The Fallacies and Lawlessness of Secession


by Thomas Martin Saturday

The recent failed attempt at Scottish secession from the United Kingdom, and the efforts of Catalonia to secede from Spain has focused attention upon the secessionist movement in the United States. A Reuters/Ipsos Poll released September 19th found that one in four Americans was open to the idea of their State seceding from the United States of America.

The American Southwest had the greatest support for disunion, with 34% of respondents from that region saying yes to it. 25% of those in the Deep South were in favor of secession, while 26% support it in the far west.  Support for secession was the lowest in those States comprising the old Union in 1861.  The Midwest and New England states came in at anywhere from 19% to 22%.  The Pacific Coastal region comprising California, Oregon, and Washington State were 22% of respondents favoring secession.  This is not surprising since it mirrors the North/South split in the American Civil War.

But pollsters say Americans here are expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the Federal government, whether it be the Affordable Health Care Act, Obama, an economy that has bypassed middle class Americans, or the browning of America, and LGBT marriage equality.

Nevertheless, three in four citizens of the United States do not favor it—continuing to support the United States of America and a robust Federal Government in tandem with State and Local government.  But a secession movement that can call on the support of one in four Americans deserves to be called out on the notion that secession would be an expression of the people’s will, beneficial, peaceful, and most importantly constitutional.

The State of Texas has the most support for secession with an actual petition three years ago, that garnered 125,000, and more signatures asking the Federal Government that Texas be permitted to quietly and without hindrance cut its ties with the United States. Texas Governor Rick Perry floated the idea at that time saying essentially that it was a distinct possibility for Texas if the Federal Government continued to oppress his State.

A decision of the United States Supreme Court in 1869, Texas vs. White had this to say about the legality and constitutionality of secession:

“Asserting that the Constitution created “an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase held that secession was illegal and that Texas had never left the Union.”

“Chase ruled that the state’s Confederate government had been unlawful, that is acts in support of the rebellion were null and void” . . .

“The decision endorsed the Republican position that the Union was perpetual and Reconstruction was a political problem that lay within the scope of congressional power.”

-Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, 868, 1992.

That decision of the Court is still in effect. It is the law of the land, and carries with it equal legal status to anything formerly in the Constitution of the United States.    So no, secession is illegal, unconstitutional, and treasonous.

A second point to be made is that in the years 1861-1865, three quarters of a million Americans paid with their lives during the American Civil War, to in large part, settle the question of the right of secession. This sobering statistic, along with the historical fact that following the attempted secession of 11 states from the United States we had war on an unimaginable scale puts paid to the notion that secession is peaceable and contains no significant tensions in the Federal system of government we operate under.

Daniel Webster made this pointed comment a full decade before the conflict:

“Who is so foolish as to expect to see any such thing as peaceable secession? Instead of speaking of the possibility or utility of secession, instead of dwelling in those caverns of darkness, let us enjoy the fresh air of liberty and union.”

-Speech to the Senate, 7 March 1850.

Something the secession movement in the United States has not thought through was self-evident to a man of the time, an upper South Unionist, Methodist Minister, and editor of the Knoxville Whig. Brownlow was no friend to abolition of slavery, but he was a strong supporter of the Union of the United States.  He pointed out how tricky secession was in fact, not just in theory.

. . . “When a state secedes, she takes all of the Federal property belonging to the greater people of the United States with her; there are Government fortifications, arsenals, customs houses, navy yards, and other property strung out along the coast from Charleston to Mobile.”

More daunting still, is the operating environment of seceded states:

“You must all know that a state that leaves this Union when she chooses owes no allegiance to the Government one hour after she decides to secede, but will then be just as independent of the Government as she is of France or England. In the midst of a violent and protracted foreign war, then it will be the right of any one of the States of this Union, not only to desert our own Government, but at the same time to ally herself with the enemy the remaining States are fighting! Why, this is just intolerable and a situation under which no Union of the States could long survive.” 

Just who would get both the large naval base at Norfolk, Virginia for example, and a good portion of the formerly United States Navy? What about the United States Army bases, predominantly in the Southern States like Texas’ own Fort Hood, or Kentucky’s Fort Knox, and the United States’ government supply of gold bullion?  What would happen if Kentucky forces got into it and discovered there was little gold there?  Consider the impact of secession on both the U.S. and world economic markets and stock exchanges.

Potentially, this would include our nuclear submarine fleet, and the most powerful nuclear weapons on the planet. After all, wouldn’t Virginia or Texas or any state want the weapons and facilities to train their own armies to defend themselves?  Any move by the  Federal Government under President Obama or his successors might trigger violence Abraham Lincoln said 150 years ago: “to enforce the Federal authority” in the seceded States.

Imagine the United States using its nuclear submarines based at say, San Diego, to take out those based in the newly separate nation of Virginia? This is chilling indeed.

Then there is the bald fact that seceded States would have to devise replacements to Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Health Care Act, and Medicaid. The great advantage of sharing the burdens of natural disasters, more common in the climate change we are seeing, and sharing the costs of a common defense, the predictable legal environment put in place by our founders, and the health of the economies of states foolish enough to leave the Union, as compared with what would be a majority that would operate as one common economy makes folly out of secessionist arguments.

Just as the seceded states would immediately have no responsibilities to serve the national government, so too, would the national government no longer have any responsibilities to aid the seceded states. That is, unless or until the treasonous act of secession forced the President and our armed forces to assert the Federal authority in those regions.

The President of the United States is charged under the Constitution with preserving that system of government, and enforcing the laws of the United States. How long could the President, the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, ignore the enforcement of the laws of the United States in the states that had just left the Union?

Lincoln decided the Federal authority must be asserted in putting down a treasonous rebellion against the United States. Under Texas vs. White it would be apparent that what these one in four Americans so blithely think would be a good thing, and so easy to accomplish in theory, becomes much more problematic and deadly in practice.

The seceded States would have to come together in a Confederation just as the Southern States did in the American Civil War Era to ensure their common safety against the United States after secession.  The United States would as a government immediately see the threat and danger presented by a group of states that had left the Union and had no further allegiance to it.  This political fact would spur the Congress and the President to act.

What if Texas, a newly separate nation state, seeking representation in the United Nations, and looking for allies to protect its position were to make an alliance against NATO in common with Russia and the Putin regime conservatives so love? Could the United States permit such a hostile combination on this continent? That would be war.

Under our law, the only legal recourse of American citizens and states who believe the Federal Government and their ties to the United States of America are oppressive and dangerous to the extent making secession or the shooting war conservative tea baggers love to predict a necessity or something ardently desired, is outright revolution against the United States permitted under the old Declaration of Independence, and its appeal to nature, and to nature’s God.

But such acts are high treason against the Government of the United States under the Constitution and laws of the United States of America. What is the likely penalty for traitors to the United States?

It was Abraham Lincoln himself, who facing an outright rebellion by secessionists who controlled eleven Southern State governments best countered the folly, and unworkable position favoring secession:

“If a minority in such case, will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such a minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it.”

And more pointed still: “Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy”.

“I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.  Continue to execute all the express provisions of our national Constitution, and the Union will endure forever—it being impossible to destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.” 

-First Inaugural Address 4 March 1861

You might think that secession is not relevant to our time. But listen to what Ron Paul, longtime Texas Congressman, libertarian, and father of Rand Paul, Presidential Candidates both had to say just a couple weeks ago:

“Americans who embrace secession are acting in a grand American tradition,” Paul wrote. “The Declaration of Independence was written o justify secession from Britain. (Note that was revolution and not just mere secession.) Supporters of liberty should cheer the growth in support for secession, as it is the ultimate rejection of centralized government and the the ideologies of Keynesianism, welfarism, and militarism.”

So to the one in four of you who think secession a good idea, and permitted under law, it is patently truth itself that secession is illegal, unconstitutional, treasonous, and totally undermines the safety and real liberty we enjoy under a legitimate national government, with both the power, to act for the greater good, and the checks on its authority inherent in the Constitution of the United States.

The people ultimately control this government by the constitutionally protected actions of protest, seeking a redress of grievances, the ballot box, as opposed to revolution in making key decisions about our common future.   Secessionists do not want to face our nation’s problems, and reforming that government.  They seek escape instead of civic engagement, and worst of all they withhold much of the truth of the inherent dangers of leaving the United States and absolving themselves from the authority of its laws, and common protections.

Think again, and think carefully, rather than listen to fools and traitors to your country.

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