No, it is not 1860 again.
But with all the talk of the 10th Amendment, nullification and interposition, states rights and secession — following Gov. Rick Perry’s misstatement that Texas, on entering the Union in 1845, reserved in its constitution a right to secede — one might think so.
Chalk up another one for those Tea Party activists who exploded in cheers when Sister Sarah brought up the dread word in endorsing Rick Perry in the primary.
Looking back in American history, however, these ideas, these sentiments, decried as insane inside the Beltway, were once as American as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to James Madison from Paris in January 1787, about Revolutionary War Capt. Daniel Shays’ anti-tax rebellion in Massachusetts.
In the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, both of these founding fathers sanctioned the idea that states could interpose their own sovereignty and nullify acts of Congress. Both were enraged by the Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adams and the Federalists, written into law to combat sedition during the undeclared naval war with France.
On taking office, President Jefferson declared the acts unconstitutional, refused to prosecute those charged and freed the imprisoned writers.
In 1814, Timothy Pickering, another veteran of the revolution and secretary of state to both George Washington and Adams, was a force behind the Hartford Convention, which argued for New England’s secession and reuniting with Great Britain. Massachusetts opposed Madison’s War of 1812 that had caused the British blockade that destroyed their trade and prosperity.
The war’s end and Jackson’s victory at New Orleans, however, aborted the Hartford movement and finished off the Federalists forever.
In 1832, it was Vice President John Calhoun who inspired South Carolina to vote to nullify the Tariff of Abomination that was killing the cotton-exporting South and enriching Northern manufacturers. To the chagrin of Madison, Calhoun invoked his and Jefferson’s Virginia and Kentucky resolutions in defense of Carolinian defiance.
In 1845, it was Massachusetts again. Ex-President John Quincy Adams declared that admission of Texas to the Union as a slave state might constitute grounds for secession and civil war.
With Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 and Republicans, the Northern party, assuming power, South Carolina, Georgia and the Gulf states seceded.
But not until after Fort Sumter, when Lincoln called for volunteers to march south and crush the rebellion, did Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas secede, rather than remain passive or participate in a war on their kinfolk.
Unlike the issues of yesteryear that tore the Union asunder, Tea Party issues are not sectional but national. Yet, they are rooted in a similar set of beliefs — that the federal government no longer serves their interests, but the interests of economic and political forces that sustain the party in power.
In 1860, the South saw power passing indefinitely to a new regime, a Republican Party that represented high-tariff industrialists and New England radicals and abolitionists who despised the agrarian South and celebrated the raid on Harper’s Ferry by the terrorist John Brown, who had sought to incite a slave uprising, such as had occurred in Santo Domingo.
What called the Tea Party into existence?
Some are angry over unchecked immigration and the failure to control our borders and send the illegals back. Some are angry over the loss of manufacturing jobs. Some are angry over winless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some are angry over ethnic preferences they see as favoring minorities over them.
What they agree upon, however, is that they have been treading water for a decade, working harder and harder with little or no improvement in their family standard of living. They see the government as taking more of their income in taxes, seeking more control over their institutions, creating entitlements for others not them, plunging the nation into unpayable debt, and inviting inflation or a default that can wipe out what they have saved.
And there is nothing they can do about it, for they are politically powerless. By their gatherings, numbers, mockery of elites and militancy, however, they get a sense of the power that they do not have.
Their repeated reappearance on the national stage, in new incarnations, should be a fire bell in the night to the establishment of both parties. For it testifies to their belief and that of millions more that the state they detest is at war with the country they love.
The secession taking place in America is a secession of the heart — of people who have come to believe the government is them, and not us.
Obama’s problem, like the Bushes’ in 1992 and 2008, is that one thing these folks are really good at is throwing people out of power.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. See his website.