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A Whiff of Secession and Nullification

by: alan caruba | published: 06 08, 2011

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In May Rasmussen Reports took a survey of a thousand adults asking if they believed that States have the right to secede. “One-in-five Americans believe individual States have the right to break away from the country, although a majority doesn’t believe it will actually happen.”

That a Tea Party movement sprang to life in the midst of the protests against Obamacare and then was instrumental in transferring political power in the House of Representatives in the 2010 election cannot be dismissed. People—lots of them—are increasingly wary of the central government, particularly one that has burdened them with more debt in the last three years than in the entire prior history of the nation.

In October, Pelican Press will publish “Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century” in which a number of scholars edited by Donald Livingston, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, examine the implications of secession, possibly by regional groupings of States, from the present federal government.

Prof. Livingston is a political philosopher and scholar, the author of two books on the British philosopher David Hume and may well be one of a handful of people who have given serious thought to the question of whether the present Union has either outlived its usefulness or, worse, become a sinkhole of power aggregating to itself total control over the States.

The Tenth Amendment clearly states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, arereserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

That is true, but I doubt there is a single Governor of any of the fifty States who cannot enumerate the ways the federal government has wrested power from them while imposing costs. When Arizona finds itself the object of a federal legal suit to prevent it from trying to control its border with Mexico, you know there’s a problem.

In an article, “Decentralization for Freedom”, by Prof. Livingston, he raises some issues that are increasingly troubling to a growing number of Americans. He addresses the measures States can take “to protect their citizens from usurpations by the central government.” Among these are the passing of resolutions. “A continuous flood of resolutions from the States about the constitutionality of this or that issue (and widely publicized) would serve to educate the public.”

Thereafter, Prof. Livingston recommends a resort to the Tenth Amendment by State legislators and governors in order to recover usurped authority. We are beginning to see another measure, the refusal to accept federal funding as regards its centralized control of education.

Resistance to Obamacare is based on the question whether the federal government can require individual citizens to purchase something they do not want. The House has passed a measure to repeal it, but it is stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Reverse the situation and you have a federal government telling Americans what they cannot buy, as in the case of the 100 watt incandescent light bulb in use since the days of Thomas Edison.

“Genuine federalism in America can be recovered only by political action in the name of the State’s own authority and not by Supreme Court legalism,” says Prof. Livingston.

“To all of this it is often said that State interposition, nullification, and succession were eliminated as policy options by the Civil War. Brute force, however, cannot settle moral and constitutional question.” While Lincoln did “save the Union”, he did so at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and the destruction of the South.

Clearly the central government has grown so large, so unwieldy, so wasteful, and so unresponsive to the problems and costs it has imposed that people are beginning to wonder why 435 Representatives in the House and 100 in the Senate should control the lives, the economy, and the education of more than 300 million people in fifty sovereign States.

The President virtually makes law with “executive orders” and the nine members of the Supreme Court exercises final authority of the constitutionality of laws. Congress is so divided by raw partisanship it is barely functioning.

“The only remedy,” says Prof. Livingston “is territorial division of the Union through secession into a number of different and independent political units.”

“The current central government of the United States hates inequality, but it also fears the people,” says Prof. Livingston, noting that “There is no law an American State can pass that cannot be overturned by the arrogant social engineers of the Supreme Court who in the last fifty years have played with the inherited moral traditions and federative policy of the American people like a quack with a hapless patient.”

“Constitutionally, this means that the States must reassert their sovereignty under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments and recall those powers they have allowed to slip out of their hands to the central government.”

This is not a call for anarchy. It is the realization that the modern presidency has aggregated to itself powers it does not have or, in the case of Libya, is ignoring the War Powers Act that limits its ability to engage the nation in conflicts Congress does not ultimately authorize.

It is the realization that every United Nations treaty the United States signs deprives it of its sovereign rights.

It is a call for consideration that regional groups of States with common interests might provide better government within such groups, leaving to the central government the responsibility to protect the nation via a common military, conduct foreign affairs, and return to the gold standard that would protect the value of a common currency.

When one-in-five Americans give credence to the right of secession , it is clear that the problems being experienced in all fifty States, the massive regulation of all activities within those States, the imposition of a centralized “core” curriculum to be taught in all schools, is arousing a rediscovered sense of liberty among Americans.

What steps must be taken to retain that liberty and even to restructure the Union are as yet undetermined, but they are increasingly entering the public debate.

There is no debate that something is terribly wrong when a president is elected whose eligibility and legitimacy is in serious question while the courts do nothing to address this critical constitutional issue and the Congress does nothing while sending bills for his signature.

 
 
 
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