Monday, November 12, 2012

Secessionists defy Declaration's intent

Obama's re-election victory an example of consent of the governed”

Several citizens from dozens of states have filed grievances on the White House petition website, requesting to secede from the nation, likely in response to President Barack Obama’s victory last week.

Most of the petitions invoke the Declaration of Independence, citing the famous words from Thomas Jefferson, who wrote:

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 abolish it, and institute new Government.
Those words, brilliant as they are, weren’t intended to thwart the democratic will of the people more than 200 years later. Indeed, the words encourage just the opposite, and the election of Barack Obama to a second term in no way undermines Jefferson’s intent from within the Declaration.

Instead, the secessionist sentiments of those forming these petitions go against the very idea that Jefferson had laid out in our founding document. The results of the election, which is representative of what the people wanted -- Obama won a popular and electoral college vote -- is in no way destructive of the people’s ends. If the people wanted something different, they would have voted for it.

It is unjust, then, to “alter or abolish” the current government, and unwarranted to “institute new Government” of any kind.

A petition requesting secession from the union
The colonies that came to comprise the United States of America seceded from Great Britain for a significant and unifying reason: they weren’t granted the right to self governance through representative electors. Despite all the noise modern-day secessionists are making on the internet, the current state of our nation doesn’t reflect that same grievance -- we still have representative democracy, stronger now than it was even during our founders’ time.

Those who demonstrate a feigned nostalgia for the founders’ words would do well to actually understand them, and to further understand the setting in which they were written. Secessionists act like spoiled children when they threaten departing the Union over an undesired electoral outcome. It's time for them to grow up.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Chris - The Declaration does not set out non-consent of the governed as the *exclusive* justification for altering or abolishing the government. So I don't think it's accurate to say that these folks are 'defying' the Declaration's intent. At worst, they are guilty of citing a Declaration passage that is irrelevant to their issue.

    But, anyway, secession in the modern sense is not even the same as altering/abolishing and instituting a new government. State governments are already in place. The secessionists are instead merely proposing the removal of their state from the Union.

    You are correct that at the national level, we still have representative democracy. But what about, say, the state entity of Oklahoma? The people of Oklahoma do consent implicitly to the Obama administration every day their state remains part of the Union. As long as it does stay part of the Union, Oklahoma must go along with the rules of the Union as agreed. (One of these agreements is that the US Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of constitutional interpretation - I do *not* think nullification is legitimate.) But what if Oklahoma's governed were to explicitly express a will to no longer be part of the federal association? Could federal dominion over Oklahoma then be said to be consistent with the consent of Oklahoma's governed?

    I am nowhere near supporting any state's actual secession from the Union. But the *right* of secession is a completely separate question from the propriety of secession. If Oklahoma were to decide to secede from the Union, I would be deeply disappointed. I would do whatever little I could, as citizen of a different state, to persuade Oklahoma to stick. But I would not dispute its right to leave if it ultimately decided to do so. I am pretty much for free association across the board.

    By the way - I do not think that the right of secession is supported by the *entire* weight of argument, just the preponderance of argument. (Aren't most of our opinions that way, really? It's a shame that people feel that they are required to somehow demolish every argument that does not support their conclusion, however much speciousness that job requires.) The 'didn't we settle that in the Civil War?' trope is ridiculous, since it only begs the question of whether that was a just war. But the 14th Amendment does affirm that the citizens of the several states are *United States* citizens. In a purely legal sense, the idea that the 14th Amendment 'traps' the states is a valid one. But is a contract of perpetual association a conscionable one?..

    Even before the 14th Amendment, Andrew Jackson *might* have been correct that secession is not a constitutional right. But the 9th Amendment itself acknowledges that not every legitimate right is grounded in the Constitution. Jackson wrote, "Secession ... may be morally justified by the extremity of oppression." You and I both agree that that extremity has not, under the Obama administration, been met. But do we, as Wisconsinites, have purchase to set that bar for citizens of other states?

    I'll leave it at that before I get too far off your topic, Chris (I have probably gone too far already). Thanks for putting your thoughts out there, and welcoming discussion.