Did the states REALLY have the right to secede?

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    The last paragraph of Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution states this, “No state shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage, keep troops, or Ships of war in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another state, or with a foreign power, or engage in war unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay”

    Does this paragraph present any constitutional case AGAINST the right of secession? I could see a nationalist reading into this that it implies the states may not leave the compact when it says they may not enter into any other compact.

    How could we respond if someone brought this up?


    Also, since it is another secession-related, compact theory question, I will post here again. Brion McClanahan mentions an argument for secession based on the co-equality of states. Tom Woods brings this up in his PIG to American History as well. I feel like it’s an extremely strong argument when we consider that Virginia specifically said they had this right when ratifying and people did not object.

    However, the rest of the argument seems to rest on the doctrine of co-equality of states with regards to rights and dignity. What is the best way to support this doctrine?

    Brion mentions Article 7 of the Constitution in passing (“States so ratifying the same”) but does not elaborate. Since the word order of that sentence seems kind of outdated, I really don’t understand what it means. Also can we look to the ratifying conventions to support the doctrine of co-equal states?

    I know Tom has made reference to Jefferson with regard to Missouri, but if we had additional evidence then people would be less likely to write the argument off as “radical anti-federalist propaganda.”


    Brion or Tom could you address these objections when you have a chance?


    Virginia and I think another state (maybe New York?) made it explicit that they reserved the right to leave the Union if they felt that the federal government had overstepped its bounds. I think there is a gray area in the Constitution in that it allows the federal government to respond to rebellion, but does not explicitly forbid secession. I would argue that secession is permitted by virtue of the 9th and 10th amendments.


    Yes you are correct Enron. Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island had those similar provisions. My question was where we could go to legally support the idea of co-equality of states, since the combination of those 2 things is a very powerful argument for the right of secession.



    This is a good question. Article 1, Section 10 does not apply in regard to secession because by the act of secession, the separating entity is no longer bound by the compact.

    Secession does not need to be spelled out in the Constitution for it to be valid. Certainly, an explicit recognition of the right to secede would have been helpful, but though all contracts are designed to be perpetual, they can be canceled by one party or the other. And the Constitution is nothing more than a contract or compact “between the States so ratifying the same,” not the people of the United States, but the people of the States in convention.

    Moreover, the Constitution did not alter the nature of the “Union” as under the Articles. It was designed to make it “more perfect,” but not subvert the standing of the States in the Union, at least that is how the conservative faction led by Dickinson, Rutledge, and Sherman viewed it and how it was sold to the States in the separate ratifying conventions. Jefferson declared that there were thirteen free and independent States in the Declaration. Nothing had changed by 1787 and the Constitution did not change that either.

    Remember, powers are “granted” in Article 1 and “delegated” by the 10th Amendment (the first proposed amendment by virtually every State). Granted and delegated have meaning. A granted or delegated power can be rescinded by the granting party which had the power or authority to grant it in the first place, i.e. the States who created the compact.

    Additionally, as the Preamble states, it is a “Constitution for the United States of America” not “the United States Constitution” or the “Constitution of the United States.” Again, for and of carry different meaning. For is a plural term holding weight only for the Union of the States; of implies possession in the singular, or the United States as a single State.

    Hope that helps.


    Thanks Brion, that certainly helps clarify the issue.

    Could you also address the doctrine of “co-equal” states or “sister states” as you refer to them in one lecture? Where should one go to support this doctrine? I know you cited the clause “between the states so ratifying the same,” but I still find this wording confusing. Does it mean “the states have ratified the constitution in the same way” or does it mean “the states that have ratified the constitution have equal freedom/sovereignty” or does it mean something else??

    Are there other places we can go to support the idea of “co-equal states” being a commonly understood belief?

    Any help is always appreciated. When people are so caught off guard when someone makes the argument that states had the right to secede, they fight tooth and nail to challenge any argument you make. So I just want to sure up what I am saying so I can present a compelling case.


    One way to go is to google “equal footing doctrine.”


    Thanks! Here is one helpful link I found just from googling: http://law.justia.com/constitution/us/article-4/22-doctrine-of-equality-of-states.html

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