Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.”     Frederick Bastiat

April 22, 2009

Why Ron Paul Is Wrong About Secession

by Doug Mataconis

In the wake of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s off-the-cuff comments last week that seemed to suggest he viewed the idea of seceding from the Union favorably, Texas Congressman Ron Paul has waded into the fray.

First, he made these comments in a video posted by his Campaign for Liberty over the weekend:

Then he expanded on those comments in an appearance on CNN’s American Morning:

The biggest surprise to me was the outrage expressed over an individual who thinks along these lines, because I heard people say, well, this is treasonous and this was un-American. But don’t they remember how we came in to our being? We used secession, we seceded from England. So it’s a very good principle. It’s a principle of a free society. It’s a shame we don’t have it anymore. I argue that if you had the principle of secession, our federal government wouldn’t be as intrusive into state affairs and to me that would be very good.

We as a nation have endorsed secession all along. Think of all of the secession of the countries and the republics from the Soviet system. We were delighted. We love it. And yet we get hysterical over this just because people want to debate and defend the principle of secession, that doesn’t mean they’re calling for secession. I think it’s that restraining element of secession that would keep the federal government from doing so much. In our early history, they accepted the principles of secession all along.

In response, Timothy Sandefur does a fairly good job of raking the Congressman — and by extension others who have taken up the secession banner as if it were an actual solution to our problems — over the coals:

Excuse me, Congressman, but the United States did not “secede” from Britain. The nation had a revolution. The difference between secession and revolution is, of course, one which paleoconservatives like Paul insist on ignoring, but it is a crucial one. Secession is the notion that a state may unilaterally leave the American union, consistent with the Constitution of the United States. Obviously since the revolution occurred in 1776, eleven years before the Constitution, it can’t be called “secession.” And perhaps that’s why the word was not used by the founding fathers when they engaged in the revolution or even afterwards.

Secession is and always has been unconstitutional and illegal, for reasons discussed in my paper, How Libertarians Ought To Think About The U.S. Civil War. The people certainly do retain the right of revolution, but revolution, of course, can only be justified on the basis of self-defense. As the Declaration put it, only after a long train of abuses evince a design to reduce the people under absolute despotism may they throw off such government and implement new safeguards for their safety and happiness. That is the principle of a free society: that government exists to protect individual rights and has no value aside from that protection.

I made a similar argument several years ago when I argued that the Southern Rebellion of 1860 was, morally and legally, unjustifiable:

In the most important part of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson set forth the criteria for when armed rebellion is justified:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, ? That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security

In other words, taking up armed rebellion is not something that should be done for light or trivial reasons. Nor it is something that should be done when there are other, less violent methods for effecting political change.

(…)

Lincoln had said nothing, and certainly in the months prior to his Inauguration, had done nothing, to indicate that such a threat existed. Moreover, if the South had stayed in the Union and sent its Congressmen and Senators to Washington in 1861, they would have represented a voting bloc large enough that they would have been able to block any legislation they didn’t like, especially in the Senate.

I’ve quoted, rather approvingly, much of what Ron Paul has had to say over the past several months about the bailouts and Obama’s economic policies, but on this one he’s just plain wrong.

H/T: Jason Pye

C/P: Below The Beltway

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52 Comments

  1. Secession is the notion that a state may unilaterally leave the American union, consistent with the Constitution of the United States. Obviously since the revolution occurred in 1776, eleven years before the Constitution, it can’t be called “secession.”

    Obviously, since Webster dates the verb “secede” to 1749, it is not tied directly to the Constitution of the United State.

    “Secede” means to withdraw from an organization.
    “Revolt” means to renounce allegiance or subjection.

    They’re synonyms. The only practical differences between the two are:
    – Whether or not a war was fought over the matter
    – Which side survived to write the history

    You can argue until you’re blue in the face about what causes might justify dissolving a strong political tie, but the bottom line is that everyone here should support the moral right of a reasonably large group of people to rule themselves.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 22, 2009 @ 10:04 am
  2. The difference between secession and revolution is, of course, one which paleoconservatives like Paul insist on ignoring, but it is a crucial one.

    Distinction without a difference.

    Comment by Joshua Holmes — April 22, 2009 @ 10:06 am
  3. As the Declaration put it, only after a long train of abuses evince a design to reduce the people under absolute despotism may they throw off such government…

    I would say we are knocking at this door right now.

    Comment by Toaster 802 — April 22, 2009 @ 10:51 am
  4. Representative Paul argues that the principle of secession is insurance against what the Declaration calls “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object” which “evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism”.

    Whether there is such a long chain of abuses and, if so, whether they are designed to reduce us under absolute despotism must necessarily be a subjective conclusion. I can definitely see such a long chain of what I would call federal abuses unfolding over the last century. Others may not agree.

    Paul is supporting a discussion, and that this principle should not be off the table in that discussion. I think that’s what is going on in various parts of the country, and indeed here at The Liberty Papers. If the people in a state actually go forward with secession, the situation would deepen into issues of legality and potential force.

    Labeling the discussion “treasonous” is hyperbolic. Actions might be treasonous. Discussions are not.

    Comment by Akston — April 22, 2009 @ 11:33 am
  5. The notion that the states could not resume the powers delegated to Federal Government would be news to the ratifiers from New York, Rhode Island, and Virginia. The fact that 3 of the 13 original states explicitly stated this suggests that it was on the minds of many more at the time.

    And they were not talking about “long trains of abuses.” Instead, NY and RI reserved this right “whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness,” while Virginia had a slightly stronger wording, “whensoever the same [powers granted] shall be perverted to their injury or oppression.”

    Comment by Jeremy H. — April 22, 2009 @ 12:05 pm
  6. Jeff Molby is exactly right. Of course, there is a right to secede. Of course, Sandefur is dead wrong in harping on this allegedly significant distinction without a difference. The CSA had a right to secede and to revolt, just as did the USA in seceding from Britain. (This pettifogging by the <a href=”http://blog.mises.org/archives/003683.asp”libertarian centralists reminds me of the hairsplitting involved in the claim that there is a difference between alienating and forfeiting a right–often made to justify the latter while pretending to still be in favor of “inalienable” rights; rights are not inalienable. They are (proportionatley) forfeited, or alienated, by committing crime).

    The states of the US obviously have a constitutional right to secede, since the federal government is merely an agent of limited powers created by compact of the original 13 state-parties, and that compact (a) never denied the right of states to leave the union; (b) the states never gave up this right; and (c) the feds were never granted the power or authority to stop the states from leaving. It is quite obvious that there is a constitutional right to secede.

    As Kevin Gutzman discusses in ch. 3 of Virginia’s American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840 (as well as in his 2004 Review of Politics article “Edmund Randolph and Virginia Constitutionalism,” Virginia (in addition to two other states) retained the right to reclaim the powers they were delegating to the Federal Government (that is, to secede) in case those rights were perverted to their oppression (which has to be a matter that is for them alone to decide). See ch. 3 of Virginia’s American Revolution and the aforementioned article. In fact, the two leading Federalist spokesmen in the ratification convention told the convention that they were to be “as one of thirteen parties to a compact,” that the Federal Government would have only the powers it was “expressly delegated,” and that they could reclaim the powers they were granting it (that is, secede) if those powers were perverted to their (that is, Virginians’) oppression. (Obviously, only Virginians could be the judge of that.)

    Further, the Supreme Court has long had what it calls the Equal Footing Doctrine (2), which holds, after the manner of Virginia’s Northwest Cession of 1781, that all states have the same rights. If Virginia (and NY and RI) reserved the right to secede, then all states have that right. This doctrine requires all states to be treated alike, and reflects the universal understanding of the ratifiers, that means any state can secede if it wants to.

    Incidentally, the two VA Ratification Convention delegates mentioned above were the governor, Edmund Randolph (also a prominent Framer) and George Nicholas, who often spoke for Madison. They were two of the five members (along with John Marshall and James Madison) of the all-Federalist committee to draft the instrument of ratification.

    (For more on this, see the two above-noted works by Gutzman, plus his Gutzman’s Mr. Franck, Meet Mr. Randolph and Neocons vs. the Real Constitution.)

    Now, of course, it could be that the president, in the mode of Lincoln, would ignore Texas’s right. That’s a separate issue.

    ***

    So why does Sandefur nitpick on the difference between “secession” and “revolution”? Because you see, he wants to argue that since there is no legal right to secede (contra reality), then all that’s left is the right to revolt. But then those nasty Southern racist slaveholders had no right to revolt–why? Because (as I explain in
    Sandefur and Federal Supremacy), in Sandefur’s view, “the Southern states could not legitimately claim a right to revolt in defense of slavery”. (Nevermind that he views the American revolution from Britain as legitmate, even though colonial America had slavery!)

    But this is sleight of hand on his part. He pretends like his reason to oppose the CSA’s revolution was that they had slavery (again, nevermind the fact that the US did in 1776, too). But note, he writes: “revolution is justified only as a form of self-defense against rulers who have engaged in a train of abuses and usurpations against those individual rights which just governments protect. This alone distinguishes an act of revolution from a mere criminal conspiracy.”

    Sandefur is of the opinion that there was no train of abuses justifying revolution (despite the fact that the federal taxes, impositions, tariffs, etc. were more onerous in 1861 than those King George imposed in 1776; and certainly today’s federal mandates, taxes, and regulations are orders of magnitude beyond either, thus making the case for revolution stronger today than ever!). This means, however, that slavery has nothing to do with Sandefur’s arguments against the right to revolution. For under this theory, even if none of the United States had had slavery in 1861, it would still have been a “mere criminal conspiracy” for the South to secede, without permission from Congress. This is because the South, according to Sandefur, would not have been “able to point to a long train of abuses pursuing the design of reducing them to despotism”. In other words, even if slavery had already been abolished, the Union would be justified in using armed force to subdue a seceding State, unless the State was engaged in “revolution” in response to acts of “despotism” by the Union.

    Sandefur’s real position is that, barring acts of despotism by the central government, it may legitimately use armed force to prevent the secession of its States.

    So, according to our centralist “libertarian” “allies,” states cannot secede, since they have no right to (despite the fact that Virginia and other states explicitly retained this right, which was recognized by the ratifying convention; and the Equal Footing Doctrine, which requires all other states to also have this right); and they can’t revolt, since there has been no long train of abuses (despite the current unprecedented world financial crisis foisted on the states by the feds, imposing cripling million-dollar future obligations on the citizens of the States; despite the fact that Sandefur et al. recognize the puny abuses of King George as justifying the 1776 American Revolution (please, please give me back King George)).

    In reality, the proper libertarian view is that of course there is a right to secession, both constitutional and natural; and there is a right to revolution, since our federal government is criminal, unlibertarian, unconstitutional, and tyrannical (little Timmy can’t acknowledge that–wouldn’t be a polite position to take while kissing ass at some DC cocktail party).

    ***

    The truth is that right to secede is anathema to the centralist libertarian and Randroid mindset, which is obsessed with the idea of having a nice, neat, legal, “final” deciding authority…. even if it’s the criminal state itself–which is why they distort and lie, to justify their disgusting worship of the unconstitutional, unlibertarian 14th Amendment, federal judges, and federal power.

    Further, Sandefur disparages libertarians who hold views similar to Paul’s as “paleoconservatives.” A better term might be anti-centralist libertarians. The truth is, the centralism and naive federal judiciary worship of Sandefur and his statist-centralist pals is hardly compatible with libertarianism, which is anarchist, anti-state, and decentralist.

    ***

    A final point. So what if there is no right to secede in the Constitution? The Constitution was an immoral, unlibertarian, criminal coup d’etat. In any event, agreements entered into by previous generations do not bind us.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 12:31 pm
  7. Aside from the whole legal debate as to the legality or illegality of states leaving the union – this quote jumped out at me. Paul says: “We as a nation have endorsed secession all along. Think of all of the secession of the countries and the republics from the Soviet system. We were delighted. We love it.”

    Uh, somebody might want to remind Paul that the former British colonies joined together as one Union voluntarily. The Soviet Empire was created and held together all those decades at the point of a gun, and with a boot pressed firmly on the throat of some formerly independent COUNTRIES that made up that Empire.

    Real relevant analogy there, Ronnie. Mr. Apple, let me introduce you to Mr. Orange, who I just decided to compare you to.

    Oh, and people need to try to remember the rules when discussing this issue. It is only allowable if it is New England progressives like Howard Dean talking it up as a result of something like a BushHitler illegal war. Heck, under those sorts of circumstances, it is even a trendy and chic topic in your finer elite cocktail party circles. But if it is Texas redneck and the issue is taxes, then it is “treason” and those damn FauxNoise teabaggers should just STFU.

    Comment by southernjames — April 22, 2009 @ 12:32 pm
  8. To southernjames: that’s some pretty lame gotcha. Ron Paul was not drawing an analogy between the colonies and the Soviet Union. YOU did that. His point is merely that Americans have traditionally sympathized with seceders. So you can cease your little victory dance now.

    Comment by Tom — April 22, 2009 @ 12:37 pm
  9. If a state wants to leave, they can. They can declare they have left an then, not follow U.S. policies and law anymore. I don’t know what the consequences would be for doing that. But, they can do that if they want.

    Comment by kingdavidlives — April 22, 2009 @ 12:39 pm
  10. This is one of the most ignorant blog posts I have read in quite some time. Geez.

    Comment by Clint — April 22, 2009 @ 12:39 pm
  11. In your eagerness to make your anti-Jeffersonian argument against secession, you misinterpret Jefferson, who nowhere says that rebellion is justified only after a long train of abuses. He says only that it would be imprudent to do so for lesser reasons.

    Next time we want to rebel, we’ll submit our grievances to a Straussian evaluation panel, who will tell us if our rebellion is justified.

    Comment by Tom — April 22, 2009 @ 12:47 pm
  12. One other comment: it’s sad that an ostensibly libertarian site, one that trumpets the Declaration of Independence, is accepting the Lincolnian state’s “logic” in denying to States the right to secede (or revolt). Extremely disappointing.

    But then, I guess that’s what you get from a soi-disant libertarian who has “distanced myself from the more extreme elements of the libertarian movement.” Wow, I guess even Barry Goldwater would be too much for him! Only respectable types around here, move along, move along.

    To those watching from the sidelines, whose side would you rather be on: that of the brave Ron Paul; that of principled, anti-centralist, anti-war libertarians; that of Jefferson and Madison (of Kentucky and Virginia Resolves fame — 1, 2) — or that of a self-admitted “pro-war libertarian” who says “the evidence is clear that Western Civilization is in a fight for its own survival right now. Following the naive foreign policy advocated by the Libertarian Party and its pacifist allies is, quite frankly, a prescription for suicide.”

    Hey, buddy, we are committing suicide right now–you see the financial implosion going on around you? Hmm, I wonder if it might have something to do with the military spending of this federal beast, and its authority and capacity to decide whether or not and how to wage war–which you support?

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 12:53 pm
  13. Stephen, relax…

    We have a variety of opinions on this site, and I will be doing a rebuttal this weekend.

    Unless, of course, if Brad “I am not an anarchist but sure talk like one” Warbiany doesn’t beat me and publish first. :)

    BTW, thanks for doing so much of my research for me.

    Comment by tarran — April 22, 2009 @ 1:10 pm
  14. Another point about the “respectable,” non-extremist, cocktail-party libertarians yammering about slavery as if this was some unique taint of the CSA’s secession (yes yes, we’re all anti-slavery now–well, we anarcho-libertarians are anti-slavery, of course–against slavery of all kinds; the statist, I mean, minarchist, cocktail-party centralist libertarians favor taxation, which is a type of slavery, and the state’s right to exist, and hence its ability to inevitably kill and kidnap and jail innocent people as it enacts one unjust positive law after another) — but how they can maintain that slavery taints the CSA’s case but not the USA’s requires a mental compartmentalization and disingenuous mental gymnastics that is almost admirable, in a twisted sort of way: After all, during the American Revolution, the British offered freedom and a bounty to any slave who fought for them, so it was the anti-slavery cause, and the colonists’ the pro-slavery one, as Dr. Johnson loved to point out. And, of course, during Recent Unpleasantness (which DiLorenzo appropriately refers to as The War To Prevent Southern Independence), the Union also contained slave states throughout the war, and in fact, before Lincoln’s invasion of the South, there were more slave states in the Union than in the Confederacy. So how do the slave-owning USA during the Civil War, and the slave-owning USA during the Revolutionary War, garner the centralists’ favor, when this fact condemns the CSA’s botched effort? Why, because without the US gaining independence from Britain, and defeating the secessionist CSA, we wouldn’t have the 14th Amendment authorizing federal judges to supervise the hicks and peon lawmakers of the southern and rural states! And we wouldn’t have “American entry into WWI, to the punitive Treaty of Versailles, [] the rise of German nationalism and Hitler and WWII, tens of millions dead and the Holocaust, nuclear bombings of Japan, the Cold War, etc.” We wouldn’t have American Greatness!

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 1:14 pm
  15. Did you know, the last slave state to enter the union was West Virginia, which entered the union via an unconstitutional act by the Lincoln regime. So Sandefor’s favorite tyrant, Abe Lincoln, 1) violated the Constituton, to 2) bring another slave state into the union.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 1:30 pm
  16. Readers should realize that the “right of revolution” crap is a complete fabrication of Harry Jaffa’s demented mind, and is parroted by all of his sychophants like li’l Tim Sandefur. It’s all made up. The founders never engaged in any such discussion. If they did, why doesn’t Jaffa or Sandefur quote them?

    This is what Straussianism is: reinterpreting historical documents in a way that rewrites history to fit neocon policy agendas. How is this
    different from Soviet propaganda practices?

    The truth is that the states were always sovereign, which means they could secede whenever they damn well wanted to for any reason. But
    this is all a diversion the REAL question is: Why was there a war?

    Everyone knows that Lincoln did not invade in 1861 to free any slaves. Why, then, did he invade his own country and micromanage the murder of
    350,000 American citizens?

    These naive, dishonest, dishonorable, faux-libertarian apologists for statism, centralization, and war should have to answer this, and answer for their treason.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 1:33 pm
  17. Oh God! Please, not another argument about Lincoln’s support for slavery!

    Stephen, as someone who agrees with you about Dishonest Abe, I beg you not to pee on the third-rail! It will drive off more people than it will attract. Really…

    Yes, Lincoln supported slavery explicitly. Yes, the fact that he was willing to let the South keep slaves so long as they paid Federal Taxes nearly to the end of the war is amply documented.

    Unfortunately, most people are just not outraged by this, and there is no way to make them outraged. All we do is end up looking like deranged pro-confederate monomaniacs.

    In this case, Lincoln’s support for slavery is completely irrelevant to the whether or not seccession is
    a) morally permissible
    b) permitted under the U.S. Constitution

    Arguing about which of the belligerents was a bigger supporter of slavery is at best a distraction and in all likelihood a killer of reasoned debate.

    Comment by tarran — April 22, 2009 @ 1:40 pm
  18. Tarran:

    “Oh God! Please, not another argument about Lincoln’s support for slavery!”

    It’s not. It’s debunking one of the arguments used by statist-centralists to justify mass murder and theft by the state.

    “Stephen, as someone who agrees with you about Dishonest Abe, I beg you not to pee on the third-rail!”

    If you agree with me, what do you disagree with? Saying what is true?

    “It will drive off more people than it will attract. Really…”

    Good, we are better off without them.

    “Unfortunately, most people are just not outraged by this, and there is no way to make them outraged. All we do is end up looking like deranged pro-confederate monomaniacs.”

    I’m not pro-confederate. I’m an anarchist. I oppose the CSA as much as the USA. I just don’t justify the USA’s war, taxation, conscription, mayhem, murder, theft, destruction, nor its unconstitutional, immoral, illegal, unlibertarian, criminal actions. I see no reason not to take a loud, proud stand in this regard. Screw the dishonest, spineless turncoats who fight for the evil side.

    “In this case, Lincoln’s support for slavery is completely irrelevant to the whether or not seccession is
    a) morally permissible
    b) permitted under the U.S. Constitution”

    It is pertinent to the coherence of the stance taken by those such as Sandefur and “Mataconis” who assert that the South had no right to revolt because of slavery. Further, it affects their argument, since if the CSA had no right to revolt, because of slavery, then the USA had no right to fight to stay in existence, since it, too, had slavery.

    “Arguing about which of the belligerents was a bigger supporter of slavery is at best a distraction and in all likelihood a killer of reasoned debate.”

    That is the fault of the dishonest statists who are determined to do this; I take no responsibility whatsoever for their despicable tactics. I do not argue who is a bigger supporter of slavery. As a real, principled anarcho-libertarian, I oppose slavery in all forms, by all states; and indeed, all states; I oppose the existence and legitimacy of both the USA and the CSA.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 1:51 pm
  19. Agreed, tarran.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 22, 2009 @ 1:52 pm
  20. That is the fault of the dishonest statists who are determined to do this; I take no responsibility whatsoever for their despicable tactics.

    Ok, but “fault” is irrelevant. When it comes to political discussions, ties, draws, and mistrials go to the majority. Unless your goal is simply to document your opinions, it’s counterproductive to engage in a line of discussion that result in the death of the discussion.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 22, 2009 @ 2:02 pm
  21. Hi Tom. Thanks for the kind remarks.

    “We used secession, we seceded from England.”

    Says Ron. Approvingly.

    Followed up by the quote I posted, approvingly citing the Soviet Union as another fine example.

    He did make the analogy. About two situations which are completely and totally incomparable. And so it was indeed lame to use them side by side as an attempt to show that “Americans traditionally sympathize with seceders.”

    I’ll accept your apology now. You’re forgiven.

    Comment by southernjames — April 22, 2009 @ 2:07 pm
  22. Jeff: mistrials go to the majority? Yes, they have already won the battle for guns and force. I refuse to give them another inch, morally or intellectually.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 5:35 pm
  23. Conversationally speaking. If the discussion devolves into a typical flamewar or any other variant where everybody is talking past each other, you’ve gained nothing. You haven’t even held your ground, because the statists that you were talking to will simply strengthen their belief that you’re a **insert derogatory label** and you’ll have even less credibility next time you try to educate them on something.

    The opposition can continue to beat us by employing a “scorched earth” policy when it comes to intellectual debate. We have to pick our battles to avoid playing directly into their hands.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 22, 2009 @ 6:09 pm
  24. Stephen Kinsella,
    I agree with you 100% with every post and article I have ever read of yours. I have no need to enter this discussion as everything you have said represents my opinions completely.
    Thank you for representing my viewpoint.
    Keep fighting the good fight.
    Jay Lakner.

    Comment by Jay Lakner — April 22, 2009 @ 7:59 pm
  25. “Jeff,” your argument above is exactly the wrong approach, in my view. In your comments you do the typical activist thing and conflate activist conerns, tactic, etc. with truth and substance. Let’s be clear about what we are talking about.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 22, 2009 @ 8:36 pm
  26. I recognize the difference. Aside from Doug, nobody has told you’re wrong. We’re just trying to point out that we lack the resources to fight every fight. There are simply too many people spouting too many incorrect assertions. It’s counterproductive to strain for the high-hanging fruit when there’s a ridiculous amount of low-hanging fruit spoiling on the tree.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 22, 2009 @ 8:57 pm
  27. It’s ridiculous to argue whether secession or revolution are “Constitutional” rights. Who the hell is going to submit to federal authority the power to decide whether or not you were acting within the bounds of the Constitution to tell the feds to go to hell?

    Comment by Dan M. — April 23, 2009 @ 1:32 am
  28. Jeff:

    “I recognize the difference. Aside from Doug, nobody has told you’re wrong. We’re just trying to point out that we lack the resources to fight every fight. There are simply too many people spouting too many incorrect assertions. It’s counterproductive to strain for the high-hanging fruit when there’s a ridiculous amount of low-hanging fruit spoiling on the tree.”

    We don’t have to agree on strategy and how each of us decides to use his own time. There is no overarching duty to even engage in activism, so we are free to do what we want. And here we have an ostensibly libertarian site, where one of the supposed “libertarian” bloggers chooses to use his time and resources to do what? To attack the single most libertarian Congressman in US history, by siding with a faux-libertarian statist-centralist. That is what you should be criticizing, not ME for exposing his anti-libertarian and incoherent views.

    Dan:

    “It’s ridiculous to argue whether secession or revolution are “Constitutional” rights. Who the hell is going to submit to federal authority the power to decide whether or not you were acting within the bounds of the Constitution to tell the feds to go to hell?”

    Well, your latter realization is what supports our understanding of the Constution. To say secession is a constitutional “right” is just another way of saying that the Constitution does not authorize the feds to use military force to stop a State from seceding–which you apparently (to your credit) agree with.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 23, 2009 @ 3:55 am
  29. There is no overarching duty to even engage in activism, so we are free to do what we want.

    I never said otherwise. If you’re not concerned about the effect of your words, please continue to spray them all over the board.

    [Doug's comments are] what you should be criticizing

    I did. So did several others. Nobody said a word to you until you 800 words into your rant about Lincoln.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 23, 2009 @ 4:08 am
  30. So, Jeff–you don’t disagree with what I say. You think I’m right, and my comments are accurate and true. You just think … we should sometimes not speak the truth. Got it. Just want to get your maxim right, so I can hand it down to my 5 year old, teach him to be a craven, unprincipled, tactical “activist”.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 23, 2009 @ 4:37 am
  31. The reason we have the Constitution today is because the founders realized that you can’t have a perpetual union it has to be volutary which means the states have the right of secession. Licolns illegal response to, I believe it was, South Caolina’s secession of the union, meaning the civil war, does not mean secession is not a state right according to the Constitution. It is and always will be a state’s right. Licoln had no legal standing in make the south stay in the union. The states volunteered, by the ratification to join the union realizing they had the right to secesiion at any point. This is my belief and you all the right to ignore it or disagree with it if you wish. So if any state today votes seceed then it is their right. If anybody can show in the Constitution where states don’t have the right please do so.

    Comment by Michael Nenzoski — April 23, 2009 @ 4:43 am
  32. 1. I don’t agree with every word you’ve written; I simply chose not to engage you on that topic.

    2. Yes, I do hope you teach your son how to pick his battles. It would be a shame if he spent his entire life every falsehood ever uttered.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 23, 2009 @ 5:00 am
  33. *fighting every falsehood

    Comment by Jeff Molby — April 23, 2009 @ 5:01 am
  34. Every free man or group of free men retain the right to walk away when things become unrepairable.

    Comment by Silentboom — April 23, 2009 @ 6:11 am
  35. Lysander Spooner over Timothy Sandefur…

    http://freedomdemocrats.org/node/3295

    Comment by ka1igu1a — April 23, 2009 @ 7:40 am
  36. The right supersedes the Constitution. Read the Declaration, folks:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident,
    (blah blah blah)
    -That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,

    You can probably make a case that secession is against US law, but this is natural law, God-given, for lack of a better term, and as such is not recognized under US law.

    Comment by tfr — April 23, 2009 @ 8:16 am
  37. Your distinction between secession and revolution is inconsistent. On the one hand, you suggest that violent revolution is appropriate while secession is not. On the other, you suggest that the secession of the South was illegal on the grounds that it was really an armed revolt (rather than self defense).

    On another note, your second point is clearly false: if the North hadn’t invaded after the South seceded, I think its fair to say there would have been no war, making the Southern response a clear case of (ultimately unsuccessful) self defense.

    Comment by Miko — April 23, 2009 @ 8:19 am
  38. Miko,

    My argument is that the Southern Rebellion was immoral because of the reasons that motivated it.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — April 23, 2009 @ 9:18 am
  39. tfr,

    I agree, but that also means that we’re entitled to look at the specific circumstances surrounding the act to determine whether it is legitimate or not.

    My point is that, based on the circumstances of that time, the Southern Rebellion was morally unjustifiable.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — April 23, 2009 @ 9:19 am
  40. Mr. Mataconis,

    Looking up closed, it’s quite simple…

    I am GOD. Everything you do, you must come through ME…

    Peace.

    Comment by Leo Liberty — April 23, 2009 @ 11:28 am
  41. Mataconis is right that the southern rebellion was immoral. The CSA was immoral–as a state; as a slavery-sanctioner. The USA was also immoral, for being a state; for conscripting; for violating the law and the Constitution; for the war.

    An “immoral” action by or status of the CSA does NOT mean the Constitution authorized Lincoln’s war, nor that it’s justified under libertarian principles.

    BTW criticism of Lincoln’s war is not defense of slaver, the CSA, or even its decision to secede.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 23, 2009 @ 12:48 pm
  42. In Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (see http://supreme.justia.com/us/74/700/case.html), SCOTUS ruled that states could not secede.

    Its logic was faulty in that it tried to extend the “perpetual Union” of the Articles of Confederation to the Constitutional republic. The Constitution replaced the Articles, including the perpetual Union Clause in Article XIII, which actually prohibited the Constitution in the first place since the Constitution was an amendment of the Articles that was declared in effect without the approval of all of the state legislatures as Article XIII required.

    That brings us to the error in logic. For the Court’s ruling to be correct, the Articles must still have been valid and in effect, making the Constitution not in effect since it violated Article XIII. Yet the Court in question was delegated by Article III of that same Constitution, so by its own reasoning it lacked jurisdiction to rule because its authority was non-existent as the document that delegated that authority was not in effect.

    If the Court was to have jurisdiction, then the Articles had to have been legitimately replaced, meaning Article XIII was no longer in effect, and the Union was not perpetual (not in the Constitution, either), meaning secession is legal.

    Comment by Michael Seebeck — April 23, 2009 @ 5:55 pm
  43. Here we go again,shilling for Hamilton and his centralizing progeny…

    Ultimately Mr. Sandefur and you, Doug, are mistaken in your basic construction of the constitution. The constitution is a limiting compact, one which grants limited, enumerated powers to the federal government, with the residuim being retained by the States. All powers not explicitly surrendered were and are retained by the States, so it is incumbent upon opponents of the constitutional argument for secession to to demonstrate that secession is prohibited by some portion of the federal constitution. Article I, Section 10 forbids the State exercise of several various powers, but interestingly there is neither prohibition of secession there, nor in any other portion of our charter.

    As you often overlook, the framers did not want a strong central government, they had just fought a war to escape the rapacious grasp of just such a regime. They did however, desire an energetic government with imperium over distinct, limited areas. This is why the powers granted the federal government under the federal constitution are virtually identical to those granted under the Articles of Confederation… the only thing which changed was the enforcement mechanism for executing these delegated powers. Consider moreover the Bill of Rights, its origins and purpose… It was drafted by the Anti-Federalists to ensure the limiting ramparts erected in the structure of the federal constitution were manned. Amendment X was an Anti-Federalist amendment, written by them, for them, with the express intent of making clear that the federal government is one of delegated powers only. Amendment IX was also just such an amendment, designed to eliminate an expansive interpretation and construction of the constitution.

    As for your repeated attempts to distinguish the departure of thirteen English colonies from the British Empire in the War for Independence from any attempt by any State at any time to withdraw from the federal “suicide pact,” consider these few facts. The thirteen colonies, departed from English rule independently of each other, as the Declaration of Independence states clearly in its authorizing language: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

    Consider most diligently this language, then tell me that the thirteen colonies did not secede: “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States[.]” This is followed by this intriguing language: “all political connection between them [the colonies, jointly and severally]and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved[.]” So here we have it, the colonies, departing from English rule, as colonies, and becoming sovereign States, under their own self government. So by dissolving the political connections, what exactly did the colonies constructively do? They Seceded! Look at Virginia, where the civil government continued to exist prior to the opening salvos of war. Under Governor Patrick Henry’s leadership, the Virginian constitution continued to reign supreme in the Old Dominion.

    At the close of the war, the belligerents came to an understanding: the Treaty of Paris. In it, England recognized that: “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states[.]” “[T]o be free and independent states[.]”

    So, the States were thus sovereign when they entered into the Articles of Confederation, and, by extension, when, pursuant to Article VII of the new constitution, the States formed a new union “in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present[.]”

    Now then, when these States formed the federal union, they surrendered only those powers enumerated in the fundamental charter. They explicitly reserved in the text, in order to placate Patrick Henry and the Anti-federalists, all powers not delegated, and all rights not enumerated. So we finally see, the States were a group of principle parties who delegated certain powers to their new, created agent, the federal government. This agent was created to protect liberty and provide security for the people of the States, and for the States as bodies themselves. The agent was given limited power, with the residiary being retained by the principles. It follows logically that when the principles determine that their actor is failing to secure the objectives the agent was empowered to accomplish, these principles may cancel the agency they have granted the agent.

    This cancellation is secession.

    Comment by Benjamin Kuipers — April 23, 2009 @ 7:53 pm
  44. Here we go again, shilling for Hamilton and his centralizing progeny…

    Ultimately Mr. Sandefur and you, Doug, are mistaken in your basic construction of the constitution. The constitution is a limiting compact, one which grants limited, enumerated powers to the federal government, with the residuim being retained by the States. All powers not explicitly surrendered were and are retained by the States, so it is incumbent upon opponents of the constitutional argument for secession to to demonstrate that secession is prohibited by some portion of the federal constitution. Article I, Section 10 forbids the State exercise of several various powers, but interestingly there is neither prohibition of secession there, nor in any other portion of our charter.

    As you often overlook, the framers did not want a strong central government, they had just fought a war to escape the rapacious grasp of just such a regime. They did however, desire an energetic government with imperium over distinct, limited areas. This is why the powers granted the federal government under the federal constitution are virtually identical to those granted under the Articles of Confederation… the only thing which changed was the enforcement mechanism for executing these delegated powers. Consider moreover the Bill of Rights, its origins and purpose… It was drafted by the Anti-Federalists to ensure the limiting ramparts erected in the structure of the federal constitution were manned. Amendment X was an Anti-Federalist amendment, written by them, for them, with the express intent of making clear that the federal government is one of delegated powers only. Amendment IX was also just such an amendment, designed to eliminate an expansive interpretation and construction of the constitution.

    As for your repeated attempts to distinguish the departure of thirteen English colonies from the British Empire in the War for Independence from any attempt by any State at any time to withdraw from the federal “suicide pact,” consider these few facts. The thirteen colonies, departed from English rule independently of each other, as the Declaration of Independence states clearly in its authorizing language: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

    Consider most diligently this language, then tell me that the thirteen colonies did not secede: “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States[.]” This is followed by this intriguing language: “all political connection between them [the colonies, jointly and severally]and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved[.]” So here we have it, the colonies, departing from English rule, as colonies, and becoming sovereign States, under their own self government. So by dissolving the political connections, what exactly did the colonies constructively do? They Seceded! Look at Virginia, where the civil government continued to exist prior to the opening salvos of war. Under Governor Patrick Henry’s leadership, the Virginian constitution continued to reign supreme in the Old Dominion.

    At the close of the war, the belligerents came to an understanding: the Treaty of Paris. In it, England recognized that: “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states[.]” “[T]o be free and independent states[.]”

    So, the States were thus sovereign when they entered into the Articles of Confederation, and, by extension, when, pursuant to Article VII of the new constitution, the States formed a new union “in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present[.]”

    Now then, when these States formed the federal union, they surrendered only those powers enumerated in the fundamental charter. They explicitly reserved in the text, in order to placate Patrick Henry and the Anti-federalists, all powers not delegated, and all rights not enumerated. So we finally see, the States were a group of principle parties who delegated certain powers to their new, created agent, the federal government. This agent was created to protect liberty and provide security for the people of the States, and for the States as bodies themselves. The agent was given limited power, with the residiary being retained by the principles. It follows logically that when the principles determine that their actor is failing to secure the objectives the agent was empowered to accomplish, these principles may cancel the agency they have granted the agent.

    This cancellation is secession.

    To assert that each proper mention of secession must based on some governmental abuse rising to Jeffersonian standards is entirely beside the point that according to the terms of the constitution, such an action would be constitutional. Though perhaps imprudent and ill-advised, such State action is wholly their prerogative, and is clearly within their reserved powers.

    Comment by Hampden — April 23, 2009 @ 7:58 pm
  45. Sorry about re-posting all that, just meant to tack a little addendum on there and got carried away…

    Comment by Hampden — April 23, 2009 @ 8:01 pm
  46. The Right to SecedeShare

    In response to this article: http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=169097985111&h=0K81o&u=pPIIz discussed here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/posted.php?id=500453180&share_id=169097985111&post_id=1629885&comments

    Here are an excerpt from relevant comments on that thread.

    Kevin Gutzman at 4:21pm April 23
    He’s incorrect in saying that Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island assedrted a right to secesson “post facto” in state constitutional secession clauses. If they had, such clauses would have no bearing on the question whether they had a right to secede from the Union. What those three states did was reserve the right to secede *in ratifying*. In … Read Moreother words, they said going in that they reserved the right to go out.

    One might argue that such reservations were invalid. As I explore in a footnote to my 2004 _Review of Politics_ article on this question, however, if the reservations were invalid, so were the ratificatons. This is true whether you think of the Constitution as a contract or as a treaty. (I provide sources from both contract law and the law of treaties in a footnote to that 2004 article.)

    ***

    Gene Callahan at 7:42am April 24
    The language in NY, RI, and Virginia was not even a claim to a right of secession — it was standard Lockean language about the right of the people to overthrow a corrupt government, not of a state to secede. Both the Federalists and anti-Federalists were quite clear that this was a UNION, not a confederation (although for that reason the … Read MoreFederalists were pro and the anti-Federalists antoi the constitution), modeled after the ‘indissoluble’ union of England and Scotland in 1707, in which two sovereign entities merged to become one, obliterating the sovereignty of the two separately. The Federalists repeatedly declared that any ratification that included a right to secession was ‘no ratification at all.’

    ***

    Stephan Kinsella at 10:14am April 24
    I’d ask Callahan to point to language from the Virginia Ratification Convention in which Virginia Federalists told the Virginians that any ratification including a right to secession was no ratification at all. He can’t, because there is none.

    It’s easy for him to pontificate without actual familiarity with volumes VIII-X of The Documentary … Read MoreHistory of the Ratification of the Constitution (the Virginia volumes, which include a stenographer’s account of the Convention itself, plus scores of letters and scores of newspaper articles on both sides). Chapter 3 of Gutzman’s book and his 2004 article, on the other hand, are the fruit of years’ work on that record — which, if you add in the microfilm supplement to those volumes, includes every single document extant from Virginia’s internal debate. He has really scoured this.

    Callahan makes categorical statements about what Federalists said. Apparently George Nicholas and Edmund Randolph, two of their four leading spokesmen in Virginia, didn’t get the memo. (James Madison and John Marshall, the other two leading Federalist voices in the Convention, sat silent as Nicholas and Randolph explained the significance of … Read Moreratification on behalf of their five-man committee in the way that Gutzman describes in his book.)

    If Callahan wants to correct this account, let’s see specific page references.

    I’d also ask Callahan to show precisely where in the Virginia volumes of *The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution* showing that Virginia Federalists told their fellow Virginians that ratification of the Constitution would mean the “obliteration” of Virginia’s sovereignty. Again, they said no such thing; rather, as Guzman … Read Morehas pointed out, Nicholas told the Convention that they were to be “as one of thirteen parties to a contract,” which is another way of saying that they (that is, Virginia, the sovereign people of Virginia, their state) would remain sovereign. Callahan needs to read the record before he deigns to instruct others on it. Otherwise, it might appear he has no idea what he is talking about.

    Gene Callahan at 10:41am April 24
    “Have they made a proposal of a compact between the states? If they had, this would be a confederation. It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, sir, on… the expression, We, the PEOPLE, instead of the STATES, of America… Suppose the people of Virginia should wish to alter their government; can a majority of … Read Morethem do it? NO… they are consolidated with other states…” — Patrick Henry, anti-federalist

    “the Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever” — James Madison, letter to Hamilton

    Yeah, Henry and Madison probably had no idea what they were talking about, either. Please forgive us, oh great master of constitutional history!

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 24, 2009 @ 7:54 am
  47. As for Callahan’s later comments above:

    What Madison said in secret to Hamilton (a New Yorker) has nothing to do with the original understanding of Virginians. Antifederalist warnings are not what the Virginians agreed to in ratifying the Constitution, either. What counts, as Jefferson said, was the way the Constitution was explained to the people by its friends (that is, Federalists) when they were considering whether to ratify it.

    In Virginia, then, what mattered was what Nicholas and Randolph, for a five-man committee including Marshall and Madison, told the Ratification Convention that ratifying the Constitution was going to mean for their state’s relationship to other states. And what they said was that Virginia was going to be “as one of thirteen parties to a compact” and that the Congress would have only the powers it was “expressly delegated.”

    If not, Madison could have written anything to Hamilton in private, or Hamilton could have said in Philadelphia that he favored a monarchy, and that would be binding. Callahan’s position is pure nonsense.

    It seems Callahan is averse to doing the work of reading The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Far easier to google “Patrick Henry” (the ANTIFEDERALIST leader) and get warnings about monarchy, titled nobles, DC = Versailles, etc.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — April 24, 2009 @ 8:03 am
  48. [...] why I’m posting here, having written a comment before noticing…): There’s an interesting little flame war between various libertarians at The Liberty Papers on the issue of secession. The level of [...]

    Pingback by Revolution and Secession « A Single World of Ideas — April 24, 2009 @ 12:00 pm
  49. We all know Ron Paul is bad for the Libertarian movement. It has been heavily discussed on this site before relating to the newsletters. He and his candidacy could not be supported and was considered damaging to Libertarianism. He was making economic points then as he is now. Any positive statements said about him could damage the Libertarian movement. Because people could assume Libertarianism is white supremacy.

    Comment by uhm — April 25, 2009 @ 11:41 am
  50. [...] Stephen Kinsella pointed out, in several conventions debating ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the proponents did claim that…. In several states, the ratification was approved only when coupled with a stipulating that the [...]

    Pingback by The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » No Secession, No Legitimacy! — May 1, 2009 @ 7:59 am
  51. Incidentally, the great Gutzman article 2004 Review of Politics article “Edmund Randolph and Virginia Constitutionalism” is now online.

    Comment by Stephan Kinsella — May 1, 2009 @ 7:51 pm
  52. tarran,

    Unless, of course, if Brad “I am not an anarchist but sure talk like one” Warbiany doesn’t beat me and publish first. :)

    LOL… I like to think of myself as an anarchist about half the time, and a pragmatic extreme minarchist the other half.

    I.e. I never believe the state is morally legitimate, but occasionally think that it might be a necessary evil.

    I guess I’m a fence-sitter on that one :-)

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — May 1, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

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