Secession Past as Secession Prologue

Last week, after a predominantly conservative United States Supreme Court refused to hear the State of Texas’s attempt to invalidate election results in several states that President-elect Joe Biden won, the Republican Party of Texas–led by former Army Colonel and presidential candidate Allen West–issued the following statement: “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”


My exasperation stems from the simple fact that talks of secession are nothing short of adult temper tantrums thrown by a segment of the population that is angry that their presidential candidate lost. What totally defies logic in this matter is that nationwide, Republicans down ballot actually did quite well–even in states like Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin that Texas (and President Donald Trump) wanted to have ballots invalidated. Meaning, real logic would hold that if there was actually a plot to “steal the election” by Democrats, and if the machines were widely rigged to ensure Democratic success, that the steal would have included Democrats winning in congressional, senate, and state level races that they lost to Republican candidates!

As such, there is no evidence of a steal because there was no steal, and I find it troubling that for over a month, that charges of election rigging by President Trump and his loyal political followers have yielded unanimous “no evidence” responses from courts across America; courts that in many instances, are stacked with conservative judges that Trump or his Republican predecessors, George Bush the Elder and the Younger, tapped to serve. Indeed, when National Review, the undisputed leading news magazine of the conservative right for over six decades, called out Mr. Trump way back on November 30th for his refusal to concede his obvious defeat, that nearly three weeks passed without most Congresional Republicans budging on the issue is proof that we have entered the most fraught partisan political period since 1860 on the even of what would become the Civil War.

In fact, 160 years ago today, the State of South Carolina convened a secession session that would ultimately lead to that war. Now, secession talk was nothing new in South Carolina as its favorite political son, former VP John C. Calhoun, had first rattled this saber in the 1830s over talks of unfair tariffs being levied against the region. Calhoun, who died in 1850, did not live to see his political descendants threatening to dissolve the Union throughout that decade over the issue of slavery, this despite persistent Northern attempts to appease their Southern brethren. Truth often gave way to fiction as Southern political leaders railed to their constituents that the North in general–and President-elect Abraham Lincoln specifically–were determined to end slavery and by so doing, changing their way of life.

Even prior to Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, lame duck President James Buchanan strongly urged a crumbling Congress to adopt Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden’s proposal that would have restored the old Missouri Compromise 36° 30′ line and forbidden slavery in the Northern territories–while permitting it in Southern states and territories.

Old Buck Buchanan’s push would not be enough to preserve the Union; on December 20, 1860, the South Carolina Secession Convention voted 169-0 to dissolve its Union with all other states. A NY Times editorial analyzed this moment as follows: “…Between North and South there is at this moment raging a controversy which goes as deep as any controversy can into the elementary principles of human nature, and the sympathies and antipathies which in so many men supply the place of reason and reflection. The North is for freedom, the South is for Slavery. The North is for freedom of discussion, the South represses freedom of discussion with the tar-brush and the pine fagot. Yet North and South are both Democracies — nay, possess almost exactly similar institutions, with this enormous divergence in theory and practice. It is not Democracy that has made the North the advocate of freedom, or the South the advocate of Slavery. Democracy is a quantity which appears on both sides, and may therefore be rejected, as having no influence over the result.

Within weeks of South Carolina’s decision, six other states, including my native Florida, followed suit, each citing concerns about the end of Slavery as the main reason despite attempts by President Buchanan and President-elect Lincoln that slavery could remain unabated. In fact, during his Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861, Mr. Lincoln urged ratification of Sen. Crittenden’s proposal that provided, “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

Sen. John Crittenden (D-Ky)

That Lincoln would support such a slavery supporting measure comes as no surprise to students of history, as he often stated that if he could preserve the Union without ending slavery, that he would. But the truth about Lincoln’s attempts to satiate the South’s fiendish “Peculiar Institution” were drowned out by Southern fiction that slavery was in jeopardy–a fiction that led to over a million Americans dead after four years of bloody Civil War.

Confederate dead at the bloody Battle of Antietam in Maryland, September of 1862

While the similarities between 1860 and 2020 are pronounced as far as “facts” being sacrificed at the altar of partisan “fiction,” for those fearing that a second Civil War is in the offing, do know that there are distinct differences. The first and arguably the greatest is that what often goes unmentioned about the Civil War is that the Confederate central and state economies were a nightmare without being in the Union, and such would likely prove true, again, if Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and other MAGA loving states jumped bold and decided to leave the Union and form a new central government.

The second reason is that if a civil war is coming, it actually will be a figurative one within the Republican Party, not one between large armies squaring off for the soul of the Nation. As it stands, there are many conservative Republicans that do not see the Trump legacy quite the same. No, I do not mean just the moderate Republicans and Bush family devotees who were “Never Trump” adherents, but staunch conservatives like Sen. Mitch McConnell who, while pleased with the anti-abortion judges and economic acts of Trump over the past few years, either privately held the president’s public and private behavior and Tweets in contempt, or publically realized, as McConnell did this week and Attorney General Bill Barr did last week, that talk of “stolen elections” are patently false and could weaken the Republic as a whole. Falsities promulgated to appease a competitive President who is unwilling to concede that he not only lost the popular and Electoral College votes by “bigly” (and fair) margins, but that conservatives on the nation’s courts that support his ideology are independent enough to not support his unsubstantiated claims of election rigging.

Such conservatives, ones that see the handwriting on the wall, are diametrically opposed to other conservatives that, taking cues from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other nihilist pundits, are urging overtly (or tacitly) for Trump to refuse to leave the White House. This very well could lead to showdowns when Congress returns to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory on January 6th or on January 20th, when Biden is set to be inaugurated. Such opposition will be fascinating to watch in the weeks ahead both in terms of how it will impact the Georgia Senate run-off election–and the 2022 mid-term races.

Stay tuned!

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