Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Now that's a stretch

In doing research for my dissertation, I'm reading Randall Holcombe's From Liberty to Democracy: The Transformation of American Government. It's about the growth of the federal government, and I came accross this passage discussing whether states could secede.

Using the Constitution as a guide, the clear answer is yes. Article VII of the Constitution states, "The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same." With thirteen states unified and governed by the Articles of Confederation, this article provides for the secession of up to four states if nine agree to the new Constitution. Thus, any state that did not want to be governed by the Constitution was given the option of leaving the Union. The Consitution specifically and explicitly allows states to secede from the United States in Article VII, so the Constitution was written envisioning the possibility that some states might want to leave the Union if they did not agree with the decisions of others in this specific circumstance.
It was at this point that I closed the book and put it away. That has got to be the worst argument I have ever heard for the constitutionality of secession. There might be legitimate arguments for it - but this was not it, not by a long shot. First of all, if you're going to argue that the "Consitution specifically and explicitly allows states to secede from the United States," the language better be darned explicit and specific, and the language of the Constitution certainly does not explicitly allow states to secede.

Second, the Constitution says that the ratification of nine states is sufficient to put the Constitution into force. There is nothing in the document that implies, however, that once a state ratifies the Constitution it can suddenly back out. It provides states the option to not join the Union, but it's a tremendous leap of logic to claim that once joined, the states can change their minds. (It can also be argued that though the Constitution did not provide for unanimous consent, the Framers did expect all states to fall in line and ratify once the ninth state did so.)

Well, at the very least, this little passage saved me 150 pages of reading.


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