governor Perry’s reelection campaign through association with these viewpoints.

Although I never implicated other pro-secession states nationwide as having “confederate” leanings, many of the responses I received to this article consisted of heated accusations that I am trying to tie the whole national movement into a slavery issue. As a result, I decided to examine the movement from a national perspective rather than a regional one. For this purpose, I will use Vermont as an example because their state secession movement is the most fully developed and realistic one I have encountered in my research. Two areas I would like to explore in this article are the economic and social implications of secession.

The economic implications of secession:

One of the most predominant arguments for secession has been over the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Many state legislatures are at odds with the federal government over strings attached to stimulus funding. The simple solution would be to not take the money; if there is no money, there will be no strings attached. Problem solved, right? I don’t think so. Even those states that have the biggest complaints about the role of the 10th amendment in relation to federal stimulus have taken the money anyway. Why? They need it to keep their local economies running. There has been moaning from states like Texas and Florida who have rejected stimulus packages intended to pay for things like unemployment (which social conservatives are ideologically opposed to), but it amounted to little more than the stomping of feet and the clinching of fists.

Our very own Texas Statehouse Examiner made the point in his recent article “Debunking secession in Texas”, that “Texas cannot afford to lose the benefits of statehood rather than nationhood. Having an army, for example, is nice. Having the best in the world is better. Highway funds, healthcare (though limited), interstate commerce—all these things are nice perks of being a state. If you’ll remember correctly, these are amongst the reasons we joined the Union after our foray into nationhood (Google “Texas Revolution,” if you must). Besides that, I’d like to see Rick Perry deal with immigration any better than the Federales have.”

Andrew Roush makes a good point, but it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic logistics of an actual secession.

Now, Vermont seems like a plausible case because their state and economy are fairly small and localized. is a website dedicated to raising support and the issues surrounding secession from the United States (although their main grievances are related to overreaching actions of the Bush administration and not the current Obama administration).

Their main advocate is Thomas H. Naylor who is professor emeritus of economics at Duke University. He is a prolific author and Vermont resident whose work focuses greatly on strengthening community and simplifying the American way of life. In his essay, “Could Vermont Survive as an Independent Republic?” he addresses issues related to the economic independence of Vermont should it secede from the union.

He describes Vermont’s economy and the possibility of surviving as an independent republic. He goes on to say “Some skeptics of Vermont independence equate secession with economic isolationism and ask, ‘Where will Vermont get its food and its energy, if it secedes?’ Presumably from the same sources that it currently does.” Notice that he inserts the caveat “presumably” before he describes some specifics of trade between Vermont and other states of the union as well as other countries.

This is a huge assumption to make considering that we don’t know how anyone will react in the event of an actual state secession. And, it is an assumption on which one should not base the secession of an entire state (no matter how small).

For me, the following excerpt is the most poignant part of Mr. Naylor’s argument:

“as a crucial counterbalancing factor to the national debt share, a seceding state is not without major bargaining power, since it has a legitimate pro rata claim on all of the assets of the federal government, including land, forests, mineral reserves, waterways, highways, buildings, military bases, military hardware, gold reserves, foreign currency reserves, U.S. government loans, etc. Assuming that the combined assets of the United States have a value in excess of the national debt, which is quite likely, the claim that a state must cover its share of the national debt becomes moot, if giving up its share of assets is seen as an equal trade-off.”

Again, he is assuming that the United States will be willing to compromise and work to make Vermont’s secession possible which I think is highly unlikely.

I respect Mr. Naylor for his intuitive examination of Vermont’s economy and the possibility of the state’s secession. However, his essay amounts to little more than suppositions and hypothetical meanderings about what could happen in the event of a state secession; it contains some statistics about Vermont’s economy, but does little in the way of an actual quantitative approach to state secession. I applaud and support Thomas Naylor for his effort and his emphasis on community and localization, but I think his approach is idealistic.

The social implications of secession:

Secession would have a greater impact on the social structure of seceded states and on the nation as a whole than most people realize. It brings up further questions of protectionism and “state-nationalism” through the concept of negative identity. Historically, American citizens and the nation as a whole define themselves by what they are not. During the days of the Soviet Socialist Republic, the rise of McCarthyism gave the American people a division with which to juxtapose their own identity—communism. By defining other nations as communist, we could then define ourselves as patriots. Now that the cold war is over, we use Muslim extremists or “terrorists” as the negative identity by which we qualify ourselves as patriots.

This is just an example. Within the United States, we further divide ourselves by our political ideologies. It is not enough to say that we are all Americans or that we are all humans. We, as the party in the electorate, draw lines which we stand behind—lines that define who we are and, perhaps most importantly, who we are not.

By promoting the idea of secession, we draw more lines with which to divide our nation. Now, not only are we liberals or conservatives (or somewhere in between), we are secessionists or nationalists. Not only are we black or white, male or female, rich or poor, we have become citizens of different nations altogether.

The Solution:

I support the idea of localizing our regional economies. Furthermore, I do not support globalization or even nationalization on many levels. But, the citizens of America should pull together in an attempt to strengthen ourselves and our society. I think it is possible to localize our production and, by doing so, streamline the efficiency of the way we do business while increasing cultural understanding between Americans and even the rest of the world.

Some may think this is idealistic. I think it is no more idealistic than the idea of state secession. In any case, we can only improve ourselves by attempting to strengthen the bonds between American citizens and accepting (though not necessarily agreeing with) the viewpoints of others even if they are divergent from our own.
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