Jeff Jared | On secession: Why not divorce for states?

Talk of secession makes people nervous. Images of the Civil War and “state’s rights” racists appear. But we need to detoxify this image because state’s rights today is a burgeoning political movement that has nothing to do with race. Should Washington join British Columbia to form “New Cascadia?”

Talk of secession makes people nervous. Images of the Civil War and “state’s rights” racists appear. But we need to detoxify this image because state’s rights today is a burgeoning political movement that has nothing to do with race.

Should Washington join British Columbia to form “New Cascadia?” Should New England secede from the Union to form a new country? It’s a fun thought experiment, but no one is really considering it (except some militia groups), especially since it’s basically been illegal since the Civil War.

But today it should be a legitimate area of debate as a constitutional renaissance is sweeping America as more of us are reading the U.S. Constitution, learning about its history and starting to take it seriously. If the Union was voluntarily entered into by the states, than why can’t a state voluntarily exit it? Why not divorce for states?

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves rights to the states. But note that the secession that is being bandied about nowadays is really “secession lite,” nothing more than legal battles over jurisdiction to be fought in the courts, not on a battlefield.

But let’s step back and remember that America was founded on secession in 1776. The 13 colonies seceded from the King of England. But it’s pretty much been a dead issue since the Civil War – until now.

Yet secession is really a subset of “self-determination,” the idea that the American government rules with the consent of the governed, for the people, by the people. So it’s really not that radical of an idea. And just the threat of it, or even just the talk of it, can work to keep the federal government in check.

Secession is an American tradition. In the early 1800’s, New England considered seceding. Then, no one questioned the right for a state to secede. And the U.S. could peacefully secede from the UN tomorrow if it wanted to.

So today, it shouldn’t be treasonous or un-American for someone to bring up secession. Remember when Eastern Europe broke away from the Soviet Union? Americans cheered that secession. And remember when Croatia and Slovenia peacefully left Yugoslavia in the early 90’s to join the EU? Secession doesn’t have to mean war.

Since the Civil War, the American federal government has grown exponentially, and drifted far, far away from its constitutional moorings. Maybe a little talk of secession is what we need to keep it in check.

Jeff E. Jared is an attorney and political writer in Kirkland.


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