What American rebels should consider
What is secession?
Secession is the declaration by a state that the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1789, will no longer be recognized as the law of the land within its borders. It's a declaration that a state will no longer follow laws made in Washington (hence, federal laws) that hurt, hinder, or go against the best interests of a state and its residents.
Using 1860-61 as a model, your state Legislature would first vote to rescind the state's original ratification of the Constitution, which is what South Carolina did just before the War of Northern Aggression.
Then, your state's Washington delegation reads a declaration of secession in the wells of the U.S. House and Senate. Then your congressional delegation walks out, and not just ceremoniously, either. They are legally allowed to "moon" one or both houses as they exit. That's where the term "bicameral" comes from.
Once they get outside the Capitol Building, they get in their carriages and "haul-ass" south. Should this happen today, they will stop long enough to explain only to Fox News cameras why they're about to get in their carriages.
The South Carolina Washington delegation. Harper's Weekly followed the delegation around Capitol Hill just before Christmas 1860. The men walked the halls of the Capitol Building, informing congressional colleagues that the state would secede.
Here's how South Carolina, the only state with what I call the huevos to go first (December 1860), stated the vote in its general assembly:
"An ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled 'The Constitution of the United States of America.'
Here's the Texas secession petition filed on the White House website a few weeks ago.
"Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect its citizens' standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government."
Whatever "no longer being reflected" means.
By the way, wouldn't Texas return to Mexican ownership if it left the union? That would make Texans illegal immigrants on their own land. Kind of what happened to the original Mexicans who were in "Texas" when it was stolen from Mexico. Border states will have to be careful with this pulling-out-of-the-union thing.
Who can secede?
Any state, county, town, or region--the Florida Keys, for instance--can declare its intention to break from its larger political parent. The real question is, who can secede successfully? Courts or voters can allow the breaking of neighborhoods or towns from taxation districts or allow them to detach themselves from city boundaries. When it comes to states, that's not been done. The one real drive for secession, in 1861, was beaten back with federal armies.
So the answer is: Any state can declare its intention to secede if it has reason enough. It's not illegal to declare one's intention. That's free speech.
I have not read each and every secession petition for the 40 states, but I am certain most of the signatures (Texas has tens of thousands of signatures) stem from anger at the deficit, the national healthcare law, Obama's nationality, and whatever else Karl Rove has accused the president and Democrats of doing. I do not belittle anyone's reasons for wanting to secede. If conservatives are angry, that's all that's necessary. The courts do not limit or define the reasons for seeking independence from the United States.
However, and laws are riddled with "howevers" (or are those proclamations?) the Supreme Court ruled unilateral secession unconstitutional, but suggests successful secession is possible through arms or with the consent of other states.
Which brings us back to Texas, whose secession petition has been signed by 88,000 residents. If Massachusetts, Florida, California, and all the other states tell Texas they can go (not an impossibility, trust me) then who's to stop it?
Is secession allowed?
That's a silly question, isn't it? That's the best part of secession. It's a line states aren't allowed to cross. And that's exactly why they cross it.
Attempts at or aspirations of secession from the United States have been a feature of the country's politics since its birth. Some say states have a constitutional right to quit the union; Jefferson said it's an American responsibility to revolt, which I hold true, too. In the armed sense, I mean.
The one serious secession movement was defeated in the Civil War, of course. In 1860 and 1861, 11 of the fifteen southern states that enslaved human beings quit the U.S. and formed the Confederate States of America.
Though the CSA collapsed after April 1865, one of its sons successfully decapitated the federal government at Ford's Theater.
A look at secession 2013
What makes a secession successful is whether or not a state has a standing army of citizens that can beat back the U.S. military, which will most assuredly arrive in a matter of hours by federal highway system, air, and--if you are a coastal state, by Aegis cruiser or aircraft carrier.
Yet new powers given the president after 9-11 will add a new twist to any future mass secession of states from the union.
States, in fact, do have standing armies, which are euphemistically called "The National Guard." They are at the disposal of governors in case of natural disasters, rioting in urban settings, or in the case of Ohio in 1970, to quell university students who start throwing things. Can governors use the National Guard to protect its borders against an invading U.S. Army? I suppose the governor would have to first gauge the mood of his National Guard and whether its commander would back him. This sure is fun, isn't it? The height of journalism, describing what might happen in a situation that may never happen!
The Insurrection Act allows the president to use U.S. military personnel at the request of the State Legislature or Governor to suppress insurrections in states. What if governors refuse to use the National Guard on his own people, or in fact, uses the National Guard troops to uphold secession?
On the eve of the midterm elections in 2006, George W. Bush successfully got Congress to change the Posse Comitatus Act by granting the president the right to commandeer federal or even state National Guard Troops and use them inside the United States. Against taxpayers. Against civilians. Against you.
One of the stated reasons the prez can suspend civil liberties, detain, and interrogate citizens is to suppress, in a state, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy. Those are my italics, by the way.
The Patriot Act also allows the president--the president--to arrest, detain, and interrogate (with methods up to, but not including, torture) and hold indefinitely in secret Americans or anyone else deemed part of a terrorist cause, attempt, plan, communication, or other perceived link to insurrection or terrorist groups.
OK, it's unpleasant, but we've now established that the president has tools in place to stop a state from seceding without an all-out civil war. If a state secedes and the governor won't use his own National Guard to quell that secession--he probably has agreed with his state's congressional delegation to secede (see South Carolina above)--then the president can phone the state's National Guard commander and order him to do it. Kind of a surgical civil war, in which insurrection is halted state by state, without having to call up Army divisions and trucking or shipping them by rail to the region in question.
Whereas President Lincoln had his Army of the Potomac, the president now has this military force already in place. It is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, which few would argue is pretty close to the geographic center of the United States. Thanks again to George W. Bush, who formed the command in 2002 in response to 9-11. The command is "tasked with providing military support for civil authorities in the U.S., and protecting the territory and national interests of the United States within the contiguous U.S., including Alaska."
The creation of a new command (the Southern Command protects South America and the Caribbean; Central Command, Iraq, Middle East, and Southwest Asia; and the Pacific Command, which oversees India, China, the Pacific ridge and the eastern edge of Asia, Australia, and other parts) puts Americans right in the center of the Pentagon's military planning table. Genl. Charles H. Jacoby, the modern counterpart to Genl. Ulysses Grant, is in charge of USNORTHCOM; he would be in charge of using military force to pull any secessionist states back into the fold.
Unimaginable, folks, until the Northern Command was approved by Congress in a flurry of post-9/11 fear that many point to when they say Bin Laden won.
Let me dial this back down a bit. The U.S. military isn't about to roll into cities and towns to lay out barbed wire and water board citizens. Most of the Northern Command's mission is to control populations of Americans in times of extreme crisis. Here's what NORTHCOM thinks about:
The explosion of a small nuclear device in Chicago causes a mass exodus into the countryside from nearly every American city. Or a deadly disease outbreak causes a breakdown in social services, civilian authority, and other forms of societal collapse. You need troops to move large populations, set up large tent cities with plumbing, electricity, and kitchens; you need soldiers to manage refugee checkpoints, to ship in and distribute clothing, food, medicine, and to provide security in times of disruption. These are extremely unpleasant things to think about, but those are the kinds of things NORTHCOM plans for. The unstated idea in all this is that NORTHCOM has the legal authority and weapons to restore order within the borders of the United States. By the way, won't Southern governors love all those tanks rolling down their highways, with "Northern Command" graphics on their armor?
A quick thought: So what if a state secedes? It's not going anywhere. I think what really started the Civil War was South Carolina shore batteries firing on a federal fort in Charleston Harbor. If Texas secedes but doesn't fire on anyone or pass any laws that allow the eating of children, then why not just leave Texans alone, let them declare themselves independent and ignore them? I think that's what's happening anyway.
Other examples of secession
States aren't the only political entities to secede. In Maryland, the Eastern Shore has sought a split with Annapolis and the rest of the state on the Washington side of the Chesapeake Bay. Neighborhoods often seek to split from cities and towns. And cities seek separation from states.
Which returns us again to Texas. As so many Texans signed the secession petition this month, Austin said it wants to stay with the United States. What a great town, by the way. Great music, great food, great people, and educated? You better believe it. The city is begging the White House to let it stay with the union.
I love that city. Always have.