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Ron Paul: Secession is right, Civil War maybe not

National Constitution Center

Outgoing Republican U.S. representative Ron Paul has waded into the secession debate, saying that states have the right to leave the Union, and that the Civil War may not have been “right.”

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The libertarian politician made the comments on his official House website.

The latest secession controversy was started by a series of petitions on a White House website called We the People. They asked the Obama administration to comment on the possible secession of Texas, Louisiana, and other states after the president defeated Mitt Romney earlier this month.

The Texas petition received about 115,000 online signatures as of Tuesday morning, with a number of people not living in Texas signing up.

Paul’s comments were picked up on political websites on Monday night.

“While I wouldn’t hold my breath on Texas actually seceding, I believe these petitions raise a lot of worthwhile questions about the nature of our union,” Paul said.

“Many think the question of secession was settled by our Civil War. On the contrary; the principles of self-governance and voluntary association are at the core of our founding.  Clearly Thomas Jefferson believed secession was proper, albeit as a last resort,” he added.

“Keep in mind that the first and third paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence expressly contemplate the dissolution of a political union when the underlying government becomes tyrannical. Do we have a ‘government without limitation of powers’ yet? The Federal government kept the Union together through violence and force in the Civil War, but did might really make right?” Paul added.

Legally, there is little evidence that any secessionist movement would have a chance of winning a legal challenge.

Constitution Daily contributor Lyle Denniston outlined the issue last week for us.

“No state, however frustrated some of its citizens may be with the present state of government in America, is going to be able to leave the Union and go its own way. That is one of the most firmly settled issues on the meaning of the Constitution,” Denniston said.

The issue was settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Texas v. White in 1869, and the only theoretical path to secession would be the passage of a constitutional amendment.

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia confirmed that opinion in 2006, when he responded to a letter from a screenwriter, who was writing a fictional story about Maine dumping the U.S. to join Canada.

“To begin with, the answer is clear. If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede. (Hence, in the Pledge of Allegiance, “one Nation, indivisible.”) Secondly, I find it difficult to envision who the parties to this lawsuit might be. Is the State suing the United States for a declaratory judgment? But the United States cannot be sued without its consent, and it has not consented to this sort of suit,” Scalia said.

Paul didn’t bring up the issue of slavery in the Civil War on his official House website, but he has discussed it in the past.

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In 2007, Paul told “Meet The Press” said that the North should have bought the slaves living in the South and freed them, rather than pursue a war.

“Every other country in the world got rid of slavery without a Civil War,” Paul told Tim Russert.

In another undated video on YouTube, Paul told an audience that slavery was an important factor in the Civil War, but not the biggest reason the conflict was fought.

“It really wasn’t the issue of why the war was fought in my estimation,” he said.

Paul said that Abraham Lincoln, like Alexander Hamilton, believed that central government should benefit the industrial base in the North, along with a central banking system.

“When they saw this opportunity, they used the issue of slavery to precipitate the war and literally cancel out the whole concept of individual choice,” he said.

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