Secession has once again surfaced as a legitimate conversation in the United States. South Carolina Republicans have proposed a bill that would allow for secession from the union over federal gun laws. Texas and California have been flirting with secession for a while. However, not without serious opposition.
What would secession mean? What are the potential consequences? Who is opposed to it and for what reasons? It is important to have an honest debate about these kind of questions without resorting to petty insults and accusations of “treason” or being “anti-American”. Ad hominems do not count as actual arguments.
From a historical perspective, secession is nothing new. The United States itself was the product of secession from the British Empire. Followed by the formation of the Confederacy and a bloody Civil War to prevent it. Many people incorrectly blame the secessionists for being the cause of the conflict. However, it was special interests in the north that benefited from the subjugation of the southern economy through tariffs and economic centralization.
The mayor of New York City at the time, Fernando Wood, understood this. Which is why he was an advocate for secession himself. He even stated that:
“When Disunion has become a fixed and certain fact, why may not New York disrupt the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master — to a people and a party that have plundered her revenues, attempted to ruin her, take away the power of self-government, and destroyed the Confederacy of which she was the proud Empire City?”
He did not propose joining the Confederacy in the south, but instead advocated for the New York City (tri-state area) to be established as a sovereign entity; a view shared by the Common Council. Their position changed, out of fear of being surrounded by Northern entities which would view them as traitors, after the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina by federal troops.
Republicans in the North were fearful that secession would, not only split the country up, but that it would become entirely dissolved and/or split up into multiple smaller countries. They knew that once secession was allowed in one part of the country, further decentralization would be the inevitable result.
This would only get in the way of the ambitious plans the GOP had for the United States; such as a transcontinental railroad, a homestead act, and protective tariffs. Each of these had been major points of disagreement between the South and the North for a long time, for which no compromise was ever found. When several states began to secede over these disagreements, the only options were either to permit it or force them into submission like an abusive husband beating his spouse for attempting to leave him.
This same attitude is embraced by many prominent conservatives in modern day America (such as Tucker Carlson), who are generally supportive of secession movements in Europe such as Brexit, but vehemently oppose the same principle at home when a state like California talks about doing it. These two perspectives are not logically consistent.
The issues at hand are undoubtedly complex. People may argue either in support or opposition, and both sides may have valid points to make. The underlying principle, however, is simple: if you do not support the right to secession, you support slavery and subjugation.