By Bob Litton
NOTE TO READER: This essay was initially published in 2011 in two West Texas media. I had written it because I had seen too many vehicles on the streets with bumper stickers showing the Texas flag and the word “Secede”. Since then I have read where groups in all fifty states have sent petitions to Washington expressing their desire to secede from the Union — most notably Texas, Vermont and South Carolina. Although there has long been a secessionist movement in Texas, I believe the other states have developed an anti-Union mentality because we now have an African-American president. However, recently I read that north Coloradans wish to separate from south Colorado because they do not want to share their oil wealth with the lower half of the state. The following was addressed to my fellow Texans, but I believe it also should be addressed to the folks in the other states who are suffering from the same fantasy.
By the way, “Contra” is the Latin term for “Against”; it has nothing to do in this context with the former revolutionary group in Nicaragua. I have used “Contra” not to appear pedantic but because it has a distinguished history going back to Nietsche’s “Contra Wagner” and Cicero’s “Contra Verres”: It thus bears connotatively more gravitas than the English word, and I want this essay to be taken very, very seriously.
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Federalism versus states’ rights seems a conflict of principles which has become securely embedded in the substance that makes up U.S. history and destiny. The following is an argument for federalism and against, not states’ rights, but only that so-called states’ right known as “secession”.
From the beginning of our creation, the United States has been made up of different interests, generally numerous and often, in varying degrees, conflicting. The designers of the Constitution spent a long, hot summer wrestling with the conflicting interests they faced at the time. They didn’t resolve them all, but they did manage to devise a federal government that, through checks and balances, would keep the Nation in relative equilibrium long enough for the country to mature into a greater sense of nationhood and credibility with other nations.
Of course, sectional jealousies continued and even, with the addition of Western states to the Northern and Southern, became even more complicated. One of the main purposes of creating the Constitution was to bring to an end the economic disagreements between the squabbling states that made up the first Confederation. Many saw the need for an overall centralization of authority that could enforce legislated interactions between the states. The question was then, and has remained, how much authority would remain to the states.
Then John C. Calhoun came up with his notion of “nullification”: Any federal law that a state deemed inimical to its own local interests could be declared null and void within that state. The most significant statutes that agitated nullifiers were those limiting or abolishing slavery (the 1808 importation ban included in the Constitution and the 1820 Missouri Compromise prohibiting slavery north of Missouri’s southern border).
By the 1850s, however, the balance of influence switched to the South and the West due to national expansion and the invention of the cotton gin. Soon, the Fugitive Slave Law (1850) obligated federal forces to apprehend escaped slaves in free states and return them to their masters, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) repealed the Missouri Compromise, and the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision (1857) declared that the Negro slave had no rights under law.
Economic issues, of course, exacerbated the dissension between North and South, but the crucial issues were states’ rights and slavery. So, we had a very deadly Civil War (562,130 dead). The high school history books say the Civil War ended in 1865, but actually its more fundamental cessation came with the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s.
Yet our country is still marred with inequities based on race as well as a continuing belief, among no small minority, in the constitutionality of nullification and secession. These are the ones I want to address here.
There is presently a secessionist movement in Texas. Some of its motivation derives from residual resentments over federal court-ordered school busing and a continuing requirement that all state and local political redistricting must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department. More immediate, however, is the joining of allocation of federal funds with requirements that the state upgrade its standards on air quality, education and health care. Also, the current economic crisis has created a fear among some that Texas will have to help other states overcome their financial problems, despite the fact that Texas’ anticipated deficit will be at least $15 billion–$5 billion more than New York’s.
Moreover, the state that is noted for its bragging talent proudly points to its almost unique capability ─ because of geography, size, climate and economic diversity — to thrive as a nation on its own. Some people are already drawing lines over the Texas map to delineate appropriate borders for constituent states.
There are basic problems encumbering such a fantasy.
First is the long-existing emotional envelope derived from our common history with the other states, starting with the Civil War and continuing through seven other major wars and “police actions”, concluding with Afghanistan. In all those wars, we were comrades in arms with citizens of other states. You want to divorce them now?
Next, do you consciously suppose that removing the Texas star from Old Glory will end our part in sectional strife? Sorry, folks, but then you will have not only four contiguous (still United) States to quarrel with over such things as “international” commerce and law enforcement, but you will have potentially as many as four “United States of Texas” to monitor and moderate. There has been, during my adult lifetime at least, a regional contest between the more populated, industrialized East Texas and the still largely agrarian West Texas that is reminiscent of the contest between the Northeastern states and the Southern states prior to the Civil War. (Interstate 35 is more than just a highway.)
The regional quarreling doesn’t stop there either. Dallas and Fort Worth had a long ugly feud over DFW International Airport ─ a supposedly mutual enterprise that would preclude interstate air travel in each city ─ and Dallas’ continued operation of Love Field.
What I’m saying here is that, because of self-centeredness, greed and dreams of glory, you are setting up a scenario reminiscent of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’s self-created dilemma. In order to avoid having to do his chores, the apprentice waved his master’s wand to enchant the mop and water bucket into auto-pilot. When he didn’t know how to make them stop, he charmed them in half, but the doubled mop and bucket kept on sloshing away. So he charmed them again, making four mops and buckets, until the whole laboratory was awash and chaos prevailed. Then the Sorcerer returned and put a stop to it.
What sorcerer is going to put a halt to your chaos? A king?
Once a nation in your own right do you really believe you will be able to garner nothing but economic wealth and worldly respect? Then behold, out there are other nations among whom you will have to establish embassies, with their concomitant bureaucracies. Then all the money you imagined you were saving through secession will have to be spent on foreign offices and officials as well as an army and a navy. There will be potential threats from other countries. A survey of the recent past indicated that more than 50 percent of Mexican citizens believe that Texas actually is legally Mexico’s property. Should Mexico finally succeed in winning its war against the drug cartels (which Texas’ drug addiction and NRA-fostered weapons laws have exacerbated) then our south of the border neighbor could plausibly reassert its claim of territorial right. Will we then cry out for aid from Uncle Sam, saying, “Come help us, uncle, we are your kin!”
There is no gainsaying that our country has problems, some of them of long duration, others of very sudden appearance, but all daunting. We have had dull, cowardly, and corrupt legislators. We have had Supreme Court justices who have rendered bad decisions — Dred Scott being just one of them. And we have had weak and corrupt Presidents. But we have had intellectual and moral giants among all those departments, too. Do you honestly suppose that Texas has such a large surplusage of gifted legislators and judges that it can surpass the United States’ record?
Our times are tough, not just for us but for the world as a whole. We must keep on slogging through the muck and try to do the right thing as often as we can determine the right thing. We don’t have time to waste on such fantasies as secession.
— Written 1-31-2011
— Published in NIMBY News Feb. 24, 2011
— Published in Big Bend Sentinel June 30, 2011