My original plan was to write about the presidential election and its impact on American political parties now that the tide of emotion has receded and the results have started to sink in for most people. However, another issue has come to light in the last week that I think is a better use of my blog and one that I would like to comment on this week. That is, after all, what the point of my blog is. It is a commentary on events affecting us today even if it is an event that is unlikely to ever occur.
The issue I want to discuss is the idea of secession. Apparently some people in our nation have the romantic idea that secession can cure all that ails the country or at least their state. The very thought is laughable. The term secession should be considered a four letter word in our society. It is truly a stain on the history of our great nation. Secession was the direct result of Americans who were unwilling to work together for the common good of America and mankind. It very nearly cost us our nation. It probably would have, had we not had a great man like Abraham Lincoln in office.
Apparently on November 7, the day after the election, a citizen of the state of Louisiana filed a petition with the White House for Louisiana to be granted peaceful secession from the Union. As of November 14th at least 44 citizens (several states have more than one petition submitted) from other states have filed petitions for secession on their state’s “behalf.” The states with the most signatures at the moment are: Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Under the We the People Initiative if these petitions, filed with the White House, reach 25,000 signatures by their deadlines (Dec. 7th for Louisiana, the 9th for Texas, the rest at later dates) the White House must issue a response. As of 10:00 EST on November 14 all seven of these states have exceeded the 25,000 signature threshold (with several more states closing in on that number). So, it would appear, that we will hear a response from the President at some point in the near future. I just have one thing to say… Seriously?
The idea of secession is preposterous. Just to refresh everyone’s memory; in 1860 South Carolina tried this. They eventually banned together with other disgruntled states to form the Confederate States of America. I am not sure if you guys remember this or not (I mean it being such a small event and all) but it did not end so well for the Confederacy. Although I feel the legitimacy and likelihood of anything coming of this is less than zero I thought it would be interesting to discuss the implications of what a split of the Union would mean today.
First, contrary to what people may believe secession is not “illegal” by any statute, law, act, or order. The Civil War did not “outlaw” secession it simply showed us that one union of states can, through military action, put down a rebellion. There is nothing in the Constitution that says that a state may not secede, not even an Amendment passed following the Civil War (I mean who would have thought the idea would ever be entertained again?). Simply stated there is nothing that says you can or cannot secede.
The basis to this argument comes down to one very important question: Did the Confederate states ever actually leave the union? Many claim that Texas v. White (1869) provides an answer to this question: it basically states that no, the states were simply in a state of rebellion but were still members of the United States. However, the decision written by Chief Justice Chase was not based on any precedent or anything in the Constitution only on his view of the situation. Others will claim that because President Grant signed an act allowing Texas to “return” to the Union that this shows that the States were no longer part of the Union but if you read the act to reinstate Texas as a full member of the United States you will notice that this is not true. The wording of the act is both careful and I am sure intentional. It states (just as the reconstruction acts of 1867 did): That the State of Texas is admitted to representation in Congress as one of the States of the Union upon the following fundamental conditions… Nowhere in this act does it say that they will be readmitted, it says that they will be admitted to representation in Congress, something they had been denied as a punishment for their rebellion. When your child rebels and does crazy things do you kick them out of the family? No, you punish them. In all honesty had President Lincoln not chose to act the way he did we may have remained two separate nations, at least for the length of time it took England or France to get on ships and come over and conquer one or both. In the end the decision for how to respond when faced with secession lies with the President of the United States.
Let us explore the notion of secession. What could/would this mean for us on both sides of the border and the world at large? As I explore these notions for the sake of simplicity we will refer to these two countries as the United States and the American Republic. This is assuming, of course, that the seceding states plan to band together and form a separate nation. An assumption I find highly unlikely.
Let us first consider a peaceful secession:
The global impact of a split United States would be catastrophic. It would be similar to the fragmentation of Eastern Europe in the 90’s; the birth of brand new nations with constant in-fighting that would need to earn stature across the globe. Rather than having one nation united and in recession (like the rest of the world) you now have two weak nations that are fighting among themselves and heading towards depression or worse. No nation would extend credit to the untested government of the American Republic or the weakened nation of the United States. With a collapsed infrastructure and little ability to provide for itself neither nation would be taken seriously and the world would scoff at their attempts at diplomacy. Both nations would have to immediately cease to have a global presence as both would have to consolidate and strengthen their nations domestically. Without the United States to support fledgling democracies and friendly governments you will begin to see less than friendly governments supporting and bringing to power more unfriendly governments. This would soon lead to unfriendly governments viewing both American nations as a target. Of course there would be allies and under peaceful secession terms I am sure both would be friendly to each other but without the combined might of the nation how strong, truly, would this divided nation be?
The domestic impact would also be disastrous. Geographically it would be impossible to define borders. Neither nation could support itself. Much of the agriculture and oil-producing states would be in one nation while the manufacturing would be in the other. Neither country would have the infrastructure to sustain a nation and would have to rely too heavily on foreign (both of these nations would now be foreign) products to survive. Also, how do you handle the military? How about the debt we all contributed to?
If the secession was less than peaceful the magnitude of the above problems would increase exponentially as friendly relations between the two would be nonexistent. Not only would you have to worry about attacks from your own continent the possibility of transatlantic or pacific invasions on both nations would increase. The economy would slide faster into depression and probably bankruptcy. Foreign powers would be fighting over who would get to take over America as we would no longer be able to pay our debts or protect ourselves.
All of this is taking for granted of course that the seceded states would want to form their own single new country. This is highly doubtful as many of these states have completely different ideologies when it comes to politics and policies. If they do not unite, then how do the states with a large percentage of its residents living at or slightly above the poverty level sustain themselves? How do they defend themselves? How do they pay for the things a government needs to exist?
Our government, though not specifically stated, was designed as a permanent union of states. A permanent union that would work out there problems when they had differences not divorce at the first sign of trouble. The intent is obvious with both documents written by our founding fathers to create our nation’s government:
Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states.
— Articles of Confederation 1781
We the People of the United States in Order to form a more perfect union…
— Constitution of the United States of America (1787)
The Articles of Confederation set up a perpetual union of states, not a temporary or expedient one but perpetual… everlasting. The Constitution wanted to improve upon the government of the articles by creating a more perfect union, not a weak one that can be dissolved on a state’s whim but a more perfect one. A government that can fall apart simply by a state or group of states wanting to dissolve its relationship is in no way “more perfect”. The strength is in the Union. Lincoln recognized this as I am sure President Obama and any other president to hold the office would.
The We The People initiative is President Obama’s own “big block of cheese” (you West Wing fans out there will understand that one). His way to allow anyone to have access to his administration and have their concerns heard and, if it is a big enough concern to the American people, something done about it. Use the tool as it is meant to be used and as the Constitution provides: to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Address your concerns through petitioning the government for changes in policy and by electing people who support your views on the things that you feel are the most important. Secession is running away from the problems not an attempt to fix the problem.
A house divided cannot stand.
— Abraham Lincoln (1858)
The polarized nature of this country is eroding what makes this nation great. We cannot remain so divided or we will fail. We must come together and fashion compromise for the betterment of this nation. In order to do this the people on both sides of the argument must be willing to compromise. If we cannot, if we will not, then we will fall.
Link to the We the People Initiative page: