The Right to Secede
Most people believe that the Civil War settled the argument over whether the States had the right to secede from the Union. The only thing that the war settled was that the Union had to power to prevent secession – it did not prove that it had the right to prevent secession!
The Constitution is silent on the issue of secession. All of the States believed that they had the right to secede when they ratified the Constitution. In fact, three states, New York, Virginia and Rhode Island included the right to secede when they approved the Constitution.
The New England states threatened to secede three times from 1801 to 1817. The Central States considered seceding just prior to the Civil War. In fact, most of the Northern States acknowledged the South’s right to secede and urged President Lincoln to let the South secede peacefully. Virtually all of the Northern States were opposed to using force to prevent the secession.
President Lincoln was opposed to secession primarily for economic reasons. First, the South was the largest source of income for the United States. At the time, the country’s primary source of income was from tariffs. Since the South was primarily an agrarian economy, it imported most manufactured products from overseas or from the North. The Northern manufacturers were protected by high tariffs so they could charge the South more for their products. This meant that the South either had to pay the higher prices for Northern products or import their products from overseas and thus pay the import fees. The South believed that most of the Tariff revenues were being spent in the North, which was probably true. Lincoln did not want to lose this source of income or lose the valuable trade with the South.
Second, the Confederate Constitution created a “free trade zone” in the South. By eliminating the tariffs in the South, Lincoln knew that they would steal valuable import business from the Northern ports which would deprive the Northerners of the valuable tariff revenues.
What our Forefathers said about secession:
“To secure these rights [of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed… Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”
Declaration of Independence – 1776
At the Constitutional Convention, a proposal was made to allow the Federal Government to suppress a seceding state, but that proposal was rejected after James Madison said…
“A Union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State, would look more like a declaration of war, than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”
Even Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the state’s right to secede:
“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.”
Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848
“The indissoluble link of union between the people of the several states of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the right but in the heart. If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it!) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other; when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interests shall fester into hatred, the bands of political associations will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect Union by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the center.”
John Quincy Adams – 1839
“It is inherent in the nature of sovereignty not to be amenable to the suit of any individual without its consent. This is the general sense and the general practice of mankind; and the exemption, as one of the attributes of sovereignty, is now enjoyed by the government of every State in the Union … The contracts between a nation and individuals are only binding on the conscience of the sovereign, and have no pretensions to a compulsive force. They confer no right of action, independent of the sovereign will. To … authorize suits against States for the debts they owe … could not be done without waging war against the contracting State …, a power which would involve such a consequence, would be altogether forced and unwarranted.”
Alexander Hamilton – The Federalist Papers (81)
Even Alexis de Tocqueville, the noted French political thinker, stated in his book “Democracy in America” that:
“The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and in uniting together they have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims either by force or right.”
There have been numerous secessions throughout history. First, we seceded from England and Texas seceded from Mexico. Ireland seceded from Great Britain. Numerous countries seceded from the USSR after the fall of the Berlin wall. Then, many of these countries seceded from the new countries that were formed including Georgia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldavia. In 2014 Scotland voted on a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom which was not successful. However, it proves that even in England they have the right to secede.
Thus, secession was deemed a right of any people who believe that their government has become oppressive.
So, has our government become oppressive?
The following two videos document states’ right to secede:
Congressman Ron Paul: