Does a state have the right to secede from the union? | Eastern North Carolina Now | What does the word "Secession" mean?

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    --> Article VII sets out the provision for original ratification, and Article IV empowers Congress to admit new States. But there is no provision of the Constitution that authorizes a state to leave the Union or bars it from doing so. The Constitution does not say anything about states leaving.

    --> There is no specific power granted to the federal government to prevent or reverse secession and the power to secede is not specifically denied to the states. Therefore, therefore that power is retained by the states, as guaranteed by the 10th Amendment.

    --> The Declaration of Independence is itself a document justifying secession.

    --> Texas v. White (1869). The Supreme Court said "Yes," but not unilaterally. (However, the decision has been put into question by the actions of President Grant and the government in setting conditions for the southern states to be "re-admitted" to the Union).

    QUESTION: Which was the first state to secede from the Union?

    --> South Carolina. It adopted its Ordinance of Secession on Dec. 24, 1860.

    South Carolina's Declaration of Secession is noteworthy among the declarations of the seceding states for the following reasons:

    1). It acknowledges the state's earlier intention (in 1852) to secede from the Union. " The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue."

    2). It is structured very similarly to the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson. "To the remaining United States of America and to the nations of the world, South Carolina declares the immediate causes which have led to this act (secession)." (Also see the language above)

    3). It explains the great principles asserted by the Colonies (States), as reflected clearly in the Declaration of Independence: (a) the right of a State to govern itself; and (b) the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. The fact is that each state was recognized by the mother country in the Treaty of Paris (1793) as a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE.

    4). It gives a very good overview of the history of the colonies: "In pursuance of their Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments - Legislative, Executive and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels; and, in 1778, they entered into a League known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the first Article "that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.... Under this Confederation, the war of the Revolution was carried on, and on September 3, 1783, the contest ended, and a Treaty was signed by Great Britain in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies.

    In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States. The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority. By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that 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. On the 23d May, 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken."

    5). It reinforces that the government is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence (see earlier) "We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence...."

    6). It explains the legal nature of the Constitution - as a compact (contract; an agreement; a social contract) - and acknowledges the parties to such compact (the states). It also explains that as such, the Constitution is subject to the law of contracts.

    "Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights..... We hold that the mode of its formation subjects it to the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

    We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

    7). Just as Jefferson submitted "facts to a candid world" of the history of repeated injuries and usurpations by King George of England, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over the States, South Carolina listed proof that the Northern states deliberately failed to live up to their Constitutional obligations and therefore the compact is null and void:

    (i) First, those states intentionally interfered with or ignored the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution (Article IV, Sect. 2) - Any person held in service or slave in one state must be delivered back to that owner.

    This clause "was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia , which now composes the States north of the Ohio River....

    (ii) The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing ostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.... Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

    (iii) The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be 'to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.' These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burdening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

    We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution..."

    (iv) The Northern States have showed added hostility to the Southern states "by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land (Dred v. Scott), are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety."

    (v) "On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln will take possession of the Government. He has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.... The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy."

    Other states, such as Georgia and Texas, offer many more reasons for the decision to secede.

    Secession ---

    Americans seceded twice in our relatively short history as a nation. We seceded from the British Empire over its taxation of the colonies without representation and a denial of other fundamental human liberties. Thomas Jefferson set those reasons out very clearly for "a candid world" to see in the Declaration of Independence. Some of those reasons were:

    • He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
    • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
    • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
    • He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
    • He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
    • He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
    • He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
    • He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
    • He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
    • He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended

Legislation:

    • For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
    • For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
    • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
    • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
    • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
    • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
    • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
    • He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
    • He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
    • He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

    -- In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

    The Southern states seceded in 1861 over what they felt were years of hostility to their sovereign interests. As Lincoln's election became evident, secessionists made clear their intent to leave the Union before he took office the following March. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina took the lead by adopting an ordinance of secession. By February 1, 1861, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed. Six of these states then adopted a constitution and declared themselves to be a sovereign nation, the Confederate States of America. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky soon followed. President Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy, declaring secession illegal. Lincoln, committed to the ideal of republicanism, saw secession as an act of anarchy and was committed to restoring the republic (the Union). In his first inaugural address, on March 4, 1861, Lincoln said: "Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the
only true sovereign of a free people. In rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left." In that same inaugural address, he also said: "I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination."

    In a message to Congress later that year, on July 4, he wrote: "The distinct issue, 'Immediate dissolution or blood'...embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the question of whether a constitutional republic or democracy -- a government of the people, by the same people -- can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether the discontented individuals -- too few in numbers to control the administration, according to organic law, in any case -- can always, upon the pretenses made in this case or on any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up the government and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: 'Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?'"

    In a letter to newspaper editor Horace Greeley dated August 22, 1862, Lincoln wrote: " "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving the others alone, I would also do that."

    And in his annual message to Congress on Dec. 1, 1862, he said: "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth."

    Lincoln justified the war based on legal terms. (And certainly in moral terms as well). He believed the Constitution was a contract (and for one party to get out of a contract all the other parties had to agree); in fact, he believed the original states joined together with the intent of forming a perpetual union. He believed they memorialized that intent expressly in the Articles of Confederation. The Articles stated both in the Preamble and in the body that the union "thus created" is "perpetual." Article XII stated:

    "The Articles of this confederation shall be inviolably observed by every state, and the union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the united States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every state." (The term "perpetual" was actually used five times in the Articles). According to Lincoln, the Constitution, drafted to address the limitation of the Articles, merely created a more perfect 'perpetual' union.

    So strongly did Lincoln believe this that he stated as such in his first in augural address: "I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination."

    Apparently, this was not the position that Lincoln always held. On the floor of the 30th Congress on January 13, 1848, Lincoln delivered this message: "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and to form one that suits them better. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may make their own of such territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority intermingling with or near them who oppose their movement."

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