A new Reuters poll which asks Americans if they would want their state to secede from the UNION of the United States has found that 1 in 4 Americans would say “yes.”
Reuters reported that secession was supported mostly from the usual suspects such as Republicans over Democrats, right leaners, lower income brackets, high school over college grads, etc. However, there was also a surprising amount of support in almost every group and region overall.
Secession got more support from Republicans than Democrats, more from right- than left-leaning independents, more from younger than older people, more from lower- than higher-income brackets, more from high school than college grads. But there was a surprising amount of support in every group and region, especially the Rocky Mountain states, the Southwest and the old Confederacy, but also in places like Illinois and Kansas. And of the people who said they identified with the Tea Party, supporters of secession were actually in the majority, with 53 percent.
Libertarians generally support the idea of secession in principle. The right of self determination for individuals and states is a commonly accepted belief for those who are skeptical of big government. However, not every historic attempt at secession is seen as legitimate in libertarian circles, and many who are such individualists can still believe in this perpetual UNION of states, while holding the principle of secession as a right.
The American Civil War is a contentious issue amongst American libertarians even today. Some argue that the South was legitimately within their rights to break away from the North, citing the tyranny of Northern tariffs and the right of self determination. Still, many other libertarians argue (myself included) that there is no right of secession when the expressly stated purpose in doing so is to maintain chattel slavery. The Southern states did claim the right in their articles of secession and founding documents to hold men in slaves, and to expand the “peculiar institution” to new territories.
The act of the United States seceding from England is a much less contentious issue, and one that almost all American libertarians agree was done in a manner consistent with individual rights and self determination. British libertarians might disagree.
The issue today is whether or not the United States is better off as a perpetual UNION, or if these territories might be better off going their own ways. It’s entertaining to fantasize about what a free Texas republic may be like, or how much better off the rest of the country might be if we were free of Californian socialists. But there is strength in numbers, and the Founders of the United States made powerful, convincing arguments for why these states should remain together.
Libertarians generally tend to distrust the federal government, however, there are strong libertarian arguments for the federal government to exist as a check and balance against state level tyranny. Jim Crow laws are the simplest example to cite, but what of the issue of war? If the states were to break away and form independent commercial republics, would they not be jealous of one another? And if so more prone to go to war with one another? Alexander Hamilton feared this, and cited strong arguments for why the UNION should be created, strengthened and maintained.
From Federalist #6
The genius of republics (say they) is pacific; the spirit of commerce has a tendency to soften the manners of men, and to extinguish those inflammable humors which have so often kindled into wars. Commercial republics, like ours, will never be disposed to waste themselves in ruinous contentions with each other. They will be governed by mutual interest, and will cultivate a spirit of mutual amity and concord.
Is it not (we may ask these projectors in politics) the true interest of all nations to cultivate the same benevolent and philosophic spirit? If this be their true interest, have they in fact pursued it? Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found that momentary passions, and immediate interest, have a more active and imperious control over human conduct than general or remote considerations of policy, utility or justice? Have republics in practice been less addicted to war than monarchies? Are not the former administered by MEN as well as the latter? Are there not aversions, predilections, rivalships, and desires of unjust acquisitions, that affect nations as well as kings? Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities? Is it not well known that their determinations are often governed by a few individuals in whom they place confidence, and are, of course, liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals? Has commerce hitherto done anything more than change the objects of war? Is not the love of wealth as domineering and enterprising a passion as that of power or glory? Have there not been as many wars founded upon commercial motives since that has become the prevailing system of nations, as were before occasioned by the cupidity of territory or dominion? Has not the spirit of commerce, in many instances, administered new incentives to the appetite, both for the one and for the other? Let experience, the least fallible guide of human opinions, be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries.
Sparta, Athens, Rome, and Carthage were all republics; two of them, Athens and Carthage, of the commercial kind. Yet were they as often engaged in wars, offensive and defensive, as the neighboring monarchies of the same times. Sparta was little better than a well regulated camp; and Rome was never sated of carnage and conquest.
Carthage, though a commercial republic, was the aggressor in the very war that ended in her destruction. Hannibal had carried her arms into the heart of Italy and to the gates of Rome, before Scipio, in turn, gave him an overthrow in the territories of Carthage, and made a conquest of the commonwealth.
Venice, in later times, figured more than once in wars of ambition, till, becoming an object to the other Italian states, Pope Julius II. found means to accomplish that formidable league, which gave a deadly blow to the power and pride of this haughty republic.
The provinces of Holland, till they were overwhelmed in debts and taxes, took a leading and conspicuous part in the wars of Europe. They had furious contests with England for the dominion of the sea, and were among the most persevering and most implacable of the opponents of Louis XIV.
In the government of Britain the representatives of the people compose one branch of the national legislature. Commerce has been for ages the predominant pursuit of that country. Few nations, nevertheless, have been more frequently engaged in war; and the wars in which that kingdom has been engaged have, in numerous instances, proceeded from the people.
Certainly it was the case that after the Revolution when the Articles of Confederation were in force, the states did levy outrageous taxes and tariffs against the trade of goods between themselves. Judge Andrew Napolitano, Sr. Judicial Analyst at Fox News has argued that the origins of the Commerce Clause of the constitution began as a reaction to these tariffs, and that the true meaning of the act is to keep commerce “regular,” not to serve as a blank check for politicians to justify everything from the amount of wheat a farmer can grow on their own property to Obamacare.
This flies in the face of many libertarian’s biases towards the beliefs that trade, in and of itself, is a good enough reason for independent states to avoid war with one another. “When goods don’t cross borders, armies will,” they say. But that has not been the historic example, as Hamilton has cited above in the case of Carthage, and indeed many nations during World War II traded with Nazi Germany right up until the first hostilities began breaking out.
A seceding Texas might sound sweet to those who believe it would be a libertarian leaning nation, but that is only if you consider strictly the positive aspects of the state such as the pro-business environment. It is also unfortunately the nation’s leading death penalty state. It also shares a border with Mexico, and could be prone to hostilities with our friends south of the border due to territorial disputes, as it has in the past when it was an independent republic. These passions are bridled thanks to the cooling effect of the non-border states. Texas, and Texans, arguably, benefit from their attachment to the UNION in ways that natives may not wish to admit.
As I have argued before, I believe it is not the time for the advancement of the issue of secession in the United States. Perhaps nullification, but not separation. Despite my sincere, strong beliefs in the principle of secession, I do not believe that any state of this UNION seceding would advance the principles of individual liberty in any way. It would most likely only engender hatred, jealousy, and the encouragement of hostility and alienation between newly strange people, who were once familiar.