In 2018, a poll of Americans found that 39%- including 42% of Democrats- agreed to some extent with the concept of secession. A similar poll that year found that 31% of Americans believed there would be a civil war within five years. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 44% of Americans would be willing to fight to keep the Union whole inferring 56% would not be willing to kill a fellow American to avoid secession.
Before we move into the solution, we need to get beyond the notion of secession. James Madison knew a thing or two about the United States Constitution and wrote that it would be wrong to keep a state in the Union by force stating, correctly, that doing so “would look more like a declaration of war.” During the Virginia ratifying convention, they agreed to join other states with the proviso they had the right to bolt at any time, and that proviso was never questioned. During the War of 1812- a war the New England states hated- there was no debate over the legality of secession, only whether to do it.
Moving forward in time, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison thought slave states should be expelled from the Union if they did not leave voluntarily. When Southern states started to do just that, James Buchanan refused to use force to make them stay. Even Abraham Lincoln was reluctant to use force until some hotheads fired on Fort Sumter.
Some will argue that secession is not a possibility today and that option is foreclosed legally. Our Founders knew all to well that the Federal government would never relinquish power voluntarily which is why they wrote Article V into the Constitution. This allows the states to bypass the federal government and amend, or even abolish, the Constitution. The numbers are simple: if 34 state legislatures agree, there would be a Constitutional Convention where anything goes. If 38 states agree, you can get a new Constitution. Hence, secession cannot be necessarily unconstitutional if the Constitution itself provides a mechanism for it.
But, would or should it even happen? Most likely, the federal government would not invade a seceding state. There is no stomach for it. But, ironically, it is the more progressive states where the voices of secession is the loudest. The most famous example is the “Calexit” movement in California. Some of their literature notes that billions of their tax dollars go to people in states “who hate our culture.” They argue that those billions could better be used in California than sent to DC. In effect, they are arguing a Make California Great Again manifesto.
The Cascadia Movement looks to make Oregon, Washington and British Columbia a separate country, although one thinks the Canadians might have something to say here. They claim their similar views on the environment, social justice, and- one presumes- Starbucks coffee and yoga is what unites these three political entities.
These movements, coupled with the vitriol coming mainly from the Left, are all examples of differences that cannot be overcome. Foreign Policy, a rather staid publication, declared: “…for the first time in America’s history, a Nazi sympathizer occupied the Oval Office.” Television hosts laugh on-air about a Kentucky Republican Senator having his ribs broken by his neighbor. A California “congresswoman” encourages harassment against political opponents. It is a feast of hatred.
Compare this with the aftermath of the Civil War. Fifty years after the carnage at Gettysburg, veterans of that battle on both sides convened on Cemetery Ridge, shook hands, and embraced. President Grant invited Robert E. Lee to the White House. These were people who previously were engaged in battles to the death. The people who were actually killing one another became friends. But as we get further away from the Civil War, we are now to revile the Confederacy. As one commentator noted: “From their defeat, white southerners were permitted to retain some measure of dignity…” Not anymore. Anything “Confederate” or “southern” is now treated worse than leprosy.
Today, the divisions are deeper than North versus South, slave versus non-slave state, or agrarian versus industrial. It is conservative versus liberal. We are, in effect, already two nations.
Secession is a pipe dream and the chances are somewhat nil of it happening. There will be talk on both sides, but it will remain just talk. There is a middle ground, however: home rule. States would be left free to make their own laws and the Federal government would be left to foreign policy and national security. All the hot button issues like abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, public prayer, display of the Confederate flag, drug laws, etc. would be thrashed out locally. Any American would be free to go to their happy place and still call themselves “American.”
This is, after all, what our Founders envisioned. And it is what they largely got until the 20th century. Before then, one of the only times the federal government touched the lives of most Americans was a visit to the post office. Now, the Federal government seeks to run every aspect of the lives of Americans. It is aided by a Supreme Court- the final arbiter of tough decisions better left to the people to decide- where they force the same solutions on every state.
Federalism was designed to be a compromise to get the best of both large and small government. The ruthlessly expanded central Federal government has destroyed all the advantages of one side of that equation. Would home rule create, in effect, a Balkanization of America? News flash: it is already effectively Balkanized. Democrats have done a fine job of achieving that goal with identity politics and their transition into a party of intersectional racial and sexual minorities, of immigrants and feminists, and open borders proponents.