December 28, 2000
Virginian (though born and raised in Michigan), I would like to
remind my countrymen that Virginia is not a part of the United States. We
withdrew from the old confederacy in 1861, joined the Confederate States
of America (currently inoperative, alas), and were forcibly and
illegally reannexed to the United States in 1865.
By now most Virginians are resigned
to living under the U.S. Government. Not me. Virginia the home of
Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee should be
When the sovereign state of Virginia
ratified the U.S. Constitution in June 1788, it did so with this proviso:
that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from
the people of the United States, may be resumed by them, whenever the
same shall be perverted to their injury and oppression. That is, the
people of the states could withdraw their consent and
resume, or reclaim, the powers delegated to the U.S.
New York and Rhode Island ratified the Constitution with
similar reservations of the right to resume or
reassume the powers granted therein. Either
these conditional ratification acts were valid, and the states retain the
right to secede, or the acts were void, and Virginia, New York, and Rhode
Island have never legally joined the United States! But nobody at that time
held that by adopting the Constitution the states were surrendering their
sovereignty, freedom, and independence, which they
maintained under the Articles of Confederation.
Lincoln argued against secession on
grounds that the Union is even older than the states.
A Union of what, Abe? At most, the Union can be only as old as the states
that compose it. But the federal government didnt spring into
existence in 1776. That had to await the 1787 Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence, the
most famous act of secession in history, said that the former colonies
are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States
that is, 13 sovereign powers, subordinate to nobody. Notice that it
didnt call those states a new nation or even
the Union. That kind of talk came much later.
It was long customary to refer to the
United States under the Constitution as a confederacy or
confederation, as The Federalist Papers often
do. Even Lincoln sometimes called it this Confederacy, as I
did in the first paragraph. By definition, a confederacy is a voluntary
association whose members are free to quit.
Far from being a new-fangled idea in
1861, the right of secession was implicit in the very language of
American politics in the words state,
sovereign, and federal from the
beginning. It was also positively asserted many times, even in the North,
before 1861. And an act of secession was neither rebellion
nor insurrection, but the act of the same sovereign states
that had ratified the Constitution in the first place.
It was not secession that was
unconstitutional, but the suppression of secession. The North fought the
Civil War by allowing its chief executive to exercise dictatorial powers,
raising armies and money and suspending civil liberties without
consulting Congress, and even arresting the Maryland legislature and
installing a puppet government. This was government of the people,
by the people, for the people? What happened to the consent
of the governed?
The Northern enemies of secession
werent always rigid in their principles: they did allow a pro-Union
part of Virginia to secede from Virginia. Thats how the United
States got West Virginia. Since Virginia never ceded that territory, as
prescribed by the Constitution, that was the only real case of
unconstitutional secession. To make matters worse, the North never
admitted that Virginia had legally left the Union. How, then, could it be
split without its legal consent?
After the war, the North forced the
seceding states to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment as a condition of
re-admission to the Union it insisted they had never legally quit. Yet most
of those states had already ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, so they
were apparently back in the Union after all.
The hypocrisy is dizzying. But wars
arent necessarily won by the intellectually consistent.
Still, its not too late to set
things right. Just give us our liberty back. And, while were at it,
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