Secession or Declaration of Independence? Part 5 of 5

by Timothy Baldwin

“Good intent” or “good faith” is not the boundary of power. Law is the boundary. As John Locke states, “Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins.”[1] Where the law does not grant to the government the power to do an act, then the government’s doing that act in contradiction to the law is tyranny. The “law” certainly includes the U.S. Constitution, as it declares itself to be the supreme law of the land.[2] As such, the government’s exercise of powers beyond the constitution is tyrannous, regardless of “intent.”

Additionally, constitutions may be poorly constituted, not recognizing the principles of God’s laws and freedom. Thus, the people would have a natural right to secede–despite the authority expressed in the constitution not being violated–by virtue of the purpose of society and government. Reasonably so, it can be stated that where bad faith is present or expressly known, then tyranny certainly would follow from that state of mind. But to conclude that where good faith purportedly exists there is no tyranny is absolutely incorrect.

Moreover, determining intent of the government is virtually impossible. Use common sense and observation: there is not a law passed and executed that is expressly intended to do harm to a people out of bad faith. Tyrants are not so foolish and stupid. Their rise to power largely becomes acquired through certain kinds of genius and subtlety. They accomplish their agenda through the guise of goodness and justice. As Walter Williams says, “I know of no evil legislation written in explicitly evil language.”[3] Or as Voltaire puts it, “there is no aggressor who does not color his crime with the pretext of justice.”[4] Thus, tyranny becomes known or implied through the “evincing of a design,” or in other words, based upon an objective standard of actions and effects.

Citing the preamble to a constitution written 250 years ago to determine whether or not a current government has good faith so as to determine whether or not said government is tyrannous defies common sense, human nature, history and experience. To the contrary, the effected and applicable body-politic unilaterally determines intent from an objective standard based upon the limitations placed upon government by God and the body-politic. The people are to be the natural guardians[5] of their own liberty, which necessarily means that they must know when authority is usurped and tyranny is present, words in a constitution notwithstanding.

The Declaration of Independence confirms the objective standard of determination: “[t]hat whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it,” good faith notwithstanding. A government’s becoming destructive to the ends of society and government may be accomplished regardless of purported good faith from the government. Chris Wyvill reflects the Declaration’s sentiment in his defense of the colonies’ secession, “The Secession From Parliament Vindicated,” where he declares that such a determination of tyranny and the necessity of secession is made by the body-politic: “the PEOPLE are the UMPIRE…and [secession] may be absolutely necessary, as the only possibly Preventive of Ruin.”

Moreover, where government steps beyond its powers and authority, there is in fact a PRESUMPTION of tyranny and the people may act accordingly. John Locke confirms this understanding and states that where government steps beyond its authority (i.e. beyond the law), it creates an act of war against that people, “good intention” notwithstanding:

“[H]e who would get me into his power without my consent WOULD use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom—i.e. make me a slave.”[6]

John Locke observes that tyranny is an objective observation based upon reason and calculation using one’s powers of hindsight, insight and foresight. Regardless of what a government might proclaim regarding its intent, where that government rules beyond its authority, the people can presume that such a government “would use me…destroy me…[and] make me a slave.”

Additionally, that an objective standard of tyranny is used is all the more crucial and necessary in a REPUBLIC where the government is not led by one person, but is a body of (ever-changing) representatives elected by the (ever-changing) people, wherein various forms and methods are used to institute laws and orders. History and jurists prove that in such republican forms of government, tyranny is more difficult to correct because the people may never certainly know the source of the tyranny.

The source of tyranny: monarchs are static and simple; republics are fluid and complex. Those in republics mostly feel the effects of the tyranny after authority has already been usurped. For this reason (in part), it is not incumbent upon a body-politic to know the subjective intent of individual politicians, but rather, knowing the objective standard of authority, its limitations and the purpose of government is required.

In 1776, Great Britain in fact declared itself to be acting in good faith on behalf of the colonies. Great Britain expended monies to defend, administrate and grow the colonies. Great Britain provided them with commercial, governmental, societal and military benefits. Great Britain claimed to act according to the terms of their benevolent constitution (which all of the colonies openly considered to be the best in the world); and in fact, perhaps they were, as Parliament had the plenary power to create laws on behalf of Great Britain and its colonies. In fact, many colonists believed that Great Britain possessed good faith and thought seceding from Great Britain was idiocy. So, Great Britain arguably met the subjective standard of “good faith” and “good intent.”

However, the colonies ultimately realized differently and made a unilateral determination for themselves to the contrary. After feeling the compulsion to self-govern, each colony determined that the only effective method for accomplishing that was to sever the authority Great Britain had over them, just as John Locke determines is the only method against a government that has usurped authority, becoming tyrannous:

“TO BE FREE FROM SUCH FORCE is the only security of my preservation, and reason bids me look on him as an enemy to my preservation who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it.”[7] (emphasis added)

The American ideal of self-government exalts secession as an inherent and natural remedy against corruption so that freedom may thrive. Secession for freedom’s sake is as noble an act as some perceive the formation of the union was in 1787. Secession was deemed to be a right derived from not only natural law, but also confirmed by constitutional law, despite the appearance or allegation of a perpetual, supreme and sovereign government over the colonies.

The Declaration of Independence in 1776 was the necessary tool of secession through which freedom would be maintained in America–the only possible prevention of their ruin. For this act of secession, we praise our founding generation. Yet, as constitutional principles are applied today, somehow we are supposed to reach the opposite conclusion–the conclusion that Great Britain perpetrated against the colonies–the conclusion that was rejected by our founders in 1776.

Why would one admit the right to declare independence on one hand, based upon natural law, but deny the right to secede on the other, based upon constitutional law? After all, the U.S. Constitution was based upon the principles of natural law expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The answer may not be so obvious because both secession and a declaration of independence essentially accomplish the same object: to separate a body-politic from an existing government, union or political association.

As one author notes, “[secession], it should be borne in mind, is something altogether distinct from what would be an act of revolution, which lies wholly outside of the Constitution, and does not enter into this discussion.”[8] But if the legal and practical effect is the same, why meticulously splice the right of independence from the absence of right of secession? Why would people like Alexander Hamilton disparage the idea of secession on one hand,[9] but on the other, tell the people that they have a right to dissolve the union into as many states as there are counties when the federal government becomes “tyrannical”?[10]

For those who believe that secession is allowed by natural law, but is not allowed by the constitution, are you going to join forces to attack and repel an act of secession if it is done on the basis of the U.S. Constitution and not on the basis of the Declaration of Independence? Are you going to painstakingly analyze the formalities of secession to such a degree that purpose and common sense are completely abandoned? Or are you going to give your support to a state that determines it is justified to withdraw from the union, regardless of which vehicle of secession that state chooses?

You say you love freedom and you say you love the union, but which do you support more and to which are you more loyal? Indeed, if purported “good faith” in government is all that is required to justify forcefully preventing a state from seceding based upon natural law principles, then undoubtedly, the answer to the question is self-revealing.

We must recognize today: the most foundational principles of self-government, the consent of the governed and the existence of a Higher Law founded in God confirm that separation is not only a right, but also a duty and obligation of a body-politic, when it becomes clear to that body that separation is necessary, all of the constitutional arguments and posturing in the world notwithstanding.

Therefore, the states need statesman who, like our forefathers of yesteryear, know the principles of liberty and freedom and who are able to articulate the points in the course of human affairs when it becomes necessary “to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.”[11] The states need educated, virtuous and motivated freedom-lovers willing to support politicians and leaders who love their State, who love freedom and who have the courage to resist, interpose and lead their people into the land of freedom, if necessary, through secession.

In the end, secession will be determined by the individual body-politic charged with the duty of preserving freedom for them and their posterity. Where that will lead each state will be revealed in time. So, yes, get your state ready! for “[w]e fight for freedom, not for the hope of material profit or comfort, but because every fine instinct of manhood demands that man be free…Let us be loyal in the deep sense, and let us not be afraid of being few at first.”[12]

Footnotes:

[1] John Locke and C. B. Macpherson, ed., Second Treatise of Government, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1980), 103.

[2] U.S.C., Article VI, Section 2.

[3] Walter Edward Williams, Do the Right Thing: The People’s Economist Speaks, (Standford, CA: Hoover Press, 1995), 150.

[4] Will Durant, Ph.D., The Story of Philosophy, quoting Voltaire (Garden City, NY, Garden City Publishing, 1927), 267.

[5] “[T]he people…[are] the natural guardians of the Constitution.” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 16.

[6] John Locke and C. B. Macpherson, ed., Second Treatise of Government, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1980), 14–15.

[7] John Locke and C. B. Macpherson, ed., Second Treatise of Government, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1980), 15.

[8] Emory Washburn, “Can A State Secede?” (Cambridge, Dakin and Metcalf, 1865), 7.

[9] “[I]t has been contended that the same authority might repeal the law by which it was ratified. However gross a heresy it may be to maintain that a party to a compact has a right to revoke that compact, the doctrine itself has had respectable advocates.” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 22.

[10] “If such presumptions can fairly be made, there ought at once to be an end of all delegated authority. The people should resolve to recall all the powers they have heretofore parted with out of their own hands, and to divide themselves into as many States as there are counties, in order that they may be able to manage their own concerns in person.” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 26.

[11] Declaration of Independence

[12] Terrence McSwiney, Principles of Freedom, (New York, NY, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1921), 108.

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