On Secession And Southern Independence
Thursday, May 14, 2009
In light of the recent interest in secession, there are some fundamental points we need to understand in order to counter those who claim that this time-honoured remedy against tyranny is un-American and even treasonous.
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 arrangement received confirmation in the Articles of Confederation (1778) and the Treaty of Paris (1783). 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 how the United States was formed under its Constitution of 1787-88. When delegates met in Philadelphia in May 1787, they came as representatives selected by the people (i.e. citizens) of their respective States. The people of the States did not give their delegates any authority to make binding agreements; rather, they could only discuss proposed changes to the Articles of Confederation. Any changes to the Articles would become effective only if 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, the document was not binding until nine of the thirteen States ratified it for themselves. That happened in 1788, and those nine States entered into a compact (or contract) with each other and, by doing so, created the political union known as the United States (or, more accurately, the States United). Four States, for a time, remained outside of the union and thus were not bound by the compact. Eventually, though, all thirteen States ratified and united.
It is important to note 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 those same means-by a ratifying convention of their citizens or representatives.
Nowhere does the Constitution forbid a State from seceding from the 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 Constitution 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 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 them from exercising their Constitutional right. 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.
Northern victory in 1865 marked the end of true Constitutional government in America. In its place, the American Empire 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 a serious challenge to its authority, which the acknowledged right of secession is, our government will not reform itself. We are not free people if we are not free to leave.
Our colonial ancestors acknowledged what our present government (and popular opinion) denies: that, at some time, dissolving our political bonds might be a necessary and proper course. That time came in 1860-61, and The League of the South believes it has come again.
Secession, as Thomas Jefferson acknowledged, is the assertion of the inalienable right of a people to change their form of government whenever it ceases to fulfill the purposes for which they created it. Under our Constitution this should be a peaceful remedy. The decision of a State or States to withdraw peacefully from a political association is not revolutionary or rebellious. On the contrary, the government that is no longer responsive to its people, a government that denies its people their inalienable rights, is revolutionary. The right of secession is never more necessary than when it is denied.
Some say that secession is impractical and/or unattainable. It certainly is both as long as the people of the States remain ignorant of it as a remedy to tyranny handed down to them by earlier generations.
We, the people of the States, still have the weapon and the legitimate power of reform (sovereignty). The only thing we lack is the collective will to wield it.
Dr. Michael Hill, President
The League of the South