The Constitution is silent on the issue of secession, and it would not have been ratified had that provision been inserted in 1787. The secession issue was one of the reasons legislatures were deliberately kept out of the ratification process. The founders knew the Constitution was not an ordinary law which could be changed by legislative action. To make sure of this, no state legislature approved entry into the Union. Their only role was to establish Conventions to decide the issue.
The issue of secession was raised at the New York convention. Some delegates wanted to amend their ratification with a provision allowing secession. Alexander Hamilton seriously considered this. The issue came to an end because of James Madison’s letter to Hamilton on the question of conditional ratification. Madison basically said once in the Union always in the Union. George Washington also believed secession was wrong, and Thomas Jefferson spoke against this in his first Inaugural.
President James Madison did have to confront this issue. He was the primary author of the Constitution, and after the war of 1812 the New England states spoke of seceding at the Hartford Convention. The scandal that secession had even been mentioned was used by the Democrats to accuse their opponents of treason, and was enough to destroy the Federalist Party. Madison said they had no right to do this. It was also an issue during the 1830 South Carolina nullification crisis.
Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) says the United States seceded from Great Britain so the southern states should have been allowed to break away from America. The founding fathers believed there was a moral authority to rebel against an abusive and controlling government. The framers did not create the British government as they did the US government along with its mean to change itself. They weren’t even allowed representation in Parliament.
On the other hand, the South controlled the federal government for most of the time between 1801 and 1860. It probably would have continued even longer had the Democratic Party not split into three parts for the 1860 election allowing Lincoln to win. The American people never signed on to the British Empire, but they had created the Union. They had also created the means to change it should that become necessary.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln’s goal was to stop the extension of slavery into new states and territories. He was not trying to abolish slavery at that time. The Emancipation Proclamation and later the 13th Amendment that ended slavery in the United States were a direct result of the war, not the cause of the war.
In his letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln said his objective was to save the Union, not to save or destroy slavery. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
The 13 original states came together under the Articles of Confederation which uses the term “perpetual Union” in
Article XIII: “Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual.”
The Constitution did not supersede the Articles. It amended them, and this included a complete revision of the then political arrangement. In no place does the Constitution say, “The Articles are rescinded.” The Constitution does not say, “The formerly perpetual union is now temporary and transitory.” The Preamble of the Constitution is: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” Not a less perfect Union. There’s not a word about abolishing the the perpetuity of the Union anywhere in the Constitution. In the Constitution it does not say what the name of the country is. The country was named “The United States of America” in the Articles of Confederation.
The states which voted for secession could have followed a legal route by calling for a Constitutional convention, or passage of an amendment allowing them to secede. To bring about change they would have need a two-thirds majority of the states. They decided to seek change by armed rebellion against the legitimate government. Lincoln said the Southern states could leave, but only if three-fourths of the states approved. He got that figure from Article V, which pertains to the amendment process.
As Madison intimated, the Constitution is a compact between two parties (The state and the union). If one wanted out of it, they had to do more than simply choose to opt out. There is no opt out clause in the constitution. Even in a divorce, both parties have to work out a settlement. One party cannot simply choose to not be married.
The federal government had every right to protect the union and to secure the liberty of the enslaved people. Lincoln and the Republicans wanted to do this through peaceful and political means. What is a government for if it is not there to protect the natural God given rights of it’s people?
Congressman Paul also says “Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.”
This suggestion was tried several times beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s administration, but the South had no interest. America also had a voluntary slave export program. As usual, Ron Paul makes everything sound easy. What was the government to do if people did not want to sell their slaves?