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Saturday, January 16, 2010

May The Sword Of The Parent Never Be Stained With The Blood Of His Children

It was not entirely unexpected that my post yesterday about State resistance to Federal power generated a bit of controversy at Great Orange Satan.  Quite frankly, it was a deliberate ploy on my part to bring up secession to spark discussion, though I admit I was a little surprised that people focused so much on minutiae related to that hook rather than my larger point.

Given all the media attention in 2008 on Palin and her ties with Alaskan secessionists, and Governor Perry suggesting in 2009 that Texas might have to secede, it made sense to link to Rob Williams' recent post about online discussions of Vermont secession.  Unfortunately, people either assumed that was an endorsement of the idea on my part, or just dwelled on the merits of secession rather than addressing what reasonable, effective actions States could take in opposition to immoral Federal policies.  But hey, that's teh Internets.

Anyway, State government is a different manifestation of the People's will and power, and in our Federal system has the capability, if not the requirement, to check the General Government.  Thus far our elected employees in remote DC have failed to guarantee civil rights--marriage equality, access to healthcare--so I submit it is up to enlightened States to lead the way.

Oddly enough that's pretty much opposite the path we took with Civil Rights and even the Civil War itself: the Federal government stepped in to impose a national, uniformly civil society that respected the rights of all citizens (easier done in principle than in practice, of course).  Now we have a Federal government that is actively denying rights to people in favor of bigotry and corporatism, with the only bulwark being those pestiferous States' Rights.

A similar evolution happened in the ante bellum days.  South Carolina--you know, the State that first seceded and later started the Unpleasantness--was embroiled in the nullification crisis during the Jackson administration, but later along with other Slave States turned to the General Government to protect their peculiar institution.  In contrast, Vermont went down the nullification path in the last few years before war broke out by passing laws in contravention of The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, guaranteeing due process to escaped slaves and securing freedom to all persons in our State (pissing off folks in Kentucky, Virginia and Georgia, amongst others).

Obviously there are limits to State power in our system.  Nullification has essentially been, uh...nullified by Prigg v. Pennsylvania and Ableman v. Booth.  The idea that the Union cannot be unilaterally dissolved was effectively settled by The War Between The States and Texas v. White (though Chief Justice Chase did allow in his opinion for revolution and consent by the other States).  So is there any recourse for the States to do what's right in the face of perfidious Federal policy?

While secession is a non starter, as many commenters I think rightly observed, from where I sit it's still a useful extreme boundary for us to discuss.  Trying that route again would be tantamount to revolution and I don't think that's necessary at this juncture, online calls for torches and pitchforks notwithstanding.

Similarly, States might not be able to nullify Federal laws per se, but certainly they can challenge them in a variety of milieu, including passing their own laws that establish alternative institutions.  As I mentioned before, we have marriage equality in Vermont (and a handful of our moral peers) and even though it isn't recognized at the Federal level or in most of the other States, it provides a beacon for future initiatives that can eventually create critical mass for universal equality.

I agree with Bernie Sanders that HCR is going to also happen state-by-state first--we'll see if Section 1332, should it remain in the Healthcare Deform Bill, will be the real crucible.  I've been calling this approach "Island Hopping" ala the Allied campaign in the PTO (apologies for the warlike metaphor).  Unfortunately, there's going to be a lot of collateral damage over the long haul as uninsured people die while we dicker in the margins.

Sadly, we can't rely on State Legislatures to do the right thing just because it's right any more than we've been able to rely on Congress.  The People are the ultimate Sovereign and will have to engage fully at all levels of government.

There's a great example of real people power when our nation seceded from Great Britain, but it's generally ignored in history texts (thanks, Texas!):

For ordinary citizens, the most visible sign of direct British rule under [1774's Coercive] Acts was to be seen in each county’s Court of Common Pleas. These courts, in session four times a year, heard hundreds of cases, most involving the nonpayment of debts. The courts, with their power to foreclose on property, would now be presided over by new judges, appointed by the royal governor and answerable only to him. Understandably, the county courthouses became the focus of the colonists’ resistance to the new regime:

    * When the governor’s new judges arrived at the Worcester County courthouse, they were met by a crowd of five or six thousand citizens, including one thousand armed militamen. The judges, sheriffs, and lawyers were forced to process in front of the crowd and repeatedly promise not to hold court under the terms of the Acts.

    * In Great Barrington, 1500 unarmed men packed the courthouse so full that the judges literally could not take their seats.

    * In Springfield, a crowd of about 3000 forced the judges and other officials to resign their positions.

In addition to closing the courts, crowds throughout the colony forced the resignations (or escapes into Boston) of all thirty-six of the governor’s councilors, including Thomas Oliver, the lieutentant governor of the colony. They also ignored the prohibition against nonapproved town meetings; they not only met, they held elections, and began to assemble an armed colonial militia. In short, they simply ignored the royal government and proceeded to set up their own.

In a period of about thirty days, from mid-August to mid-September of 1774, the ordinary people of rural Massachusetts, mostly farmers, ended British rule over themselves and their countryside forever. With no real organization, no official leaders, no fixed institutions – and no bloodshed – they went up against the most powerful empire on earth, and won. Their victory resulted from the sheer force of their numbers, along with their unshakable determination to be their own rulers. As one British loyalist unhappily put it at the time: “Government has now devolved upon the people; and they seem to be for using it.”

A bloodless--and almost completely nonviolent--revolution a couple years before the Declaration of Independence, all fueled by the grassroots and not some cult of personality.  Like secession, that's an extreme solution (and to be clear, not one I'm advocating), but perhaps it gives us the chance to interpolate how other less severe approaches in between outright rebellion and online petitions might achieve our ends.


(Post at Dohiyi MirCorrente and Daily Kos.)

January 16, 2010 in Why We Fight | Permalink


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you should teach Capitalism + Democracy

Posted by: Pac-Man | Jan 16, 2010 1:51:16 PM

Excellent post.

I would guess that people would rather parse words than really get down to business.

I agree with Bernie Sanders that HCR is going to also happen state-by-state first

I'm reminded of the scene in "The Single Woman" where the older activist and younger activist are arguing in Jeannette Rankin's kitchen about whether it's a state issue or a national issue regarding the women's suffrage movement.

I agree, especially seeing it first-hand in Vermont, that the states can take the wheel. We will work for single-payer in Vermont in the upcoming months, but am horrified that the federal government continues to wine and dine the Insurance Industry on our backs. And am further skeptical that Section 1332 will be done away with without a massive grassroots ACTIVE demonstration. I'm becoming increasingly disenchanted with online progressive movements, as well.

P.S. *snicker* you said 'dicker'.

Posted by: ericka | Jan 16, 2010 3:31:09 PM

Pac-man - I actually have talked to Hoag about CORE. Seriously. Might be a possibility in the long-term.

E - that's a really good scene and illustrates our problem as Progs. I understand that resources might be an issue, but I don't think State and Fed approaches are mutually exclusive.

Posted by: NTodd | Jan 17, 2010 9:19:51 AM

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