Secession: Legitimizing the Debate

Jeremy Davis
Nov 24, 2012 at 8:18 AM

Rational, legitimate debates are not often found in politics. Legitimate points can become so horribly misconstrued that they end up plunging the debate into a black abyss never to be taken seriously again. But in the wake of this year’s presidential election, a long dormant debate is starting to reemerge.

In the weeks following Election Day, hundreds of thousands of Americans have signed their names to numerous online petitions requesting the president to allow the peaceful withdrawal, or secession, of States from the union. After a certain number of signatures are reached for each individual petition, a response by the President himself will be merited. While there is little doubt in my mind that the outcome of these petition efforts will not result in anything directly tangible, I do believe that this renewed widespread interest in secession can potentially make it a serious debate to be had once again.

The key to having a rational debate about anything, especially one as historically contentious as that of secession, requires deflecting an armada of slurs and mud-slinging typically levied upon anyone that even brings up the issue. Get past all of that and you’ll find a legitimate topic waiting to be discussed.

Many will criticize that to even entertain the thought of removing one piece from the American puzzle, a state for example, is blatantly un-American and unpatriotic. But just as we should be reminded every Fourth of July, American independence was only realized once our forefathers declared their secession from the clutches of the British Empire. Should it then be considered patriotic to say that the founders would have been better off shunning the idea of secession and remained with England? Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, which is itself a document rallying the cause of secession, once commented that “If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation…to a continuance in union…I have no hesitation in saying, ‘let us separate.'”

Self determination, not perpetual dependence on a vast central government, was a once proudly championed principle throughout this country. This reflects the true spirit of America; we need only to seek to acknowledge it. Reestablishing the principle of secession requires the strengthening of its foremost foundation: localism. Policy wise, it is far easier to have a more meaningful affect at the local and state levels than it is in Washington, D.C.

Our so called “representatives” in D.C. have become too far removed from whom they truly represent. I sit here scratching my head wondering on what ounce of accountability Washington, D.C. still functions. As the epicenter of our national troubles, the federal government has brought us such atrocities as the PATRIOT Act, the NDAA, Obamacare, war, drones, a crippled economy, and the list goes on.

These horrid features of big government have wreaked havoc on state autonomy and sovereignty. Over time, the states have become mere administrative units to the federal government, spineless and weak. Years of eroding state sovereignty have resulted in a government that is no longer federal, but truly national. Just as D.C. has bred generations of Americans into a culture of dependence on the federal government, so too have the states come to rely on Nanny Sam. The point has long since been reached to where recognizing our existence without some behemoth central government authority telling us how to live has become unimaginable for many.

But if the idea of secession is to someday attain legitimacy, decentralization on a massive scale will have to be accepted. Centralists will no doubt chide any opposition to a unitary state. They will argue that there is no constitutional basis for secession. But the fact that the secession of States is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution itself, thus being neither strictly implied nor forbidden, should convince one to adopt the default position laid out by the ninth and tenth amendments.

To paraphrase: any power not expressly granted to the federal government remains with the States and with the people. Many scholars of American history, to whom I apply the term very loosely, attempt to render the secessionist argument illegitimate by claiming that the Civil War, or more accurately the War of Northern Aggression, settled the matter of states leaving the union. Secession was just as constitutional then as it is now and no amount of militant violence or force can change that simple truth.

The legitimacy of secession doesn’t even necessarily have to result in use of the act itself. If the idea of secession were a commonly held principle within every state, the mere threat of a state seceding would be enough to help keep Washington, D.C. in line.

American nationalists, who champion the transcendent power of a strong central government, have turned secession into a dirty word. Supporters of secession have long been harshly marginalized, but now is the time to breathe new life into this debate. Standing to protect our freedoms, not sitting idly by as they evaporate all around us is the duty we hold to ourselves. The people, through the tools of their individual states, must use them to tamper down the power of the federal government and if one of those tools happens to result in the chipping off of a state or two, then so be it.

For too long, the idea of secession has been deeply suppressed in American political thought. But I am convinced that this new secessionist movement, however small it may now be, represents a spark in a discussion that must be allowed to grow.

Got it! Now where did I put that chisel.... 

dragonora2's picture

Fascinating points. I have to say that I both agree with what you are saying in every way, and I would entirely support a state's secession from the union.

I believe that a democracy can only be viable if a regional area that it governs over can secede from the union. If a union can push its desires on an area that does not want those ideologies, such as Great Britain to the American Colonies, then we've tyranny in its most simple form.

If a state seceded, I would support it personally, politically, and probably in any war that might come from it. Most states, especially those having a serious discussion about it, can viably do it. I think if the American National Government no longer represents the desires of a state to such a degree that it feels it has to secede for the good of its own people, then it has the absolute right to do so.

As much as I admire Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War was a war of Northern Aggression. The question would have to be raised as to the complexity of the issue, but secession should be a viable alternative to a national government that is broken, draconian, and ultimately damaging the legitimacy and freedoms of those states that are involved in it.

I think States Rights need to become a serious issue again, and there should be a great deal of consideration of secession, even if its only to keep D.C. in line. However, if the secessionists are to be legitimate, then they have to be willing to go through with their threat and not just sign a pledge out of frustration, but actively push for secession of a state. Only if they believe that it is the only way to fix our broken national government...

Maybe it is...

Paradox's picture

@Joshua Christian:  I'm happy to see others who support this. I do, on the other hand, suggest that you achieve a better understanding of what "democracy" is. Those who argue for liberty should never support the "mob rule" which is democracy. The founding fathers of America realized this, hence why the [u]nited States of America is a republic. (These differences have nothing to do with the Democratic or Republican political parties, for neither support democratic or republic ideals, for the most part.)

kidnamedcurt's picture