With all the secessionist movements across the world, it becomes easier to imagine breakups, even in the United States. It’s easier still when the pluses are so much greater than they were in the past, and the minuses so much smaller.
The pluses are so much greater today because the federal government’s footprint has grown so much larger. In the past, the states had less reason to chafe at the rule from Washington. A spring in the back yard didn’t become a federal wetland. Teachers didn’t receive letters from the Department of Education telling them how to run their schools. Local highway decisions weren’t made in Washington because of the strings attached to federal grants. Now America increasingly looks more like a unitary state than like the federal republic the Framers of the Constitution thought they had given us.
If there’s more reason for a state to secede today, there’s also a much smaller downside. It wouldn’t perpetuate slavery in the South, as secession in 1861 would have done. Even after the Civil War had brought an end to slavery, federalism and “states’ rights” were discredited by southern Jim Crow laws and barriers to voting registration for black Americans. Since then, however, the civil rights revolution has taken hold and it’s much less likely that secession would be employed to discriminate against a minority. Far from bringing back Jim Crow, secession today might give us the perfect paradise of woke progressivism.
The stakes have been lowered, and that’s why a modern president might react to a secession referendum with more of James Buchanan’s prudence and less of Abraham Lincoln’s unyielding assertion of federal sovereignty. Secession might also seem like a reasonable way to resolve unbridgeable partisan differences, in which case an Article V convention to amend the Constitution might work out our own velvet divorce. Finally, the right of secession might find support in the Supreme Court, were it to follow the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court when it was faced with the possibility of a successful independence referendum in Quebec.
Praise for American Secession
As always, Buckley is original, provocative and subversive of long-accepted clichés.
Buckley goes to the heart of the issues he raises, and provides both provocation and genuine insight to readers of all political persuasions.
F.H. Buckley is a national treasure.