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Joe Sobran: The Right to Secede

Joe Sobran

How can the federal government be prevented from usurping powers that the Constitution doesn’t grant to it? It’s an alarming fact that few Americans ask this question anymore.

Our ultimate defense against the federal government is the right of secession. Yes, most people assume that the Civil War settled that. But superior force proves nothing. If there was a right of secession before that war, it should be just as valid now. It wasn’t negated because Northern munitions factories were more efficient than Southern ones.

Among the Founding Fathers there was no doubt. The United States had just seceded from the British Empire, exercising the right of the people to “alter or abolish” — by force, if necessary — a despotic government. The Declaration of Independence is the most famous act of secession in our history, though modern rhetoric makes “secession” sound somehow different from, and more sinister than, claiming independence.

The original 13 states formed a “Confederation,” under which each state retained its “sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The Constitution didn’t change this; each sovereign state was free to reject the Constitution. The new powers of the federal government were “granted” and “delegated” by the states, which implies that the states were prior and superior to the federal government.

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Published in C.Jay Engel