Thinking About Things Would Anyone Today Actually Fight to Preserve the Union: A Thought Experiment

John DeQ Briggs

November 1, 2021

Since the turn of the new century, the American people have devolved into warring camps.  People no longer have mere political disagreements.  People have come to hate their opponents’ political views. And while  religion is rapidly disappearing from American life, it is being replaced by faith in one’s tribe.  This tribal faith is replacing reason, logic, critical thinking, and many other advances of the Enlightenment.  In the circumstances, one can be forgiven for thinking we have devolved into a high Tech version of the 12th century in our politics and governance.   It is not fruitful right now to delve into the reasons for all of this. Suffice it to say that for present purposes, I take it as a given that the unification of the country through a political process is simply not possible in the foreseeable future.  None of the warring parties (I shall call them the Reds and the Blues) is interested in solving the nation’s problems.  Both parties are instead interested in stirring up hatred for their opponents and perpetuating their own power by any means possible.  Nearly all of our major institutions have been corrupted in this process, each in somewhat different ways.  Neither individuals nor institutions seem to have a stake in agreeable unification.   

Mind you, various straightforward modifications to our political system could probably bring about unification.  Eliminating gerrymandering in simple ways (for example, each congressional district would have to be defined by no more than five straight lines and one non-straight line but only to accommodate a border with another State) would be decent start.  Eliminating party-dominated primaries might also be a decent start.  For example, having just one open primary with weighted voting would require candidates to seek votes in the middle and not at the fringes.  Requiring voter ID but expanding the period for in person voting would tend to assure ballot integrity while the same time go a long way toward opening the franchise to all truly eligible voters.  Eliminating ballot harvesting and its inevitable corrupting impact also seems desirable.

But such solutions, and others, have been within reach for decades and neither political party has taken any serious steps toward implementing such things.  The wars over immigration are more important to the parties as wars than as problems actually to be addressed and solved.   Nobody has proffered a bipartisan solution in decades, even though solutions are rather simple to devised.  In other words, division has become a political necessity for both parties and the rest of us have become largely observers.

All of this has led me to contemplate whether the Reds or the Blues would be more comfortable seceding or remaining unified.  And what about the Purples or the Independents the middle, a growing percentage of the entire electorate? This has been developing as a non-trivial question over the last year.   See “America Could Split Apart

Before getting to my questionnaires to the combatants and the neutrals, a word about secession itself.  I am no expert on secession, to be understated about it.  But it is an interesting topic.  In less than an hour I was able to stumble across several fascinating factoids.  For example, it is likely news to most people that the Federalist Party briefly explored New England secession during the war of 1812.  But since then, secession has become associated with the southern states in the Civil War.  On the other hand, it is also not well known these days that the Republic of Texas successfully seceded from Mexico in 1836.  However, this took the form of outright rebellion against Mexico, and was never consented to by Mexico.  Nine years later, Congress admitted Texas as a state.  

The Supreme Court in 1869 ruled that unilateral secession by a single state was unconstitutional, while commenting that revolution or consent of the states could lead to a successful secession.  Most interesting of all perhaps is that secession apparently played a huge role in the decision of the government after the Civil War not to prosecute Jefferson Davis for Treason.  Cynthia Nicoletti, a legal history professor at the University of Virginia school of Law, examined the issue in a book published four years ago Secession on Trial: The Treason Prosecution of Jefferson Davis.  Davis’s trial would have served as a test case for the legality of secession.  But it was delayed for four years before being dropped.  Among government officials, there was concern that the prosecution could backfire.  Superficially, it would have been simple to prove that Davis committed treason since treason is levying war against the United States by a US citizen.  Certainly, Davis levied war against the United States: that was his job.  But was he a US citizen?  In 1860, many people in the north and the south believe that states had the right to leave a union they voluntarily joined.  Davis was a citizen of Mississippi.  Mississippi seceded from the Union in 1861.  By many accounts, that removed his US citizenship.  Four years after the end of the war, the government dropped his prosecution altogether for fear of a defeat in front of a Virginia jury that would effectively validate the right of any State to secede from the union.

Somewhat more recently, Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont have each toyed with secession, perhaps Georgia more seriously than others.  On April 1, 2009 (the date might be important, given April Fools’ Day) the Georgia State Senate passed a resolution almost unanimously that asserted the right of  states to nullify federal laws under some circumstances. The resolution also asserted that if Congress, the President, or the federal judiciary took certain steps, such as establishing martial law without state consent, requiring some types of involuntary servitude, taking any action regarding religion or restricting freedom of political speech, or establishing further prohibitions on types or quantities of firearms or ammunition, the constitution establishing the United States government would be considered nullified and the union would be dissolved. Details on the above here

But the illegality, technical or otherwise, about secession is not the main focus of this article.  I’m going to presume that secession by a single state or a group of states, is possible if not as a matter of technical law, then as a practical matter.  This does bring me to the point.  I would very much like to see major polling organizations do some polling along the lines suggested below to explore whether there is some group of Reds, Blues, Purple’s, or Others who would actually put their lives on the line and fight today for the preservation of the union.  Would a U.S. President  gather and command an army of unionists to go to battle with secessionist states?  Would secessionists states be able to command military resources to defend or enforce their secession?

Let’s begin this simple thought Experiment with two maps, one of the 2016 election and the other of the 2020 election.  These are quite similar, and they are a good starting point for thinking about all this.  

First of all, if the Blues or the Reds were to secede from the union, the Blues would control discrete geographies not connected to any other Blue jurisdiction.  This suggests that the Blues might not choose to secede at all, and that perhaps they would have a greater incentive to fight for union.  The Reds, on the other hand, would control contiguous geography whether their secession was based on the 2016 map for the 2020 map.  Secession based on the 2016 map would provide the Reds with considerable Oil and natural gas, which the Blues tend to want to get rid of anyway.  The Blues would be without much oil and gas extraction, transportation or refining capability. They would be very dependent on imports from overseas or from the Reds.  But secession based on the 2016 map would also provide both the Blues and the Reds with adequate port facilities for imports and exports and manageable food supplies.  Citizens of each tribe would have to choose their citizenship; it could result in a mass migration both Reds to Blue jurisdictions and vice versa.

So, dividing the country into two countries (I’m not going to assume there would be a third country created) would be interesting in an academic sort of way.  Like-minded people could engage in self-government of their own choosing, doubtless based on something resembling the existing Constitution.  What would happen to Washington, DC and its various government institutions is beyond the scope of this thought Experiment.  So, finally, onto the questionnaires for Reds, Blues, and Others

Questions for those who Self Identify as Reds, Blues, and Neither.

1. I self-identify as:   /__/ Red  /__/  Blue /__/ Neither

A. For Blues only:

  • I am /__/ am not /__/ in favor of the Blue States (as described by either the 2016 or 2020 election) seceding from the Union to become a separate nation, governed in general by the same governing documents now in place, as perhaps slightly amended. 
  • I /__/ would  /__/ would not take up arms in support of such secession if the Reds would not agree to it. 
  • I /__/  would  /__/ would not oppose the secession of the Red states ( as described by either the 2016 or 2020 election results
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union in the event of Red state efforts to secede. 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union in the event of Blue state efforts to secede. 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union

B. For Reds only:

  • I am /__/ am not /__/ in favor of the Red States (as described by either the 2016 or 2020 election) seceding from the Union to become a separate nation, governed in general by the same governing documents now in place, as perhaps slightly amended. 
  • I /__/ would  /__/ would not take up arms in support of such secession if the Blues would not agree to it. 
  • I /__/ would not oppose the secession of the Blue states ( as described by either the 2016 or 2020 election results). 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union in the event of Red state efforts to secede. 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union in the event of Blue state efforts to secede. 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union

C. For Non-Reds and Non-Blues

  • I am /__/ am not /__/ in favor of the /__/ Red States /__/  Blue States (as described by either the 2016 or 2020 election) seceding from the Union to become a separate nation, governed in general by the same governing documents now in place, as perhaps slightly amended. 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of such secession if it were /__/ agreeable /__/ not agreeable to the Reds and the Blues . 
  • I /__/ would not oppose the secession of the /__/ Blue States /__/ Red States  ( as described by either the 2016 or 2020 election results). 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union in the event of Red states efforts to secede. 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union in the event of Blue states efforts to secede. 
  • I /__/ would /__/ would not take up arms in support of the preservation of the union. 

I have no clear idea how people would answer this sort of poll.  I would love to see Gallup or some other reputable organization with adequate resources conduct such a poll.  Given the mistrust, dislike, and in some cases even hatred, of the Reds for the Blues and the Blues for the Reds, I suspect a minor minority of people on either side of the divide would see value in fighting  (and risking their lives as well) for preserving a union that keeps them together with people they despise.  It is less hard to imagine a group of states declaring themselves to be a country separate and apart from the United States of America.  It is easy to imagine the Reds doing this and no less difficult to imagine the Blues doing it.  But for the geographic separation of certain islands of Blue, an amicable divorce would even make political (albeit not economic) sense.

On the other hand, the migratory and economic confusion that would accompany the breakup of the union might prove to be too daunting for any group actually to attempt to manage.  But this is an interesting part of the thought Experiment.  If the union stays together because people just do not have the energy to bring into being a nation consistent with their policy preferences, that would itself be revealing about the overall fatigue of the nation.

Unless someone does this poll, we will never know, but my suspicion is that almost nobody would fight to save the union. But there is also, I suspect, no critical mass of people to bring about secession so perhaps this is all wholly hypothetical.  But it might not be.   In a way, all of this is perhaps too bad. It could simply mean  the maintenance of the status quo through indifference and fatigue, not desire.  If one group really was serious about secession, serious efforts might be made by the others to unify the country.  But as long as the Reds and the Blues are content to snipe and snarl at each other to no particularly good end beyond the approval of their tribe, we as a nation will continue to wallow in the mud and slip and slide our way to national mediocrity in most things and certainly governmental incompetence. 

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