Walter E. Williams

A fortnight ago, in "Let's Do Some Detective Work," I provided unassailable evidence that Congress had vastly exceeded powers delegated to it by our Constitution. In last week's column, "Getting Back Our Liberties," I argued that liberties lost are seldom regained, but there was an outside chance to regain them if enough liberty-minded Americans were to pursue Free State Project's proposal to set up New Hampshire as a free state.

Free State Project (www.freestateproject.org) intends to get 20,000 or so Americans to move to New Hampshire and, through a peaceful political process, reduce burdensome taxation and regulation, reform state and local law, end federal mandates, and attempt to restore constitutional federalism as envisioned by the nation's founders.

Since there was only a remote possibility that we could successfully negotiate with Congress, the Courts and White House to obey the U.S. Constitution, I speculated that liberty could only be realized by a unilateral declaration of independence -- namely, part company. Quite a few readers criticized the idea, calling secession unconstitutional. Let's look at it.

On March 2, 1861, after seven states had seceded and two days before Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, Sen. James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin proposed a constitutional amendment that said, "No State or any part thereof, heretofore admitted or hereafter admitted into the Union, shall have the power to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the United States."

Several months earlier, Reps. Daniel E. Sickles of New York, Thomas B. Florence of Pennsylvania and Otis S. Ferry of Connecticut proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit secession. Here's my no-brainer question: Would there have been any point to offering these amendments if secession were already unconstitutional? I'm guessing, no.

But there's more evidence. The ratification documents of Virginia, New York and Rhode Island explicitly said that they held the right to resume powers delegated should the federal government become abusive of those powers.

There's more evidence. At the 1787 constitutional convention, a proposal was made to allow the federal government to suppress a seceding state. James Madison, the father of our constitution, rejected it, saying: "A Union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound."

Professor Thomas DiLorenzo, in his revised "The Real Lincoln," provides abundant evidence in the forms of quotations from our Founders and numerous newspaper accounts that prove that Americans always took the right of secession for granted. Plus, secession was not an idea that had its origins in the South. Infuriated by Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, the first secessionist movement started in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other New England states.

Every single bit of evidence shows that states have a right to secede. There's absolutely nothing in the Constitution that prohibits secession. What stops secession is the brute force of a mighty federal government, as witnessed by the costly War of 1861. Only one thing good came out of that war. It eliminated slavery. It's had a devastating legacy for future generations of Americans, in that since the issue of secession was brutally settled, the federal government is free to run roughshod over the safeguards envisioned by the Framers, namely the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

There's little to suggest that the same brutality wouldn't be encountered if secession were tried again, as one writer cautioned: If New Hampshire seceded, massive troops along with today's deadly modern military equipment would be on its soil before lunch.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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