A little secession is good for the soul

stltoday.com | Jan 30, 2013

By Chris Morrill

The online petition advocating the secession of Missouri did not garner the 25,000 signatures required to trigger a response from the White House. Similar petitions from several other states (most notably Texas) did get enough signatures, however. Perhaps not surprisingly, the White House recently responded and essentially said “no.”

I have mixed feelings about the secession petitions. They had no legal standing whatsoever. And while an independent Missouri might be roughly the size of Uruguay with an economy about the size of Chile, we would be landlocked and surrounded by potentially hostile neighbors.

The whole thing also might look like a temper tantrum after an election didn’t go the way some wished. This is not necessarily a recipe for a young nation’s success.

While I don’t think secession is a great idea at this moment, I support the concept in general. Submitting a petition tacitly concedes that permission is needed to break away, which I reject.

Per Texas v. White (1869), it is already the stance of the federal government that secession is not legal. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas (and thus all other Confederate states) never had any right to unilaterally secede, thus in fact they had never actually left the Union at all.

This directly contradicted other stances of the federal government from that area, such as the absence of the southern states during the 1864 election, Reconstruction, the process of “readmitting” former Confederate states. Why would any state need to be “readmitted” if they never left in the first place?

The ruling seemed rather anticlimactic after over four years of war and over 600,000 lives lost. The court was not the true arbiter of that dispute; the war was. The ruling was just their imprimatur after the fact.

But while the Supreme Court says unilateral secession can’t (and never did) happen, in reality, secession occurs all the time. Otherwise, the United States may still belong to the United Kingdom, West Virginia may still belong to Virginia, St. Louis City may still be part of St. Louis County, etc. Look at world maps through history, and they change all the time. Even in my lifetime.

Two current U.S. states (Texas and Hawaii) were once indisputably independent countries. Can we seriously say that even they can never leave and become independent again? Would they have ever agreed to join any other nation under such restrictions?

When one party holds all the power in a relationship, it is almost certain to abuse it. This is true of marriages, and it is true of government. The “marriage” of the states was never meant to concentrate so much power at the federal level, or in certain sectional factions. Over time we have corrupted the arrangement, and occasionally threatening divorce may be one of the only way to keep things honest.

There is already a word for using force to make parties do something against their will. It’s “coercion.” This flies in the face of such very American concepts as self-determination and free association.

While detractors of secession say the Union is “perpetual,” “indissoluble,” or even “eternal,” few things really are. There isn’t a contract on this planet that can’t be abrogated. Certainly, there are penalties for breaking contracts. Such penalties do not usually involve state sanctioned violence and death.

The concept of eternity is best left to religion. It has no place in government. Unfortunately, for many, government is religion.

Chris Morrill is a fraud analyst for an insurance company. He enjoys Hawaiian shirts, Stag beer, humor, politics and South City weirdness.

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