Sunday, April 26, 2009

Let's go over it again

I had something of a disturbing telephone conversation a couple of days ago with someone I highly respect. We were discussing this issue of the Hussein administration's provoking those of us on the right of the political spectrum by a variety of means, not the least of which is the release of the report from the freakish head of the "homeland security dept," declaring conservative, God-fearing, liberty-loving Americans to be more dangerous than Al Quaida. And by the way, I don't use the term "provoking" lightly. I've personally been provoked, intentionally and unintentionally (In this particular case I think it is intentional, and I have my reasons for believing so. But we'll leave that for another discussion.), any number of times during the course of my lifetime, so I generally know exactly what it is when it comes and I'm not going to shy away from stating it. I never have before, why begin now? Nonetheless...

At some point the discussion I was having with the other party moved naturally into the realm of the question of secession. I harkened back to another discussion I'd had with another person only a few days earlier, a discussion in which the other said something to the effect that it would only take one instance of a state declaring itself independent to touch off a violent civil war in which the lines would be drawn and other states would follow suit. The other party to the telephone conversation said to me the following: "True, but by the constitution we have no right to secede from the union." Once again, we're talking about someone I highly respect; someone who was directly influencial in my upbringing.

I won't bore you with all the gory details of my response to this assertion, except to say that I was taken completely aback by this mode of response from this particular individual, and eventually entered upon this bit of explanation:

Now let's put some thought to this and forget about what we've learned from the talking heads and all the pundits and whatnot. Let's get it down to a fundamental and a personal level: Let us say that you enter into contractual agreement with a neighbor. The other party eventually begins to violate the clear, explicit terms of the contract to your hurt. You petition the other party to faithfully honor the terms of the contract, but to no effect. In fact, the other party snubs his nose at your petitions and remonstrances and enters upon even greater and clearer violations of the terms of the contract. Do you have the right at some point to declare yourself no longer bound by the terms of the contract in the interest of protecting yourself and your posterity, or do you consider yourself (and your posterity) a slave to the other party no matter how egregiously he's violated his end of the bargain, and no matter how clear it is that he will never amend his ways?

The answer, of course, is obvious. And the other person answered, of course, correctly. I then continued:

So, has the central government violated its end of the bargain which we call the Constitution, and for how long has it been doing so? Have certain of the states petitioned the central authority to cease and desist? Are they not doing so as we speak? ... Is there any indication that the central government is anything but deaf to the voice of justice and consanguinity? Is it not, as we speak, provoking certain of the states and the people thereof to secession? Does my analogy not apply on a grander scale?

Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. And accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind is more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves. BUT ... whenever 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, and to create new guards for their future security.

Now, call me a radical if you will. But if Washington and Jefferson and Madison, the two Adams's, et al, were here today, you can rest assured that they'd be radical right along with me. In other words, I count myself in pretty fair company. With my forbears, I'm not particularly inclined to be enslaved by anyone or any entity, as I've said many times before. On the other hand, I personally have no interest in enslaving anyone else to my way of thinking. So it goes both ways. If you do have such an interest, or you think you have such an interest, and if you're going to continue to misuse the constitution in pursuit of that interest, then you and I have a problem.

Anyway, the telephone conversation ended on a good note. I was confident it would because the other person isn't unreasonable, he was just misinformed, and hadn't put a whole lot of personal reflection to the question. That latter part was what surprised me most in this particular instance.


chiu_chunling said...

The 'right' of secession is not contained in the Constitution. That much is clear. And a casual reading of Section 10 of Article 1 of the Constitution certainly suggests that the states do not exercise the sovereignty of independent nations. There are also a number of other clauses which bind the Federal government to duties which could be reasonably construed as incompatible with permitting secession by any state.

On careful examination of the Constitution, I do not believe that it was designed to permit outright secession. The principle instead was to secure the freedom of the states from any avoidable impositions by the Federal government or other states. That one can hardly read any section of the Constitution without finding some contradiction of the nation's current government attests to the degree to which America has departed from Constitutional government.

The Constitutionally mandated duty of the states in the event that the Federal authority exceeds its Constitutional limits is not to secede from the Union, but rather to force an accounting from the national government through the use of their own legal authority.

I suppose in light of the fact that the states have yielded almost all the powers which could once have allowed them to reasonably contest the Federal government's authority, I must settle the question by saying that the state governments do not possess sufficient authority to secede either.

It is through the powers still retained by the American people that the Federal government must now be restrained. If the people of a state wish to secede from the United States, the people of that state would be under the necessity of redrafting their state constitution and government to provide for the powers of an independent nation.

But I do not believe this can or will happen until after a general collapse of the practical authority of the Federal government. That the probable collapse of the dollar presents such an occasion is due to the relative lack of general moral authority enjoyed by the current government, as well as the destructive social divisions inherent in a welfare state.

With a devaluation of the dollar, the economic manipulations which have encouraged the transfer of basic necessities like food and power (both electrical and fuel) to unproductive urban populations will fail. The economically mobile will flee the cities, leaving behind concentrated populations of those dependent on handouts. The resulting disasters will shock states into defining their own currency standards to avert similar situations.

Lacking sufficient stores of gold and silver to do so while adhering to their Constitutional limitations, this will place those states in an effective state of secession. And in any case, as a simple matter of economic necessity, they will not be able to continue to accept the Federal currency as legal tender. This economic independence would also necessitate assuming other powers prohibited to the states by the Constitution.

In other words, it isn't going to be a legalistic argument about the Constitutionality of secession. Were it so, the question would logically fall against secession. The matter is now discussed only because reasonable people understand that the behavior of the current administration will result in total economic collapse. Whether or not anything could have been done to restrain the excesses of the national government before is no longer the concern.

I revere the Constitution as much as any scripture inspired by God, but I do not believe it somehow grants America immunity from the immutable laws of human nature. The nation and the Constitution have parted ways, for good or ill. Mainly for ill. If the nation cannot return to a Constitutional government, then whether the Constitution permits secession or anything else simply will not matter.

Rick Darby said...

There might come a time when secession is the only response to a tyrannical and overbearing federal government. If that time arrives, I don't give damn whether the Constitution specifically permits secession or not, because as you say it will be like a contract that one side has invalidated by refusing to abide by its terms. There was nothing in British law that gave the colonies the right to declare independence, either.

In the first two Continental Congresses a majority of delegates wanted only to show Britain that we had the potential for military resistance, to get the mother country to take American colonists' demands seriously.

It's premature to talk about secession when almost no state (Oklahoma being a partial exception) is willing to insist on retaining the authority not specifically granted to the federal government. If states began seriously to refuse the Washington bribery of tax transfers and declare their sovereignty over education, immigration, hiring policies, and so many other issues nowhere granted to the national government, that would be the right first step.

Should the feds then show heir hand by opposing state authority in its legitimate sphere, that becomes a moral, ethical, and legal basis for secession arguments.