Skip to comments.Seceding seldom succeeds, but Vermonters try
Posted on 11/15/2005 6:22:45 AM PST by robowombat
Seceding seldom succeeds, but Vermonters try
By Josh Burek | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
MONTPELIER, VT. Politics, like fall foliage, turns faster in Vermont. The state was out front opposing slavery and first to approve civil unions. And if the activists who met here last month succeed, the state will set another precedent: first to secede since 1861. No, this wasn't a clandestine meeting of militants. It was a convention for Ver- monters, held in the plush, gold-domed capitol.
And its keynote - that separating from the United States is a just remedy for the federal government's trampling of state sovereignty - is echoing beyond the snow-capped Green Mountains.
From Hawaii to South Carolina, dozens of groups across America are promoting a similar cause. Their efforts aren't politically popular - yet. But they are reviving one of the most passionate debates in US history: Can a state legally secede?
For the Second Vermont Republic (SVR), the group that hosted the convention, the answer is "yes."
"If we had a right to join the Union, we certainly have a right to disband from it," SVR founder Thomas Naylor told the assembly. In his view, Vermonters should join the cause if they:
Say the US has lost moral authority and is unsustainable, ungovernable, and unfixable.
Want to help take back Vermont from big business, big markets, and big government - and do so peacefully.
Other separatist groups
Naylor's talking points aren't unique to Vermont. Separatist groups with diverse causes share the view that the federal government has grown too big and too powerful. Many say obedience to the Constitution would restore America's lost liberty. But some insist that the federal government long ago overstepped its constitutional powers, leaving secession as a valid recourse.
"Separatism is a Christian principle," says Cory Burnell, president of Christian Exodus, which aims to relocate thousands of Christian constitutionalists to South Carolina to "redeem" that state's government. "We talk about secession as potentially necessary because history has demonstrated that where one people stand up, there tends to be another people to rule over them."
The Free State Project (FSP) is another group determined to reclaim constitutional liberty. Its libertarian members have pledged to move to New Hampshire to restore limited government.
But FSP is not promoting secession, which, according to spokeswoman Amanda Phillips, usually has caused more problems than it has solved.
"We can accomplish our goals by working within the constitutional framework," she says.
FSP's reluctance to rock the boat points to a major obstacle US separatists face: public uneasiness about secession.
Two views of secession
Ever since the Civil War, many Americans view secession the way President Lincoln did: as an unlawful act of rebellion by the slave-holding Confederate States. Indeed, Lincoln saw it as a tyrannical threat to the principle of democracy.
But movements like SVR counter with two points. First, they argue that secession is a continuing theme from America's formative years. And second, they say that Lincoln was not a noble savior of the Union, but a racist warmonger intent on strengthening federal authority.
To mine intellectual capital for these ideas, Yankee-based SVR has dug deep into what critics call the neo-Confederate vein of Southern ideology. The group has promoted the work of scholars affiliated with the League of the South, which advocates greater autonomy for the Southern states.
One of them, Donald Livingston, a professor of philosophy at Atlanta's Emory University, wrote a cover story - "What Is Secession?" - for the Vermont Commons newsletter, in which he philosophically defended the principle.
The 15 states that left the Soviet Union beginning in 1991, Dr. Livingston says, show that secession can be a peaceful instrument to dissolve an empire that's become dangerously large.
"The public corporation known as the United States is too large," he says. "It needs to be downsized like any other corporation."
Secession was a vital part of American history, Livingston and others say. New England, for instance, tried to secede several times, most notably in 1814 over the war with Britain. The Declaration of Independence, they insist, was a secessionist document - not a revolutionary appeal to natural rights, as other historians maintain. And the right of secession, they argue, is implied in the 10th Amendment.
"The right to coerce a state in the Union is not delegated to the federal government," says Mr. Burnell of Christian Exodus.
At odds with Lincoln
Delegates in Montpelier didn't accept these arguments entirely. One man rose to express admiration for Lincoln, whose statue sits in the state house lobby. How could he support a position, he wondered aloud, that Lincoln fought so hard to oppose?
Indeed, Lincoln was adamant. He held as sacred the right of a people to overthrow a government that violates what the Declaration of Independence called the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."
But secession, he proclaimed, was not an exercise of minority rights; rather, it was an attempt to nullify majority rule - a cornerstone of a democratic constitutional republic. A government that allowed a fraction of its citizens to reject its authority any time that community dissented from majority rule would be no government at all.
"Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy," Lincoln said at his first inaugural address in 1861.
Furthermore, Lincoln felt secession was based on an erroneous claim about the nation's founding. In the secession view, expounded by South Carolina Sen. John Calhoun in the 1840s and echoed by SVR's Naylor today, the Union was a voluntary compact among sovereign states, which can be broken.
"The other view is no, the Constitution is not a pact among states; it is a contract among all people in the nation - it's an irreversible commitment," says Stephen Presser, a legal historian at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Questions of legality
Today, most experts say states have no legal right to secede.
"To exercise the right of secession requires a violation of national law," says Herman Belz, a professor of history at the University of Maryland.
That didn't stop some frustrated voters in blue states from urging secession after President Bush won reelection last November. Nor will it stop SVR, which pledges to use all nonviolent means for Vermont to become "independent."
In fact, the group is already thinking nationally, with founder Naylor and author Kirkpatrick Sale teaming up to form the Middlebury Institute, a think tank devoted to secession.
Observers and SVR devotees alike say it will be difficult to gain popular support. "[SVR is] very sincere, but it has absolutely no chance of happening," says Eric Davis, a professor of political science at Vermont's Middlebury College.
But SVR takes inspiration from the history implied in its name. Vermont was an independent republic once before, between 1777 and 1791.
Do they want to secede from the union, or just from the state? If it's the latter, hey, it worked for WV.
Let New England secede. Howard Dean would make a great first president of their socialist republic. YEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAAH!
Sounds like they're attempting to exercise "states' rights."
I'm in favor of them leaving. It will make it a lot easier for the conservatives to control the Senate, and they really don't add much to the Union anyway.
These boobs could exercise a poodle.
I guess I have NO problem with secession
I wish Upstate NY would secede and form a new state. I figure we could take a lot of the rid bits of PA with us, too. Make a new state where RINOs need not apply.
But only in the summer. It's too cold there in the winter.
I think you're right. When big government was promoting the liberal/left agenda, it was ok. Now that big government is not so friendly to the left, some of them seem to be having second thoughts.
There is a sap behind every tree. No great loss though.
Getting rid of Howard Dean would justify secession in itself.
What do you know, I'm a Reb. I am all for Vermonter leaving the USA. Heck Canada can have everything North of Pennslvania and East of the Great Lakes.
All you really need to do is boot NYC out of your state, and problem solved.
Like I've said before, trade NY and New England to Canada in exchange for everything west of Ontario.
Didn't Vermont once secede from New York State, eons ago?
man that would be great
Got my vote for it
Yup. NYC, Philly, and Pittsburgh could fend for themselves :) We'd still have to deal with those lovely unfunded federal mandates, but we wouldn't have our own state stabbing us in the back at the same time.
I wish everything west of Hwy 101 in CA would secede from the coast! We need to form a new state also, western cal would be as conservative as it gets.
Yeah, I guess the problem with booting out NYC is that they control the state. They aren't going to leave voluntarily, certainly.
Oops, in post 24 change western to eastern please! We need to form a new state out of eastern CA. It's too early for this stuff yet!:)
And I'm sure they wouldn't be too keen on letting Upstate bug. But I'm willing to try :)
Didn't VT send soldiers to fight against the Confederacy for seceeding?
Typical liberal logic, evil when other do it, but just and proper when they do.
I doubt we'll collect. :) BUT... I like Ben and Jerry's although I won't give them any money because I don't want to fund the left. Think they'd pay war reparation in ice cream?
Make mine Chubby Hubby!
Vermont is the home of choice for every hippie from the Northeast.
"I wish Upstate NY would secede and form a new state. I figure we could take a lot of the rid bits of PA with us, too. Make a new state where RINOs need not apply."
Most of PA is red with the exception of the cities...Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Erie, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the Allentown area!
I am sick of RINOs too and especially those conservatives who act conservative during an election and then wimp out. It drives me crazy!
Now there's an idea!! ;)
No doubt.... The Civil War.... No matter what you read was about states rights. And about the Federal Governments rights to interfere with states rights. Not slavery although that was an issue it was not "The Reason" for the war between the states..... The slavery issue was used to unify and justify the declaration of war on the South by Lincoln.
This is just another silly liberal distraction. New England is turning into a retirement community. There was an EXCELLENT article on the "graying of Vermont" in this week's Sunday newspaper. Vermont has the SECOND-HIGHEST median age in the country (Maine is #1, NH is #7). In other words; 'old-fart central'. As younger people move away, because they can't afford to live here, those homes are being snapped up as 'second homes' by wealthy elderly from southern New England and New York. Many schools have found themselves with empty classrooms, as the exodus continues. Within a few short years; the citizens of Vermont are going to be too busy trying to remain economically viable to worry about 'leaving' the United States. Vermont's destiny is that of an expensive retirement community. Simple as that.
For Southern rights, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag
That bears a single star!
They can talk about it all they want, but they can't seceed, regardless of their rhetoric.
Read the following:
The five to three decision, read on April 15, 1869, by Chief Justice S. P. Chase, held the Union to be indestructable and, thus, not dissoluble by any act of a state, the government, or the people. The court, therefore, repudiated the doctrine of state sovereignty, but it clearly supported the federal in contradistinction to a consolidated system of government, for the decision continues: "But the perpetuity and indissolubility of the Union, by no means, implies the loss of distinct and individual existence or of the right of self-government by the states."
Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869) was a significant case argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1869. The Court held (in a 53 decision) that Texas had remained a state of the United States ever since it first joined the Union, despite its joining the Confederate States of America and its being under military rule at the time of the decision in the case. It further held that the Constitution did not permit states to secede from the United States, and that the ordinances of secession, and all the acts of the legislatures within seceding states intended to give effect to such ordinances, were "absolutely null".
If Vermont secedes, will Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge still be counted as Presidents of the US?
Unfortunately, the practice of slavery is inconveniently unavailable for the Union to use as their "just cause" this time.
The South declared war by firing on Fort Sumter.
It reminds me of the Japanese and Pearl Harbor. Especially how the guys who shot first got beat.
Can one party to a contract unilaterally reinterpret the meaning of the contract years after it is signed? How many of the states which initially created the current U.S. government by ratifying the Constitution in 1787-1788 believed they were taking an irrevocable step?
So when are you moving to Vermont?
Gee, isn't this the way seceding is treated here in the US? This is the way it was done years ago, it should be good enough for today's Vermonters.
I would have to say yes if it is the federal government. Look at socialist insecurity, they change the rules on that all the time. the court has ruled on this once, and when a territory becomes a state they have to follow the covenants set down before they are admitted. Sort of like buying into an HOA you may not have been there when it is formed, but if you want to buy there you have to agree to follow their rules.
Although I find it interesting to note that when the war was over the Fed Govt required the Confederate States to rewrite their constitutions before they would be readmitted. Which begs the question, if they never truly seceeded because the Union was inseperable, how could they be required to rewrite their State Constitutions before they could be readmitted?