It seems a little hard to credit, but news reports this week said that nearly 1 million people from all over the nation have signed online petitions supporting their states’ secession from the United States.
While the sentiment may give political scientists and most politicians a grin or two, it also seems likely to be enough to drive historians nuts.
Didn’t we, as the saying goes, fight a war over this issue? And, if memory serves, the side that attempted to pull out of the larger nation lost.
Rather decisively, as a matter of fact. Not only that, but the leader of the winning side was, of all things, a Republican, one Abraham Lincoln by name. Yes, the same person Daniel Day-Lewis is portraying in a critically acclaimed film celebrating Lincoln’s political prowess in getting the 13th Amendment added to the Constitution, a major step in ending slavery.
Still, Lincoln’s aim in going to war to prevent the Confederacy from pulling up stakes and leaving the Union was that such an action would destroy the country the Founders had created.
And he didn’t think that he was elected to preside over the dissolution of the nation he loved — especially since freedom itself was at stake.
So the slogan, “Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable!” was a battle cry that resounded over both political debates and clashes of armies for four long years — until Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his sword and his army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.
We hear the echoes of it today in the statement many American schoolchildren and adults utter when they face the Stars and Stripes, place their right hands over their hearts and say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
It’s not unusual for people disappointed with the outcome of an election to be mad enough to say they’ll leave the country. Such promises have been heard on all sides of the political spectrum in the past, depending on which party the losing candidate’s partisans had supported.
But this is the first time in nearly a century and a half that so many of the losing side’s backers wanted to take their houses, communities and entire states along with them.
“Let my people go” is a very old sentiment, after all, even if we do now have a very new way to express it.
As a matter of history, law and politics, however, people can certainly leave, but their states aren’t going with them.