Sunday, October 12, 2008

Secession movement gaining momentum?

(Note: The first three paragraphs in this entry are mainly intended for the benefit of new readers who may happen on the entry. Those who well know my position on the issue will find the aforementioned paragraphs rather cumbersome reading. I therefore encourage you to skip ahead. -TM)

This idea of secession is a subject we've broached before, here and elsewhere. I don't see much point in rehashing old arguments, but I do think there's a scenario related to this issue definitely worth rehearsing. My view is simply this, voluntary union implies the right to secede from the same when the union abdicates its responsibility to uphold its end of the bargain. Beyond that, even if a state or a group of states is forcibly obliged to remain in the union, such as it is, this is only a temporary arrangement so long as these states are occupied by self-governing independent lovers of freedom.

This issue was not settled, as folks who prefer to see things the way they wish them to be as opposed to the way they are, would have it, for once and for all time when the North won the war between the states. It was settled temporarily, not permanently. As the Continental Congress, through Mr. Jefferson's pen stated it, "but when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government..." To advance the idea of voluntary union on one hand, and on the other to deny the right of the states to secede from the union is a contradiction in terms. Thus the United States, such as it is in the opinions of many of her citizens, is a contradiction in terms. Does it really surprise anyone that people would eventually begin to realize it?

Now, if you personally don't have a problem with being compelled to be party to an agreement in which the other person or entity breaks the terms of the contract at pleasure, or, compelling others to do so while you support the violation of the agreement by the union, well, I guess to each his own, as they say. For me personally that simply ain't my style, and it never will be my style, under any circumstances or conditions, period. And by the way, if you're one of those people that can only see secession through the lens of what little you happen to know about the 19th century war between the states, the causes that led up to it and so forth and so on, and you feel compelled to argue with me on those grounds, don't expect a reply from me. I've been down that road before, and I'm simply not interested in having a long protracted and distracting discussion with you over the merits of either side's position in that war. Even if we agree it's still a distraction from the issue at hand, and invariably whenever I entertain this tack it goes on and on and on like the Energizer bunny; the core of the issue and the whole point of the article is thereby undermined. Therefore, and on second thought, rather than simply ignoring you should you choose to defy my request, I'm just going to delete your post. Fair enough? It's in the interest of all of us that I do so, just trust me. That said, let us get on with the task at hand...

I was turned on to this LA Times article earlier at Vanishing American's. In a comment to VA's entry I wrote the following:

VA, I don't think I could agree with you more on the idea that we have to start somewhere and the internet and blogging is as good a place as any. Indeed, I've often said that the advent of the computer age couldn't have come at a better time.

I think, historically, we're in pretty good company.

Also, I've advocated for a state initiated Article V Constitutional Convention before, but most seem to think it's a rather wacky idea. There are all kinds of reasons people view it that way, some of which are sensible enough. But for me personally it makes more sense than secession, which will, no doubt, result in civil war. Of course civil war may prove unavoidable in the end, but I think we should strive to exhaust the peaceful constitutional options before considering secession.

I'm reminded here of Hamilton's words in Federalist no. 1:

This idea by adding the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism will heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be decided by a judicious estimate of our true interests, uninfluenced and unbiased by considerations foreign to the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished for than seriously to be expected. ...

Incidentally, I've been reading The Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury by his daughter Diana Fontaine Corbin. There's a chapter in the book concerning the civil war and Maury's choice, as a Southerner, to resign his commission in the U.S.N. and accept a commission in the C.S.N. Of course, when Maury went with the South the North put a price on his head, and it remained on his head for some time after the civil war had ended. It's very interesting how Maury used his influence and renoun to try to help his defeated Southern brethren relocate to more favorable environs...

By all means, read VA's article to get some perspective on my comments. Also, read the LA Times article to get some perspective on VA's entry. But for our purposes here I want to focus on something someone said in a comment to the Times article,

19. The ugly fact is that as long there is a United States, with the Federal Government in DC having essentially ALL power and rights, the American war machine wll roll on. If it is not stopped, it will get much worse. And just like every other insatiably expansionistic empire, it will eventually turn on its citizens in ways much more brutal than most Americans can allow themselves to believe. If somehow we could have states with enough rights to check the power of the Federal Governemnt, then secession would not be required.

Submitted by: Jake Shoor
6:22 AM PDT, September 11, 2008

particularly the last sentence in Jake's submission. Jake said: "If somehow we could have states with enough rights to check the power of the federal government, then secession would not be required."

I think I detect in Jake's comments the same sort of reticence I feel about the idea of seceding from the union of these states, and I sense in his tone that Jake is saying "there has to be a better way, surely someone can come up with and advance a better, more hopeful solution than secession."

Amen Jake!

There are few things that I'm absolutely and without a doubt convinced I'm right about, but here's one of 'em, and you can quote me on this -- there's no way in hell that a group of states in this union could possibly secede from the union and coexist on the same continent within the same broad borders with it peacefully. Like I said in my comments to VA's post, secession equals civil war, no doubt about it. Are we such an ignorant and ungovernable lot that we refuse to acknowledge the lessons history has to offer us, or is it that we're just spoiling for a fight, a fight that we'll no doubt be sorry we got ourselves into without first exploring other viable options which might actually effect far better results with immeasurably less bloodshed, loss of life, bitterness between one side and the other, etc. If we're forced into a civil war, that's one thing. If, on the other hand, we provoke a civil war by ignoring or simply dismissing alternatives to secession, and/or advancing and prematurely following through with the idea that secession is THE ONLY WAY to rectify the wrongs committed against us, then which side, pray tell, condemns itself with having committed the greater sin?

The old question, phrased a bit differently, eventually makes its way back to be answered again in the course of human events, "is a given society of men really capable of establishing good government by reflection and choice, or is it destined to depend for its political constitutions on accident and force?" The front end of the question has been answered in the affirmative, and Americans are the great beneficiaries of that unique heritage. As Noah Webster wrote: "The government of the United States is the first example in modern times of a government founded on its legitimate principles. ..." We Americans are also the great beneficiaries, if we choose to acknowledge them, of the lessons afforded us by an affirmative answer to the latter half of the question as I've stated it above. It may well be, therefore, that the question is better restated thus: "For how long can a given society of men sustain good government established by reflection and choice, and what method is best utilized to rebuild it to its former greatness while there remain remnants left to build from?" Obviously the latter part of the question is hereby made of primary concern to us. As to that which precedes it, it has been remarked before that "the ink had barely dried on the constitution before unprincipled men began to seek inroads to undermine the principles contained therein."

But let's consider Jake's appeal for a second. Is it possible that we could somehow restore to the states enough rights to check the power of the federal government thus avoiding the awful prospect of a modern civil war in America? Additionally, if, as is intimated in the Times article, Americans are becoming more and more disgruntled about the state of things in America and the federal government's contribution to that state of things, so much so that they're beginning to advocate for and favor the breaking up of the union at the hazard of civil war, as many of the commenters to the Times article seem to be, might it be possible that we could somehow turn them on to a better solution than secession and that they might be preferentially receptive to it; a solution that, unlike its counter proposal, at least gives us a shot at avoiding the prospect of another American civil war; a solution that carries with it a reasonable prospect of satisfying at least several of their complaints; a solution that would guarantee that each state in this union, and the citizens thereof, would have its fair hearing in the matter?

There is such a solution my friends. I'm not saying it's guaranteed to work. I'm not even saying it's likely to work. I am saying that we're morally bound to do all in our power to effect it before we go off half-cocked advocating for secession. I've advocated for this alternative approach many times before, both publicly (as in on this and other blogs) and privately with various and sundry individuals of various and sundry ranks in our society. It is a radical idea ("radical" in the sense that it breaks from the normative way in which we're accustomed to trying to deal with these issues), but not nearly as radical as the idea of secession. And it's a constitutional solution, not merely an implicit but an explicit constitutional solution -- a constitutional solution that has, perhaps miraculously, survived the onslaught brought about by the introduction and subsequent misapplication of the fourteenth amendment -- that we've never tried before, probably due in part to the fact that most Americans don't know anything about it.

Here's something else you can quote me on, when it gets down to where the rubber meets the road there'll be two, and only two, meaningful factions in the war that secession would precipitate. Whichever one of them prevails in the end will subjugate the other to its own idea of what the union should be and its form of government, just as happened with our other civil war. What that means is simply this, you can't break up this union for any period extending beyond the actual conflict itself, it's simply not possible except in theory. There are various irrefutable reasons for this which may come forth in an ensuing discussion on the topic, but the simple fact of the matter is as I said, it's a hopelessly impossible idea which could never be put into actual practice, this idea that the national government can ever be dissolved in favor of a confederated system of some sort and of some unspecified number.

What can be done, however, is that we can strengthen the bonds of the union by returning to the Jeffersonian principle of "as to ourselves several, as to others, one." And let us remember, my friends, particularly those of you who have a very favorable attitude towards secession and use the founders' words to justify your position, our founders had no other option available to them than to either submit to the arbitrary authority of King George and kiss their chains, or, to "dissolve the political bands" which had connected them with the mother country. Thankfully they were wise enough and had enough knowledge and forethought to secure to us, their posterity, a more favorable position than they found themselves under similar circumstances:

But there is yet a further consideration, which proves beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the observation is futile. It is this that the national rulers, whenever nine States concur, will have no option upon the subject. By the fifth article of the plan, the Congress will be obliged "on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the States which at present amount to nine, to call a convention for proposing amendments, which shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the States, or by conventions in three fourths thereof." The words of this article are peremptory. The Congress "shall call a convention." Nothing in this particular is left to the discretion of that body. And of consequence, all the declamation about the disinclination to a change vanishes in air. Nor however difficult it may be supposed to unite two thirds or three fourths of the State legislatures, in amendments which may affect local interests, can there be any room to apprehend any such difficulty in a union on points which are merely relative to the general liberty or security of the people. We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.


These judicious reflections contain a lesson of moderation to all the sincere lovers of the Union, and ought to put them upon their guard against hazarding anarchy, civil war, a perpetual alienation of the States from each other, and perhaps the military despotism of a victorious demagogue, in the pursuit of what they are not likely to obtain, but from time and experience. It may be in me a defect of political fortitude, but I acknowledge that I cannot entertain an equal tranquility with those who affect to treat the dangers of a longer continuance in our present situation as imaginary. A nation, without a national government, is, in my view, an awful spectacle. ... I dread the more the consequences of new attempts, because I know that powerful individuals, in this and in other States, are enemies to a general national government in every possible shape.

One more thing: There's an element in this country (I know you're out there because I've argued with you more times than I care to count) that is in a seeming perpetual state of self-induced denial about the fact that, particularly under the volatile conditions which exist in America today, that the fires of civil war could be ignited almost instantaneously, and certainly before anyone could do anything to stop or reverse it. It just takes the right conditions for an unmanageable fire to break out, and I'm telling you, most, if not all of the requisite conditions for the actuality of a civil war already exist in this country. I can't do anything about it if you choose to stick your head in the sand ignoring all the signs around you. But I don't have to be party to it, and I certainly don't have to tolerate it at my blog. So please, save us all a lot of trouble and resist the impulse to go there.


tanyaa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.