Update on State Secession Movement – Will It Work?

A growing number of petitions are appearing on the White House’s web site requesting that some states be allowed to secede from the union.

FedSmith.com recently linked to a story on the Daily Caller’s web site which said that a flurry of petitions have been submitted to the “We the People” petition system on the White House’s web site since the election. The petitions are from residents in a number of states requesting that they be granted the right to peacefully secede from the union and form their own governments.

As of the time of this writing, a total of 38 states had submitted petitions for secession. Some of these petitions have garnered the minimum 25,000 signatures which are needed to trigger an automatic review and response from the White House.

Also at the time of this writing, the following petitions had achieved the required 25,000 signatures to trigger the review:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • North Carolina
  • Louisiana
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

What exactly does this mean? According to the White House’s web site:

The right to petition your government is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. We the People provides a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country. We created We the People because we want to hear from you. If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

Does this mean these states will now secede? Doubtful. Getting the required number of signatures triggers a review and official response from White House staff. A response from the White House isn’t quite on par with a Constitutional convention, and my guess is the former will not carry enough weight to have any real effect. I don’t pretend to be a Constitutional scholar, but it just seems unlikely that an online petition is going to singlehandedly restructure our government.

William Peace University political science Professor David McLennan offered this analysis of the situation:

I think what this reflects is a long standing tradition in the United States of people just getting emotionally involved in politics and when things don’t go their way they express it with technology: online petitions, blogs, Twitter. People now express it more openly and more people see this expression. The historian Richard Hofstadter in the 1950s wrote a very influential article called The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and he basically said that what separates the United States’ political history from other countries around the world is that there is sort of this little suspicion that when Democrats are out of power they believe that Republicans are conspiring against them and the country is going in the wrong direction and vice versa. His point was it has always been expressed very loudly, it’s just that we didn’t hear about it because there wasn’t technology back in the 30s, 40s, and 50s to hear about it.

I was telling my class that this is not like the 1850s when the last time secession actually worked and we had a civil war as a result of it. People do care about their politics in the United States. Sometimes that concern isn’t always expressed rationally. Is it legitimate that they go on the White House web site and sign the secession petition? Absolutely. That is a sign of bitterness and frustration and the president has said he will respond when states get to a certain threshold. But I at least applaud the president for acknowleding that people may not be happy with the outcome of the election, but he is simply going to try to allow them the forum for expressing that frustration and he’s going to try to respond to it.

States which have submitted petitions but not yet received the required 25,000 signatures are:

Alaska Arizona Arkansas
California Colorado Delaware
Hawaii Idaho Illinois
Indiana Iowa Kentucky
Maine Massachusetts Minnesota
Mississippi Missouri Montana
New Hampshire New Jersey New York
Ohio Oklahoma Pennsylvania
Rhode Island South Carolina Utah
Virginia Washington West Virginia

Responses to the Petitions

Other petitions have appeared on the White House web site in response to the individual states’ secession petitions.

One petition requests that all states be forced to pay their portion of the national debt before being allowed to secede. It says, in part, “Residents of all states who wish to secede from the union should be required to take their own advice about ‘personal responsibility’, and pay their share of the national debt before being released to fend for themselves. This debt must be paid in full, or they cannot leave.”

Another petition asks that the states requesting to secede be allowed to do so and form their own new nation together. It cites the Declaration of Independence, reading in part, “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government…”

Another petition offered a more hostile response. It asks that the citizenship of every citizen who signed a secession petition be stripped and reads, “Mr. President, please sign an executive order such that each American citizen who signed a petition from any state to secede from the USA shall have their citizenship stripped and be peacefully deported.”

While it seems unlikely that these states will actually secede, the flurry of petitions that have been submitted and the growing number of signatures they are getting does indicate that the movement is one that appears to be at least garnering some attention. But it is probably not going to turn into much more than an expression of frustration from individuals on both sides of the political isle.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.