Saturday, October 29, 2005


Is the Right to Secede Historically Defensible? by Al Benson Jr. MANY have argued over whether the Southern states had the right to secede from the Union before the War of Northern Aggression. Some have myopically taken the position of "once in the Union always in the Union." Others, with a better grasp of historical context have said that if the states that ratified the Constitution had not had the right to secede they never would have entered the Union to begin with. Most "historians" (and I use that term loosely) today take the standard Unionist position that the states never had secession rights and they studiously bury any opposing viewpoints as deep beneath everyone's notice as possible. The rights of individual states to secede from the Union is something they would rather you did not dwell on too much--might get people to thinking, you know, and they can't have that! So what about the right of a state or states to secede from the Union as was the case in 1860-61? For starters, let us go back to the Declaration of Independence. Look at the opening sentence. It states: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them to another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal status to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitles them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation." What is being addressed here but secession? This is not my opinion alone. Others much more astute than I have voiced such thoughts also. In the book "Liberty, Order and Justice" by James McClellan (Center for Judicial Studies, Washington, D.C.) the author, on page 65, in referring to the colonists states: "...they turned in the final stages of resistance to thoughts about the nature of free government. In the end, they came reluctantly to the conclusion that secession was their only recourse." Remember, McClellan was writing about 1776, not 1861. He clearly labels what the colonists did in regard to Great Britain as secession. Far be it from me to disagree with him on that point! In effect, the thirteen colonies seceded from Great Britain. If secession was wrong, we should still be a British colony, at least according to some people. Some sources have stated that, after the Constitutional Convention, several of the states balked at the idea of a strong central government. According to a booklet published by the Women for Constitutional Government in August of 1991, seven states included the right of secession in their acts of ratification. Four of these states were New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Hardly the heart of Dixie! Some researchers have discovered that, apparently, from our earlies days, Northern folks thought that secession was clearly legan and constitutional. The question has been raised--and I think it is a valid one--would these states have knowingly gotten themselves into a "union" they could not withdraw from under any circumstances? Given the predisposition of the American mindset toward liberty at that point in history, I think such a proposition is patently absurd. Secession was often on the minds of those in our early days who did not hail from the South. In his book "Reconstruction During the Civil War In The United States of America" (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, 1895), Eben Greenough Scott observed: "How little weight must be given to the professions of loyalty to the Union by either section may be estimated from the fact that, down to the Civil War of 1861, there had rarely been a time when the danger of dissolution, at the hands of one side or the other, was not threatening the Union." That secession was a Northern sentiment every bit as much or more than a Southern one was dealt with by Scott when he said: "Nor, as the public utterances and private correspondence of New England leaders disclose, was their reason or propriety in the threats of dissolution of the general Union, and the formation of a particular one, embracing the New England states only, merely because of the rampant Federalism of the locality had met with a rebuff. The conduct of New England during the Embargo and the War of 1812 has ever since then received such unsparing condemnation, that merely to mention it is to reoopen a mortifying chapter of our history..." In other words, via the Hartford Convention and other related instances, some Northern states were contemplating secession. It would seem that in 1813 & 14 they felt secession was right and proper. How, then, did it become so wrong in 1861? To be continued in Part Two

1 comment:

Doug said...

I was educated in the public schools in Norfolk, VA but was never taught that when Virginia joined the Union, the representatives demanded that an "escape clause" be included when they signed the Constitution. This "escape clause" is clearly described in "When in the Course of Human Events - Arguing the Case for Southern Secession" by Charles Adams (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000). Thus, when Virginia was forced back into the Union after her Constitutionally-legal secession, it was actually the result of another unconstitutional act by the Lincoln-led North.

Does this motivate anyone to drive to D.C. to worship at the Lincoln Temple . . er . . uh . . Memorial?