The Middlebury Institute, in keeping with its mission of “the study of separatism, secession, and self-determination,” is holding the First North American Secessionist Convention this fall in Burlington with a dual purpose: to assess the secessionist movement on the continent at this time and to bring together those with an interest in the movement for a discussion of strategies and policies to make it stronger.
There is a great deal of talk about secession in various quarters, picking up as the American empire continues with its illegal, ineffective, intrusive, and immoral actions here and abroad, and more and more people are thinking that, extreme as it may at first seem, it really is the most sensible of the various options for serious political action. As did the participants at the 2004 Middlebury conference that issued the Middlebury Declaration, they are finding do-nothingism intolerable, party politics a reformist dead-end, and rebellion and revolution useless and self-defeating. So if you want to lead a better life, with some democratic control over your affairs, without participating in the corrupt and dangerous system provided by this increasingly imperialistic failed state called the United States, secession seems to provide an answer.
As of this writing, over 30 people have signed up-most of them genuine representatives of state separatist movements, plus a few expert observers. They represent movements in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska, the three oldest movements, the League of the South, Southern National Congress Committee, Southern Caucus, Christian Exodus, New State Movement, State of Jefferson, and groups in Texas, California, Michigan, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington City, Maine, and of course Vermont. It seems clear evidence, as Vermont’s Thomas Naylor says, that “not since the end of the Civil War has there been this much interest in political independence by the states.” (I’ll have to remind him that it was not a civil war but a war of secession, quite a different thing.)
The League of the South looks to be one of the strongest groups, with chapters in 16 states and members in ll others. It was formed in 1994, it has a national office in Arkansas, a bimonthly newpaper, a national conference, a website (Dixienet.org), and an associated LOS Institute for the study of Southern culture. Its primary goal is establishing “a free and independent Southern republic…by:
1) de-legitimating the American Empire at every opportunity;
2) by proving our willingness to be servant-leaders to the Southern people; and
3) by making The League of the South a strong, viable organization that will lead us to Southern independence.”
It argues that “legally speaking,” the old Confederacy still exists because it never formally surrendered, and its strategy is to get “an educated and willing public” to realize this and create “a climate conducive to Southern independence.” As Michael Hill, the LOS President, has put it: “Let us gain the confidence and support of our people by becoming their worthy servants. Then let us re-assert our independence and nationhood on the firm foundational principles of 1776 and 1861.” He adds, “Though the South is presently a nation by right, this will mean nothing until the South starts acting like a nation in fact. To bring Dixie to that point is the League’s goal.”
Alaska’s movement, the Alaska Independence Party, has been in business since 1984 and regularly runs candidates for statewide offices. It bills itself the largest third party of any state, pulling in between 10-20,000 voters and 3-4 per cent of the vote-once even electing a governor, Walter Hickel, who then tuned his back on the party and acted as an ordinary Republican in office. It has a website (Akip.org) with a great many interesting links, an annual conference, and occasional press releases, but it has been somewhat quiet in recent years-it drew only 14,000 voters at last fall’s election, at 3.03 per cent. Its chief aim is to have a revote on the question of statehood, which was put on the ballot as a yes-or-no proposition in 1958, instead of a choice between statehood, remaining a territory, becoming a commonwealth, like Puerto Rico, or becoming an independent nation-and it’s that last one that AIP favors. Some sense of its politics can be seen in its website response to the question of whether an Alaskan would lose U.S. citizenship if the state seceded: “Depending on the form of independence, several forms of citizenship would be possible, including the retention of U.S. citizenship or dual citizenship. However, considering the moral, educational, and economic decay of the U.S., Alaskans who hold themselves to a higher standard might very well decide to at least maintain an arm’s length distance from a country in decline.”
The movement in Hawai’i is a bit of a mix, and some there even argue that secession is irrelevant since they regard Hawai’i as a sovereign state that has simply been conquered illegally by the United States and doesn’t need to secede from anything. But since a removal of the conqueror and an act of secession would have the same effect, there are groups willing to put their struggle in that light. Among them are the Hawai’i Nation, Kingdom of Hawai’i, Free Hawai’I, Huaka’i I Na ‘Aina Mauna, and Sovereign Hawaii’I Government, and I have no way of knowing from this distance why there are so many different groups, since they seem to be working for the same thing. The general take would seem to have been well expressed in a 1994 proclamation by a General Council of native Hawai’ians stating that “we are the original inhabitants and occupants of these islands [and] have always been in possession of our land and are entitled to re-establish our Independent and Sovereign Nation.” It concluded that the “General Council Assembled…do solemnly publish, declare and proclaim that the Independent and Sovereign Nation of Hawai’i is free and absolved from any other political connection to any other Nation State.” A representative of that Council will be at the November convention.
Two other active groups that are not strictly secessionist, but with a strong interest in the convention because to fulfill their aims would probably come down to secession, are the Christian Exodus and the Free State Project. The first of these, begun in 2003 “in response to the moral degeneration of our nation” and the failure of regular political parties to halt it, has a scheme to settle large numbers of its adherents in South Carolina, which it deems to be the most conservative and Christian state in the Union. Once a critical mass is present there, they would begin to take over local and county institutions and eventually the state government, creating a constitution that would guarantee “the protection of human life at conception, the Ten Commandments as the foundation of law, the prohibition of any redefinition of marriage, and a strong reserve clause” of undelegated powers to local government. “If this cannot be achieved within the United States,” they say, “then we believe a peaceful withdrawal from the union to be the last available remedy.”
The Free State Project similarly intends to move people in to take over a state-in this case New Hampshire, because it has the smallest tax burden of any state and is small enough to be influenced by a small number of immigrants-and create a strongly libertarian government. The project was begun by Jason Sorens, then a Yale graduate student in political science, in 2001, who determined that 20,000 active people would be sufficient to wield influence over the state government-and as of June 2006, 7, 166 have signed on. The aim is to create a government that would “support policies such as abolition of all income taxes, elimination of regulatory bureaucracies, repeal of most gun control laws, repeal of most drug prohibition laws, complete free trade, decentralization of government, and widescale privatization.” It is explicitly against secession, it says, but its literature recognizes that such a move might have to be taken if its program was resisted by Federal forces-as would seem to be likely.
It may be too much to say, as Thomas Naylor has said recently, that “once again secession fever is spreading across America just as it did back in 1776 and 1861.” But there is no doubt that something is in the air, and the November convention will be the barometer of just how strong and purposive this movement is.
KIRKPATRICK SALE is the author of twelve books, including Human Scale, The Conquest of Paradise, Rebels Against the Future, and The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream. His latest book, After Eden: The Evolution of Human Domination, will be published by Duke University Press this fall.