Some thoughts about secession
Do you think secession is legal under the U.S. Constitution?
The talk of states seceding from the United States goes all the way back to even before the United States were the United States. Lately, with the re-election of President Obama, many disgruntled people are signing petitions at a breakneck pace to have their respective states secede from the Union. As of the writing of this hub, every state has a petition submitted (remember these are by private citizens and not the state governments themselves) and at least seven have enough to warrant a response from the White House per their statement on the "We The People" petition site.
Lets just start by saying that there is never going to be a clear answer on this. Ever. New York, Rhode Island and Virginia made it a stipulation to signing the Constitution in ratification documents that they have the right to back out. Virginia's reads,
“The People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will.”
New York and Rhode Islands are almost identical. Pennsylvania and New England early in the 19th century attempted to seceed and when John C. Calhoun spoke of secession in South Carolina, President Andrew Jackson threatened to send Federal troops down there and put a quick end to that sort of talk.
Then the Civil War happened and for four years the United States was indeed divided. In 1869, Texas brought a case to the Supreme Court that challenged the secession right and lost. In 1870 the last state that formed the Confederate States of America was readmitted to the Union (Georgia, July 15, 1870). It seemed that the notion of secession had been settled.
Over the years since the Civil War, many citizens have pushed again for secession when their political ideologies were not fulfilled, when they felt they were not being heard by the government, or when they were just plain mad that their candidate lost.
Now, with renewed talks of secession other things need to be looked at. The polarization in America is divisive as it was during the Civil War. The double-talk of politicians, the want/opposition of government intrusion into almost every portion of Americans lives, the blaming of both parties on the current financial cliff the country is teetering on, the threat of terrorism and of course, war. Many Americans quite honestly are fed up and feel helpless and want the government to listen to them, not tell them what to do.
So, lets look at secession, the pros, the cons and the in's and out's of it and what it means.
The first question that is going to be asked is "Is secession legal?" As I said before, I don't believe this question is black and white and contains many shades of gray and will never be ultimately defined. The Constitution says, in no clear-cut words, anything about the legality of secession. It does talk about admitting new states, but not leaving. So the argument is that under the Tenth Amendment, silence in a matter means there is no Federal power. However, in Texas vs White, the Supreme Court made it clear that secession was illegal, and that the inference that there is a provision for admitting states and not for leaving, seems to prove that you can join, but you cannot leave. It seems that the wording of the Constitution was created in such a way that it leaves a backdoor for both viewpoints, ergo, I don't believe this question will ever truly be answered. It seems that secession is legal and illegal - depending on individual interpretation.
The Supreme Court has always made it clear that when they rule it is law. John Marshall even went as far to imply that it is so because the Supreme Court says so. However, there are a number of times where there seems to be emotional, political and ulterior motives at work in some of their decisions. Look at the current Health Care Reform Act. The President says "it is not a tax", the Supreme Court says it is. If the Supreme Court is right, then fundamentally Obamacare is illegal. Secession falls into the same category. There appear to be more instances of secession being permissible than not in regards to the Constitution.
Secondly, what is secession? Merriam-Webster defines it as "withdrawal into privacy or solitude. formal withdrawal from an organization." Oxford Dictionary defines it as "the action of withdrawing formally from membership of a federation or body, especially a political state." Is that what the original 13 British colonies did? They "seceded" from the organized, political body known as the British Empire. So one has to wonder - why was that called a "revolution" and it's perpetrators considered patriots and the Confederate states considered traitors? Were they not both withdrawing from a pact they felt did not serve their purposes? The parallels are the same. One group of people, using the foundations of the previous government, creating a new nation that represented it's people in a manner better suited to their needs.
Now, while I do not condone secession, I also do not think that pushing it under the carpet and saying "that can and won't ever happen" or that it was solved after the Civil War is wise or prudent. The matters that bring about the idea of secessions - the underlying problems, obstacles and issues - HAVE to be addressed in the context of secession. If one group simply states it is illegal and we will not allow that to happen without dialogue with the other party is inviting a replay of America in the mid-nineteenth century.
Both sides of the debate will list ones pros as the others con. I do not think there is a pro to secession in the long term. States as of today are in no way prepared to carry the burden of sole ownership of their state. They have too much invested in the Union. National Guard units that are raised for state needs are done so by the authority of the Federal government. This means the states have zero rights to their state guard units. The highway systems that connects America is a Federal project, that would be a huge problem. What about airlines? Would you need a passport to travel into individual state-countries? How about Federal grants? Subsidies? Banks? Law enforcement? Foreign relations? Labor? Taxes? It has become such a more complex situation as opposed to when the country was still in it's infancy. Splitting now would prove disastrous for everyone involved.
And don't think that the other countries, especially those who would absolutely love to see America fall apart, are not watching. America and it's former comrades all would be ripe for all sorts of anarchy.
In the end change in this country is way beyond overdue. Secession is not the answer. Instead of running away, the people of the nation need to become more involved at a personal level and be the architects of change. Americans need to educate themselves in not only domestic issues put foreign policy and be part of the change that allows the country to once again cause the world to understand why Americans are a different breed of people who became a world power in such a short time by our fortitude. Our youth need to understand responsibility, self sacrifice and our history to be prepared to lead in the future. We need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and right a ship that is perilously close to sinking. Jumping overboard will just cause those jumping to drown and the ship to sink.