Here's a weird sketch of the idea of secession that basically defends neo-Confederate arguments, but puts them in a supposedly liberal context, in today's terms: Long Live Secession! by Christopher Ketcham Salon 01/23/05. Probably a better link:
I'm not sure if Salon got snookered on this one and didn't realize the writer was making a neo-Confederate analysis in disguise, or whether the writer really is this confused. In any case, it's the neo-Confederate case, whatever other labels you put on it.
What you will not hear is that secessionism is as old as the states themselves, that it was not always a reviled idea, that it cleaves to the heart of a celebrated but perhaps outmoded American principle -- the rebellion against centralized power -- and that it is a founding American act enshrined in our most revolutionary document. "[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive," counsels the Declaration of Independence, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government."
Although secessionism today is politically impossible, if tenuously legal, the secession specter has arisen again, waking to the Declaration's call to self-governance. In 2005, it is the blue-state Northerners, bitter from the defeat of Nov. 2, who are, ironically, wearing its robes.
If this article was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it disguised itself very well. I think the writer was at least intending to be serious.
How can anyone write such drivel about secession? No, the right of secession is not in the Declaration of Independence. The natural right of revolution is in the Declaration of Independence. And, no, secession is not "tenuously legal," it's not the least tiny bit legal. The Civil War settled that one definitively.
If someone wants to comma-dance on this one, a state could secede if a Constitutional Amendment was approved to allow it. Secession is not an option at all under the US Constitution without an Amendment. The article is largely based on an interview with an apparently eccentric former Mississippian, Thomas Naylor, who made a bundle of money with a software company and now lives in Vermont and talks like a secessionist with liberal-to-leftwing ideas.
If the dark comparison holds -- the United States, according to Naylor, enjoys a similar far-flung geography, a one-party political system disguised in multiparty rhetoric, a corporate socialism that defies free markets, and a congressional incumbency as stable as the Politburo -- then Vermont is the antidote. By this, Naylor means the Vermont of small towns, small farms, small businesses, local governance, grass-roots democracy, green activism: Vermont as the gentle Switzerland of North America (but armed to the teeth, as Vermonters enjoy hunting in the woods).
The push for the Second Vermont Republic is no anomaly. Today there are secession movements afoot in Hawaii and Alaska, both complaining, with some validity, that fraud and coercion forced their entrance into the union. In New York, activist and author Jason Flores-Williams, lately best known for his disruptions at the Republican National Convention, plans a New York City secession movement "as much Andy Warhol as it is Tom Paine," he says, predicting his "secession parties" will become "the most happening cultural events in NYC, events that echo up and down the hierarchy."
Good grief! I can enjoy a little eccentric political goofing-around now and then. But these people are seriously "unclear on the concept."
The following is an argument that would give any good Jacksonian fits:
The Constitution is silent on the matter of secession -- neither denying nor authorizing -- and up until the Civil War, the silence was the object of tortured interpretation. It was axiomatic among many antebellum constitutional scholars, both North and South, that if the states were once sovereign entities that had acceded to joining the union, then they implicitly retained the right to rescind the treaty and withdraw. In essence, it was argued, the Constitution's silence implied consent to the right of secession.
Uh, no. This is John C. Calhoun secessionist philosophy straight-up. And it was certainly not "axiomatic" for legal scholars North and South. And he apparently swallows Calhoun's phony definition of sovereignty whole. For most people, sovereignty was and is understood as meaning that a government had a legitimate right to act as a government in its field of authority. The federal govenment is sovereign in the United States, the state governments are sovereign within the states. Calhoun elevated sovereignty to be synonomous with final sovereignty and built his secessionist arguments on that. This Calhounian doctrine was eventually incorporated into Confederate secessionist doctrine.
Andy Jackson had a different concept.
Secession was taught at West Point to young cadets like Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant. Petulant states in the formative years of the republic habitually threatened it, with Yankees, and abolitionists especially, showing an early fondness for cutting loose from a union that increasingly catered to Southern slaveholder interests. In 1804, lawmakers in New England and New York plotted a failed secession movement, and eight years later, during the War of 1812, the threat to New England's trade with English Canada was enough to prompt a second and wider Northeastern cry for departure, resulting in the official complaint of the Hartford Convention of 1815.
This is such a collection of half-baked arguments that I'll just mention the last one. The Hartfort Convention was pretty much the nail in the coffin of the Federalist Party. Because of the extreme pro-British and secessionist talk in connection with it, the Party was viewed as accomodating treason. It was destroyed as a national party in no small part because the country rejected the notions of the Hartford Convention.
We might take a moment to consider the maverick history -- some call it the real history, others denounce it as a blasphemic, spiteful revision -- that places Lincoln as the first of the imperial presidents, an opportunist who in service of a vast expansion of federal power twisted the law in the name of what neoconservatives (who happen to be Lincoln lovers all) call moral clarity.
Actually, the best thing to call it is Lost Cause hokum.
In the next paragraph, he quotes from Thomas DiLorenzo, a favorite author of the neo-Confederate crowd at sites like LewRockwell.com. And most of the last half of the article is a rehash of stock Confederate-apologist standards.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I don't know whether Ketchum is trying to make a liberal argument using neo-Confederate dogma, or if he's trying to pass off neo-Confederate nonsense as "liberal," or if he's just really confused.
But the secessionist philosophy wasn't "liberal" in the days of Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun. And its not "liberal" or even "left" in the era of John Kerry and George W. Bush.
(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month posts 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)
[12/28/05: See this post by Edward Sebesta for more on Naylor: Vermont Secession, Thomas Naylor ... Anti-Neo-Confederate blog 12/28/05.]