Larry L. Beane responds to that accusation here, in a piece called 'Is Secession 'Anti-American'?
In response to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's defense of states’ rights, State Rep. Jim Dunnam (D-Waco) says secession is anti-American. He even threw in a gratuitous race card to try to vilify the governor.
It should go without saying that the United States of America began with a series of thirteen secessions. The founding document of the American union is itself a collective "declaration of independence" that affirms unilateral secession to be part of our inalienable right of liberty. The U.S. Constitution (to which Rep. Dunnam has pledged an oath) affirms that the federal government's authority is both "enumerated" and "delegated," while the powers of the states are "reserved."
Far from being anti-American – secession, resistance against tyranny, and the right to self-government are quintessentially American, and are the hallmarks of all free peoples around the world. And what could be more ironic than the very epicenter of the overextended federal government being named after the chief of the American secessionists?''
It's often said, in discussions about the War Between the States and about secession in general that secession is 'unconstitutional', and worse, 'treasonous.' I often hear this line of argument used by Northerners who think that the South is forever condemned as a traitorous region because our ancestors seceded.
It does appear that the idea of secession, however, is gaining a hearing from more Americans lately. I mentioned how the responses have changed since I first blogged about secession a couple of years ago, and at that time, received some negative responses. Lately there is more receptivity, and it also shows in the number of articles being written about the subject and the increase in the number of discussions about it in segments of the media and even in the "mainstream" media.
It is a discussion that should be aired; at the heart of it is the idea of government itself, and specifically our American form of government, in light of what our government has become over the centuries since that government was first instituted.
But for what I think is a first-rate essay on secession, I will go back some years to this piece from 1996, written by Donald W. Livingston,
Secession and the Modern State.
He begins by quoting Lord Acton's words to Robert E. Lee, following the defeat of the South:
"Secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy...."
Livingston brings up an interesting fact: secession of a peaceful nature has occurred in totalitarian states but rarely in liberal Western states. He notes that our government almost never supports a peaceful secession move, and he traces the reasons why this is so, based on our history since, oh, say 1865:
..It is paradoxical and demands explanation why peaceful secession by referendum should have occurred in so-called totalitarian communist states whereas in western liberal states, during a period of two hundred years (1790-1990), there have been only two cases of peaceful secession, but a great number of cases in which secession attempts were brutally defeated by the central government. Unhappily the Confederacy did not have the Communist Party under Gorbachev to negotiate with; and mercifully the Soviet Republics did not have to negotiate with the Republican Party under Lincoln. As far as I can determine, the United States since 1865 has initially resisted or failed to support every secession attempt in the world except the secession of Panama from Columbia which it engineered as a means of constructing the Panama Canal. The United States was among the last to recognize the seceding states of the Soviet Union. It did not recognize the secession of Slovenia and Croatia (as had a number of European states), and it persisted, long after it was unreasonable, to think of Yugoslavia as a unitary state. A top Croatian leader, responding to Secretary of State James Baker's arrogant and dark warning against secession, observed that Baker could not free himself from the "American tradition of demonizing the phenomenon of secession. He didn't have an ear for our proposal to establish a union of sovereign states." This should not be surprising from a regime whose founding father is not the secessionist George Washington or Thomas Jefferson but the violent suppressor of secession Abraham Lincoln.
Today there are secession and devolution movements of all kinds occurring throughout the world. Indeed, political economists estimate that no more than twenty-five states in the United Nations are free of secessionist or territorial disputes. And there are also many secession movements that stop short of claiming national sovereignty.
How are we to understand the deeper philosophical implications of this new and apparently growing respect for secession and devolution? Richard Weaver wrote a famous book entitled Ideas Have Consequences, and indeed they do. In what follows I would like to examine the consequences of an idea framed by the great political philosophers of the modern era; such thinkers as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, Mill, and Marx. The idea in question is that of a modern unitary state. For two centuries we have been living out the consequences of that idea. And if I am not mistaken, we are witnessing, if not the disintegration of the modern state, at least the most radical challenge to it ever posed.
The bloated bureaucracies of modern states with their huge public debts and vast revenues would have been unthinkable to Hobbes. Nevertheless, the Hobbesian theory of the state helped pave the way for the clumsy, inefficient and destructive leviathans that have ploughed the seas of the political world for the last two centuries. The feature that assisted in this consequence is the doctrine that sovereignty is indivisible, irresistible, and infallible.
But there is a further consequence. Sovereignty is said to be internal to territory. As sovereignty is indivisible, so is territory. And from this it follows that the secession of a people from a modern state is logically impossible, for secession would require the territorial dismemberment of a state, and that would be to deny that sovereignty is indivisible. It is for this reason that the great modern philosophers and those who follow in their steps today never so much as raise the question of whether secession is morally justified. Their main task has been to theorize and legitimate the modern state.
It is not surprising, therefore, to find throughout critical literature acts of secession misdescribed as something else such as revolution or civil war.''
Livingston differentiates between secession and revolution. He enumerates three types of revolution, those being a restorationist revolution, as in the 'Glorious Revolution of 1688', then the Lockean revolution, and last, the Jacobin type.
The last type corresponds to today's Marxist revolution, which encompasses many supposed 'reforms' from the left that aim to transform society in radical ways, even when the means used are 'peaceful', such as with feminism and other egalitarian reforms, like those of the last 40 years or so. The Supreme Court has been at the heart of many of these Jacobin reform measures in its court decisions over the latter part of the 20th century and into our present time. In that sense, Livingston correctly says that the Supreme Court is the main policymaking institution in our American system, which is obviously not the way in which our Republic was intended to work.
All three types of revolution, says Livingston, presuppose the idea of 'sovereignty.'
Livingston says that secession, however, fits none of the three types of revolution; it does not propose to overthrow or radically change the existing governmental system, but to withdraw and to preserve the order of things by means of self-government outside the currently-reigning government.
In that sense, it's a conservative move.
However our American secession from Great Britain has been popularly called 'The American Revolution', although it was not actually revolutionary in any of the conventional definitions.
Much has been made of the Lockean idiom of self-government in the speech of the Founders. But it is important to understand that, though Locke allows the overthrow of a corrupt regime, he does not allow secession. Indeed, for citizens who have given their explicit consent, he does not even allow the right to exit, much less take territory with them.5 Locke might have been sympathetic with the colonists' demands for representation but, if consistent, he, like George III, would have had to stop short of secession.
So it is a miscategorization to describe the break with Britain in 1776 as the American Revolution. Likewise, it can only lead to moral confusion to describe the conflict arising from the secession of eleven contiguous American States in 1861 as the Civil War. The primordial meaning of the expression "civil war" is the English Civil War. That was a conflict between two factions seeking to control the same government of a state. The Confederates, however, were not seeking to control the central government of the United States; rather, they were seceding from that government. Consequently, there was no American Civil War.''
Livingston goes on to explain the difference between a unitary government, which does not admit of 'divided sovereignty' and a 'federative polity' which allows for independent and local or regional authority. And he explains how the modern unitary state attempts to guarantee and enforce 'natural rights' and egalitarianism, and how the proliferation of these supposed individual (or group rights, I would say) necessitates the diminution of local power and control, as the central state heavy-handedly enforces these 'rights'. Such a state thus becomes more powerful and more totalitarian, even though it is essentially a 'liberal' state. The problem, then, is not a problem of 'Marxism' or 'fascism' or any such political ideology, but a problem of the unitary system of government, and the power it invests in a central government.
This promiscuous explosion of individual rights has been at the expense of those independent social authorities and communities that cultivate the goods of human excellence that go into the formation of noble and virtuous character. It is for this reason that public moral discourse today is the discourse of rights and seldom ever the discourse of virtue.17 Indeed, the United States has become what is proudly, but foolishly, called a culture of rights. But it is in fact a regime in a condition of chronic low-grade civil war; an endless number of new rights generating an endless number of new victims and oppressors; strident protest and counter-protest that one's rights have been violated; a country held together not by the obligations and sympathies of a common vision of human excellence but by legalism. Our rulers are Supreme Court judges, our parish priests are lawyers, and our entertainment watching trials and talk shows about trials on television.
We can no longer say that the social fabric of the United States is in danger of coming apart; it is coming apart. The most fundamental of those independent social authorities that make possible the goods of excellence is the family. The Supreme Court's recent ruling against the amendment to the Constitution of Colorado, which denies that homosexuals are endowed with a special set of civil rights, would appear to make it impossible for a state to prohibit gay marriages and so to uphold the dignity and special status of the family.
The wild absurdities we are now living through are in large part the result of trying to transform what began as a federative polity on a continental scale into a modern unitary state, the goal of which is to establish an egalitarian ideology. The Southern Confederacy was an attempt to block that move.''
Our present system, as Livingston reminds us, has done a very thorough job of persuading people to believe in the Lincolnian myth that, contrary to the Jeffersonian vision, the Constitution is an agreement between the American people collectively, in whom sovereignty resides, as opposed to the people of the several states. If that agreement is binding for all time, then there can be no right of secession or withdrawal from the sacred Union because it is in the institution of that Union that all power and sovereignty resides.
The Lincolnian story is one of increasing centralization, consolidation, and political ossification. That we have fallen under its sway explains the surprising lack of political imagination in America today.
As part of expanding this imagination, we must work to remove the moral and philosophical prejudice against the very idea of secession. America was born in secession; secession is essential to the idea of a self-governing people; and until 1865 was widely considered an option available to an American state in all parts of the union. But secession short of national sovereignty is also possible. Parts of cities and counties may secede. A part of a state may secede and form another state as twenty-seven counties in northern California proposed to do in 1992. The mere discussion of the merits of such proposals, whether or not they succeed, will serve to detoxify the idea of secession and re-awaken in Americans the long slumbering notion of self-government induced by the opiate of the Lincolnian ideology of a modern unitary American state.
The secession and devolution movements in the world today, along with the demonstrated viability of small states, raises new and exciting possibilities. Americans have not rejected these possibilities; they simply have never occurred to them. The reason is that they are still under the spell of the centralized modern state founded in the Lincoln myth. Ours is the uphill task of refuting that myth both as an historical account of the American polity and as a moral and philosophical account of the best form of political association. That form is and has always been some form of federative polity with the right of secession.''
It's vital that this issue be given serious thought and discussion in our present environment; it may be that our right to free speech will one day be so restricted that any 'unorthodox' idea will be excluded from public discussion, and as our country is being transformed, Jacobin-style, with breakneck speed, the options open to us seem to be narrowing. All the former preconceptions must be reconsidered and re-examined.