You don’t have to look far for confirmation of the public’s failure to comprehend the principles of secession—just check the comments on any
blog discussing the issue. There you’ll find the uninformed claiming, “The South lost the war; case closed.” Or, “Only Texas can secede since
they were a republic before joining the Union.” Or one of the more frequent foolish utterances, “Secession is un-American and treasonous!”The
Zogby polls, along with blogosphere jabber, clearly demonstrate the woeful lack of knowledge by our citizenry regarding their right to a government
(as our Declaration of Independence proclaims) “most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
This is an unfortunate situation since the understanding and recognition of the sovereign authority of our States, including their right to withdraw
from the Compact, is crucial—especially so with a federal government aggressively and repeatedly exceeding their delegated authority.There was a
time when our States, through their people, believed in limited government, and if those in Washington abused their authority, these feisty
independent sovereigns had few qualms with threatening either nullification or secession as a possible remedy. But once those eleven Southern States
left the Union, the horrific war that followed abruptly ended any further talk of resisting the dictates of an all too powerful central government.
At least that was the case until the past decade or so, when—primarily due to a not so “United” States—the issue of secession has been aroused
by a small, but growing, minority of modern day patriots. Remember the red and blue States flare-up after the 2004 elections, with talk of those blue
States taking leave and joining with Canada? The election of 2008 has sparked another micro revolt, resulting in several States passing Tenth
Amendment, nullification style, resolutions.
While these resolutions have provided a refreshing breath of resistance to an omnipotent and oppressive government, the Lords of Washington have paid
scant attention and continue unabated, gorging themselves on the spoils of our republic.Another response to these power hungry Washington elites
should be the threat of secession. Not necessarily secession now—it is unlikely anyway with two-thirds of the citizens failing to understand this
right—but simply the awakening of the public regarding their right to abolish this government and institute a better one.
The public’s widespread acceptance of this basic American right could be a powerful tool for peaceful resistance, and with an informed citizenry,
our States could then rise up and shake their collective fists while shouting, “Enough!” Once the threat of secession has riveted Washington’s
attention, we can DEMAND government’s return to serving our States as their agent, and a subservient one at that, while doing so in the small
limited form envisioned by our Founders.Secession—the right to it, the lingering threat of it—is what gives ultimate power to the people in a
The right to secede gives the people control, as the ultimate influence, over their government instead of the other way around. It implies a continual
assent from the people that, for the moment, this government is the best one we can envision, and if it’s not, we have a right to either change it
or form a new one more responsive to, and reflective of, our common needs.Without the lurking threat of secession—the collective right to say we
can’t take this anymore—the government, steadily growing and encroaching on the freedom and independence of its citizens, eventually establishes
itself as the supreme sovereign authority, to which all citizens must pay homage. Should the threat of secession fail to force the ogres of Washington
back into their constitutional cages, the people, with full knowledge of their right to a government better suited to their needs, will once again
declare their independence.It’s time to reacquaint the public with their patriotic DUTY to resist a government expanding far beyond its
constitutional limitations. .
The Three Grand Principles Of Secession
Public opinion aside, there is strong evidence supporting the right of any State wanting to leave this Union. This right of secession can be
demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, and done so based entirely on documentary proof—not selectively quoting noteworthy individuals in support of
the proposition. Of even greater significance, there’s not just one theory guaranteeing the right of secession; there are actually three grand
principles of secession—either one of which can justify the right to withdraw from these United States. It’s analogous to a version of
rock-paper-scissors where regardless of what you throw, it trumps any of the others.Let’s review these three grand principles:
#1 – The United States were founded on the right of secession
If you believe the colonies were justified in declaring their independence in 1776, then you should also acknowledge that we continue to enjoy that
same right today.All good school children memorize our most famous God-given rights as declared in our Declaration of Independence (or if you prefer,
our Declaration of Secession) of, “Life, liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness.” But few remember the other inherent right immediately following,
“…that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to
institute new Government…”It could not be stated any more clearly; we, as Americans, have the natural God-given right to a government best suited
to our safety and happiness. Nothing has changed in the ensuing 200 plus years since our founding that curtails this most fundamental of our uniquely
#2 – The Constitution does not prohibit States from seceding
Our Constitution is simply an agreement between the States, creating an agent (the federal government) to act on their behalf in the performance of
eighteen specifically delegated powers. Since this Compact is absent any language speaking to the issue of individual States withdrawing from the
agreement, that decision, and the right to do so, is left to the States, and the States alone. The Tenth Amendment to this Constitution clarified and
reinforced this concept of the States retaining all unspecified powers.There are some who believe our States can withdraw without demonstrating cause,
and that may very well be true, but if not, there is no underlying tenet of contract law requiring a party to remain committed to an agreement that
has been repeatedly violated as has our Constitution.
The actions of the central government today bear little resemblance to the limited authority delegated by our Founders in 1787. Who can reasonably
deny that our States are not well within their right to withdraw from such a dysfunctional and out-of-control agreement?Our Constitution, without
prohibitions, and with the explicit reinforcement of the Tenth Amendment, does not obstruct the right of the parties to withdraw from the Compact,
especially so since the agreement has been, and continues to be, seriously and frequently breached.
#3 – The sovereign authority of the States
Abraham Lincoln defined sovereignty as, “A political community, without a political superior.” This then leads to the question of the relationship
between the States and the federal government—just who is the political superior.The answer comes easily when one realizes that the States created
the federal government and they still have the authority to dissolve it should they choose to do so. This fact alone firmly establishes which party
has the superior political authority—the States—although not at all obvious with such an all-consuming and intrusive federal government.Before
1776, the colonies were under the sovereign authority of the British Crown and the governance of Great Britain.
After the Revolution, our treaty with the British Crown recognized each of the then thirteen States as sovereign nations, not one collective empire.
The States never relinquished their hard won sovereignty, and they remain today, through their people, as independent and sovereign powers beholding
to no higher political authority.This fact naturally leads to the irrefutable conclusion that our States, as the superior party in the Constitution,
can damn well do anything they please (in a political sense) without the federal government countermanding their actions. The States can delegate some
of their authority to the federal government as their agent. They can likewise withdraw such delegated authority, and as the superior party, they can
unilaterally declare certain acts by the inferior party to be null and void.
They can also exercise their ultimate authority and withdraw from the Compact without the inferior party overriding that decision.These three grand
principles of secession are rooted deep within our Founding documents, and each offers rock-solid support, based on natural law, and universally
recognized legal precepts, for secession. In addition to these firmly established dictums, there are also a number of credible indicators of our
inherent right to a government better suited to our needs.To begin with, during the time of our Founding, the men known for establishing this new
government never claimed that once a State had joined the Union, they could never leave.
Even Abraham Lincoln, as a Congressman in 1848, spoke in favor of the right of secession.Early on in this country’s first half-century, the New
England States were a hotbed of secessionists. They threatened secession frequently over issues such as the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Embargo of
1807, the War of 1812, and the expansion of Southern States with the admission of Louisiana in 1811 and the annexation of Texas in 1844. They even
called a secession convention in Hartford Connecticut in 1814. All of these threats of secession were made without argument or claim that they were
treasonous or unconstitutional.In early 1861, Congress considered amending the constitution as a means of preventing secession, and soon after the
Civil War, several Southern States were forced to include anti-secession language in their constitutions before returning to the Union.
As Justice Marshall once said, “Limitations of a power furnish a strong argument in favor of the existence of that power.”While these and other
indicators of the right of secession do not carry the same weight as the three grand principles entrenched within our Founding documents, they do add
to the weight of evidence supporting and guaranteeing the right of States to peacefully withdraw from these United States. Once our citizens
understand and acknowledge this inherent right, it could very well be one of the more powerful means by which they could roll back Washington’s
flagrant disregard for the Constitution—a Constitution our representatives deceptively promise to preserve and protect.
If you believe the colonies were right to declare their independence from Great Britain and the British Crown, then you believe in the right of
secession—it’s just that simple. While we call it the Declaration of Independence, and honor it on Independence Day, we could just as easily say
it is the Declaration of Secession, celebrated on Secession Day.
How could the secession of 1776 have been anything but illegitimate and even treasonous? The colonies had no claim on any sovereign rights; after all,
the British Crown was the absolute ruler and sovereign authority. The Colonists, as late as 1774, even referred to themselves as, “His majesty’s
most loyal subjects.”The Crown had expended great sums to discover, conquer, settle, defend, and administer the colonies—therefore, these thirteen
colonies were nothing more than appendages of the British Empire, and absent any constitution defining their political relationship and rights
vis-à-vis Great Britain.
There were no established mechanisms by which these thirteen colonies could legitimately withdraw from the authority of the British Crown and the
governance of Great Britain.The only avenue available for their separation was a God-given natural right of the people to a government most likely to
affect their safety and happiness. As we all now know, the British fought a war over this idea since they did not agree, or comprehend, this newly
declared American right.
Despite that war, this right to a government of our own choosing remains today, forever engrained in our national fabric.Civilized societies generally
recognize mankind’s claim on certain innate rights, be they either God-given or derived from other “natural laws” of the universe. While there
may be differences as to the number and specifics of these birthrights, we, as Americans, have enshrined our inherent rights within our most
celebrated of founding documents—the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence incorporated certain unalienable rights into the American ethos, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. Few citizens, however, fully grasp, or even know about, its declaration of our natural right of secession.The Founding Fathers were
unabashed secessionists. They bluntly heralded the right of the people to withdraw from an abusive or patently ineffective government as one of our
unalienable rights. Each year, when we celebrate our secession of 1776, many will recite those famous words proclaiming our right to life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness, but few will continue with the words that followed claiming our right to secession:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that
among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to
alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them
shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
The only validation for the secession and independence of the colonies were those ideals so eloquently crafted by Thomas Jefferson and quoted above.
Those words proclaimed that we, as Americans, are endowed with a natural God-given right to a government of our own choosing, and this natural right
trumped the authority and sovereignty of the British Crown and the jurisdiction of Great Britain.This natural right differs from a legal right in that
it is a right so inherent to our being that it is congenital, a right we have from birth. As such, this natural right cannot be legislated away by
some political body, redefined by the courts, or dismissed by a king or president.A natural right of secession is an ultimate right taking precedent
over any legal right to withdraw from a government as further evidenced by the secession of nine States from our first constitution, known as the
Articles of Confederation.
When established in 1781, this first constitution was defined as a so-called “perpetual” Union, requiring all thirteen of the States to agree on
any changes. But this legally binding constitution didn’t bother nine States when, in 1788, they unceremoniously withdrew and ratified the
Constitution we have today. It was then up to the remaining four States to carry on as each State might independently decide, or as they eventually
did, reunite under the new Constitution.If the Declaration of Independence sanctified our secession from Great Britain, and presumably underpinned our
secession from our first constitution, then it is reasonable to conclude that the rights proclaimed by this most magnificent of documents still
The only question seems to be if there is any limitation in its application—could, for example, a county secede from a State, or a city from a
county. After all, there are similarities between our sovereign States and their counties and the political relationship we once had between the
colonies and Great Britain.The Declaration of Independence did include a caveat, although some might just call it common sense advice, on the
exercising of the right of secession by declaring
rudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and
While the specific meaning of this sentence is debatable, the idea that any political group would be agitated to rise up and change their government
due only to “light and transient” causes, is not plausible. Perhaps other parties to the Compact might view the causes of secession as “light
and transient,” but the affected party should be the only one judging the seriousness of their complaint.Who then is to decide if a government of
any extent, national or regional, has become destructive to the safety and happiness of the governed—with secession being an appropriate remedy?
Most assuredly, the King did not feel the colonies were justified in leaving, and Lincoln likewise was not kindly disposed to the Deep South
forsaking the Union. Logic dictates that such a decision rests solely with the party claiming injury or injustice.The Declaration of Independence
enshrined our natural God-given right to secession and independence whether it is New York State, Long Island, or New York City. The only question
these political communities need to answer is if the benefits of their expected new independence outweigh the potential consequences of their actions.
Regardless of the ultimate decision, it is their right, and their right alone, to decide—as proclaimed by our Declaration of Independence.
Simply put, our Constitution is nothing more than an agreement between the States establishing a federal system of government; a government delegated
with the authority to perform a few very specific duties as the agent for these sovereign States. Some prefer to use of the term “Compact” when
referring to our Constitution since it conveys a more precise definition for an agreement between nations and states.
The Compact Theory, as used in this article, provides an examination of the terms and conditions of our Constitution—making the case that the
parties to this agreement (i.e. the States) can withdraw at their pleasure.In 1781, five years after their Declaration of Independence, these thirteen
free, independent, and sovereign States joined in pursuing shared governing functions through a constitution known as the Articles of Confederation.
This first constitution of these United States was a compact between thirteen specifically named States, required unanimous consent to change, as well
as language proclaiming, “The Union shall be perpetual.” With terms like these, the idea of any State freely withdrawing from this compact was
highly unlikely.These annoying details did not seem to bother our Founders since they eventually came to the realization that the Articles of
Confederation was weak and ineffective.
Before long, in 1787, our Founding Fathers drafted a “more perfect” constitution, in which they stipulated this new Union would come into being
once just nine of the thirteen States agreed to leave their current “perpetual” union and join the proposed “more perfect Union.”
One by one, States began to abandon the old Confederation without so much as an apology for breaking their perpetual compact, and doing so without the
required unanimous consent of all thirteen States. In June of 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth State to ratify the new agreement, and at that
point, according to Article VII, our current Constitution was officially established. Over the next two years, the remaining four States—their
status then being independent self-governing nation-states—eventually straggled into this new Union.This marked the second time in just twelve years
when the people of those thirteen States exercised their right to withdraw from a government they considered not in their best interest and form a new
one more to their liking.
It would be more than seventy years later when eleven Southern States would again attempt to exercise this option, but rather than respect their
right to do so, Lincoln reacted as King George III and ordered his Royal troops into these newly free and independent States—forcing their return at
the point of a bayonet.It is important to note at least one major difference between the secessionist movements of 1776, 1788, and the 1860s. While
each enjoyed a natural God-given right to a government of their choosing, the secessionists of 1860-61 also had a contractual right to such an
undertaking—a legal right derived from their Compact between the States.
The intent of the Constitution and delegated authority
When debating the right of States to withdraw from the Union, the focus usually centers on constitutional arguments and the intent of the
Constitution’s wording and delegation of authority.The concluding Article VII of the Constitution refers to the document as being “between the
States,” and therefore clearly establishes this Constitution as a Compact between those States acceding to its terms and conditions.
Those States not in agreement were free to form another union of their choosing or remain as independent nation-states.It is also indisputable that
the federal government was not a party to the Compact since the States, through the explicit language of the Constitution, created the federal
government and likewise these States had the power to abolish what they had created.
Of even more significance, the Constitution, by design, delegated limited and specific authority to the federal government, leaving all other
unspecified authority with the States and their people. The federal government was therefore not empowered to intervene in areas not specifically
designated as being under federal authority, and since there were an unlimited number of powers not delegated to the federal government, including the
right of the States to withdraw from this Compact, the States, and the States alone, had the sole and exclusive authority to decide those matters.It
is also important to note that this new Constitution abstained from using the term, “The Union shall be perpetual,” as declared in the old
Articles of Confederation. This just might be one of the many reasons why this Constitution was “more perfect” by acknowledging the obvious, as
the Framers knew from experience with the Articles of Confederation; no government can be preordained as “perpetual.”
The ratification provisions
The States of Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island were apparently uncomfortable with the Constitution’s lack of more precise language regarding the
delegation of powers and authority between the States and the federal government. Specifically, the right of States to withdraw powers previously
delegated and the right of the States to independently exercise all authority not so delegated. When these three States submitted their ratifications
of the Constitution, they included nearly identical provisions clearly stating that, if conditions warranted, they would have the right to withdraw
powers previously delegated, and all non-delegated powers would remain with the States and at their will.
As for the right to withdraw powers previously delegated, the following excerpt from Rhode Island’s ratification was similar to both Virginia and
New York’s stipulation:That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.Many
proponents of secession claim this wording established a constitutional right for leaving the Union should the federal government abuse its power, but
these words do not address the specific issue of withdrawing from the Union. Instead, these words simply guarantee the right of the States to withdraw
powers previously delegated, and since the federal government was never delegated any secession related authority, these statements did not speak
directly to the issue of secession.
The other issue of importance to these three States was the notion of reserving all powers, not specifically delegated to the federal government, to
the States and their people. The following excerpt from New York’s ratification was similar to both Virginia and Rhode Island’s stipulation:[T]hat
every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United States, or the departments
of the Government thereof, remains to the People of the several States, or to their respective State Governments to whom they may have granted the
same;Note the words “clearly delegated” in the above referenced provision. One cannot overstate importance of these ratification documents.
These States realized the importance of protecting their superiority to the federal government and accordingly, their right to withdraw previously
delegated powers as well as reserving all authority not delegated to the federal government. With the acceptance, without objection, of these
conditional ratification provisions, they applied to all States equally since no party to the Compact could have rights that were denied to others.
The Tenth Amendment
When it comes to defining the division of authority between the States and the federal government, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution is the most
significant of all provisions. These twenty-eight words clearly define the almost unlimited powers reserved by the Constitution for the States and
their people:The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States
respectively, or to the people.Since the Constitution neither delegated the question of secession to the federal government nor prohibited a State
from withdrawing from the Compact, the States were therefore free to decide this question for themselves—without interference from any other party.
It is also noteworthy that this language is similar in both words and meaning to the ratification provisions submitted by Virginia, New York, and
Rhode Island.Termination without causeThe Compact between the States, by design, created a federal government with very limited and specifically
defined authority. The ratification provisions and the Tenth Amendment made clear that all other authority, including the right of secession, belonged
to the States.
Therefore, since the question of the right of the States to withdraw is settled, the only question remaining is under what conditions a State can
exercise this right and opt out of the Compact.Multiparty agreements typically have a termination clause defining the conditions one party can cite to
void its participation, the assessment of any penalties that might be applied, and the survivability of the agreement between the remaining parties.
The Constitution contains no such language dealing with the procedure or consequences of any State choosing to withdraw from the Compact.The absence
of any stated restrictions, penalties, or consequences, along with the provisions of the Tenth Amendment assigning all unstated powers (including
termination) to the States, logically leads to the conclusion that there is no barrier to a State choosing to end its participation in the Compact.
In short, the lack of a termination clause does not mean termination is prohibited, it only means there are no terms and conditions to consider
should a State withdraw from the Compact.It is also reasonable to assume a State can withdraw from the Compact “without cause,” since the question
of secession is not mentioned in the Compact. In other words, the Compact does not have to be breached by another party to permit a party to
This turns out to be a mute point in today’s environment since there are literally thousands of examples of abuses of the federal government’s
authority in assuming powers never delegated (e.g. the regulation of the type of toilet you may have, government investment in and ownership of
private companies, and the regulation of interstate commerce extended into all forms of intrastate commerce). There would be no difficulty at all,
with such an overbearing intrusive federal government, for a State to demonstrate that the Compact has been breached, and breached repeatedly, before
withdrawing from the Union.
Even if States were required to “show cause” for their termination, the Constitution would have therefore had to have language specifying the
seriousness of the complaint justifying such an action, as well as some mechanism or third party for adjudicating said complaint. The Constitution
contains neither of these procedures, and therefore “cause” is not an issue.
The clear and precise language and structure of the Constitution, along with the ratification provisions of several States, and most importantly, the
Tenth Amendment, leave no doubt whatsoever that the States have an unfettered constitutional right to withdraw from the Union without cause or
1.When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession - Charles Adams
2.The Law - Frederic Bastiat
5.A Constitutional History of Secession by John Remington Graham and Donald Livingston
6."The Right of Secession" by Gene Kizer
edit on 10-8-2011 by bo12au because: (no reason given)
edit on 10-8-2011 by bo12au because: (no reason given)