Secession … Is it OK to just leave?

This subject came up in the post beneath (A Tale of Two Countries) about the 14th Amendment. Was the South legally justified in seceding from the United States? BMSeattle left a comment that summed up my attitude on the question, here. Of course it was justified! Voluntary going in, voluntary going out.

My only thought about the violent response was what we now call “Balkanization,” or the fragmentation of a large region or country into smaller countries, as happened with Yugoslavia after the death of Marshall Tito. While it may seem a normal and legitimate process, it is usually accompanied by warfare. I was once years ago listening to Larry King on radio late at night, not being a good sleeper. He had on a CIA analyst, and he commented on the United States. I paraphrase: “The remarkable thing about this country is that it has held together as long as it has, and not fragmented.”

Well, I thought, a certain Civil War had something to do with that. Surely Lincoln knew that if the South got away, in due time Ohio would secede, and Missouri, the Carolinas and Florida would leave the South. Texas had already fought a war against Mexico to maintain its own slave holding rights, little understood fact about that rebellion.** The US had successfully ‘acquired’ what we now call the Southwest along with Colorado and California and parts of Wyoming. Holding it all together required that the South not succeed in its ambitions. If the South got away, the entire continent would be perpetually involved in internecine warfare.

So I could understand why the North felt strongly that the South not be allowed to secede. But was it legal? I am again going to rely on Edward James Snowden on this matter, as he deals with the topic at length in his book Everything You Know About the Constitution is Wrong.*

Here’s Snowden on the subject as he first embraces it:

Southern secession occurred according to this exact pattern states variously declared their independence from the United States by seceding. The Continental Congress of sorts met in Montgomery, Alabama, on February 4, 1861, consisting of delegates from South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana. It created a temporary Constitution. A month later a revised Constitution was presented to the States. Again, in state conventions composed of the People, the decision was made to approve the new Constitution. On this ground alone, the principle of popular sovereignty, the Confederate cause was justified. Which is to say, it was no less justified than of those who ratified the United States Constitution.

Bear with me, however, as Snowden has much more to say on this subject. Federalism, as existed then but not now (post-14th Amendment) severely limited the power of the federal government to exert power over individual states.

If the federal government was only to come in to play in the interstices, in the cracks between the States and when dealing with foreign nations, that meant that the sovereignty of the States had to be favored in the end over the supremacy of the federal government. After all, the States had territory and citizens that belong directly to them. The federal government had no territory other than what was ceded to it by the States in certain cases, or frontier territories that would eventually become States. The federal government was an agency whose powers were triggered when issues crossed state boundaries or national boundaries. It could reasonably be said that there is no territory called the United States of America save in relation to other countries, those who might wish to invade or determine their boundaries vis-a-vis United States of America.

Snowden claims that the South might have had a right to secede based on popular sovereignty, but that it confused the issue by thinking that to be identical to states’ rights.

Popular sovereignty as a basis for secession, then, is undeniable, at least within the American model of federalism. But here the South confused itself and its cause by appealing to states’ rights. It certainly followed that if the States had the power to secede on account of popular sovereignty, then this was the same thing in principle as stressing the radical autonomy of the States. But the “right” to secede and states’ rights in general are two different things. The first involves popular sovereignty directly; the second involves a vision of federalism in which the States have the “legal” right to nullify laws or secede.

It was something for lawyers and constitutional scholars to bat about, but Snowden states the matter of illegality clearly below.

Nothing could be more obvious than that the States had no “legal” right to secede. There was no legal mechanism included in the United States Constitution for secession. Had there been a prescribed method, perhaps putting to majority vote among States, then there would be a legal right to secede because there was a legal mechanism. The South cited the words of the Founding Fathers and even Abraham Lincoln himself when it came to the right of revolution. Jefferson Davis in his later memoirs would gleefully quote a pre-presidential Lincoln on that right.

The fact is, however, that there is never a legal right to revolution. Consider this hypothetical amendment to the Constitution: “The People, from time to time, will have the right to act illegally.

Having a legal right to act illegally is a contradiction in terms.

It happens occasionally that people throw off tyrannical governments. The United States could use such a revolution this moment. But it would not be legal, and the federal government as now comprised would be completely within its rights to violently reassemble its wayward states. In 1861 the federal government was powerless to act in that manner. Only the States acting collectively could do so. Nonetheless Lincoln asserted that he had legal authority to hold the Union together, and to wage war to make it so.

Of course, in those days a weak executive would have to assemble Congress and get approval and financing, and the states had to assemble their own troops. Part of the reason why the North was initially so ineffective on the battlefield was this disjointed nature of collective action.

In the end, Lincoln would abolish habeas corpus, shut down newspapers, illegally imprison dissidents,  and rule slavery illegal in those parts of the South not yet conquered. He became quite the tyrant, but he did what he felt necessary to win.

He also became the spitting image of the modern chief executive of the United States.
______________________

*By the way, I am unable to learn anythings about Snowden, as in the search engines he is hopelessly confused with Edward Joseph Snowden, the alleged whistleblower. The “About the Author” section of the book is merely a lamentation about that (the arrest of Edward James Snowden had been ordered at one time). I know nothing of this guy other than he writes with depth and authority.

**Mexico outlawed slavery in 1824, and tensions immediately arose between the government and its Texas holdings, which was a cotton-growing state that depended on slaves. By 1836, Texas was split from Mexico, and in 1851 Texas joined the United States.

15 thoughts on “Secession … Is it OK to just leave?

  1. The quote from Snowden…
    “There was no legal mechanism included in the United States Constitution for secession.”
    … is true.

    The problem, as I see it, is that the Constitution isn’t a document that lays out all the rights of “The People”, it is a document that purports to express the limited powers of the federal government.

    I don’t doubt that any government in the world (including ours, that purports to be the freest of them all) would write down words that make it “illegal” to secede.
    (Of course, none of us ever had a say in that… so much for “consent”, right?)
    Clearly our government has done that and then acted violently, using those words as justification for murdering people and forcing the rest back into the union.

    In fact, our American Revolution was “illegal” from King George’s perspective.
    So, he brought war to the colonies, who just wanted to be left on their own.
    How is that different from the civil war?
    They even had slaves in the colonies! (gasp!), so England had the moral right to attack us!

    It just emphasizes that American citizens are not free.
    There is no consent to our government (or our Constitution), and there certainly there is no way to “dissent”.
    Voting to leave is the ultimate way to express dissent, and that cannot be allowed.

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    1. “It just emphasizes that American citizens are not free.”
      It sure does .

      The strawman theory lingers in the background for me on this subject. The all capital letters of our names on paychecks or government documents, somehow distuguishes between who is considered “People of the USA” and a “14th amendment citzen of the USA”.
      I’ve never witnessed any big wins for the strawman theory or usage of in a court setting, yet reading thru the fine print it does seem to have validity.

      IF there is any future secession movement to give the regular folks the feeling that they are accomplishing something like starting over as a fresh new Country, wouldn’t come from a grass roots revolution by the people for the people. It would be implemented by those at the top, as always. The idea of splitting up the Country into Zones has been there for awhile. To do that they would need a huge conflict or stage event.

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      1. @Greg

        Yes, certainly any movement would be controlled or co-opted, and used to their advantage.

        The problem I have with the Strawman stuff is… if true… who decided that things work that way? No one ever agreed to that.
        And we are still left hoping that some court or judge acknowledges/accepts it.

        Either we have rights or we don’t. If we are waiting for the government to tell us if we have rights… then those aren’t rights.

        And it shouldn’t depend on learning some arcane knowledge about a super secret code to use in a court of law, and hope we get a judge who then “allows” us our rights.
        We are still at the mercy of some system we didn’t consent to and were just placed in to and (apparently) not told the “rules” of.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I think we tend to look at this issue as a ‘people’ issue, and it mostly isn’t. It’s really a land, ‘territory’ issue.
      Fact is, you ARE allowed to vote to leave, and government types will think ‘good riddance’. But to do that, you must leave the territory, and go to some other territory that accepts you as, again, a tax slave. Government knows they can easily find another tax slave to replace you.
      What’s not allowed is for you to claim sovereignty over your land, and take your land from their territory (unless you have a military capability they’re afraid of).
      Control and taxation of land is the primary mechanism through which people are enslaved, and thus it is the land that government will fight to retain control of. This is by far the least-understood area of economics, for reasons that should be obvious.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll just add that Snowden seems to be coming from the perspective that we “get rights” from the government.
    Rights can be given and taken, based on things that people in the government write down and call “laws”.
    “The People” must look to the Constitution to “find their rights”, rather than the Government must look to the Constitution to “find their expressed, limited powers”.

    So, he is arguing within a box that assumes away our natural rights, and gives them to a small group of people, calling themselves a “government”.

    So, within that box, he is correct… “we” don’t have the “right” to secede, simply because the government has given itself the power to outlaw it. (kind of like it gives itself unlimited powers by declaring a National Emergency)
    “we” don’t have a say in this… it is “law” for perpetuity.
    We are born into this “system” and cannot “legally” dissent in any fashion.

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    1. Snowden spends the first part of the book defending the original constitution, within which a free people who had inalienable rights voluntarily formed a union. States ruled supreme and the federal government only existed for a few purposes. It was such a weak government that it could not raise armies or even enforce the Bill of Rights, which anyway was only a list. Madison thought such a list unnecessary, as the rights existed extant. Listing them might make them appear to be the product of government edict.

      Snowden seems to like that system. Reading only the author’s introduction, we find that he detests the system that evolved,

      Any American who has seen the terrible bureaucracy of today’s government and corporations in action knows that it has a dual nature. It wants to crush you, to make you an object of its will out of a deep-seated hate.”

      Go easy on him. He is one of us.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @Mark

        I can’t get past this quote in the above post from Snowden…
        “…There was no legal mechanism included in the United States Constitution for secession…”

        Consider this…
        The Constitution was written and ratified by a people who had just fought a war to escape from a tyrannical government.
        Does it make sense that they would then create a document that prohibited them from seceding and defending their right to do so, if the government became similarly tyrannical?

        For Snowden to conclude that they were indeed prohibited because there was no “legal mechanism” included in the Constitution, both assumes the above absurd notion to be true, and also completely mis-represents what the Constitution even purports to do.

        As I mentioned in a previous comment, The Constitution doesn’t purport to list off the limited rights of the people. So that if it’s “not in the constitution, the right doesn’t exist.”
        Thats limiting the people’s rights, not limiting the government.

        No, the Constitution purports to limit the Government’s powers by listing, specifically, what the Government is allowed to do. (or shall not do)

        In his search through the document, I wonder where Snowden found that the government was “legally allowed to kill people who voted to leave the union, and then force them back in as tax slaves, for perpetuity.”?

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        1. Yeah, I probably wasn’t grasping Snowden’s words when he wrote that had the South based secession on “popular sovereignty”:instead of “states’ rights” that they would have a legal case. It did not matter, as the North was not going to allow it, legal or not.

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      2. Go easy on him [Edward Snowden]. He is one of us.

        What The Hell do I read here now???

        No wonder you fall so easily for the cheap malipulative tricks of fellow military industrial cuck Stephers….

        Holy cow man, how can you Monkey Stream Media pushed, BBC interviewed, half A.I. controlled opposition clown Edward fecking Snowden EVER see as “one of us”???

        Or in other words: if he is “one of you guys”, you guys are as dirty as him and certainly not “one of me”.

        That he writes something once in a while that is true doesn’t mean anything. Even Shillary and Joey child licker Biden have said things that were true. Or Dolfy H., or whatever other clown the Building of the Beast presents to us as “reliable”, “credible”, up to “one of us”.

        I hope I misread this, because pushing Snowden as some kinda savior is out of fashion for 10 years already, and unacceptable for a blog that in theory is about truth seeking.

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        1. This is a different Edward Snowden than the one you’re thinking of – Mark has clarified this several times.
          It is odd that they have the same name though.

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  3. Interesting and timely topic.
    I think Snowden is correct, and probably being misunderstood here somewhat. He’s not saying that states get their rights from the federal government. He’s saying the opposite, by asserting that the states erred critically by making the wrong argument to justify secession. The seceding states apparently appealed to the idea of ‘state’s rights’, which effectively acknowledges federal superiority and the authority to ‘grant rights’ to states. Big mistake, legally.
    Snowden suggests that instead the states should’ve asserted natural sovereignty, thus denying any authority by the fed to grant or deny anything. Legally, would’ve had no argument against that.
    And had the states done that, it may have made no difference whatsoever in the actions of the Union. Governments do what they want, and make the laws to justify it.
    I have a small technical disagreement, Mark. I agree that a revolution or state secession would not be ‘legal’, ever, as no government that I’m aware of has codified a ‘right’ to take territory from within their realm. (They don’t care if you or I leave and go somewhere else, but they forbid us to assert sovereignty upon our own land.)
    However, I disagree that the fed has the ‘right’ to use violence to prevent a claim of sovereignty. As tyrannical as the US is, there’s still no legal prohibition against declaring sovereignty over one’s self and land, or for a state to do so. The common-law concept of natural sovereignty doesn’t ever change.
    What would likely happen in the case of a state voting to secede today is that the fed would just ignore it and claim it’s invalid, and the violence and it’s ‘legal’ justifications would arise over the subsequent divorce actions: the state no longer collecting fed taxes, refusing authority of fed agents, attempts to establish border security, etc.
    And these technical legal issues make no practical difference, because government will do what it wants to regardless of legality, righteousness, or morality, and never cedes power willingly.
    At the end of the day on this topic, I think it’s only our collective brainwashing that has us thinking the ‘founding fathers’ gave a shit about individual sovereignty, or ‘liberty’, whatever that is. We have great difficulty facing the fact that they were dedicated collectivists, evidenced by their service to the ‘state’. Does it really matter whether the tyrant serves a federal government, a state, or a county, or city, if they rule over us? What the founding fathers and the Constitution (including at the state level as well) actually did is create a system of state, collectivist, coercive power over all the people. That’s planting the seeds of tyranny, regardless of the ludicrous belief that some document asserting some rules telling those seeds they’re not allowed to grow is going to somehow prevent those seeds you just planted from growing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. All very nice.

    Didn’t that retard GWB have it right? “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper”?

    I wish to be left alone, I will harm no human being (directly anyway) – you know, that old saw called the Golden Rule. What are my choices?
    1) Shut up, and in actuality, hide. Perhaps joining like-minded human beings, at the risk of soon being infiltrated and castrated.
    2) Go along to get along – as one of the drones – highly restricted in mind and body.
    3) Attempt to overthrow those government whores – which is seemingly necessary at this time if you wish to NOT hide while thinking and living humanely. Can this be done peacefully? Hah! Is that a joke?

    Suggestions?

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    1. I don’t know if true or false, but it was a big deal at the time. While in office, Obama ordered the assassination of an American citizen abroad. That was the ultimate crime by an executive, no oversight, no due process, and no judicial review. Because they are total tools, liberals looked the other way, just as they did with all of his bullshit and nonsense. He’s so well spoken! He’s got a sense of humor! He’s a ?scholar?!. and, most importantly, he’s black, so that every godamned liberal out there got to shine, to virtue signal.

      It could be that the event was fake, and that Obama’s handlers merely wanted to establish precedent. That would not surprise me. The executive office is completely out of control. But then, so is the Supreme Court. Indeed, it is just a godamned piece of paper.

      What to do? Live, think well, be kind to others, politely speak your mind, never be intimidated. This is what I intend to do, starting tomorrow.

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  5. These are two different worlds (realms). There is the right of blood, and there is the
    massive realm of the constitutionally permitted, contractually bound, in the attainder of blood of commercial personhood (citizenship). Masters and slaves.

    If one is bloodless they are by law constitution-less. Legally, we are foreigners, aliens in each state with no unalienable rights. We (commoners/goyim) are debt slaves.
    Whatever the principality of government — initially created by the constitution — chooses to do to its own creations (citizens) as its agents is absolutely constitutional.

    The bloodlines are in charge in this modern feudal system concealed by words intended to deceive to protect bloodline slave masters from revolt.

    Like

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