Across the United States, from Louisiana to Montana, the cries of secession are sounding. The motives behind them vary and the same may be said for their opponents. But, more importantly, these requests for secession force us to ask fundamental questions about our government and the nature of our Constitution. And, if we probe even deeper, we must come to face tyranny and liberty.
To be completely specific, there are now petitions to the White House for all fifty states to peacefully withdraw from the Union. They have not taken votes inside of their own states and then nullified all Federal ties. Nor are all these states Southern. But, before we analyze the current situation, some historical background is necessary.
Secession is an old idea in American political philosophy. It may be traced before the Civil War, to the actions of Virginia and Kentucky against the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien and Sedition Acts, blatant constitutional violations, were nullified by Virginia and Kentucky. Those who worked in favor of these nullifications were the hallowed Founders Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They believed that, in times of the Federal government’s overreaching, that the states may take actions against them, so as to protect their citizens’ natural (i.e. Constitutional) rights.
Even though these actions were not secession, they evidenced a decentralized governmental philosophy (i.e. the Federal government is not supreme). By doing this, the states asserted their place in scheme of American government. They peacefully stood up to the Federal government’s act of tyranny and ensured their own citizens’ freedom.
There is a central historical event to this question of secession. Obviously, this is the Civil War. While a very complex topic that likely could never be given the due attention it deserves, the Civil War also forced our nation to question under what philosophy the Federal government would operate. Except this time, things were not peaceful.Violence is abhorrent and brings unthinkable suffering upon a nation. Before there is any discussion about the Civil War, it is necessary to note that the South was wrong to fire on Fort Sumter. Yes, in their view, the Federal aggressors were intruding upon their land, but some foresight and realism should have been applied. It was clear that a war would have started and that the South’s weak economy, due to reliance on slavery, would destroy the Confederacy.
Was the South right to secede? Let us strip this matter down to pure philosophy, taking away all of the opinions that we have on the South. Yes, slavery was a great evil and stain upon American history, but that is not necessarily what the Civil War was fought over.
Most people in the United States continue to think that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves. And, to a certain extent, it was in the North. But that was not the root of the conflict. Slavery did play a major role in the Civil War, but it did not spark the war. Conflicts between seceding states and the Federal government did not begin in 1861, but in 1832. In this year South Carolina nullified Federal tariffs it found to be unjust. The constitutionality of South Carolina’s nullification was fiercely debated in the Senate. President Andrew Jackson believed that no such power could exist in the states. The basic, underlying conflict in this crisis was whether our nation and Constitution was one of an all-powerful Federal government, or one that had power vested in the states as a last resort against Federal tyranny.
The current question is very much the same as the past. We as citizens are faced with a looming Federal government. The Federal government commits wholesale robbery to keep its own quixotic system functioning. The Federal government has power to indefinitely detain Americans, with no charge, through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. The government’s spies and agents regularly monitor innocent citizens, rather than actual terrorists. In economic matters, the Federal government has struck Atlas so many times that his shrugging is inevitable. And, of course, Obamacare casts a shadow upon any thoughts of snuffing out Federal despotism. Therefore, we must ask what we may do as lovers of liberty. Is it acceptable, and a good idea, to try the “normal” solutions first (i.e. solutions at the Federal level)? Of course. Trying to fill the White House and Congress with our fellow conservatives and libertarians is never a bad idea. But we must also question the time of it all. These threats to our liberty are not small, nor are they slow-moving. Thus, can we afford to wait and try again during the next cycle of elections? Perhaps we may, but we must guard our liberties. Or, perhaps it is better to phrase the question in another manner. At what rate will our country decay and erode until the next elections? If those precious God-given rights are ever taken by the government, then there is little or no chance of ever getting them back. That is not to say, though, that secession should be jumped upon as a solution.
Secession is not a mystical answer that will solve all problems, and we must continue to build and expand movements based on natural rights and free markets. No government will ever be perfect, nor could it ever be made so. But, we must realize that secession will not likely work. Perhaps, then, it is best for conservatives to view this rise in secessionist sentiments as an excellent teaching opportunity. We may use this to point out the philosophical aspects of secession, and use it to bring more lovers of liberty into our ranks.
Regardless of election results, educating our fellow citizens about liberty and free markets is of vital importance. We must use every chance to do this. Secession, again, will not bring about numerous independent states. This is only realistic. But, we must also be practical. For, it is our liberal and collectivist opponents who are idealoges and utopians. Although we must never fall into the pragmatic trap, we also must never forget that our God-given rights are the foundation of our philosophy.