Thoughts on Secession
Muh fellah Amurricans – I reproduce the speech patterns our media correlate with conservative thought – hit looks like we ain’t getting out of this here Union, what with secession not legal, way them educated fellers tell it.
Not legal? Rather a bold statement, I would say. Last time anyone attempted formal withdrawal from the United States, something like 125 years ago, the armaments of the United States blocked the path to independence. The Union endured. But that settled only the practical, not the theoretical, side of the question.
Enough said anyway about the Late Unpleasantness of 1861-65. What about the secession movement – if you care to call it a movement – suddenly drawing so many gasps of horror and indignation, so many hoots at the screwballs whooping it up for flat out withdrawal from the Union, any state that might want to? More than 700,000 signatures on various secession petitions around the nation! Northwards of 100,000 in Texas alone! It’s hard not to notice.
Enlightened opinion on secession is hostile – as you’d certainly expect. Even a conservative Republican like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal calls the clamor “silly.” Behind the web posts and the signing of petitions lies, nevertheless, unarticulated dissatisfaction of the sort that sensible societies ignore at their peril. Timothy Stanley, a modern American history specialist at Oxford University, credits secession talk with “the feeling of a growing number of conservatives who feel emasculated” in the realm of 21st century politics.
This whole business is not my pot of tea, I confess. On the other hand, the would-be secessionists have hold of a principle too much ignored or irritably brushed aside in present-day politics and culture. It is a principle many others would benefit from examining boldly, never mind what the holy hecklers of the media might say.
The principle is that the United States of America took the shape of a plant, nurtured from the ground up, rather than that of a railroad spike, hammered in from the top. First there were states; the country followed. The Philadelphia founders, in 1787, represented states that were trying to strengthen their relationship for the benefit of all. For the Constitution to come into effect, each state had to ratify it. The nature of the constitutional compact made Southerners believe they could abandon it at will.
Who ever heard of a compact you couldn’t quit? Who ever it was, the military power of the North made clear that was how things were going to be. No state was going anywhere, then or later.
The outcome of the war made for a governmentally imposed uniformity the founders could not have foreseen. Local or regional intuitions ceased over time to matter except as obstacles to be pushed aside. Yes – for example – we (set ital) are (end ital) all going to have Obamacare! What works for New York damn well works for Texas, according to current theory. Shut up and get with it!
The get-with-it-ness that liberals see as so fetching when they’re the ones issuing the orders is the factor that repels conservatives who see their liberties eroding in response to a great plan of Betterment and Uplift. New York couldn’t care less what Texas thinks. We’ll do things the New York way, thanks.
Top-down styles of government breed resentment and fury of the sort seen in the secession petitions. These petitions aren’t going anywhere: we all know that. Nobody’s leaving this Union any time soon.
A corollary proposition, given the lay of the land, breeds unease. The words are Jefferson’s from an 1811 letter: “[T]he true barriers of our liberty in this country are our State governments; and the wisest conservative power ever contrived by man, is that which our Revolution and present government found us possessed. Seventeen distinct States, amalgamated into one as to their foreign concerns, but single and independent as to their internal administration … can never be so fascinated by the arts of one man, as to submit voluntarily to his usurpation. Nor can they be constrained to it by any force he can possess.”
Nice while it lasted, huh?
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