Lincoln prevented secession in America by going to war, but it’s an idea whose time has come. From Thomas DiLorenzo at lewrockwell.com:
A February 19 article in The Washington Times announced that “Secession Fever Spikes” in five states where “conservatives” are attempting to escape neo-Stalinist policies of the Democrat Party majority there, now that the mask is finally off and the Democrats are the proud party of socialism and omnipotent government. Long gone are the days when they hid their true beliefs by calling themselves “liberals” and their brand of fascism “The New Deal.” They are now the party of the Green New Deal, the crazed, Soviet-style government plan to totalitarianize all of American society under the dishonest guise of “saving the planet.” In other words, they are all card-carrying “watermelons” – green on the outside, red on the inside.
As soon as they took control of the Virginia state government, helped along with mega-donations by billionaire fellow totalitarians Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, among others, they immediately waged political war on the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution. Their governor, Ralph Northam, is on record in a publicly-recorded video as supporting infanticide in cases where babies survive abortions. That’s just for starters in the first month of their rule.
Virginia politics is now dominated by the heavily-populated D.C. suburbs composed of hundreds of thousands of deep state bureaucrats, government contractors, and Third World immigrants promised the riches of the American welfare state by the Democrats. Most of the rest of the counties in the state have declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries. Most strikingly, there is a “Vexit” movement whose goal is for those counties to secede from Virginia and become a part of more Constitution-friendly West Virginia. The governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, joined with Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. in a press conference at which they invited the more conservative Virginia counties to secede. The West Virginia legislature is on board.
In Illinois – “Land of Lincoln” – a similar movement is shaping up. State Representative Brad Halbrook has proposed allowing the rest of the state to escape the political crutches of the hyper-Leftist Chicago political machine. Mr. Halbrook has issued a resolution to kick Chicago out of Illinois and make it the 51st state. His attitude is apparently “If you want to become a communist society go right ahead; just leave the rest of us out of it.” He is frustrated that people like himself are “forced into a democracy that’s concentrated power into a small geographical area,” i.e. Chicago.
This is a recurring theme in today’s “secession fever”: People seem to have tolerated the Democrat political machine control of citieslike Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit (and now all of Virginia) for the past seventy years or so as long as they could escape to the suburbs and rural areas and be largely left alone. Those days are now over, with the out-of-control crime of the cities permeating all other areas; the ever-escalating tax increases to pay for their hopelessly-failed government programs and pie-in-the-sky pensions for retired bureaucrats of all sorts. Then there’s the aggressive drive to effectively abolish the First and Second Amendments.
Thousands of New Yorkers are similarly disgusted by the far-left, self-described “communist” mayor of New York City and the just-as-far-to-the-left governor, Cuomo the Elder. Consequently, there is a movement whose goal is to create three politically-autonomous regions in New York state, each with its own governing body, but still a part of New York state. De facto secession, in other words. Then there’s the “Calexit” movement that wants California to secede altogether and become an independent country.
Oregonians outside of the leftist-dominated northwest part of the state are petitioning to move the Idaho border westward to include them, for almost identical reasons given by the Virginia Vexit proponents.
All of these movements are in the spirit of American federalism, the core idea of the U.S. Constitution. Thomas Jefferson considered the Tenth Amendment to be the most important principle of the Constitution because it said that although the citizens of the free and independent states (as he called them in the Declaration of Independence) had delegated eighteen or so powers to the federal government (Article 1, Section 8), so that it could act as their agent and for their mutual benefit, all others are reserved to the people and the states respectively. And of course it was also Jefferson who famously wrote in the Declaration that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. And, whenever governments become destructive of the citizens’ rights to life, liberty and property it is their “duty” to abolish that government and create a new one if they wish. Isn’t that exactly what the people of Virginia, Illinois, Oregon, California, and New York who are part of the new secession movements are all about?
The founders were aware that the European city states of antiquity assured themselves of a much higher degree of freedom and prosperity because government was so decentralized. If one city state became annoyingly tyrannical with excessive taxes, corruption, and other such ingredients of all governments, citizens could vote with their feet and move to another city state. This form of competition between city states worked to moderate the tyrannical impulses of Europe’s political class. (And is why that political class worked mightily for generations to destroy the city states and create systems of consolidated, monopolistic government). This history is part of the reason why the American founders, like the Swiss founders, created a highly decentralized system of government known to us now by the word federalism. The original constitution, the Articles of Confederation, did not even give the central government taxing powers. (Like the European princes and potentates, the Hamiltonian wing of the founding generation got the ball rolling to centralized, monopolistic government by scrapping the Articles of Confederation –after promising to only “revise” it– and created a much more centralized form of government with taxing powers).
With all of this talk of secession, one naturally wonders what Abraham Lincoln would think of it. There is of course a very clear record of his thoughts on the subject; one only needs to read parts of his first inaugural address to glean them. (See my forthcoming book, The Problem with Lincoln, for a fuller dissection of Lincoln’s first inaugural address). There he proclaimed that the then-existing structure of the American union was “perpetual” and written in stone, even though the previous generation had seceded from the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, as it was officially called, and did not repeat the word “perpetual” in the Constitution of 1789. That the existing configuration of the union of the states was perpetual was “not expressed” in the text of the Constitution, Lincoln stated, but is “implied,” in a good example of the usual leftist tactic of proclaiming the Constitution to be a “living” document to be altered not by the formal amendment process but by the twisting or words by clever, weaselly politicians.
Lincoln claimed that if there was any change at all in the configuration of the existing American union, then it would mean the “termination” of the federal government. A dumber theory was never put forth by an American politician. After the Southern states seceded the federal government proceeded to explode in size, create one of the largest and best-armed armies in world history up to that point, and wage total war on the South for four years. Hardly a disappearing act.
If any state or part of a state seceded, said the man or orchestrated the illegal and unconstitutional secession of West Virginia from Virginia, then such states will “make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them . . . . [W]hy may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it?” Counties may secede from states, and cities from counties, he was effectively warning. This of course sounds exactly like what freedom-loving Virginians, Illinoians, Oregonians, New Yorkers, and Californians are proposing to do. But to Lincoln such acts are nothing less than “the essence of anarchy” and a guarantor of “despotism” (his exact words).
In other words, Lincoln defined the whole classical liberal history and theory of the virtues of voluntary government, decentralization, consent of the governed, and federalism as recipes for despotism and anarchy, exactly the opposite of that which all the great students of liberty, from Lord Acton to Ludwig von Mises and beyond, believed. As Lord Acton wrote in his famous November 4, 1866 letter to General Robert E. Lee, “”I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of he sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy . . . . I deemed that you were fighting for the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo” (emphasis added).
Mises wrote in Omnipotent Government (pages 3-4) of how, with the growth of government in the U.S. and in Switzerland during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, “New powers accrued not to the member states but to the federal government” in each country. “Every step toward more government interference and toward more planning means . . . an expansion of the jurisdiction of the central government . . . . It is a very significant fact that he adversaries of the trend toward more government control describe their opposition as a fight against Washington and against Berne, i.e., against centralization. It is conceived as a contest of states’ rights versus the central power.”
Lincoln repudiated the philosophy of freedom and championed the philosophy of centralized, monopolistic governmental tyranny instead. He even threw in one last straw-man argument by claiming that the advocates of secession were claiming that in the seceded states there would be a “perfect identity of interests among the States,” which he then ridiculed, demonstrating that he was clueless about the meaning of federalism and constitutionalism (unless he did and was simply lying for political effect).
This is why Frank Meyer, a conservative literary icon of the last generation, wrote in an August 24, 1965 article in National Review that Lincoln’s “pivotal role in our history was essentially negative to the genius of freedom of our country” with his “repressive policies” of abolishing civil liberties in the North, waging total war on civilians in the South, and how he “moved at every point . . . to consolidate central power and render nugatory the autonomy of the states . . .”
In an essay entitled “Federalism in America” historian Forrest McDonald wrote that “Political scientists and historians are in agreement that federalism is the greatest contribution of the Founding Fathers to the science of government. It is also the only feature of the Constitution that has been successfully exported, that can be employed to protect liberty elsewhere in the world. Yet what we invented, and others imitate, no longer exists on its native shores (emphasis added). No one is more responsible for this than Lincoln, which is why the answer to the question of “what would Lincoln think” of the new “secession fever” in America is so obvious.