This is going to upset the foundation of those who like to paint me as a Glenn Beck Kool-Aid drinker, but…
On his radio show today, Glenn Beck spent a great deal of time trying to make the case that, not only is it impossible for a secession movement to succeed, but that it is illegal. Beck’s on-line news blog, The Blaze, even posted what appears to be a supporting story:
Well, with all due respect to both Scalia and Mr. Beck, gentlemen, YOU ARE WRONG!
Now, I understand that the immediate reaction of most readers will be to scoff at me. I mean, who am I to tell Scalia he’s wrong about a Constitutional matter of this magnitude, let alone Glenn Beck? Well, the answer to that is easy: I’m not the one who said there is a Constitutional right to secede – the founders did! Now, you can dismiss my opinion, but dismissing what the founders had to say on this issue is to dismiss the Constitution and, if you dismiss the Constitution, then there can be no questioning whether or not an issue is Constitutional as the issue comes down to whether or not someone is strong enough to force their will on the rest of us. You see, if you dismiss the Constitution, the rule of law goes with it – as does civil society. So, either we accept the founders as authorative on matters of secession, or we embrace a state of open war and the resulting tyranny that always follows (something else our founders told us).
You will find that the majority of our founders expressed their belief that the States, being sovereign, retained the right to secede from the union, but I will stick to the words of Thomas Jefferson for a reason that should soon become clear:
“I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people’ (10th Amendment). To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible to any definition.”
“The several states composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes [and] delegated to that government certain definite powers and whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force. To this compact each state acceded as a state, and is an integral party, its co-states forming, as to itself, the other party. The government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself, since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution the measure of its powers.”
With those words, Jefferson essentially explains the difference between Hobbes and Locke: that we are not eternally bound by political shackles – especially if they were made by our ancestors and/or our current government has trampled on its end of the social compact. Jefferson argues that the States and then the individuals within them (i.e. the People) retain the ultimate right and authority as to whether or not the social compact that is our Constitution has been broken and, if it is determined that it has been, they retain the right to change, alter or abolish that government or the State’s part in that contract.
But this should not come as a surprise. Jefferson told us:
The Declaration of Independence… [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and the rights of man.
Natural rights [are] the objects for the protection of which society is formed and municipal laws established.
So, if it as Scalia and Beck say and the States do not have the right to secede, then I ask: By what authority did the Colonies secede from Britain if not the authority of natural law and natural rights expressed in these words?
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shown that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great- Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
Setting aside the argument as to whether or not the States can make a claim that the Federal government has met with the same condition of oppression and subjugation as that of the King at the time these words were first written, I would ask both Scalia and Beck:
If the States do not possess the right to secede under the terms of natural law and the social contract, then by what authority or moral argument does either of you two men defend the Constitution? For, without the ideals and principles declared in the Declaration, the Constitution becomes a rudderless document that can – and some would argue has – become a document that allows a government of unlimited and arbitrary power, otherwise known as despotism.
In short, if Scalia and Beck are correct, then they are arguing against natural law, which means they argue against natural rights which then place them on the side of those who oppose the individual rights and liberty of man.
HOWEVER, if they are to be consistent in the defense of the Constitution as a limiting document that is meant to chain down the power of government and to protect the individual natural rights and liberty of man, then they must acknowledge the ideals and principles in the Declaration of Independence, which directly asserts the natural right to dissolve any political bonds between us when they become despotic.
So I say this again, and, hopefully, this time you will not scoff at or dismiss me:
Justice Scalia and Glenn Beck are wrong: the States DO retain the right of secession! It’s part of natural law, the very law upon which this nation was founded.