Secession: a “sacred right” of the people

Late last year much ink had been scribbled by commenters lashing out against those who dared to suggest that it is a right of American states’ citizens to secede from a central government. Suggestions of that possibility come honestly from people increasingly concerned about a massive, invasive and increasingly oppressive central power—in these united States referred to as the “Union.”

Big central government statists continue to deny historical evidence, spread myths about our right to secede and shout “Treason.” They display incredible ignorance about American history and disdain for our founding principles and the authors. Worse, some attempt to realign history along their modernist world views. The current Spielberg film “Lincoln,” for example, shows a benevolent, well-meaning side of this dictatorial president.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo in his book, “The Real Lincoln” (Three Rivers Press, New York, N.Y.; 2003) documents historical truth that our very founding was based on sovereignty of the individual states and the power of their people to change government if need be. There’s nothing new or even surprising about this, but Prof. DiLorenzo has concisely put it together in Chapter 5, “The Myth of Session as ‘Treason.’”

The author begins at the beginning—The Declaration of Independence. In 1776 our Founding Fathers decided they had enough of oppression imposed on the American Colonies (later called States) by government under England’s King George III.

This document set the stage for everything that came later: establishing how we get our rights (from our Creator); what they are (life, liberty and property); how government gets its power (from the consent of the governed); what happens when it becomes destructive (it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it); a necessary war to “dissolve the Political Bands”; and the States’ ratifying our Constitution.

Of course, the Founders wanted a union of States (originally only thirteen), but with a federal government limited by specific enumerated executive powers; codified in Article II and the 10th Amendment (ratified by the States 221 years ago). Still, they tolerated, even supported, the idea of secession. Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, strong Unionists, defended the right of any state to secede.

Further, fifty years before the Fort Sumter incident, New England Federalists and their citizens debated secession for fourteen years because of the Jefferson and Madison administrations’ policies (1801-1817). In fact, until the 1860s Americans did not question the right of states to secede; and prominent officials in all states spoke openly about it.

Even citizens of the “middle states” (what we now call the Mid-Atlantic), including New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, had secession movements. DiLorenzo notes that there were three types of secessionists: those who wanted to join the Southern Confederacy, those who wanted their own “Central Confederacy” and those “who simply preferred to allow the South to go in peace rather than essentially destroying the Union by holding it together by military force.”

But Lincoln would not tolerate dissent from his political agenda. He sent federal troops into Maryland to shut down public debate about its right to secede, or even remain neutral in the war. State legislators from Baltimore, the mayor, newspaper editors and publishers and a Maryland member of Congress were arrested and imprisoned.

For those who want to understand the historic reasons for secession, the long political discussions about it in America and the constitutional basis for it, I recommend reading DiLorenzo’s book.

Incidentally, he begins Chapter 5 with a long quote from Abraham Lincoln in 1848. Lincoln said, “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right.”


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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