The White House recently said in a formal response to petitions submitted on its “We the People” web site that states do not have the right to secede from the union.
Numerous petitions were submitted after the 2012 election asking for permission for different states to secede. The petitions drew hundreds of thousands of responses, and many far exceeded the minimum 25,000 signatures required for a response from the White House. For a history on this, see Update on State Secession Movement – Will It Work?.
Jon Carson, Director of the Office of Public Engagement, penned the official White House response in which he said that the union is perpetual, citing a quote from Abraham Lincoln during the civil war period where Lincoln denounced the notion that states can secede from the union.
“In contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual,” said Lincoln in his inaugural address in 1861.
Part of Carson’s response reads:
As much as we value a healthy debate, we don’t let that debate tear us apart. Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States ‘in order to form a more perfect union’ through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it.
Not everybody agrees with the idea that states do not have a right to secede, however. Former Congressman Ron Paul wrote an article addressing the online petition movement in which he said that secession was a belief of the founders and one that lies at the heart of the nation’s foundation.
“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,” writes Paul.
The petition movement sparked a spirited debate in the media, something which Carson embraced in his response, noting that citizens have a right to change government through voting, and the White House’s petition web site is a useful tool to engage the administration’s critics.
According to Carson, “One of the most exciting aspects of the We the People platform is a chance to engage directly with our most outspoken critics.”