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Thread: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

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    Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    I searched, but did not find any previous threads addressing this:

    1. Did the southern states have the Constitutional right to secede from the Union?

    2. Why did the southern states choose to secede? (economic, political, cultural, etc)

    I realize this could easily be in the History forum, but I am most interested in hearing about the Constitutional aspect of secession. The Constitution, as far as I know, does not address the matter.
    Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    1. Did the southern states have the Constitutional right to secede from the Union?
    No, they did not. The entire concept of unilateral secession was alien to the Founding Fathers who wrote the document, and whenever it came up, most of them mocked the concept as rightly they should have. Madison himself addressed the issue of secession and found it utterly absurd that a State could just "up and leave" without the consent of the other parties to the Union. The Constitutional government was not the COnfederacy: it was not a league of independent sovereign governments. They deliberrately left out the provision that provided for secession on purpose, because unlike the Confederation, it was focus was on a Union of "The People of the United States" and not "these united states."

    Unilateral Secession contradicts the entire concept of Federalism and power-balance inherent to the Founders' intention, as it allow any one state to hold all other states political hostages. For example, no state needs to obey any of the provisions for Federalism, because any state can simply threaten to ignor the Federal government at will via threat of "secession." It's the ulimate "I can't get whatever I want, when I want it, therefore, I will take the ball home and no one will play."

    This also doesn't account for the contributions of other states to the development of the states that want to secede or the existence of Federal property and investments in State lands. If a state were to unilaterally secede "at will," it would necessarily entail the confiscation, and thus theft, of others' property and investments without their consent. This was actually the case in the 1861 crisis, where Southern states just left and stole Federal forts, arsenals, and armouries the traitors knew the Feds wouldn't give up voluntarily.

    Secession makes the entire system pointless adn the Founding Fathers out to be morons. No, Madison believed that people had a moral right to secede from genuinely oppressive conditions, but there was no such "right" to secede for any old reason, much less unilaterally, in the Constitution. He admitted as much in his letter to Dan Webster in 1833. The moral concept is justified Revolution, but the former would be treason. If the Constitution supported open revolt, which is inherent to unilateral secession, then it wouldn't have articles that give the Federal government the power to put down rebellions.

    2. Why did the southern states choose to secede? (economic, political, cultural, etc)
    The Causes of the secession were actually pretty complex and multi-variable, but it's accurate to say that there was an over-arching meta-cause: slavery. Note this is not to be confused with the Civil War being caused to END slavery. Rather, slavery was pivotal to almost every Southern argument about the growing sectionalist tensions that lead to secession. Ultimately, according to the Southern Declarations of Secession, the most words and time is given to issues of slavery that caused secession.

    The South required a dynamo of expansion: it could never really end, and it always needed more slave territories to offset agricultural losses of the plantation economy. THis required more states to be created, which in turn meant that the South needed pro-slavery governments. The North opposed the expansion of slavery as a result of the growing free soil movement, and this directly threatened the long-term sustainability of the Southern Plantation economy. If new states could not be admitted to the union as slave states, the South feared that the North would eventually have a senatorial advantage (the Southern interests were already losing out in the House and via the Electoral College by 1856.

    The States seceded primarily because they feared an imbalance of power in Congress and the loss of expansion opportunities to keep their system afloat.
    Last edited by Technocratic; 10-01-10 at 04:27 PM.

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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    I've heard number 1 argued both ways, and I've always been unclear on that myself. It is clear however, that it doesn't matter...the south was willing to defend its ways, legal or no.

    Regarding number 2, IMO it was clearly for economic reasons. and it wasn't only about slavery. slave labor was a part of the southern economic shebang. The Civil War has always been interesting to me because it was the one time in US history when economic elites were in disagreement. at every other time, US economic elites have primarily been in consensus. now, laughably, you sometimes get conjecture in the media about how blue and red states will eventually go to war. no, they won't, not as long as there is economic consensus. the kind of right-left sparring now in our country, nothing can even compare to the vitriol of the mid-19th century! congressmen were beating each with canes! when there is economic elite cleavage, you get Civil War. even at the time it was called "a rich man's war, but a poor man's fight."
    Last edited by niftydrifty; 10-01-10 at 04:28 PM.
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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    I'm not sure though. There was a lot the Founding Fathers had to compromise on. Here is a Jefferson quote:

    If any State in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying 'let us separate.' I would rather the States should withdraw which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture.
    --Thomas Jefferson to William H. Crawford, 1816. ME 15:29

    It is pretty clear he favors secession as an option for each state.

    I would definitely say slavery was the tying together of a number of factors that caused the southern states to secede. The South depended on slave labor and claimed that the involvement of the federal government was an abuse of powers.
    Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    If anyone is interested, here's a piece that deals with the issue of secession: The Claremont Institute - The Case Against Secession

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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    The nation was set up as a "nation of nations" through a contract.
    If one side violates that contract, the other party is allowed to withdraw or demand compensation.

    I'd think it was completely legal.
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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    That would be true, if the Union were actually a compact of sovereign entities. But that wasn't the case. No state retained the sovereignty of an independent nation. Instead, they gave up full sovereignty to the Union in return for Federalism. The United States became a country in place of the old Confederate model of "these united States." The Constitution created a national government represented by Federal authority and State authority combined, each sovereign in only specific areas.

    An actual sovereign state does many things that the individual united States did not have the ability to do. And it is an inherent right of any national entity to secure its borders and domestic integrity. Unilateral secession is inherently a violation of the right of nations to national integrity.

    Moreover, if open rebellion against rightful Federal authority were allowed, the Constitution wouldn't give the Federal government the express duty to put down revolutions. Secession destroys the nation and undermines the balance of Federal and State authority by giving any State ultimate authority.

    Quite the contrary, the Confederacy wasn't the beacon of States rights, the heir to the Founders' vision, nor was it exercizing a legal theory of Constitutional secession. It was quite literally a treasonous agency using secession as a blackmail tool for the minority to get everything it wanted by threatening the subversion of Republican institutions and the destruction of the United States as a nation. The South seceded because it could not get everything it wanted through the ballot. The South threatened to secede at least four times, each when it feared it would not get its way: the gag rule crisis, the tariff crisis, over the fugative slave law, and the kansas crisis. There is no moral, or legal, justification for that.

    One can't even appeal to the natural right of revolution proposed by the Founders, because the Confederates repudiated it when they stated that theFounders views were horribly flawed and that there were no inalienable rights. But even if we were to argue that secession as a revolutionary rght existed, that doesn't imply a Constitutional legal right to secede.
    Confederates were morally, as well as legally, bankrupt.
    Last edited by Technocratic; 10-01-10 at 06:02 PM.

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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    Regarding number 1, I think it was only a matter of time before the theory was put to trial by war. There's no doubt in my mind that the difference in culture between the north and south was going to result in conflict.

    As for the reasons for their secession, those reasons were a combination of defending the sovereignty of the states against a growing federal power and the economic subjugation being forced on the south by an industrialized north needing cheaper raw materials which the south had been exporting out to foreign powers for higher profits. A series of protectionist tariffs, aimed at forcing the south to sell raw goods to the north for lower profits caused a great deal of dissatisfaction below the mason dixon. This was especially compounded by the fact that such tariffs did not penalize the north in the same way when they sold their manufactured goods back to the south at much higher profit margins.

    All in all, it was pure economics that started that war. Slavery and emancipation was a side issue, even to Lincoln.

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    Re: Did the southern states have the a Constitutional right to secede in 1861?

    Quote Originally Posted by Technocratic View Post
    That would be true, if the Union were actually a compact of sovereign entities. But that wasn't the case. No state retained the sovereignty of an independent nation. Instead, they gave up full sovereignty to the Union in return for Federalism. The United States became a country in place of the old Confederate model of "these united States." The Constitution created a national government represented by Federal authority and State authority combined, each sovereign in only specific areas.

    An actual sovereign state does many things that the individual united States did not have the ability to do. And it is an inherent right of any national entity to secure its borders and domestic integrity. Unilateral secession is inherently a violation of the right of nations to national integrity.

    Moreover, if open rebellion against rightful Federal authority were allowed, the Constitution wouldn't give the Federal government the express duty to put down revolutions. Secession destroys the nation and undermines the balance of Federal and State authority by giving any State ultimate authority.

    Quite the contrary, the Confederacy wasn't the beacon of States rights, the heir to the Founders' vision, nor was it exercizing a legal theory of Constitutional secession. It was quite literally a treasonous agency using secession as a blackmail tool for the minority to get everything it wanted by threatening the subversion of Republican institutions and the destruction of the United States as a nation. The South seceded because it could not get everything it wanted through the ballot. The South threatened to secede at least four times, each when it feared it would not get its way: the gag rule crisis, the tariff crisis, over the fugative slave law, and the kansas crisis. There is no moral, or legal, justification for that.

    One can't even appeal to the natural right of revolution proposed by the Founders, because the Confederates repudiated it when they stated that theFounders views were horribly flawed and that there were no inalienable rights. But even if we were to argue that secession as a revolutionary rght existed, that doesn't imply a Constitutional legal right to secede.
    Confederates were morally, as well as legally, bankrupt.
    So then why did the Union accept West Virginia as a member when it seceded from the rest of Virginia? Shouldn't West Virginia just be a part of the Union if Virginia didn't have the right to secede in the first place?
    Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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