Secession: it’s the American way. After all, without secession, the U.S. would never be. We would still be a product of English imperialism. But that’s not what happened. The founding fathers decided that secession was required, and that free people have a right to secede from an oppressive government that was no longer “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Declaration of Independence stated that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” America was built on the idea of secession. Although secession is historically and morally significant, there is a far more effective tool to return sovereignty to the people. It’s called nullification.
With the re-election of Barack Obama, secession dialogues are back. The frustration with an ever expanding federal government, vast political differences, the unconstitutional “Obamacare,” NDAA, and many others, secession talk is running rampant. Historically speaking, secession is an appropriate check on the federal government. However, as our founding fathers were aware, a peaceful withdrawal from the U.S. is unlikely. Nullification, which eliminates the need to secede, and avoids violence, is the “rightful remedy.”
Looking through history, and the words of our founding fathers, it’s easy to see their views on the rights of States to secede. Take for instance Thomas Jefferson. To understand his visions, we can simply look to his words. In Jefferson’s first inaugural address, he said, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union . . . let them stand undisturbed.”
Jefferson wasn’t the only one. John Quincy Adams agreed that states could secede to create a “more perfect union.” Even nationalist extraordinaire, Alexander Hamilton, argued that “To coerce the States [to remain in the Union] is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised.” To the founders, the right to secede was engrained in the American spirit. With the threat of secession looming, an ever expanding federal government, with ever increasing powers would cease to exist. Secession is another check. Just as the three federal branches check the powers of each other, secession would do the same.
America is the land of the free. Free men are able to do as they please, which includes leaving something they no longer wish to be a part of. If freedom is the goal, then secession is a right of free people. As Murray Rothbard said,
“Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as being in a state of impermissible “anarchy,” why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighborhood? Each block? Each house? Each person? But, of course, if each person may secede from government, we have virtually arrived at the purely free society.”
Even without the words of our founders, the right to secede can simply be found by understanding our Constitution. Given the fact that the federal government was created by a compact of the states, and that no single government (state or federal) is sovereign, but the people themselves that are sovereign, then it is the people that have the power to secede. The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Since the power of secession is not delegated to Congress, it is the sovereign citizens of the States that have the right to determine whether or not secession is the solution.
To understand the meaning of the Constitution, it is also important to look to state ratifying conventions. Here, it can be determined what type of government the delegates intended to create, and where they intended the power to lie. Below are words from the New York ratifying document, which clearly shows the delegates were creating a federal government with clearly delegated powers, and all other powers left to the people of the States.
“That the Powers of Government may be reassumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness; that every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments of the Government thereof, remains to the People of the several States.”
The historical justification of secession seems obvious. It is a power designed to ensure the liberties of U.S. citizens are preserved. It’s ideals are as American as apple pie. If only it were as sweet.
When the U.S. seceded from the British Empire, it was resolved in a violent Revolutionary War. The same happened when the South attempted secession. Very few secession attempts end peacefully. There are examples. Former Soviet Republics were able to peacefully secede, as well as Iceland. Norway was able to peacefully secede from Sweden as well. One thing all these had in common though was that these countries were so weakened, or filled with outside pressure to allow secession that stopping it would have been difficult, as is the case of the former Soviet Union, which was so badly damaged, the union simply collapsed. Unless a similar collapse will happen in the U.S., talks of secession are useless. Talks of nullification though, are appropriate.
The founders knew secession attempts would end badly. Bloodshed would ultimately occur. That is why nullification was termed the “moderate middle ground.” Thomas Jefferson rightfully coined it the “rightful remedy,” for people of sovereign States to use against federal usurpation. At a time when secession talk is nothing but an interesting debate topic, or a good story, nullification is the real deal. It is the best way to limit the federal government, and the only way to keep power in the hands of the people. The reasons for secession are eliminated through nullification. After all, if the people of the States could nullify the Affordable Care Act, end NDAA, and limit all federal power grabs, who needs secession?
Nullification was first termed by Thomas Jefferson. It was in response to the Federal Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson called nullification the “rightful remedy” when the federal government acted beyond their constitutionally enumerated powers. James Madison also spoke of the States having the power to nullify unjust federal laws. In his Virginia Resolutions of 1798, he called it “interposition.”
“That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.”
As with secession, the power of the states to nullify federal laws can also be found in the Constitution. By looking at the Tenth Amendment again, we see the right of states to nullify. As James Madison stated, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite.” The power to nullify federal laws, are one of the “numerous and indefinite” powers of the State Madison was referring.
While the “supremacy clause,” of the U.S. Constitution maintains that federal laws are “the supreme law of the land,” it is beside the point. The clause declares that laws made “in pursuance thereof” the constitution as supreme. Any unconstitutional law is not made “in pursuance thereof” and is therefore not the law of the land.
Although the Constitution does create a judicial branch, designed to interpret, and give their opinion on the constitutionality of federal laws, it is unreasonable to allow the federal government a monopoly on the interpretation of their own powers. If there is no check on their powers, it will ultimately lead to an end of our liberties, tyranny, and a return to the type of government our founders originally seceded from.
It would be Anti-American.
Nullification is better than secession. And it’s as American as baseball and crackerjacks.