The Governor of Texas, Rick Perry (christened by the great philosopher M. Ivins as "Governor Goodhair") whipped a crowd of teabaggers into a frenzy last week by saying that Texas should secede. (And Chuck Norris, who's apparently starting to believe all the jokes, said that he may run for President of Texas.)
We should probably ignore the fact that talk like this feeds into the insane mindset of certain fringe elements of the population (apparently "fringe elements" everywhere but in Texas, anyway). And when I say "fringe elements," I'm referring to groups like the Republic of Texas, a bunch of armed extremists known for kidnapping random strangers and hosting armed standoffs with the police (you know, cheese and crackers, boxed wine, and the occasional exchange of hostages).
However, what Perry was talking about with his secession speech is a long-standing myth down there: that Texas has always had the right to secede, ever since we joined the country (not "we were annexed" or "we asked to join," but "we did it under our own volition, and they couldn't have stopped us if they'd tried").
The whole thing feeds into the myth of self-determination, that Walker-Texas-Ranger/Lone-Wolf-McQuade thing that Texas tries to propagate about themselves. Self-important idiots, really, swaggering around in their carefully-shined cowboy boots and crisp, clean white hats. Screw 'em.
(And incidentally, if Texas is such a cornerstone of self-righteous individualism, then why did Governor Perry, upon being told that Mexico might have a swine flu problem, demand that the CDC send Texas 37,430 doses of Tamiflu? I mean, if Texas doesn't need the rest of the United States, shouldn't they be willing to deal with this problem on their own?)
The alternative myth to Tex-cession is "Texas has the right to split into five states," a myth which at least has the advantage of being closer to reality. (It's still bullshit, but at least it'll make flowers grow, right?)
So let's look at these myths. First of all, the "secession" argument usually goes like this:
Our ultimate defense against the federal government is the right of secession. Yes, most people assume that the Civil War settled that. But superior force proves nothing. If there was a right of secession before that war, it should be just as valid now. It wasn't negated because Northern munitions factories were more efficient than Southern ones.Which sounds great. Of course, that whole argument ignores the fact that the writer is referencing the Articles of Confederation, which were replaced by the Constitution, because the founders realized that they needed a Federation, not a Confederation.
Among the Founding Fathers there was no doubt. The United States had just seceded from the British Empire, exercising the right of the people to "alter or abolish" - by force, if necessary - a despotic government. The Declaration of Independence is the most famous act of secession in our history, though modern rhetoric makes "secession" sound somehow different from, and more sinister than, claiming independence.
The original 13 states formed a "Confederation," under which each state retained its "sovereignty, freedom, and independence." The Constitution didn't change this; each sovereign state was free to reject the Constitution. The new powers of the federal government were "granted" and "delegated" by the states, which implies that the states were prior and superior to the federal government.
As for the "five states" question, that feeds into the myth of self-determination, too. But the truth is Texas can be carved into five states.
The way it works is, in the Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States, which was approved by Congress on March 1, 1845, it stated :
New States of convenient size not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas and having sufficient population, may, hereafter by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the Federal Constitution...Now, to add to that, you have Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, where it says:
New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress.Texans love that crap. They think it proves something. Of course, it ignores the fact that the whole thing is a joint process, not something Texas can force on everybody else: "no new states shall be formed or erected... without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress."
Also, did you notice those ellipses at the end of the Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas? That's because it goes into something that they don't want to talk about. Not only could Texas get split up if it proved to big and unwieldy to govern itself, but there was a second reason for the subdivision of the Lone Star State.
and such states as may be formed out of the territory lying south of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, commonly known as the Missouri Compromise Line, shall be admitted into the Union, with or without slavery, as the people of each State, asking admission shall desire; and in such State or States as shall be formed out of said territory, north of said Missouri Compromise Line, slavery, or involuntary servitude (except for crime) shall be prohibited.Yes, the right of Texans to keep slaves was part of the reason that they wanted to be able to split themselves into a cluster of smaller small-minded states. Oh, and by the way, if you look at a map, very little (possibly nothing) of what currently makes up Texas was due to be a free state.
(It's not clear whether "Fuck Texas" is the unofficial battle cry of the Oklahoma Sooners, but it's the only thing I've seen to recommend the Dustbowl State, for that matter.)
If Texans were to get truly up in arms, and the fringe elements were to try to secede, I think it would be a fascinating experiment, for the year or two it would last before they completely collapsed under the weight of their own stupidity. Admittedly, it would suck to be gay or non-white in the "Republic of Texas," and I'm not sure that the mis-educated kids would ever recover, but at least the rest of America could get to see the nightmare that unfettered far-right fringe elements would lead us to.
In fact, overall, it would suck to be a Texan (even more than it does now). But it would be a fascinating experiment.