The rejection of secession has deep roots


“…one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

These are of course the last few words of the Pledge of Allegiance. Most people drone through the words without ever thinking about what they actually mean. Upon just a bit of inspection, it is fairly easy to see a glaring contradiction.

We are supposed to experience liberty and justice within the nation, but the nation is also supposed to be “indivisible.” Part of having liberty means that you are able to freely associate: to choose with whom you interact. You do not have liberty if someone forces you to deal with them. By claiming that the nation is indivisible, it follows that those within it cannot disassociate themselves from it, which seems to violate the concept of liberty.

Put more plainly, the right to secede is not recognized by the nation.

Lincoln famously spoke about the “perpetual union” in his First Inaugural Address, which is one of the rationalizations for fighting the Civil War. The Civil War was fought because it was “illegal” for the South to secede from the Union. While many people criticize Lincoln for having this idea (and rightly so), it is important to understand where this idea came from. The idea certainly wasn’t his own.

Lincoln was appealing to the language used in the Articles of Confederation of 1777. The Preamble stated that “the Delegates of the United States of America in Congress…agree to certain articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the States.” Article XIII again stated that “the union shall be perpetual.” In all, the word “perpetual” was used six times.

It is unfortunate, but it appears that even the people instrumental in the early days of the conception and birthing of the nation immediately contradicted their own views regarding secession. Had Britain declared that the colonies were to be kept in “perpetual union” with the rest of their country, would they have said, “Well, we’re going to have to remain British subjects because we’re in a perpetual union”? Of course not! They held the belief that they had the right to secede and have the colonies government themselves (although they weren’t quite willing to go as far as to let individuals to govern themselves as the right to secession properly respected would allow).

So today when talk about secession is laughed at, don’t think that “the country has lost its way” or that “the Founders would be rolling in their graves.” The rejection of secession has been a familiar line of thought ever since the people of America seceded from British rule.

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Thanks Rollo. I think that ultimately secession will happen when a large enough part of the population clearly understands its benefits over our current system, regardless of legal or historical precedent. But nevertheless, i would like to understand the historical and legal perspective. For example, are the Articles of Confederation considered binding in anyway? (Whether they are or not, i do understand that they necessarily represent one train of thought of the 18th century.) Second, i was under the impression from Thomas DiLorenzo that, e.g., Thomas Jefferson was not opposed to secession. See, e.g., So: i’m not disputing what… Read more »