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{First Published on 12-09-2008}

In part 1 of this series I examined the concept of the legality of Secession. My suggestion to the reader would be to read the following prior to this article for some background.

Revisiting the Past : Part 1 – An examination of the concept of Secession
Revisiting the Past : Part 2 – The Road to War : Causes

Since the publication of the 1st and 2nd parts of this series, a number of people have objected to it’s conclusions. Sadly, the “Official History” tells us that the incorrectly named “Civil War” was about slavery, and that it was illegal for a State to leave the warm loving bosom of America. The idea of a state doing so seems absurd, why how would they survive without the Federal Government!

People forget or simply aren’t aware that Texas was once an independent Republic, and survived quite well as one for some ten years before joining the Union. Hawaii was brought in illegally at gun point, a fact that former US President Bill Clinton apologized for on November 23, 1993 through United States Public Law 103-150. Alaska was allowed into the Union in violation of international law.

Let us ask a simple question here.
Why would any state think that secession was legal?

1: Because prior to Lincoln taking office no one questioned it.
On several occasions, the New England States had threatened to secede. Arguments used to convince them to stay involved things such as trade, commerce and defense, not the legality of the idea.

Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote in “Democracy in America” that “The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the States; and in uniting together they have not forfeited their nationality . . . . If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact . . . the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly either by force or right.”

Howard Cecil Perkins surveyed about 1,000 Northern newspapers. The majority of them agreed secession was legal.

The Bangor Daily Union wrote on November 13, 1860: “The Union depends for its continuance on the free consent and will of the sovereign people of each state, and when that consent and will is withdrawn on either part, their Union is gone.”

Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune and a prominent Republican, editorialized on December 17, 1860, that if tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then “we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861.” On February 5, 1861, Greeley continued on that “The Great Principle embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration is . . . that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed.” Therefore, if the Southern states want to secede, “they have a clear right to do so.”

2: Because there is a belief that the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution allows for it.
Amendment 10 – Powers of the States and People. Ratified 12/15/1791.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Since there is nothing in the US Constitution is silent on the matter of secession, and up until Reconstruction there was nothing in the various State Constitutions that denied them an out, the argument goes that the right to Secede remained a reserved right of the states.

This is why in part Lincolns predecessor President Buchanan allowed the first seven states to leave peacefully. While he disagreed with them, he believed the Federal Government didn’t have the right to force them to stay.

In addition, at least 3 states, Virginia, New York and Rhode Island included specific clauses in their ratification of the US Constitution that permitted them the right to leave the Union. Since all states are considered equal under the US Constitution, this right extended to all the others.

3: Because Jefferson, Adams and even Lincoln said they could!
[We should be] determined… to sever ourselves from the union we so much value rather than give up the rights of self-government…in which alone we see liberty, safety and happiness.
— Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Madison in August 1799

The alternatives between which we are to choose [are fairly stated]: 1, licentious commerce and gambling speculations for a few, with eternal war for the many; or, 2, restricted commerce, peace and steady occupations for all. If any State in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying ‘let us separate.’ I would rather the States should withdraw which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture. I know that every nation in Europe would join in sincere amity with the latter and hold the former at arm’s length by jealousies, prohibitions, restrictions, vexations and war.
–Thomas Jefferson to William H. Crawford, 1816.

Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.
— Abraham Lincoln 1848

But the indissoluble link of union between the people of the several States of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the RIGHT, but in the HEART. If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it!) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other, when the fraternal spirit shall give way to cold indifference, or collision of interests shall fester into hatred, the bonds of political association – will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies; and far better will it be for the people of the disunited States to part in friendship with each other than to be held together by constraint. Then will be the time for reverting to the precedents which occurred at the formation and adoption of the Constitution, to form again a more perfect Union, by dissolving that which could no longer bind, and to leave the separated parts to be reunited by the law of political gravitation to the center.
— John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) 6th US President, in his discourse before the New York Historical Society, in 1839

3 US Presidents said it was legal, yet one of these 3 went on to violate the law.

4: It was Taught that is was legal
William Rawle, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer wrote in 1825 in his book “A View of the Constitution” that under certain situations it would be legal for a state to secede. This book was used to teach Constitutional Law at West Point from 1825-1845.

So why if it was legal was there a war?

Money. Plain and simple. Money.

A Southern nation, as a thriving Free-Trade zone would seriously impact the tariff funded North, and hurt the same New England States who had threatened to themselves secede a few decades earlier.

The sad irony of this war, and it’s effect on the Constitution was summed up by H.L. Mencken:

The Gettysburg speech is at once the shortest and the most famous oration in American history. Put beside it, all the whoopings of the Websters, Sumners and Everetts seem gaudy and silly It is eloquence brought to a pellucid and almost gem-like perfection—the highest emotion reduced to a few poetical phrases. Nothing else precisely like it is to be found in the whole range of oratory. Lincoln himself never even remotely approached it. It is genuinely stupendous.

But let us not forget that it is poetry, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it. Put it into the cold words of everyday. The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination—”that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i.e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle free; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and veto of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that veto was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely more liberty, in the political sense, than so many convicts in the penitentiary.”
— Journalist H.L. Mencken, From “Five Men at Random,” “Prejudices: Third Series,” 1922, pp. 171-76: First printed, in part, in the “Smart Set,” May, 1920, p. 141

Until Lincoln waged his vindictive and barbarous war against a Confederacy who had chosen to use their right to secede, and forced them at gun point to rejoin the Union, and in doing so revise their own state constitutions to bar them from again seceding in the future, the United States was a grouping of equals. After this, it began a rapid shift to the bloated all-powerful monolithic centralist government that we have today. What I wonder is the true cost of a nation that continuously violates it’s own laws? If we look around and check the news today, we see where the path begun with the illegal reunification of the 1860’s.


Time Line of US State Secession

  • December 20, 1860 : South Carolina
  • January 9, 1861 : Mississippi
  • January 10, 1861 : Florida
  • January 11, 1861: Alabama
  • January 19, 1861 : Georgia
  • January 26, 1861 : Louisiana
  • February 1, 1861 : Texas
  • February 4, 1861 : South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas formed the Confederate States of America
  • March 4, 1861 : President James Buchanan turns over US Government to President Abraham Lincoln
  • April 12, 1861 : Hostilities Begin: After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and Lincoln’s subsequent call for troops on April 15, four more states declaredtheir secession
  • May 6, 1861 : Arkansas
  • April 17, 1861 : Virginia
  • May 7, 1861 : Tennessee
  • May 20, 1861 : North Carolina
  • June 1865 : War ends, Reconstruction Begins.


  1. Republic of Texas
  2. United States Public Law 103-150
  3. Alaska Legal Status
  4. Confederate State Information
  5. US Constitution
  6. Book: 33 Questions about American History by Thomas E. Woods Jr. : Chapters 4 and 10.
  7. Book: Politically Incorrect guide to American history by Thomas E. Woods Jr. :Chapter 6.
  8. Rewriting History, American Style by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
  9. Revisiting the Past : Part 1 – An examination of the concept of Secession
  10. Revisiting the Past : Part 2 – The Road to War : Causes