Can States Constitutionally Secede from the United States?

Following the Presidential election on November 6, 2012, citizens from each of the 50 States signed secession petitions on the White House website requesting to peacefully form their own government separate from the United States. In response to these petitions, other citizens signed petitions requesting the President “sign an executive order such that each American citizen who signed a petition from any state to secede from the USA shall have their citizenship stripped and be peacefully deported.” Obviously, this is an emotional issue, but emotions aside, it is the duty of every American citizen to uphold the supreme law of the Land, which is the US Constitution and secession is Constitutional.

The reasoning for the Constitutionality of secession is found in the 10th Amendment in which it states, “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.” This means that if the Constitution did not delegate a power to the national government or prohibit it from the States, then the States and the people have that power. One may search long and hard, but they will not find the power to secede either delegated to the national government or prohibited from the States in the Constitution.  Constitutionally, States can secede.

In response to this, some may argue the Civil War settled this question, therefore States do not have the lawful power of secession. This argument is extremely flawed because it is based on the idea of might makes right, which is a lawless concept. Constitutionally, the southern States had the right to secede and although the North brought war against them to stop them from seceding and then forced them to rejoin the Union on Northern terms, the North’s victory did not alter the States’ constitutional power of secession.

One must understand the United States would not exist without the power of secession. The Declaration of Independence is a secession document based on the law of Interposition. The Continental Congress that voted for the Declaration of Independence was comprised of delegates from all thirteen colonies who, on behalf of the people and colonies, interposed against the grievances concerning the English monarch’s colonial policies. After unsuccessfully trying other methods to resolve their grievances, they voted for secession and commissioned a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. It is important to note that only approximately one third of the colonists desired secession while another third remained loyal to the crown of England, yet the secession movement was successfully supported by all thirteen colonies. In light of this, it is hypocritical for anyone to say secession is not legal unless they are proposing to dissolve the US government and re-submit the nation to the English crown.

The biblical case for secession is based on the right of voluntary association. Like most issues of a national nature, they are best understood when applied to individuals. There is not a government or organization in the world to which a person can be lawfully compelled to belong. If a person wants to renounce their citizenship and leave the United States, they have a right to do so. Similarly, if a majority of people in a State want their State to secede from the United States, they also have a right to do so. Asserting that States do not have the right to secede is like telling someone they cannot leave a church they voluntarily joined. Additionally, in the hierarchy of covenants, a marriage covenant is of a much higher order than a union of states, and if God, who hates divorce, allows for a marriage covenant to be broken due to unfaithfulness of one spouse, then how much more would He allow a union of states to be broken for a similar offense?

The founders did not address secession in the Constitution, because they hoped that if the States came together in a union they would remain together and they understood the power of secession was a very important check and balance to a national government overstepping its constitutional boundaries. The founders also understood a union would only happen if States voluntary joined and if the Constitution made separation illegal then very few, if any, States would have joined. Prior to President Jackson threatening the use of force against South Carolina for moving towards secession and President Lincoln using force against the seceding States, the State power of secession was clearly understood by Americans and even confirmed by then Congressman Lincoln in a speech to the House of Representative on January 12, 1848.  In his speech, Lincoln not only endorsed secession he stated the majority could put down the minority who opposed their secession movement. Without the power of secession the States would have a limited defense against a national government exceeding its constitutional limits, it is for this reason every American citizen should uphold the power of secession even if they disagree on when it should be exercised.

Accordingly, States should not rashly use the power of secession; instead, it should be used as a last resort. Much of the current concerns inspiring a desire for secession could be resolved by States exercising the power of interposition our founders wove into our hierarchical system of government. Constitutionally, the most power in our hierarchical system of government resides in the local government closest to the people. It is for this reason State governors have the authority not to implement laws passed by the national government that are of an unconstitutional nature and they do not need to sue the national government to do so.

Additionally, individuals taking a direct approach on secession is not procedurally correct and the secession petitions to the White house are a prime example. If a State democratically desired to secede or not uphold an unconstitutional law; they do not need to ask permission from the President or any other branch at the national level. It is for this reason, those secession petitions should have been directed to State governors not the White House.

Every citizen also has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution based upon its original intent, because the Constitution is a social contract negotiated on our behalf by our founders. [1] It is a common legal maxim all contracts are to be interpreted according to the meaning of the parties at the time of making them. Therefore, anything but an original intent interpretation is a breach of our national contract.[2]

If each of us took time to gain an original intent understanding and demanded laws and policies to restore America to its founding principles, even if we don’t agree with all of them, then most of our problems would go away. In such a case the national debate would be over what methods to use to restore our nation instead of whether we should restore it or change it irrevocably. Our nation is ideologically divided similar to the 1850s and I appeal to those who do not accept a constitutional original intent interpretation, but cannot logically refute it, to consider the consequences of another civil war. The Constitution is not perfect, but it is the longest lasting national constitution the world has ever experienced and its original intent is a reasonable compromise worth upholding or working constitutionally to change if necessary. Together we can restore America and preserve the rights and liberties of all current and future citizens, but divided we will fall.

[1]  American Founding Principles, One Nation Back to God Speech, August 14, 2012.

[2] American Founding Principles, Impeaching Supreme Court Justices, August 14, 2012.


4 thoughts on “Can States Constitutionally Secede from the United States?

  1. Question: Can the fourteenth amendment be utilized to nullify petitions for secession? Was the fourteenth amendment ratified by three fourths of the states? At the time 28/37 states were required to ratify and as I understand it only 21 states ratified it while the remainder were territories. Perhaps I am mistaken but can you please explain?

  2. Good question, given the nature of modern case law nearly anything could be used to say what the court wants it to say. Therefore, the answer to your question is yes, but that does not mean the 14th Amendment actually implies it and the 14th Amendment certainly does not directly say as much.

    Your second question is a bit more complicated, and without judging the merits or non-merits of the 14th Amendment I will attempt to answer it. There were 37 States in the United States in 1868, three fourths of them is 28, which is the number of States needed to ratify the 14th Amendment in that year. Texas, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Louisiana, Delaware, and Maryland all initially refused to ratify the amendment. Ohio rescinded its ratification in January of 1868 and New Jersey rescinded theirs in March of that same year. Other Southern States that ratified the 14th Amendment did so under duress as they were still occupied by Federal troops. Coincidentally, many of the Southern States that earlier refused to ratify the amendment, who were also occupied by Federal troops, reversed their decision in 1868. Without my proving to you in this response the foul play conducted in the South during Reconstruction, you will have to answer for yourself if ratification is legally binding when a State has a gun held to its head. That being said, four States ratified it in the 20th century and Ohio re-ratified it on March 13, 2003, which makes 37 total States to ratify it and that is exactly three fourths of fifty States.

  3. For ten years following the Reconstruction Act of 1867 the US Federal Government forcefully removed elected officials from ten states (VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, FL, MS, AR, TX, LA) and appointed Generals John Schofield, Daniel E. Sickles, John Pope, Edward Ord and Philip Sheridan to preside over both civil and military affairs who reported directly to the US War Department. Southern states from 1867 to 1877 were not a representative government and therefore any legislation passed during that time was not in accordance with the supreme law of the land; especially the fourteenth amendment.
    Because the US Civil war was based solely on the transfer of power from the state to the federal government and not the emancipation of slaves, Christian values were not utilized as a basis for the US Federal Government to forcefully remove elected officials and summarily ratify a constitutional amendment with which the people did not agree. In the post titled, “Is Religion the foundation of Justice and Law?” American Founding Principles states that religion is the foundation of law. If Christian values were not used one must surmise other values were placed above God by those who executed, planned and financed the US Civil War and by default the Reconstruction Act; what religion, who’s beliefs and why?
    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong it’s reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
    — U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864
    (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)
    It both disturbs and shocks me to only recently learn the US federal government, the greatest nation the history of the world has ever known, committed these atrocious acts of despotism and ruthless dictatorial domination. What are we handing down to our children and grand children?

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