Lesson 19 Question

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    Professor McClanahan –

    In lesson 19, you use John Taylor of Caroline to make your point that the Federation under the Constitution was not something completely new and different but just a continuation (more perfect) of the Union established under the Articles of Confederation.

    You then quote William Rawles to make the case that succession from the Union is legitimate and legal.

    My question then, is this: if the Articles of Confederation established a perpetual Union, how could succession be legitimate?

    I want to make sure I completely understand this apparent conflict so that I can explain it when it comes up.

    Thank you
    John M. Anderson



    Good question and one that often comes up.

    All contracts or legal compacts are deemed to be perpetual unless they have a specific end-date. For example, a marriage contract is deemed to be perpetual, as are many business arrangements unless the two parties state such contract or compact will end on xx/xx/xxxx. Even diplomatic agreements are made with this same language. Yet, any party in the contract can legally and often unilaterally leave the agreement should they deem it fit to end it. They can buy out their part of the agreement, split assets, or settle their differences in other ways. The AOC and the Constitution are no different. Representatives from SC tried to purchase federal property and settle their end of the federal debt but were rebuffed by the Lincoln administration. That did not mean they were not both de facto and de jure out of the Union of States under the Constitution. The people had, through convention, determined to rescind their ratification of the Constitution. They had legally broken the compact and were now divorced (seceded) from the Union.

    One point that needs a bit of fine tuning. Please be sure to reference the act of withdraw as “secession,” not “succession.” They are two entirely different terms, but often confused.

    Hope that helps.


    Thank you for your response and thanks for pointing out my typo. I understand the difference, but missed the error when I proofread my question. That’s what happens when I type on an iPhone late at night without my glasses.

    I think that because the AOC clearly states perpetual Union that I thought “seceding” from that confederation was not possible. If so, then continuing that Union, under the new Constitution, would make secession likewise impossible. After reading your answer, it’s now clear that the phrase “perpetual Union” in the AOC was redundant since there was no end date established and contracts and compacts are routinely broken.

    I believe that secession was not illegal and now I have a reply to my initial question should it come up in future conversations or debates. Thanks!

    I also really enjoyed the Constitutional History course and have just started U.S. History to 1877.



    I am glad you enjoyed the course and understand the iPhone problem. Happens to me all the time.



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