For a while after the 2012 Presidential Election, there were stories in the newspapers that a movement had started in Texas to have the Lone Star State secede from the United States. More than 100,000 Texans had signed a petition to force the Federal Government to cut Texas loose. Texas, of course, for a brief time in the 19th century had been a Republic that had won its independence by breaking away from Mexico.
This latter day secession effort won headlines and had imitators in a number of existing States.
Today, we don’t hear anything more about it.
Another throwback to pre-Civil War conditions has Governors of certain States trying to nullify laws passed by the Federal Government and signed by the President. When Andrew Jackson became President, he put a quick stop to that unconstitutional nullification effort.
Again, we don’t see much discussion these days about a nullification revival. Indeed, in some instances in States with Republican Governors (among whom most of such chatter has been going on) these defiant chief executives have publicly supported an expansion of Medicaid due to the Federal money they will receive.
The structure of our Federal Government as conceived by our ‘founding fathers” still remains strong despite these secessionist/ nullificationist moves in the 21st century.
For parallels in the past, it is instructive to investigate political affairs prior to the outbreak of the South’s rebellion in 1860.
In the 1830’s, 1840’s and 1850’s until the first gunshots of the Civil War, there were two major political parties in the U.S.: the Whigs and the Democrats (who in Jefferson’s day were called Democrat-Republicans or even just plain Republicans.
The South was particularly powerful in that pre-war era. The “Slave Power,” as the Confederates were then known, had control of the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court. They were successful in keeping Free States out of the Union unless a Slave State was balanced with it, as in the “Missouri Compromise” of 1820 when the admission of Free State Maine was matched by Slave State Missouri.
Thirty years later, Henry Clay, author of the Missouri Compromise, secured his second major compromise, that of 1850. It undid the 1820 agreement and essentially aimed at increasing the number of Slave States.
So upset by this action were various Congressmen that a number of them attended a meeting in the Washington, D.C. quarters of Israel Washburn Jr. , a Whig member of Congress from Maine, and determined they would create a new political party. Out of the ruins of the Whig Party and with numerous defections from the Democratic Party on the issue of slavery, the present-day Republican Party had its origin. Maine politicians were particularly active in building up the new national Party.
Hannibal Hamlin, for example, was originally a Democratic U.S. Senator from the Pine Tree State who announced his conversion to the G.O.P. on the Senate floor. He was thus in a position to be chosen as Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President. The Morrill brothers, Anson and Lot, top Democratic leaders, became top Republican leaders in Maine. All over the country, politicians were essentially destroying the Whig Party and splitting the Democrats. The new Republican Party ran its first Presidential candidate in 1856 (John C. Fremont) who narrowly lost to James Buchanan.
Some contemporary political pundits have seen a similar party breakup brewing in today’s G.O.P. The so-called Tea Party versus the so-called regular Republicans. Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Republican Party has picked up where the Slave Power left off in its quest to disenfranchise African-Americans and other minority groups. Southern whites have flocked to its banner and the current situation particularly in the States of the former Confederacy has seen a Democratic stronghold become a Republican stronghold. An assault on the Voting Rights Act is already underway in the courts, allowing these State to shield their voter-preventing activities from Federal review.
In American public life ever since Appamatox, there has been the muted cry of “The South shall rise again.”
As soon as the blacks in the slave states were liberated, concerted efforts have been continually made to re-enslave them. The immediate post- Civil War era saw the imposition of “Black Laws” where even a minor infraction of any State statute could mean imprisonment and condemnation to hard labor for Southern blacks. Enforcement in many cases was left to the radical Ku Klux Klan, terrorists, whose lynching and bombings were intended to make sure the descendants of their former slaves would toe the line and allow themselves to be exploited.
We are seeing in certain States attempts to return to the pre-Voting Rights Act methods of manipulating elections.
The latter day Secessionists, needless to say, are reacting to the triumph at the polls of America’s first black President in his re-election bid. Meanwhile, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives seeks to turn back the clock on Civil Rights and many other aspects of American government, if not the whole government itself.
The Constitution of the United States, which once deemed slaves could be counted for election purposes as three/fifths of a person, has shown through the years that it leans toward democracy in its purest form and has kept our country safe and powerful. It is the essence of “American Exceptionalism,” Except it remains to be seen if the loudest proponents of Constitutional Correctness (like the Tea Party) will once more try to violate its principles.
Hopefully, there will never be a Civil War again in the United States of America.